Elegant Venetian buildings and palaces peer over the ancientmaze of narrow streets and labyrinth of canals that contrive tomake this a unique city. Tourists naturally flock to Venice toexperience its inimitable charm. The downside of this can be feltin the narrow streets and cramped piazzas of its sought-afterareas. A good way to get to know a more personal side of Venice isto saunter through its romantic back streets and residentialquarters.
Venice rests on one of a series of 117 islands distributedthroughout the Venetian lagoon at the northern end of the AdriaticSea. This strategic position conferred on Venice economic anddefensive advantages over its trading rivals. As the wealth of thecity increased and its population grew, the composition of the citygrew ever more dense and today only a handful of the islets thatconstitute the historic centre are not entirely developed.
The historic centre is divided into six quarters (sestieri).These are: San Marco, Dorsoduro, San Polo, Santa Croce, Cannaregioand Castello. The city's main thoroughfare is the Grand Canal thatintersects each district as it meanders through the length ofVenice from the railway station to San Marco. An alternative towalking the bewildering streets of Venice is to cruise thewaterways onboard the motorboat buses known as vaporetti. These arethe less romantic but also less expensive substitutes for thefamous gondolas.
Venice extends beyond its six sestieri to the islands of Murano,Burano and Torcello. These are known for glass and lace-makingrespectively and Torcello is noted for the magnificent ByzantineBasilica of Santa Maria Assunta that rests on its soil. Trips byboat to the islands provide a pleasant diversion from the busierhistoric quarters.
Time: Local time is GMT +1 (GMT +2 between the last Sunday in March and the Saturday before the last Sunday in September). Electricity: Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. A variety of plugs are in use including the European-style two-pin plug. Money: The Euro (EUR) is the official currency, which is divided into100 cents. Those arriving in Italy with foreign currency can obtainEuros through any bank, ATM or bureaux de change. ATMs arewidespread. Travellers cheques can be exchanged with ease in thelarge cities, not so in the smaller towns. Credit cards areaccepted in upmarket establishments and shops around the cities.Banks are closed on weekends, but tend to have better rates thancasas de cambios.
Language: Italian. English is understood in the larger cities but not in the more remote parts of the country. Entry requirements for Americans: United States citizens must have a valid passport. A visa is notrequired for stays of up to 90 days. Entry requirements for UK nationals: British passport holders, irrespective of endorsement regardingnational status, do not need a visa to visit Italy for up to 90days. Entry requirements for Canadians: Canadians must have a valid passport. No visa is required forstays of up to 90 days. Entry requirements for Australians: Australians must have a valid passport. No visas are requiredfor stays of up to 90 days. Entry requirements for South Africans: South Africans need a valid passport and a Schengen visa totravel to Italy. Entry requirements for Irish nationals: Irish nationals require a passport. No visa is required for astay of up to 90 days. Entry requirements for New Zealand nationals: New Zealand citizens must have a valid passport. No visa isrequired for stays of up to 90 days. Passport/Visa Note: The borderless region known as the Schengen area includes thefollowing countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France,Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands,Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. All these countries issue astandard Schengen visa that allows the holder, in principal, totravel freely within the borders of all. Travellers are advised tohave a return or onward ticket plus all documents required fortheir next destination, and sufficient funds to cover period ofintended stay in Italy. Embassy or Consulate in US: Italian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 6124400. Embassy or Consulate in UK: Italian Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 73122200. Embassy or Consulate in Canada: Italian Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 232 2401. Embassy or Consulate in Australia: Italian Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6273 3333. Embassy or Consulate in South Africa: Italian Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 423 0000. US Embassy or Consulate: United States Embassy, Rome: +39 06 46741. UK Embassy or Consulate: British Embassy, Rome: +39 06 4220 0001. Canadian Embassy or Consulate: Canadian Embassy, Rome: +39 06 85444 1. Australian Embassy or Consulate: Australian Embassy, Rome: +39 06 852 721. South African Embassy or Consulate: South African Embassy, Rome: +39 06 852 541. Health: There are no specific health risks associated with travel toItaly. EU citizens can make use of Italy's health services providedthey have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Cases of the N1bird flu were found in swans in southern Italy and Sicily, butthere is a low risk of human infection; as a precaution all closecontact with wild, caged and domestic birds should be avoided, andpoultry and egg dishes should be cooked thoroughly. Tipping: Tipping is customary in Italy and 10% of the bill is acceptablein restaurants (unless a service charge has already been included).Hotels add a service charge of 15-18%, but it is customary to tipthe service staff extra. Italians rarely tip taxi drivers, but5-10% is usual. Most other services expect some small change. Safety: The Italian Government has warned that the risk of aninternational terrorist attack in the country has increased, andtourists should be vigilant in public places and tourist sites.Domestic terrorism continues, but targets are usually Italianauthorities, however there is a possibility of being caught up inattacks. Tourists are vulnerable to pick-pocketing and muggings inthe bigger cities, particularly on public transport, in crowdedareas and around tourist sites, and should exercise caution whencarrying large amounts of cash and valuables. Be particularlycareful on bus 64 to St Peter's Square and around the main trainstation, Termini. Visitors should be wary of groups of children,some of whom will distract attention while the others try to stealwhat they can. Strikes by transport workers take place regularlythroughout Italy and delays are possible. Since February 2007 therehas been an increase in volcanic activity on Stromboli and part ofthe island has been evacuated. Customs: It is an offence to sit on steps and in courtyards near publicbuildings, including the main churches, in Florence; eating anddrinking in the vicinity should also be avoided. Shorts, vests orany other immodest clothing should not be worn inside churches. Business: Italians can be very formal and old fashioned, but are also warmand welcoming. Face to face communication is best, and often athird party introduction can speed initial negotiations. Businessattire is formal and usually stylish, and handshakes are the norm.Expect plenty of gesticulating and interruptions, or people talkingover each other. Business cards are used. Unfortunately thebureaucracy in Italy can slow down deal-making. Business hours areusually 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, but can vary according toseason and region. Communications: The international access code for Italy is +39. The outgoingcode is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for theUnited Kingdom). All numbers must be preceded by 0, whetheroriginating in Italy or out, unless calling a mobile phone.City/area codes are in use, e.g. 02 for Milan and 06 for Rome.There can be high surcharges on calls made from hotels and it isgenerally cheaper to use a calling card. Public telephone boxestake phone cards for local and international calls, which can bebought from newsagents. The local mobile phone operators use GSMnetworks and have roaming agreements with most internationaloperators. Internet cafes are available in the main towns andresorts. Duty free: Travellers over 17 years from non-EU countries do not have topay duty on 200 cigarettes, or 100 cigarillos, or 50 cigars, or250g tobacco; 1 litre spirits with alcohol content higher than 22%,or 2 litres dessert wine not exceeding 22% alcohol content andsparkling wine, and 2 litres of table wine; perfume up to 50g or250ml eau de toilette, and other goods for personal consumption tothe value of 175 per adult or 90 for children under15 years. Prohibited items include narcotic drugs, medicinalproducts, arms and weapons, explosives and protected animal andplant species.
Message Edited by LL_Editor on 05-30-2007 03:38 PM
Venice must be seen - one of a kind. To really appreciate it, you need at least 3-4 days. A one day stop on a tour will not give you the right flavor - you'll only see the St. Marks area. Dorsoduro, a quiet neighborhood, has a stellar wine bar called Schiavo. Santa Croce has kids playing and going to school - you realize real people still live on venice. Cannaregio, in the north of the City, has some hidden gems with small churches and shoppes. Don't miss going to the island of Burano - splendid. Skip Murano - it's just a high pressure glass selling trap with not much else.
Venice is a state of mind, not just a place to visit. Expect to spend both time and euro in order to really appreciate it, and if you think that you can do it on a budget, you will find that 'its too expensive'. As others have suggested, stay away from the true centre. One of my best meals, in my many visits to Venice, was the Argentinian restaurant (really hard to find... i had to get fully confused and lost to discover it the first time!!) ... if you promise to not tell everyone (which will make it too hard to get a reservation next time), its at Dorsoduro 2344, Fondamenta Barbarigo, tel 041-2412697. Nowhere near the centre. Excellent food, young staff, off the beaten path, a great find.
Venice is one of the most romantic cities in the world. To stand or sit along the Grand Canal and watch the gondoliers in their striped shirts and straw hats rythmatically moving their gondolas as if dancing to a slow and sensual song is just to beautiful to describe. Everything moves at a slower pace because there are no automobiles or motorbikes zooming up and down the streets causing people to jump out of the way or run in an attempt to beat the traffic. Sitting in St. Mark's Square watching the little children run away from the pigeons or futilely trying to catch a pigeon is as much fun as just sitting and listening to the trios playing their music while you sit and drink a Bellini. Walk behind the church and around the corner and drink more Bellinis at a much more reasonable price. The Doge's Palace is beautiful. The Rialto Market with its multi-colored blend of vegetables, fruit and fish with the rapid talk between the customers and the vendors is worthy of a long and slow walk up and down the stalls. Stop and sit along the canal beside the market and watch both the action and the gondolas. If you walk away from the Grand Canal, into the little neighborhoods, you will find dozens and dozens of little shops and restaurants. You'll get lost, but just keep walking and turning until you find the water again. The Dorsodura neighborhood contains the Ca'Pasini Hotel with its outstanding restaurant (end your meal with the cheese plate and glasses of port as we did), the Peggy Guggenheim museum and some of the best little family owned restaurants around. We ate in several and were not disappointed. We ate gellato, and I drank Bellinis to my heart's content. On two evenings, we went to concerts; the first in the church beside the Rialto Market and the second, in a public building next to the Doge's Palace. The concerts were played by candlelight, and we still talk about how special they were.