Venice, Italy June 2012

Gotta Go: Lido Island, Murano Island, Doge's Palace, Campanile
Skip It: Crowds of Tourists, San Marco Shops

Venetian Virus

San Marco Wedding Venetian cruise ship behind gondolas. Sean climgs a narrow alley in Venice. DHL boat loaded with packages in Venice. Kyle feeds the pigeons in San Marco Square.

"I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a plague and we are the cure." -Agent Smith, The Matrix

Venice is a beautiful city, cursed by a plague of tourist rats drawn to the sea by Venice's Pide Piper allure. A visitor joins this plague of rats in a maze designed by sadistic scientists to study the social chaos of overcrowding. There is however, a cure: the surrounding islands. These small spas offer the traveler the soothing relaxation of their purifying waters, so he can once again tolerate the writhing mass of tourists.

We arrived on a beautiful Friday afternoon in June, right in the middle of a mass transit strike. The strike was only for a day, and the source of the striker's protest must have been minor for no one knew what it was, yet it left us stranded at the train station loaded down with luggage and no way to reach our hotel. More frustrating than the strike was the lack of any accurate information. I asked three tourist officials how I could get my family to the island of Lido. All gave the same intial advice: "swim". But none gave me the same serious answer. So, we adjusted. We check our bags at the train station, I picked a random piazza on the map which looked well off the beaten path and we headed into the city to find lunch.

As soon as we got several blocks from the Grand Canal, the crowds faded away and everyone was fascinated by the maze of canals and alleyways. We found a nice restaurant and sat under an awning in the piazza for a long leisurely Italian lunch. We lucked out in our random pick of a piazza because it seemed isolated from the plague, no one in the restaurant even spoke English.

Rumor at the restaurant was that there was a single vaporetto (water bus) making a run from San Marco to Lido, but that it would stop service at four o'clock. So we took a random stroll back towards our luggage. Sean decided it would be fun to walk down some steps which ended in the canal. Well, that's where Sean ended up: in the canal. The bottom step was slick with moss. Luckily Sean grabbed the steps and only his lower half made the plunge. Amazingly, Toni caught it all on video.Video

When we left for Italy we'd made the decision to pack light and require every family member to carry their own bag. Thank God. This is the only way we were able to walk ourselves and luggage all the way across the city of Venice to our one vaporreto. Little Emi (8 yrs and only 40lbs), was seething by the end of the journey. For while she had no trouble wheeling her little roller-on down the flat streets, each block ended in a canal, which was spanned by a bridge. Up ten steps, down ten steps. She was exhausted and infuriated from heaving her bag up and over each bridge. The mother of another American family dragging much larger bags was frantically studying a street map, "There must be a way to San Marco without having to cross all these canals!". The father's eyes met mine, and he simply shrugged as if to say: "She's the one who insisted on visting Venice. Let her figure it out on her own."

That look summed it up. Venice is a place for women, which men tolerate simply because they must for the love of a beautiful woman. The plague of tourists would be cut in half if the women would visit Venice alone as they would a mall on Black Friday. A giddy mass shoulder to shoulder with other female shoppers. But alas, the women must bring their testosterone GPS systems for the city of Venice is an incredibly confusing maze of alleyways and canals (sexist remark intended, and while an inaccurate generalization easily defended).

But there is a vaccine, for both the women and the men. The outlying islands are a different world of peace and harmony. We visted two of the islands, but I would like to return one day to visit the rest. First of all, the vaporetto rides are cheap and delightful. It is always invigorating to be on the water and the views of Venice constantly amaze. We stayed on Lido which simply stands for 'beach' in Italian. It had the feel of a beach town, laid back and fun. It is also off the beaten path of tourists.

We also visited Murano which is famed for its glass blowing. While nothing amazed on Murano, it made for a fun relaxing excursion to spend some quality family time together. It took awhile but we were able to locate a glass blowing exhibition open on a Saturday and to tour their upscale store. While I believe the epitomy of glass art has been achieved by Jon Kuhn in our home state of North Carolina, the skill of the pieces was quite impressive. Later, the engineer in me, enjoyed sitting in a cafe watching a barge replace pilings in the adjacent canal. And the kids enjoyed catching tadpoles in the lily pond of the Murano Glass Museum.

So plan your trip to Venice in small doses: a morning in Murano and and evening at San Marco, a morning touring the Grand Canal and afternoon at the beach. Enjoy your gelato on Lido, rather than spending $1 for a tasting in San Marco. Tour the magnificient cathedrals of Rome for free, rather than spending 8 Euros per person for the modest Venetian churches. Heed my advice or you will end up infected and foaming at the mouth, seriously considering the bliss of following the Pide Piper's rats to the bottom of the sea.

Ambulance in Venice.

Venice Family Grades The family's first impression of Venice after arriving in the middle of a transit strike. Impressions improved over time but the first day was a doozy.
Dad - C "I don't think I'll ever come back the rest of my life unless its on a private yacht. Venice is really for women. There's nothing really to do except walk around and look at shops. All the shops are selling the same thing. They're selling Venetian masks, and leather goods, and glass. Not a huge amount of variety."Audio Clip

Toni (Mom) - B "I've never seen so much concrete in my life. Building over brick and building over brick, it's just crazy. It's like you're walking through these halls and people are living on these halls and there's stores everywhere around every corner: colored glass, purses, leather purses, shoes. It's very hot, and instead of crossing a street you climb up steps and over and down steps to cross the water because all the streets are water."Audio Clip

Sean (13 yrs) - D - "Water for streets. Everyone's on strike or not in business and it's really touristy. It's like New York if you've ever been there, it's terrible. Don't go. Don't go."Audio Clip

Kyle (12 yrs) - D - "It's really hard to go up steps in Venice. Tired. Crowded. I hate Venice."Audio Clip

Emi (8 yrs) - F- - "First of, the bridges when you have to carry suitcases like uhhhhh! And also they don't have numbers so you don't know if you've gone past it. And I kept on tripping because the ground was not smooth, it was like bumpy and huge cracks so I kept falling because my suitcase fell and I'd have to get back down on the ground to get it. For the masks I give it a A+. I mean really, those are great masks! I just want to buy everyone in that city."Audio Clip
Gotta Go
Lido Island
Family Grade: B
Details and Pictures

Lido Island is a short vaparetto ride from San Marco in Venice, but it is a world away. The main street runs about a half mile from the vaporetto dock, across the island to the beach. This main street is lined with many hotels, shops and restaurants.

We stayed on the southern end of the island in less expensive accomodations. It was only a ten minute bus ride from the vaparetto dock and very peaceful. However, while there was an excellent local restaurant there was very little to do within walking distance. I was determined to go swimming in the Adriatic so I got directions to the local beach. The closest point to go swimming was actually a series of home-built docks straddling a large breakwater. The water was filled with kelp and not the most pleasant swim. There were some small beaches where sand had collected in the corners of the breakwater. I suggest if you want to swim, you should head up to the main beach in the center of Lido.

Our short stay in Venice, meant we had to focus on the main Venetian attractions and didn't have time to explore all of Lido island. We did spend one evening strolling the main street with a stop for dinner and multiple servings of gelato. The street had been closed off with bands playing every couple of blocks. It was quite an enjoyable evening.

Murano Island
Family Grades: Brian(Dad):B+, Toni(Mom):A, Sean(13):B, Kyle(12):A+, Emi(7):A+
Details and Pictures

Murano is a great escape from the crowds in Venice. The boat trip in the vaporetto is half the fun. Of course, the main attraction is the glass blowing. There is a glass museum and the kids will enjoy visiting a glass factory to watch a glass blowing demonstration. Be warned that the island appears to shut down on the weekend with many of the stores and factories closed.

Family Grades: Brian(Dad):A, Toni(Mom):x, Sean(13):A, Kyle(12):A, Emi(7):A+
Details and Pictures

The Doges Palace was the seat of Venetian government and power. It is now a fine museum. I believe this was the boy's favorite musueum in Italy because of the large armory collection. Besides the armory collection I found the architecture the best part of the museum.

Family Grade: B+
Details and Pictures

This is a popular attraction but it was worth the wait. It offers fantastic views of the city's red tiled roofs and surrounding islands.

Crowds of Tourists

I've heard the crowds only decend upon Venice during the Summer, so if you have flexibility avoid these months if you can. However, if you must travel during the Summer remember that the crowds only fill a very narrow strip of teh city. Peace can be found just a few blocks from the main drag.

There are basically two ways into Venice: train and cruise ship. The major attractions are in the plaza of St. Marco. So if you want to know the areas to avoide, just draw a line from the train station and port to St. Marco's.

San Marco Shops

Do your shopping and dining elsewhere. These are over priced tourist traps. The gelato shops even charge half a Euro per tasting. The best thing to do in this square is free: feed the pigeons. It appears they no longer sell pigeon food so the kids snatched some table scraps from the cafes in the square.

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