On our first day in Venice, Ruth and I wandered. Vaguely hoping to find ourselves by evening in Pizza San Marco, we were almost immediately lost in a maze of narrow, pedestrian-only lanes where I couldn’t help recalling all those eerie movies made here that featured wild-eyed characters fleeing mayhem. It was fun for a while, being lost, and we began taking deserted byways that always seemed to end abruptly at the Canal Grande.
The first time this occurred, it was magical. Romantic. But by the twelfth time being lost lost its charm. We backtracked to the last less-than-eye-catching sign pointing toward San Marco and purposefully followed the arrow. It was soon obvious that signs were both unreliable and often not where we needed them. We also learned that considerable human traffic in both directions was a more useful guide. But a lot less fun. By the time we actually located the famous Piazza we were ready for wide-open spaces. Looking out across the Canale di San Marco between the Palazzo Ducale and the National Library was a thrill, the most spectacular of sights, until a city-sized cruise ship lumbered by that actually dwarfed the scene.
The next day we realized we needed vaporetto, or city ferries, to save time. This isn’t cheap—€6.50 for 60 minutes and one suitcase, for example—but they’re efficient and get people where they need to go each day, unless there’s a strike.
We went to the ticket booth with the intention of buying a multi-day pass—€28 for 48-hours—but a work stoppage had been declared and the system was only running essential routes. There was a rumor that all service would be restored by 4 pm, so we bought passes and rode to the graffiti and tourist encrusted Rialto Bridge and back a few times. This was, as it turned out, the only “essential”, at least the only one we could find. By evening, we were being told that full service would be restored by sunrise tomorrow.
Vaporetto (ACTV) are seriously crowded rectangles that cruise up and down almost always scenic routes. Some are all-stops, which in our case was still a lot quicker and much less frustrating than walking, with Line One on the Grand Canal unbeatable for sightseeing. You have to learn the system to avoid problems, as in some vaporetto make only a few stops, depending on the time of day, with rush hour requiring special care. It doesn’t take all that long to figure the system out, but a paper map that you don’t mind destroying is essential.
Digital displays on docks and boat sides seem far more 21st century than the vaporetto. They give all the information and direction you need about times and destinations. Stops sport school-bus-yellow strips so that you, if you have wisely worked your way into position near the exit, won’t miss your stop. Like in an underground metro system, white boards give route numbers and show all stops. We never waited very long for vaporetto.
I wondered why we were constantly being warned by locals to get our tickets stamped before boarding, or in our case swiped, at a silver box next to the yellow one they were all using until I realized that tickets aren’t sold on board and the fine for riding without the stamp is steep.
By our last day, we had visited The Lido, repeated San Marco, seen some fine art, ingested gelato, drunk a lot of coffee and wine, bought some bigoli (really excellent wheat pasta) and Murano glass, and fallen totally in love with Venice again as if that were preordained.