I was prepared to either love Venice (a lot of people whom I really like liked it) or hate it (it seemed logical to suppose a touristy, expensive place where you couldn't get too far away without needing a boat would start to get irksome). To be on the safe side, I decided to spend only a couple of days here, and made no plans at all. I decided to just go and get lost. If you're ever in Venice, I can't tell you what a great plan this is, especially near Dorsodaro.
The Grand Canal's impressive, and has plenty of photo ops, but the real spirit of Venice lies in the side streets and back allies, each tucking comfortably into another until you're hopelessly lost - at which point you come to a dead end, turn around, and realize there's a whole new set of streets if you just turn in a different direction. I imagine it's what a house or an apartment complex must have seemed like when I was still figuring out the world, as a child.
Funny story - I saw a spinach and ricotta pastry one evening, but decided I was too full to eat it just then. So I figured I'd come back. Which would be cool, except that I didn't bother noting the shop's name, or the street's name, or anything at all to identify it. The next day, I was hell bent on tracking it down. I took the vaporetto to Rialto market, and started searching a 6km radius. I finally found it an hour later, and it was as good as expected. Everyone whom I talk to about the trip tells me how well I planned it and how incredibly detailed my notes are - all I can say is this, this story right here, is me.
I was asking an obliging shopkeeper for directions along the way, when he suddenly leaped up and ran, leaving his shop behind. I looked around, and saw a policeman in hot pursuit. Heh. Venice. You've to love it. And after that, I just started buying stuff if I felt like it, and carrying it along if I was too full to eat right away.
Another time, I walked through the Jewish ghetto - the word itself comes from the Venetian getto - and started talking to a local woman, whom I asked for directions. She asked if I didn't mind walking, and offered to show me a long, but picturesque route back to a vaporetto stop much further down the canal, since she lived there. So we walked together for about 3km, and she showed me random back alleys and shops. It was the kind of thing I'd never have been able to do if I'd relied on Maps. It's funny how language never actually impedes communication, as long as you don't assume everyone has to speak a language you know.
There are actually stories like that about all the places I went to, but in my other blog posts, I get distracted detailing places and the things. Venice was all about the people and the joy of having nowhere to go in a hurry. I went to Lido Beach and read a book. The whole book. I stopped and talked to shopkeepers. I spent half an hour on a tiramisu (it deserved my undivided attention) and another 15 minutes telling the shop owner how much I liked it. Time stands still in Venice.
Another word of advice: don't even think about day tripping and not spending the night, to save on hotel costs. The city's completely different in the lights, and it's a sight worth seeing. No other city is as pretty in the dark. If you want to cost cut, skip the gondola ride. I've never seen anyone look anything but awks and self conscious in one of those, and usually they're busy snapping pics while being snapped pictures of, while some poor fellow tries to sing soulfully in the background, and no one listens over the clicks and flashes. Ghastly. Take the vaporetto, it's the same view without being put under the magnifying glass, and at a teensy fraction of the cost, especially if you're buying a pass.
If you're going to Venice and aren't sure how long to stay - I actually felt two days was pretty perfect. I stayed just long enough not to start resenting the bill I paid for staying near St. Marks, in the center of the city. Do 3-4 if you've an actual agenda, or you want to visit museums or churches, and more than that only if you've company and just want to gaze into each other's eyes against a pretty backdrop. Planning notes (not that I have any really) are here. Photos are here.
And with Veneto, it was finito as far as Italy was concerned. Next up: Austria.