Alexandra has a Ph.D., frequently travels to Venice, and has given multiple scholarly talks on Venice's politics and history.
Venice: Where Good Sense Goes to Die
I once witnessed a tourist plop himself down on one of the smooth, broad steps of the Rialto Bridge on a busy July afternoon. He had decided this was a good place for lunch.
Sometimes I wonder if I hallucinated it.
But no, the crowds really did break around him like water on a submerged rock. I really did think, "What do I do if someone trips?" As anyone who has been to Venice in the summer knows, the area around the Rialto gets so crowded that anyone who fell was guaranteed to be stepped on and injured before others could react.
It remains one of the most surreal things I have ever seen. The amount of self-centeredness and lack of situational awareness was staggering to contemplate.
Unfortunately, this type of obliviousness is more common in Venice than it should be.
Newsflash: Venice Is Not an Amusement Park
Some people complain Venice is boring because it's like a floating museum.
They're wrong. People tend to behave respectfully in museums.
A lot of people don't behave respectfully in Venice. They treat it like an amusement park.
They believe everything from the restaurant menus, to the opening hours at various tourist sites, to the workers themselves exist only to satisfy them, history and tradition be damned. That people actually live and work and go about their day here, just as they would anywhere else in the world, does not occur to them.
Nor does it occur to them that real dangers exist. "Of course I can sit on this bridge," they think to themselves, "or lean over that railing, or stand up even though the sign says 'sit.' I'm sure if something goes wrong, someone will straighten it out."
At some level, this isn't surprising. The Venetians are hopelessly outnumbered. According to Condé Nast Traveler, the number of average daily visitors to Venice (60,000) is larger than the city's population (55,000).
Still, that's no excuse. None of us—myself included—are perfect tourists. Still, I don't think it's too unreasonable to suggest the following five behaviors need to stop.
#1: Blocking or Stopping on the Bridges
The Rialto and the Ponte della Paglia—the bridge everyone stands on to take pictures of the Bridge of Sighs—are lost causes.
However, there is never justification for obstructing traffic on the other bridges in Venice.
I know this is especially difficult for Americans to grasp because we are a car culture, but the pedestrian bridges and streets of Venice are the equivalent of our roads.
Obstructing a bridge is incredibly inconsiderate. Venice's residents have to take hand-trucks, heavy loads, and baby strollers over the step bridges every single day. Sometimes they have limited visibility when they do this. If you stop randomly, you could cause an accident.
Would you stop your car in the middle of a road because you saw something pretty and wanted to take a picture? Of course not, and you shouldn't stop in the middle of a bridge for a picture either. Even if you're the only one there, move off to the side. Remember: Venice is not your personal theme park.
"But--but--I'll miss the moment!" you say. Well, get over it. It's Venice. There are picture-perfect moments everywhere. Also, you are not Annie Leibowitz. The world is not going to suffer because you didn't get your shot.
Finally, if you're a tour guide and you let your group block an entire bridge, I hope someone pushes you in a canal and you get the super pink eye Katharine Hepburn caught while doing a stunt for "Summertime."
#2: Refusing to Accept the Consequences of Venice's Geography
Please, do me the courtesy of taking a look at the above photo.
What do you see?
You see water. Because Venice is an archipelago of islands. In a lagoon.
That means the following things:
- There will be a marine smell in the city.
- Venetian cuisine features a lot of seafood.
- Some parts of Venice are only accessible via water conveyance of some kind.
This would seem obvious. Yet, if you read reviews or listen in on conversations (I am usually a solo traveler, so I am a champion eavesdropper), you hear the following complaints with alarming frequency:
- "Venice stinks all the time, and it is dirty and unhealthy!" Death in Venice was fiction. No one is dying of cholera or regularly getting food poisoning from the catch in the lagoon.
- "There's no good pizza!" or "There's only seafood here!" I thought we had reached a point where even the most Basic 'n Bougie of guidebooks took pains to emphasize that most food in Italy bears little relation to Americanized Italian food. Also, if you accept that Venetian pizzerie are handcuffed by the city's very reasonable ban on wood-burning ovens, there actually are a handful of places putting out pies that respect culinary tradition.
- "I have to pay for a water boat ride every time I go to my hotel!" It is really easy to look up a hotel's location on the internet. One would hope potential guests might notice that hotels on the Lido or Giudecca are only accessible by boat. And yet, every single time I am in Venice I hear someone complain about having to take a vaporetto back to the hotel. Did these folks not stop to think about why their hotel was so much cheaper than other options?
Speaking of "cheap..."
#3: Complaining About Prices
I wanted a "VENICE IS EXPENSIVE" Blingee to go here, but apparently Hubpages is biased against the MySpace aesthetic.
In short, complaining about prices in Venice is like complaining about the sun rising in the east, or the sky being blue.
For most of its history, Venice was a wealthy merchant republic. One of the city government's most important jobs was planning fancy festivals and parades to impress foreign visitors.
"Inexpensive" is not really Venice's ethos.
On a more serious note, the city has no way to truly modernize its infrastructure. Much of the historic center is only accessible by foot, small hand truck, or very small boat. Lots of stuff still has to be shipped in from the mainland. Tourists and cruise ships add severe wear and tear.
Venetian companies have to spend money to prop up infrastructure that can only be partially modernized. The same tourists who bitch about a hotel's price will be the first ones to shriek about "compensation" if the wi-fi or water pressure in a 500+ year old building isn't perfect.
Venetian businesses also have to hire people to do all sorts of jobs that are now obsolete in most other cities.
Yes, it's true that Venetian residents pay much less for public transit and other services than we tourists do. So what? The city has to raise funds to deal with the damage we cause somehow.
I get that everyone wants to save money, and I won't deny there are rip-off artists in Venice. However, people who slam respectable businesses that are just trying to cope with real logistical issues that aren't a problem in most other places need to cross one of the hundreds of available bridges and get over it.
#4: Doing the Same Five Things
Oh, you went to Venice and it was super crowded and there was tourist crap everywhere and so you can definitely state that it sucks and is overrated?
And you know this because you saw San Marco, the Doge's Palace, Murano, and Burano?
I really wish I could embed that GIF of Jennifer Lawrence saying "OK" right about here.
If someone said New York was a tourist trap based on spending an afternoon in Times Square, we'd laugh them out of the room.
And yet people think they can dismiss Venice after spending a few hours doing some variation of what every other daytripper in the city is doing.
It's true that Venice will never be a favorite of travelers who like to go on about authenticity, or who think other travelers should worship them because they were, like, totally the only English-speaking people in the restaurant. (The fact that such people avoid Venice is yet another point in the city's favor.)
Remember, in Venice tourists outnumber the residents. Just about every restaurant and business needs tourist customers to survive. Still, this doesn't mean there aren't tons of artists and chefs putting out products that respect Venice's history and tradition.
Don't dismiss Venice as a giant tourist trap until you've expanded your horizons beyond Murano's glassmakers and the borders of Piazza San Marco. Giudecca, Sant'Elena, Torcello, San Giorgio, and San Michele are all accessible with the standard vaporetto pass.
#5: Standing up and Blocking the Vaporetto Captain
Oh, these bastards.
They're the reason we can't have nice things.
Many of Venice's water buses used to have seats in the front. If you were lucky, you could take one of these seats and have a lovely, unobstructed view of the entire Grand Canal.
However, as phone cameras became more accessible, more and more people decided the the world needed their particular take on the Rialto or the Accademia or the Cà d'Oro.
The number of people who took those front seats, only to stand up so they could take pictures, started to increase.
Why was this a problem? Well, when people stand up in those seats, they block the vision of the captain.
This was at least part of the reason Venice started phasing out boats with the front seats.
Some of the old boats are still in service. Try to find one, if you can. Even the preposterously slow #1 becomes pleasurable if you're able to watch the city unfold in front of you.
It's a shame folks won't be able to have this experience for much longer.
The people who stand up, refuse to remain seated when asked, and generally don't give one single, solitary damn about the fact they are endangering the entire water bus are abysmal humans.
Their behavior cannot be explained away as ignorance. There are signs. They are told to sit. They know they are breaking the rules. They have completely bought into the entitled "Venice is my private amusement park" mentality, and think everyone should cater to their tasteless and ignorant whims.
There are not enough curses for their sort.
Let's join forces and fight against their poisonous mindset before more simple Venetian pleasures are consigned to the annals of history.
Questions & Answers
Question: Where do we complain about a business? My husband and I purchased a vase from Venice for over $300 or 286 Euros. We live in the U.S., so we had it shipped to our home. However, the vase we received was terribly made! It was definitely not what we expected. There were so many imperfections we are embarrassed to use it. When we contacted the company, we got no response. We'd like to file a complaint, but we live in the U.S.
Answer: Do you believe this business has committed fraud? For example, did you select a vase in the shop with a promise that that specific vase would be sent to you and then get sent a different object? If that is the case, you can report at https://www.econsumer.gov/#crnt (this is the official suggestion of the Federal Trade Commission). If you scroll all the way down to the bottom, you see some links for Other Steps You Can Take. You may want to check those suggestions before filing an official complaint.
(The difficulty for you, in that case, would be proving that the object you saw in the shop is not the object you were sent--you don't happen to have pictures of the object in the shop, do you?)
I've been very lucky so far in my dealings with businesses in Italy, so I have no personal experience in this matter. However, my understanding is that there is little the Italian authorities may be able to do now that you are no longer in the country. You can file a complaint here: http://www.agcm.it/en/component/content/article/11...
If the business did not give you an official fiscal receipt, you will definitely want to mention that in your complaint, as that is a strong indication they are committing tax fraud. The Italian government takes that very seriously and might even forward the issue to the Guardia di Finanza.
Unfortunately, if the business was just shady, your options are much more limited. For example, if they said they would send you a vase similar to the vase you saw in the store, you're surely out of luck from a legal perspective. You could consider filing a payment dispute (I am assuming you did not pay in cash). You could try leaving reviews (make sure they are very calm-sounding or else no one will take your complaints seriously) along with pictures on websites like Yelp or Trip Advisor, and that might spur the company to reach out to you.
meshelle eicher from Nashville on November 26, 2018:
Congratulations for writing one of the most honest and relevant articles I have ever read in respect to traveling in Venice. I am on my 10th year visiting this amazing city. I visit for 2 months each year, in the winter only. This is the most amazing time to experience Venice and live as a local. There are still tourists, and yes unfortunately some of them are such as described in your article. However.....they are easily overlooked due to the splendor of the city and the hospitable attitude of its residents.
If you are a budget conscience traveler I would highly recommend visiting in the off season. Summer is just insane snd unfortunately you will not see the best of the city or its residents. Just think if you had to deal with thousands of people treating your historic city as an amusement park daily. And add the obnoxious tourist to the top of that pile!
I have lived and travel the world. As long as I have an internet connection I can be almost anywhere. I choose to come back to Venice each winter, which speaks volumes. As a person who travels over 150k miles per year, take it from me Venice is spectacular and you will get so much from this city if you just open your eyes. Get out of San Marco, unless your going to Restaurante Marciana, which is worth going to the area. Go see La Fenice and maybe even read a bit about it’s hisotry before you get here. City of Falling Angles is a good read for this.
Every week I have a different group of friends visiting, I will tell you what I tell them. GET LOST! It is the best thing to do in Venice! With Google Maps and GPS your never really lost, but turn it off and wander the city. Discover the mystery and romance that is Venice.
And DON’T buy glass that says “Murano Glass” in shops with the 50% off signs all over the windows. In most cases this is not Venetian glass. Just skip those 50% off stores all together unless you just want an inexpensive trinket.
As a tourist before you complain about price or please realize that ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING is brought to this city by boat. 6 cases of Coke to go to a restaurant takes 2 men and a hand truck to carry them over bridges. Quite a cost to factor into the cost of items.
Brad Thompson on November 20, 2018:
I was lucky enough over the last couple of decades to work as an engineer in the regions in and around Venezia. I'd spend a weekend knocking around the islands and the Jesolo beach area to the north. Lots of time on canal boats, or training across from Mestre and then up and over the bridges. Some day I plan to do a (slow) marathon of bridge crossings in the big three - Venice, A'dam, and Hamburg, just to count the numbers. btw.. Most of those Murano and Burano shops are there to give you a simulated demonstration of how their products are supposedly made. Buy what's on display if you really like it. Don't be surprised if you buy from the side street shops and later find out it's neither hand-blown, nor even Venetian. Buy it because you like it or think it will make a nice gift. Takes some of the sting out when you find out it came from a factory in China or the former Yugosav republics. Same goes for the knock-off leather products and "marble" items. Notice as well, the number of gypsy vendors throughout the city displaying their items on the ground on a blanket or large cloth. It's like dominoes in reverse when a lookout on the end signals that the police are approaching. Each of them grabs the corner of the cloth, scooping up their merchandise and beats a path up and over a bridge. Occasionally you'll see a dropped bag that a tourist will then scoop up. Overall, the city is certainly one of the most unique, beautiful, and historically significant on the planet. A return is on my list for 2019
Alexandra Hoerl (author) from USA on October 20, 2017:
Thank you very much, Glen. Venice certainly isn't the only place you can see the "this place is my personal amusement park" mentality, but I've never seen such an extreme version of that mentality anywhere else in Italy.
Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on October 20, 2017:
This is a very clear representation of Venice. The way you wrote this review makes me feel like I’m right there with you, experiencing all the crazy attitudes of other tourists. It sure is a strange place that people don’t appreciate.