Venice: The Wisconsin Dells of Italy
Let me begin by saying that Venice is absolutely gorgeous. Jaw-droppingly breathtaking, you might say.
Clear blue canals and narrow winding alleys are the city's streets and sidewalks. The buildings are charming, colorful, and take you back to another time.
You could wander for hours without a map, turning whichever way looks most inviting, and each square you stumble into would be more beautiful than the last.
Yes, Venice is stunning. It's also one of the most popular destinations in Italy, and therefore burdened with visitors from all over the world for over half the year. Venice is the most touristy place I have experienced to date, and considering I spent a summer in London during the Olympics, I think that's saying something.
Masses of people make it difficult to maneuver those narrow, charming streets. The large squares are occupied by tents and tables selling fake Gucci, Prada, and Chanel accessories - often nearby actual Gucci, Prada, or Chanel stores - "original" paintings of Venice scenes, and thousands of carnivale masks.
Countess restaurants, hotels, and gondolas line the canals, luring tourists in with their "Ciao, bella!" remarks, promising an authentic Italian experience if you eat their food, sleep in their rooms, or take a ride in their boats. Yet, 90% of the menus I saw were overpriced compared to Milan standards, and many of them offered a hilarious array of 'international meals' like tacos, hamburgers, and beef pot pie. Hotel prices were ridiculously high, and a gondola ride would have costed me more than I paid to get to Venice.
I'm left feeling very divided about my opinion of Venice. As I wandered around, I was easily charmed by the sights, the quaint little shops, and the ever so complimentary Italians who work there. I enjoyed each bite of expensive spaghetti and photographed every picturesque, postcard worthy scene. I shamelessly acted the part of every other tourist around me, and it was a carefree, magical day. But in hindsight, the whole experience felt very manufactured. I was reminded alot of Wisconsin Dells; an amazingly scenic area of northern Wisconsin in which tourism has gradually eclipsed the natural beauty -and purpose- of the place. Venice seems to be the place to go if you want to experience every stereotypical aspect of Italian culture - for a price.
In Venice's defense, I was only there for one day during the height of tourism season, and more importantly, I didn't plan my visit at all. Historically speaking, Venice is enthralling, and there are plenty of amazing buildings and sites scattered about to prove it. Yet I failed to research what the real Venice - the Venice that has seen hundreds of years of wars, kings, political strife, and yes, even tourists - has to offer. I didn't bother to ask the waiter at the restaurant or man selling paintings what they loved about Venice and what makes it special to the people who call it their home. There is always more than what meets the eye, and I think this is especially true of Venice.
With all of this said, I will return to Venice. You can't judge a book by its cover, and I don't think my brief afternoon spent among thousands of frenzied tourists is a fair representation of the city. I'll come back on a quieter day with a goal to discover Venice's history and secrets - and hopefully a restaurant where spaghetti doesn't cost upwards of a million euros.