Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Venice - Backpackers Need Not Apply

Regularly referred to as the most romantic city in the world, I was excited to visit Venice for the fist time, and envisioned foggy morning walks through the canals and afternoons people watching at a small cafe while gondolas glided by. Then, a few weeks before our visit while enduring rainy weather in Florence, we learned about the abnormally high water levels currently leaving a large portion of Venice underwater. My visions of the city quickly changed to thoughts of wading through thigh high water with our backpacks hoisted overhead to stay dry and teetering on a temporary walkway with hundreds of other tourists in St. Mark's square.

St. Mark's Square - beautiful and DRY when we were there!

Luckily we missed this fun (via)

Luckily the rain stayed away, the tides didn't breech the canal walls, and we had sunny bright blue skies for the duration of our three days in the floating city. Making the most of the sunshine, possibly some of the last we would have for awhile, we spent hours getting lost down narrow streets and exploring as much of the city as possible. However, wrapped up in romantic daydreams and weather concerns there was something I hadn't accounted for in our visit to Venice - the prices.

The canals

Being one of the top tourist destinations in the world, fifty thousand visitors (on average) flock to Venice per day looking for an injection of arts, culture, and extravagance. However the majority (let's say 99%) are clearly not on a backpacker's budget, or any budget, as evident by the abundance of high end hotels, swanky restaurants, and tourists carting around multiple Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Missoni shopping bags.

Many of the old buildings and palaces are now hotels

Sunset in Venice - the stuff of Romance

Although we were able to avoid the luxury designer stores (they likely wouldn't have let us in with our backpaker attire anyway) we found the prices for everyday goods as inflated as the hotel rooms and gondola rides, and naively experienced some serious sticker shock when faced with risotto for eighteen dollars per person. However it turns out that residents are also struggling to keep up with these rising prices and are deserting the city at a rate of 2000 people per year. It's estimated that by 2064, the city will essentially be a ghost town without any permanent residents - a sinking Disneyland of sorts. 

Doge's Palace - once the most powerful seat in the Republic

In the few grocery stores that still haunt the island we found some deals - one Euro beer, buns and mortadella for a few euros, and quality dark chocolate for a fair price, all the components of a balanced diet; however, looking for affordable restaurants or internet access revealed itself to be completely futile.

The glittering mosaics of St. Mark's Cathedral

While it might be overrun with tourists and extremely expensive, there's no denying the beauty of the city. There's a reason it has earned a spot among lists of the most romantic and beautiful cities on Earth. The narrow streets and canals, especially at night, are magical to wander around, and the Piazza San Marco is the ultimate reminder of the power and opulence that the Most Serene Republic of Venice enjoyed for over 800 years. In the end, three days probably wasn't enough to see all the sites that we wanted to, but was about all that our budget could endure.

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Hey there!

Calli and Travis returned from a four month trip through Europe more excited than ever to hit the open road. Who knows where they'll end up next...

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