Venice turned out to be a lot different in certain aspects than my preconceived notions and the expectations that I had before embarking on this trip. Before leaving, I thought that I had a pretty decent grasp on what Venetian culture and the actual city of Venice would be like. I thought it would be relatively similar to the movies and books that I had read. I thought that there would be lots of loud Italian speakers shouting in the streets and bustling about. I knew beforehand while writing my Italy Imagined essay that I wouldn’t be able to do the trip and my overall experience justice. Once we finally arrived in Venice, I began noticing some things that I hadn’t originally accounted for in my Italy Imagined essay.
First off, the locals to tourists ratio. I knew that Venice was a tourist heavy destination, but I had no idea how many tourists cycle through there a year. Someone told me that Venice can get around 20 million tourists a year. That number is unfathomable for me. That’s more than Barcelona, Chicago, or many other major cities around the world that are known for getting numerous tourists and travelers a year. Piazza San Marco is absolutely teeming with tourists all taking photos outside of Basilica San Marco and Café Florian. You can barely walk four steps without bumping into someone with a giant selfie stick or some clunky backpack filled with overpriced souvenirs. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a local Venetian around the Piazza San Marco area unless they work there or are just passing through.
That area of Venice also houses other popular tourists stops like: The Doge’s Palace, Basilica San Marco, Café Florian, Biblioteca Marciana, and a couple of museums. Other popular tourist destinations that I picked up on while in Venice were Ponte di Rialto and the Accademia bridge. For whatever reason, those places seemed to hold the most people at all hours of the day. We’d start off in Piazza San Marco early in the morning with hundreds of other people and end our day walking through it to our vaporetto with people still milling around. Again, it seemed as though locals tended to stay away from these areas, understandably so. The further away you’d get from Piazza San Marco or the Rialto bridge, the less people there would be and the less expensive goods or food would be. The people were more laid back and simply enjoyed having some customers, as opposed to the workers around the busy parts who were just trying to get through the day and get people in and out of the restaurants or shops. As we would venture further away from the heart of the tourist attractions, the more comfortable and local I’d feel. It felt more like how Venice was intended to be. Venice has always been hospitable and welcoming to guests and foreigners since it lies within major trade routes, but I doubt they ever thought that the tourist levels would climb as high as they recently have. Once you step away from those areas, you start to see the more real and honest Venice. The tiny shops filled with trinkets, the sandwich shops with only two tables, and the quiet alleyways that lead you there. These are all things that I wouldn’t have had the chance to experience if I hadn’t stepped off of the beaten path and ventured away from the crowded areas. Finding these hidden gems makes you feel like you’ve found your own little slice of Venice.
Another major difference I noticed from my Italy Imagined and my actual experience of being in Venice was how incredibly religious the city is. Beforehand, I knew that Italy as a whole was a very religious country, specifically Roman Catholic. Obviously, the hub of Catholicism lies in Vatican City in Rome, so it makes sense that they country is heavily influenced by that religion. Venice was absolutely packed with churches and basilicas though. You couldn’t turn a corner without catching a glimpse of another church. Venipedia tells us that there are 139 churches in Venice, but only 88 of those still hold regular services. That’s a lot of churches and places of worship for one city. I now know that one of the main reasons that there are so many churches is because of the campi. Each campi needed its own church to serve as a place of worship and community gathering space. They serve more than just the purpose of holding religious services.
There are many more things I could continue on about, but those two were the major differences that I hadn’t even thought about before coming to Venice and I wanted to keep this final post relatively concise. Experiencing such an old and historic city firsthand is indescribable. I feel so fortunate to have had this experience with a group of amazing humans by my side. I will never forget my time in this lovely city and I plan on coming back in the very near future.