These are the top 10 things I've learned about Venice, Italy:
- They have gondolas there. Lots of gondolas there. They "quay" (or park) the gondolas at night and so you can waylay them to take their pictures if you really want to, once they are parked and resting. They cover them at night with blue tarps too. Everybody and their brother takes pictures of gondolas, even though they will vehemently deny this ("nope, not me. I didn't take any pictures of THOSE...")
- Italian church bells don't just "ring" they "go off" and quite loudly. This event usually corresponds with the evening mass (I'd guess, not really sure on that one-they seem to have masses and bells going off at all kinds of odd hours of the day and night) and caused me to coin the phrase "rambunctious cathedral." In Italy, you do not get a little "ding dong" as your church bell, no, rather you get an entire Italian serenade complete with major, minor keys and complete canonical forms ringing in your ears for hours.
- Italian customs officials in Venice greet you by stamping your passport on the way into the country. They have one bomb sniffing dog but he's really too lazy to get up and give your suitcase a sniff. (Note to terrorists and malcontents the world over: if you want to invade Europe, do it through Venice. For best results, bring lots of dog biscuits.)
- Italian coffee is good. It's not just good, it's FREAKING the BEST FREAKING coffee I've ever FREAKING had. I want more. I want to bottle the entire country and take it home to savor it in my kitchen. American coffee tastes like crap to me now. Starbucks is like hot vinegar in a bottle. Bleck. Cafe Latte is Venetian for "nectar of the Gods" really. (Well, maybe "nectar of the Gods, with hot, creamy foam on top.")
- Do not go to Venice if you do not like pasta. They have pasta everywhere, in every meal, made all different kinds of ways, with all different types of sauces and ingredients. It's really amazing what they do with pasta. It's almost like somebody said once, a long time ago, "you can have any culinary dish-so long as it's pasta" and Italy stepped up to the challenge. I never had the same pasta twice but I ate really nothing but pasta.
- Many Venetian restaurants have so many wines available that you will strain your brain trying to pick one from the 30+ page winelist. Opt for "red" or "white" in a carafe and you will, undoubtedly, get something memorable. They'd call Italy the "wine capital of the world" if they weren't tops in the pasta and coffee departments first, methinks.
- You will get lost in Venice. You will see signs that say things like "Per Rialto" and feature multiple arrows pointing in multiple directions. "Per" in Italian, as best I can tell, means "towards" (sort of like "per insanity" would be Italian for "trying to read map of Venice.") Just keep walking and follow the packs-eventually, you might end up at a bridge that goes over a canal that leads somewhere, not where you intended to go, but someplace interesting none the less.
- They have a lot of Japanese tourists in Venice, and they travel in big packs, often times only stopping to take pictures of their dinners at mealtime and the Bridge of Sighs. These photographers are, more frequently than not, "tripod hole" photographers (they look to see where your tripod left holes and try to take the same shot, not really stopping to even evaluate the view. They just look for the holes and copy whatever shot you just took-probably because you look "professional" on account of having a tripod to begin with.) If you are overly concerned with somebody copying your images, bring a small broom and sweep away your tripod holes or, better yet, learn to shout, "BANZAI!" after each image to make the Japanese tourists think that you are about to crash land something onto their gondola (the Japanese tourists, as it turns out, are, in fact, the only group of people who can afford regular gondola rides down the Grand Canal, due probably to the current currency exchange rates.)
- You can get the best coffee in the Piazza at a place called "Cafe American" where it runs 2 and a half Euro, as opposed to Cafe Florian, where, at 15 Euro, it clocks in as the world's most expensive cup of cafe. 15 Euro is about 18 dollars and, to an American, even having really good coffee at that price is really quite steep. That's a whole lotta latte for you.
- Those street performers who "perform" by freezing themselves in one position for hours? Yup, they've invaded Venice too (must have brought along some dog biscuits.) In Italy, however, they blow a kiss at you if you put a Euro in their till. Oh, and they tend to paint themselves more interesting colors, like gold, copper, silver, and the like (as opposed to New Orleans, where they dressed up more like construction works and "froze" on ladders for hours on end.)
- Venetian glass is really expensive but you can photograph it for free.
- At night, the streets of Venice are almost empty and the shop windows are mostly lit up. This makes for wonderful photos if you carry your tripod and a broom (see no 5.) You can photograph Venetian glass for free in the evenings (see no 4) and not usually have to worry about being run over by a truck (there are, in fact, no cars, trucks, mopeds, etc. on the island.)
- The opera house gets quite crowded but has a brilliant display of costumes, which you can photograph for free. It's wonderful because you don't have to put up with that loud, screaming in Italian the locals like to call "musica."
- Water Taxi drivers are, in fact, Italian drivers. Watch out. They try to eskimo roll those things, like big Italian kayacks, to scare away the tourists, whenever they can get away with it.
Until next gondola...