Return to Venice Guide Overview
Jeanette Valentine of SoulOfAmerica.com in St. Marks Square, Venice
VENICE ADVICE and OBSERVATIONS
- Unless you are fluent in Italian, bring an Italian Phrasebook with you.
- You will use the Italian equivalent for the following English words/phrases often so memorize their Italian pronunciation before your trip: Sir, Madame, Hello, Please, Thank You, Excuse Me, Goodbye, I don't understand, Where is?, How much?, Do you speak English?
- Charm and good manners are appreciated by Italians. You are expected to greet small shop owners, elderly people, etc. The more you use (Sir, Madame, Hello, Please, Thank You, Excuse Me), the more help that you will receive. If you start every interaction in Italian then follow with English (using a pleasant voice), you will receive assistance from most people (if they understand English).
- Confirm your flight at least 72 hours in advance.
- Check the luggage policy for your airline.
- Make a copy of your passport/flight itinerary/hotel reservations and leave it with someone at home. Also, carry an extra copy with you.
- Request an exit row seat for more legroom.
- Pack headache, Airborne and other medicines in your hand luggage.
- If you have a cold or have problems with air pressure, purchase the special ear plugs for air pressure available at most airports or large pharmacies.
- If you are sitting in coach during your international flight, bring your own cold non-alcoholic drinks and snacks. It's a long flight and the airplane food may not satisfy you.
- Bring an eye patch for sleeping.
- Bring plenty of magazines, books and CDs for entertainment.
- If you are not flying directly from the U.S. to Venice and need to transfer flights in another European city, don't have tight connections between your flights. You need to allow plenty of time for your transfer, since Italian flights are cancelled or delayed frequently. If your flight is cancelled, don't expect an explanation from the airline.
- American Airlines doesn't offer direct service to Venice, so you want to reserve a direct flight from another European city. London and Paris are good options, since they offer direct discounted airline service from their cities.
- Volareweb is an Italian airline that offers budget flights from Paris. They use medium size modern planes. The flight attendants are very young, cute and helpful. They are similar in style to Southwest Airlines with open seating on their planes. You pay for food and soft drinks on the plane. If you decide to use them, you may be the only African American on the plane, since they mostly cater to budget conscious European tourists and residents.
A Sister's Story:
A sister used an Italian airline for her Venice to Paris flight. The flight was cancelled at the last minute and the next flight left over 5 hours later. The passengers were not given any explanation for the flight cancellation and the normally vocal Italians didn't complain, since flight delays were so common. Fortunately, she had scheduled an overnight stopover in Paris or she would have missed her international flight.
Marco Polo Airport, Venice
- If possible, arrive in Venice during daytime (before 6pm). It's very hard to read maps and street signs in central Venice at night.
- Arrive at the Marco Polo airport at least 3 hours before your international flight, since airport security can take a long time during peak tourist periods.
- At the Marco Polo airport, you pay for luggage carts with Euro coins, so be prepared.
- For many flights departing the Marco Polo airport, you need to board a shuttle bus at the gate to take you to the plane. If the airline has open seating, lining up at the gate early will not guarantee a good seat, since you will probably end up at the back of the shuttle bus. Basically, the first people who leave the shuttle bus get the best seats, so stay near the exit door.
- Eat a big meal or shop at the local grocery store before arriving at the airport. You may need to stay at the airport for hours before flight departure.
A Sister's Story:
You never know who shares your politics. The loud blare of an alarm sounded when one sister walked through the metal detectors at Marco Polo Airport in Venice. Embarrassed, she reached into her pocket and extracted her African-Americans for Kerry and Edwards button. It was a few days before the November 2004 elections, and she had stuffed it into her jeans after hearing Osama Bin Laden on CNN declaring war on all Americans. The young, blond Italian security guard took the button, read it carefully and laughed. "Oh Kerry," she said, and then scrunched up her face and looked upwards, struggling to translate her thoughts into English. "I hope he wins," she managed finally. "We do not like the Bush." She returned the pin and smiled brightly.
- For the transfer from the Marco Polo airport to central Venice, use the Aliaguna waterbus service. You can also use a private water taxi service, but be aware that the boats are small and fast (If you get seasick easily, the speed can be a problem).
- Leave early for your return flight from Marco Polo airport, especially if you are using the Aliaguna waterbus service.
- Use the Internet or phone cards for inexpensive communication with home. Internet cafes are available in several locations around Venice. Don't rely solely on the telephone for communication with home; you want to have an e-mail account that you can use when away from home in case of an emergency.
- Don't call the U.S. using your hotel's phone service unless it's an emergency or saving money is not an issue.
VENICE HOTEL ROOMS
- Venice hotel rooms are very small compared to the U.S., so pack accordingly.
- Air conditioning is not available in many older hotels.
- English language television stations are limited (i.e. CNN, MTV).
- Confirm that the breakfast buffet is included in your room price before going to the breakfast room.
- If you need to cancel a hotel room, confirm the hotel's cancellation policy and get the cancellation in writing in order to avoid cancellation fees at a later date.
- Many hotels are very old and use unusually large keys. You are expected to leave these keys at the front desk before leaving for your excursions.
MONEY and VALUABLES
- Bring at least one ATM card and credit card from the U.S. Use the ATM card to get Euros, since they usually have a better rate than many currency exchange offices. Your ATM card should have a code of 4 digits.
- Cash is more commonly accepted than credit cards at many business establishments.
- Exchange dollars into small bills (5 Euros, 10 Euros and coins), since you need small change when out and about.
- Locals don't wear money belts. If you choose to wear a money belt, you stand out as a tourist. Also, wear your money belt around the waist or neck as it is meant to be used.
- If you don't use a money belt, place your money in hidden pockets or deep inside your bag, so that it's hard for pickpockets.
- Put only things that you are willing to lose in your visible pockets.
- When walking around Venice or using the Vaporetto, carry little cash, a credit card, a driver's license and a copy of your passport with you for identification. It's easier to replace a stolen driverís license than a U.S. passport.
- Store your passport, extra money, plane ticket, list of credit card/ATM card customer service phone numbers and other valuables in the locked hotel safe.
CLOTHES and PACKING
- Dress conservatively, especially if you are a woman traveling alone. Many locals are senior citizens and many of the attractions are churches/museums where conservative dress is appreciated. Scarves are a nice accessory to have available in case you need to cover your head. Also, since you really need to pack light, the scarves allow you to vary your outfits with minimal luggage.
- Luggage Test -- Bring it if you can carry it easy with one hand, carry it up several flights of stairs, and onto a moving boat. Your lugguage needs to roll easily around narrow crowded streets.
- Pack several pairs of good walking shoes. Venice is a walker's paradise.
- Pack a compact umbrella, magnifier for reading maps, expandable bag for souvenirs/gifts. Also, the expandable bag is great for last minute repacking at the airport, since the Italians have stricter weight limits than the U.S.
- Buy a packing book, so that you learn how to pack efficiently.
- Find the nearest grocery store and consider purchasing food for a picnic. Also, stock up on your favorite drinks, so that you don't need to buy the expensive drinks in your hotel's mini-bar.
- In Venice, grocery stores can close at 8pm and some stores are closed on Sunday. It's best to visit markets in the morning. Also, you pay extra for the plastic bags used for your groceries. Many locals bring their own bags for groceries.
- For budget meals, try a pizzeria. A personal pizza usually costs 6-7 Euros.
- Some restaurants add a cover charge to restaurant bills, so be prepared for the additional cost.
- Don't be alarmed if dining in a restaurant frequently by locals if the restaurant owner yells at some of the regular clients. The Italians can be loud and expressive, especially if they have a disagreement over a restaurant bill.
- Gelato is plentiful and cheaper than soft drinks.
- Some restaurants allow the ownerís dog to walk around inside the restaurant near customer's tables and the kitchen. If this is an issue for you, choose your restaurant accordingly.
- Using Vaporetto boats are the most common form of transportation. If you have problems with seasickness, bring something to prevent it (wrist bands, medications, etc.).
- Vaporetto boats don't adhere to a specific timetable. The ticket office may not even have a printed timetable available when you request one. When in doubt, use the slow boats that come more frequently because you can wait a long time for the next express boat.
- Unless you are walking everywhere, don't plan a tight schedule using the Vaporettos.
- Before exiting a Vaporetto boat, look at the map and figure out exactly where you are going.
- Be discreet when chewing gum. Technically, chewing gum is not allowed on Vaporetto boats.
- Unless you are very good at balancing yourself while standing up in a boat, don't use the small Traghetto boats.
- If you are a female traveling alone wearing a ring on your wedding finger, the local men will not bother you. They respect the wedding ring. If you are a woman traveling alone and not wearing a wedding ring, you may receive some harmless unwanted attention from local men. Just say No firmly and they will leave you alone.
- Depending on where you live in the U.S., sisters may notice a significant increase in the number of sisters dating European men compared to the U.S.
- Public display of affection among couples is more common than the U.S.
- Compared to major U.S. cities, Venice is a safe city. You should use common sense when walking around. Sisters traveling alone should assume they are traveling in a major U.S. city and take the necessary precautions.
- Pickpockets don't fit a profile. Anyone can pick your pocket, so use care when in tourist attraction areas, using public transportation, etc.
- Seek help from official looking people only (train station agents, tourist office, tour bus drivers, airport information desk, airline employees, hotel desk clerks, etc.).
A sister's story:
One sister, arriving in Venice at night, ventured into the Bacaro Jazz club to ask for directions to her hotel. She felt at home in the loud bar, where jazz played on the CD system and photos of Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington peered down from the walls. An English-speaking Italian high-school student named Marco agreed to help her navigate the narrow, cobbled-stoned streets. Dressed in the uniform of the private academy he attended, he carried her heavy bag and acted as interpreter to get directions to the hotel. Finding the hotel proved difficult, yet the good-natured Marco continued lugging her bag and asking directions for almost an hour. When they arrived at the hotel, he adamantly refused to take any money for his time and trouble. He embodied the generosity that Italians are known for.
INTERACTIONS WITH LOCAL BLACKS
- Compared to Paris and London, there are few Blacks living in Venice. That being said, African American tourists are treated much better than many places in the U.S. where there are few African Americans.
- You will encounter Blacks from the U.S. military and some Black tourists. Also, African vendors selling discounted designer purses are common on the streets of Venice.
- Don't expect local Blacks to greet you the same way that they do in the U.S.
A sister's story:
One sister was surprised to encounter fellow African-American female travelers during her short trip to Venice. Two twenty-something sisters, taking time away from college in the states to tour Europe, were marveling at the splendor of St. Mark's Square one rainy Friday morning. A Chicago sister at the San Marco Airport had just completed a two-week private yacht cruise along the Amalfi Coast. She was kind enough and technologically savvy enough to share video of her amazingly gorgeous trip using the viewfinder in her digital camera, right there in the airport waiting area. All the women were thrilled with the sights and tastes of Italy, and everyone agreed that the generosity of the Italian people is unmatched in Europe.
- Don't miss eating gelato at several gelaterias, exploring the St. Mark's Square area, cafe entertainers providing night entertainment in St. Mark's Square, sunset over Venice, shopping at a local grocery store (some of the best souvenirs/unique foods are found here), visiting the museums, and a boat ride down the Grand Canal!
- If you have a list of places that you want to visit, it's best to prioritize them in advance to avoid disappointment. You need to allow plenty of time for transportation between tourist attractions.
- Be patient-locals move slow, tourist attractions are extremely crowded and there is some chaos when using the Vaporetto boats.
- To avoid smoke, don't go to the main train station. This is one of the smokiest places in Venice and extremely crowded.
- If it's raining, run into a cafe and relax. Don't get frustrated trying to read maps and street signs in the rain while dealing with an umbrella.
- Before leaving your hotel, check the weather report. Venice can have sunshine and rain on the same day.
- Venice uses military time or the 24 hour clock and dates are written day/month/year, so don't get confused by the difference.
- Bring plenty of anti-bacterial wipes (Wet Ones, Purell, etc.) to help prevent illness.
- Before leaving the U.S., find out if your health insurance covers an unexpected visit to the doctor in Venice and the locations of the hospitals covered by your health insurance.
- Bring some of the books on the Venice Resources List with you on your trip.