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While the phrase “NVNQVAM DERELICTA”, meaning never abandoned, plastered on the wall of the Doge’s Palace in Venice initially held religious meaning, it remains a suitable motto for the city today. Venice has survived 1,400 years of almost constant siege–from Barbarians, Napoleonic armies, rising waters and loads of tourists. Today’s expensive cost of living continues to drive more and more natives to neighboring cities, but Venice locals that remain have an intense love and protective spirit for their gorgeous, watery metropolis. Here’s what Venetians want travelers to know about Venice.
Venice’s meandering streets are an obstacle for even those with the best sense of direction–so go with it. If you don’t get lost, you’re not doing it right. In fact, it’s best to explore this wonderful maze of a city in a bit of a confused state. Given that you will get lost, Venice locals suggest allowing yourself extra time to get around or arrive at your destination.
Despite its long, rich history, Italy as we know it has only been a country for less than 150 years. So it makes sense that regional dialects and languages are regularly used alongside mainstream Italian. The language of Venice known as Veneto or Venetian, is a unique language complete with its own dialects. Greet a local with “Ciao vecchio/vecchia” to say “Hi old boy/girl” or soften the z in “grazie” to an s sound.
Water is no joke in Venice–when it was its own city-state, pollution of the water was a crime punishable by death. During these times, boats were slower moving and powered by people, so they didn’t cause much damage to buildings, either. Today, water is still a vital part of Venice, but also the means for greater damage. Modern boats are faster and larger so they create bigger waves that penetrate buildings’ isolation layers resulting in greater structural damage. As one local points out, “Venice is best seen from the water.” But choose your means of transportation carefully–only choose boats that obey the speed limit, such as vaporetti (water buses) and traditional wooden boats.
When Napoleon’s army invaded Venice, it did everything it could to crush the unique identity and spirit of the feisty Venetians. Because a winged lion is the symbol of Venice, they destroyed all lions that were sculpted, carved and painted on all buildings and bridges. While a lot have since been replaced, there are still many spots where a rough stone scar marks where a lion head once proudly lived. These unpleasant reminders still upset the locals in Venice.
The acqua alta (extreme high tides that flood parts of the city) may seem bizarre for visitors, but for locals, it’s normal. So normal, in fact, that there’s an app for it–hi!tide Venice or Venice tides allow locals to keep an eye on the tide in order to stay prepared.
App or not, be careful not to have a heart attack during the acqua alta. Ambulance boats usually can’t fit under many of the bridges during this time, so emergency medical services are limited.
“When the archangel pisses on the basilica, it’s going to rain.” Though odd, this local phrase is quite useful. The golden angel Gabriel referred to is actually the weathervane atop the campanile bell tower in the Piazza San Marco. When the angel turns northeast toward the Basilica di San Marco it signifies shifting winds and coming rain.
Visitors making their way through the Piazza San Marco and the smaller Piazzetta di San Marco have a lot of trouble not running into tourists, hawkers wearing striped shirts and people in long lines waiting to see the interior wonders of the basilica and campanile. But superstitious locals suggest there’s bad luck to worry about too. There are two columns topped by Venice’s patron saints that guard the water’s edge. The space between the two columns used to be a place for public executions and it is considered bad luck to walk through it to this day.
There are many regions in Italy that are as known as even the most popular cities–Tuscany, Sicily, Umbria, anyone? Venice, though, has always overshadowed Veneto, its province. Venice locals want to remind visitors that there are many places to visit including mountains, vineyards and medieval towns beyond the city. Head out to Dolomites, the mountain range visible from Venice on clear days or make a day trip to Marostica or Asolo. Wherever you go, don’t limit yourself to Venice.
You’ll often see locals at cafes standing up in line, at the bar, or at tall tables enjoying their morning espresso. Standing in Venice will help you to blend in with the locals and save some money–opting for your coffee without a seat is usually significantly cheaper than if you ordered that same drink at a seat.
Don’t shy away from the local Venetian food. Squid ink spaghetti, risotto with prawns and zucchini, and marinated sardines come from the surrounding waters while rice and peas and pasta and beans or risi e bisi and pasta e fasioi, respectively, come from the Italian tradition of combining beans and starch. Don’t skip dessert, either–international favorite tiramisu was created in nearby Treviso, making Venice its second home.
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Christine Sarkis, SmarterTravel.com | May 18, 2016