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    • Venice, Italy is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and was declared an "extraordinary architectural masterpiece" and World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It's estimated that 20 million tourists visit Venice each year - so what are some of the best things to keep in mind as you plan a trip? I'll share some of our favorite finds from a visit there in 2016.

      The most important thing to keep in mind about Venice? Wear comfortable shoes and have fun. Here's a timelapse from our trip to give you an idea of what the main walk is like across the Rialto Bridge and by the Grand Canal.

      Below you can see a photograph taken of Pizza San Marco from the St Mark's Campanile (Bell Tower). It costs about 8-10 Euros to go up in the Bell Tower - unlike Florence's famous Bell Tower, you won't have to take hundreds upon hundreds of stairs to the top! You can ascend quickly and easily with a modern elevator. Although you may have to wait in line depending on time of day, the view is unmissable and absolutely worth it.

    • What to eat while in Venice? Don't miss Cichetti, traditional Venetian snack-bites meant to be grabbed on the go. The best place we found for Cichetti was near the Rialto Fish Market - affordable, tasty and delicious. Real meal pictured below.

      Unfortunately with the exception of Cichetti, most of the restaurants you see in Venice are
      expensive and touristic in nature. Venice is a place to feast your eyes and not necessarily your stomach, so plan accordingly. If you want to go on a culinary vacation, consider other destinations like Modena or Florence.

    • If you plan to get to most sights early (9:30 AM for St Mark's Cathedral is when they open, so being there for 9 AM, or 8:30 AM is when the Doge's Palace opens, so being there for 8 AM) you'll get to see the amazing sights with a minimal amount of guests ahead of you in vast numbers. A lot of cruises set down in Venice for the day, with their thousands of passengers, who then start walking very slowly in front of you - not ideal. Plan on being an early bird or a night owl to experience minimal congestion (*although - disclaimer - most restaurants and bars will close after 8 or 9 PM).

    • One of the most iconic Venetian arts is glass and glassmaking! If you want to experience the full classic glass art form, the best place to see that done today is a daytrip to the island of Murano in the Venetian Lagoon. However, if you want to stick to the main island, the best artisan I've seen there working in glass still is Mirco Rosso. Below you can see him at work in his shop making exquisite tiny glass creations, located conveniently near the Rialto Bridge.

    • Getting lost is seriously part of the charm of Venice, and Google maps is not accurate, so plan on giving yourself time to wander the back ways. We went on a "ghosts and legends" tour of Venice, which was fascinating to learn about the history of the city, from such colorfully named streets as the "Land of Assassins" to the Venice Vampire.

    • If you haven't loaded up your suitcase with too many glass souvenirs, you may want to bring back some examples of classic Venetian mask artistry. If you look, there are still craftspeople making the traditional masks and other related works of art in Venice. We loved the work of Bluemoon, a wonderful traditional mask shop right across the street from Mirco Rosso.

    • I never really thought of myself as a backpacking tourist, but, I traveled throughout Italy with a backpack. LOL At the time I did not realize how St. Marks is a big deal stop. Not into big crowds but hanging out in that piazza let me envision myself on the set of the next James Bond movie. hahahah

      One of my main inspirations to visit Italy and specifically Venice was when I was working as a chauffeur in college and our clients back then were Old Money and one of my regulars emphatically shared that I must see Florence before I die and before Florence sinks away forever. Funny how that seed was planted and ten years later there I was.

    • St. Mark's Basilica is beautiful. When I worked at SmugMug, I would be swept away by the detail in some cathedrals which was hard to see in photos on our screens, so I would take multiple photos and stitch them together into a high-res panorama that that we could print huge on the walls — up to 150 inches high. Then you would see all kinds of detail emerge.

      I shot many frames of St. John's with the intent to make a pano, but made one of the Duomo cathedral in Milan instead. Here are some of the frames I shot of St. John's:

    • Let me give y'all an important tip on coffee there :)

      Back when I was planning my first ever visit to La Serenissima, I was inundated by unsolicited commentary from various friends, mostly moaning about how it is the most expensive and megatouristic place i Europe and canals smell and whatnot. Coffee at 15 euro a pop featured prominently in those anecdotes.

      While some of the epithets might be true (as they are for any hugely (and deservedly) popular tourist places), all of the bad stuff is easily avoided with a little planning and some common sense. But on the topic of coffee, it's NOT really that expensive, and not even necessarily in the touristic places. Thing is, if you enter a coffee place and look around, you will be able to find a plaque or piece of paper stating terms of service. You will also notice that the locals, if any, drink their espresso at the counter. If you look at the terms of service, you will discover that an excellent espresso by itself would cost, I dunno these days, let's say 1 euro. However if you sit down at a table inside, your costs immediately jump +3-5 euros. And if you sit at a table *outside*, that's another 4-6 euros. (you may have to adjust numbers for inflation, but the idea is the same). And that's how you end up with a 15-euro espresso. There's nothing bad in that in itself, sitting at an outside table in the early morning sun at St.Mark square nursing an espresso is well worth it as a one-off experience, but don't let that be your gold standard or turn you away from the city.

      As to the the food in general, the situation is a bit complex. It's not the food is *bad*. It's perfectly fine, if somewhat non-trivial to find because of the tourist-induced mediocreness. But it is also not exactly for everyone's tastes - polenta, fried sardines, chopped liver, all heavy with onions, etc. And also due to the island logistics of the place, good food is really expensive.

      And do pay attention to the sweets! They are often amazing, and for a really tasty and surprising souvenir, do buy some mostarda di frutta! It's essentially a sort of fruit jam with mustard in it :)

    • Y'know, I hate stealing images from the net without attribution, but that was one of those images that gets passed around on Instagram and Reddit and no one seems to know where it came from.

      I spied a few that were lovely. This one apparently was taken by this Venice-based photographer, but I couldn't find it on his site.

    • The complaints about the prices in the Piazza San Marco have always struck me as a little strange, sort of like complaining that the Cable Car in San Francisco is too slow. You're not paying for coffee or beer, you're paying for sitting in the Piazza San Marco at Quadri or Florian, both of which are several hundred years old. That may or may not mean anything to you, and if it doesn't then by all means don't stop there--there's plenty of decent coffee available for a few Euros elsewhere.