Ok, so I realize that's a strong sentiment to open with, but hear me out. Of course I recommend everyone visit this northern Italian city once in their life, if for no other reason then to admire the detailed architecture and marvel at the labyrinth of canals before they disappear entirely below the water's surface. But once is more than enough. I would say my experience is unique, except I've found that a surprisingly decent number of people also have gone and share my view of the city. Early September in Venice is chilly and it rained nearly every day I was there, which lead to massive flooding, making it nearly impossible to explore without ending the day wet and cold from head to toe. This phenomenon is called "aqua alta" or "high water" and is typical of autumn and winter here. Amazingly enough, this does not hinder any of the hundreds of tourists that overrun the city at any given time of year, making it difficult to get anywhere quickly while you battle large groups of people stopping suddenly in tiny alleys to take photos. I also saw several people continue to dine al fresco despite the significant water that was pooling at their feet; instead of moving inside, they just rested their shoes on tables and chairs as the water continued to rise around them. Insanity, pure insanity. I also got decently sick while in Florence and needed to spend at least a full day in bed, for which I entirely blame the Venice weather. Another huge pain point for me was how expensive everything was - if you're staying on one of the outer islands across from the Grand Canal (like I was), you will need to purchase a multi-day ticket for the vaporetto, or water taxi, which costs anywhere from €20 for a day to €60 for 5 days. There is no other way to get back and forth across the Grand Canal or from the main attractions, so make sure to factor in this extra cost. You will also get lost multiple times, even with your handy downloaded offline Google map; do not trust it, it will lead you to streets that end in water and no way to cross. You will spend at least half of your time aimlessly wandering around just trying to get back to the Grand Canal, which can in fact, be pretty scary at night and alone. The biggest disappointment for me though was how unfriendly the local Italians were. As this was my first stop in Italy, I sincerely hoped that this wasn't something I'd experience throughout the country (it wasn't, thankfully). As I made my way farther south and told other Italians I met about my experience, they weren't surprised at all - apparently northern Italians, and Venetians in particular, are known for being cold, rude, and generally inhospitable to tourists and Italians alike. No amount of poorly attempted Italian could get me a smile. One friend explained that this could be attributed to the large amount of tourists continuously revolve through the city, but I'm pretty positive that they'd still act that way even if that wasn't the case.
Now that I've torn apart Venice, I will admit that it is stunning. The sunsets overlooking the Grand Canal are beautiful, especially from my room at Generator Hostel. While the canals are reminiscent of Amsterdam, the buildings are detailed and clearly evoke the Renaissance era. It's almost romantic to think that you are walking the same streets and eating at some of the same restaurants that legendary figures like Casanova once frequented. If you're looking for an authentic souvenir as a reminder of your time here, I highly recommend buying a handmade mask from Atelier Marega. The shop has two locations in the city and well worth a stop by just to see the delicately decorated masks and Carnevale costumes. The masks range in price from €20 to over €200 depending on how intricate they are, but are worth the price tag for the higher quality and one of a kind authenticity. They also are more than happy to ship your mask anywhere in the world for an additional but reasonable price if you're worried about it getting damaged in your luggage. Stop by Bacaro Risorto for a glass of wine and a yummy selection of cicchetti, the Venetians' spin on tapas. Similar to bruschetta, cicchetti is typically served on a slice of bread and garnished with anything from fresh cod to gorgonzola with walnuts and balsamic to simple prosciutto and mozzarella. Well priced with good vibes and music, this little corner bistro is a breathe of fresh air from the tourist traps you'll find at nearly every turn. As a huge book nerd, one thing I love to do in new cities is find unique or quirky independently owned bookshops to explore. Liberia Aqua Alta more than delivered on this and was not only one of the highlights of my time in Venice, but my favorite bookshop to date. Located at the end of a dead end alley, the shop opens up to the canal in the back, which can be viewed by climbing a staircase of books on the enclosed patio, or through the doors that open directly onto the canal. During "aqua alta" the canal rises and floods the back of the shop; don't worry though, the owner purposefully designed the space to withstand the flooded canals, with books displayed in an old claw-foot bathtub and even an original gondola. You can also find books stacked to the ceiling, creating a sort of organized chaos that I happily could spend hours leafing through. It was here that I found a tiny little book among the mess called La Cosa più Grande dell Mondo; translating to "the greatest thing in the world," I purchased the book on a whim and now have that very title tattooed on my arm as a reminder of what the author considers some of the greatest things in the world.
My favorite part of visiting Venice actually didn't happen in Venice at all - I spent my first Saturday in Italy exploring the city of Verona, home to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Only an hour away by train, Verona is easily accessible and the perfect escape from claustrophobic Venice. This was the only sunny day I had in northern Italy, but I'm happy that it was spent exploring such a charming city. About a 20 minute walk from the train station to the heart of historic Verona, you'll pass by the Verona Arena, which rivals the more famous Roman Colosseum. While I didn't take a tour of it, it was still just as impressive from the outside. My first stop was Casa di Giuletta, the famed home of the Capulet's, complete with balcony. If you've seen Letters to Juliet (like I have) and are expecting a charming courtyard where one can sit and quietly reflect (like I was), don't be fooled - this place is a tourist mob. While I still wiggled my way through the crowded entrance to add my letter to the wall in hopes that she'll one day respond, I didn't bother paying entrance and took some photos from the top floor of the gift shop next door, which has an even better view of the courtyard below. As I wandered my way through the city and across the Ponte Pietro, I climbed the steps up to Castel San Pietro for some of the most stunning panoramic views of the city. Originally built in 1398, the castle was destroyed 400 years later by the French, ultimately to be demolished and rebuilt by the Austrians in the mid 1800s. If bicycles are the unofficial symbol of Amsterdam, then balconies do the same for Verona. While Juliet's may be the most famous, you'll find balconies in all shapes, sizes, and colors as you stroll through the city. Pop into one of the many osterias that line the river for a light dinner before hopping back on the train to Venice. I honestly enjoyed Verona so much that I would make this city my base and only take a day trip to Venice if I could do it all again.
Venice, you were beautiful and I'm glad I saw you before you disappeared, but I don't think I'll be visiting you again any time soon.