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Walking Venice (craigmod.com)
86 points by cmod on July 8, 2022 | hide | past | favorite | 68 comments

I've been to Venice and I do feel kind of bad about the situation. I wish there were more cities like it to visit or live in, that were really aggressively pedestrian friendly. The fact that it's mostly little alleys and side streets with nary a car to be seen is just...sublime, in its own way.

It's amazing the impact it has on your brain to not have to worry about cars at all as you wander about on foot. Of course there are many reasonably pedestrian-friendly cities all over the world, but I can't really thing of anything on Venice's level where it's in a developed/rich country, and yet there's this decently-sized population/geographical area with essentially zero cars around.

Quite a few towns in Europe are pretty similar. A few years ago I spent some time in Pontevedra which literally banned cars from the city.


Looks like cars are only banned from the center of the city there. I won't dispute that it looks quite nice though.

Pontevedra is very compressed. Pedestrian-only areas cover most of the city.

It looks like it only takes 10 minutes or to walk from one end where there's cars to the other. In contrast, going from the train station in Venice to the park on the opposite end takes close to an hour.

Part of why Venice is nice is because it feels big enough to really explore on foot. Having a much smaller town that has no cars is okay, but not quite the same experience.

This is really not that rare in Europe. There are many hundreds of historical cities with large sections built before cars. Pedestrianized zones are popular and even where cars are present, there's a much better balance between pedestrians and cars. Overtourism is also a very localized phenomenon. The vast majority of people never wander beyond a single square or a single high street, as is mentioned by the author when they say they go one street back.

The lesson is that if you go to a globally famous city during a famous festival, and stand in a famous square, you may find quite a lot of other people with you.

I traveled around Europe while living in Munich and that wasn't quite my experience.

Yes, there were many places that were highly walkable or pedestrianized city centers, but sizable cities where cars didn't exist in essentially the whole area? I didn't see that, and so far the specific examples people have mentioned have been small towns or just city centers with no cars.

I suppose you could call Venice that, but you could also see it as a historical district of the larger metropolitan area. The metro area has a population of 2.5 million. Only 50k live in Venice proper.

I've been to Venice, and I've driven from Miami to Key West.

Both are doomed, but the catastrophes will have markedly different vibes.

The Dalmatian coast has some lovely small cities of ancient stone, and far less people. Wonderful things to be found.

walking around when it's pitch black is quite frightening though; many canals had no barriers

I have spent a delightfully large amount of time walking around Venice in the dark and I never once felt that I couldn't see the edge of the canal. It's relatively rare for people to accidentally fall in, so I think I'm not alone. If you have unusually bad night-time vision or can't walk in a straight line then I can imagine it could be a concern, though.

Thanks for writing this, I lived briefly in Venice during college, and I visited the city multiple times since in the last two decades. I been in both sides of the fence: a inhabitant and a tourist. And the city can't be any more different when you live there (the slow pace, the absolute silence, the absurd elongated perception of time) and when you visit. It was only until 2019 where I ventured myself into the Biennale and I had the same impression as the author: unthinkable that this fair is not more popular and appreciative of finding a place of high culture without being completely overtaken by tourism.

I just came back from this year's Biennale, and I'm thankful that it's not more popular. I think it's already popular enough ;-)

Korea's pavilion had fantastic showing this year. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8OFhSq1XEE

A little advice about ATMs (I think it should be applicable within any country in Europe) - Try to always look out for an ATMs that belong to banks, they are usually “nice” in terms of being easy to choose not to impose their own currency rate.

The predatory ones are usually operated by some private nonbank subject most common being Euronet - don’t even touch these.

The EuroNet ATMs in Germany are actually pretty alright! I use them all the time and recommend them to visitors as well because they are widely available and still among the more official and hassle-free ATM brands around here. (They have a simple UI, support many languages and never ask for extra fees, as far as I’ve seen.) But it might be different in other countries and dependent on the origin of the bank card, of course.

I believe the reason they don't ask for extra fees is because the exchange rate they offer is so bad (unlike your typical bank ATM that offers the correct exchange rate but might charge a Euro or two for foreign card withdrawals). Admittedly, that might be fire for visitors from the eurozone.

If you are withdrawing the same currency that your bank account is then yes I believe euronet is ok. But try to use them with bank account in foreign currency - it´s not really clear to the user that they are accepting such a terrible exchange rate. At least that´s my experience.

Although if your bank has no foreign transaction fees and rebates you on ATM fees, you should be fine to use them, so long as you always decline the conversion that they offer (on all the euronets that I've seen it straight up says that there is a 13% markup involved, you can also compare with visa or mastercards conversion rate on their respective websites)

This is the right answer. Always decline the conversion and let your bank do it. Even the worst US bank will have a better rate. If you travel a lot, it pays to use a bank that gives current market rate, has no foreign tx fees, and refunds all additional ATM fees.

Of course, the "predatory ATMs" tend to be those installed at or near the main tourist thoroughfares, finding bank ATMs may require some searching. I guess it's just another variation of "tourist trap"...

Was in Venice at the same time, Biennale was the highlight for me, an oasis in the middle of our Venice trip. The city itself was expensive, finding good food was not easy, completely overcrowded and majority of financial interactions involved someone charging us for something we did not buy.

Florence on the other hand was phenomenal, we stopped by on our way to Venice for a few nights and though it had many tourists, it was so easy to wander and get lost and find treasures. We couldn’t find a place that had bad food, just wander somewhere off the main path and amazing pizza, amazing wine for incredible price. Incredible sights and history to indulge in, definitely was the highlight of our Rome, Florence, Venice trip.

I live near Venice and I have to agree with the article. But I don’t like Venice, or better, I love the city, I hate the people/tourists in Venice.

I can only suggest to visit (in addition to Venice), two nearby cities: Chioggia and Trieste

To me it seems like a simple case of supply and demand. Of course, you can't easily increase the supply of historic super-walkable towns, but you could design and create a modern super-walkable town if you wanted to, and had the resources. Could even make it cute, probably, with the right design regulations.

You're right in the sense that the supply can't actually increase, but I have to say that Central + Southern Europe (but Italy in particular) has so many of these kinds of cute, walkable, quiet-but-fun towns that if you want a lovely trip where you're not arse-to-elbow with other tourists you're spoiled for choice.

My experience was that you can easily find ones that are highly walkable, but "no cars in the city whatsoever" only seems to exist for, like, tiny little towns locked by mountains or on an island or something. Which I guess Venice is sort of like that, except that it's not all that tiny. That's what I like about it: it's a good-sized town/city that's super walkable and no cars whatsoever aside from the entrance area where the trains also come in IIRC.

In Venice, you can walk from the train station to the park on the opposite end, it takes close to an hour, you'll not even see any cars during that time and it's all fairly dense and urban. If there are cities that you could say the same of, I'd love to know about them.

Europe is full of historic walkable towns, mostly the smaller / less central ones because capitals and important cities have been heavily changed aftere cars took over. But many still have at least a walkable central part. Last weekend I spent in Banska Stiavnica, a former important mining town in central Slovakia, and that is an example of such a town, as would be the centre of Cordoba in Spain, which was very important and then ceased to be, and so on. So the issue is, I think, more of marketing: the popular walkable destinations are overcrowded, but there are many like it, maybe without all those palaces but still beautiful and much much more quiet.

Can't speak for other countries, but the actual reason why smaller towns have more of their historic heritage intact in Germany is that the larger/more important ones were sadly bombed to bits during WW2. Of course, after the war, the open spaces created by bombardment were used to enable "car-friendly" cities, but that was a secondary effect...

My parents/ancestors small town in Germany wasn't bombed (except a few accidents) but after the war they decide to destroy many of the charming ancient buildings and replace them with 70's style ugly. It still has some character, but you have to look harder.

Yes, more pedestrian and bike friendly, routing the cars away from the center. Some cities in the Netherlands making efforts towards this.

The author (tourist) writes about over-tourism: a challenge is how to turn those new walkable town centers into new tourist destinations to offload current hot spots?

Some places sort of naturally become tourist destinations because of size/importance, but there are other ways.

* Some specific gimmick that the town emphasizes, like Leavenworth, WA in the US has a Bavarian gimmick/theme that draws in a lot of tourists in the winter.

* Resort towns that were invented for that purpose like Cancun in Mexico, or Sunny Beach in Bulgaria. Doesn't have to be beaches either, you could do the same thing for mountains/skiing I'm sure, maybe other forms of outside recreation.

* Having something legal that 'usually' isn't. E.g. Nevada towns in the US with either brothels or, more famously, gambling. Of course it's the whole state where's gambling is legal, but yeah you'll get some towns right on the border where they exist for people in the next state over to easily gamble.

Visited Venice while living in Italy back in the early aughts. Pretty much my least favorite city in Italy that we visited. Sure it's an actual real old city, but somehow it had a kind fake feel to it. I distinctly remember sitting down on a bench and then realizing that there was a drunk guy in the bushes right behind me mumbling about something (not in Italian). And none of the people we met who were working in the restaurants or running the BnBs were Italian - they were mostly Moldovan, Slovenian, Croatian. The owner of the apartment where we rented a room was Italian, but living in a completely different part of Italy. They hired a Moldovan woman to run the BnB. It was pretty much the same in all the restaurants we visited as well.

It has its charm, but I think it's a place to avoid during high tourist season.

what frustrates me is just getting around. I suppose one would eventually get used to it, but despite what some say, it is not pedestrian friendly, with tight ally, bridges, dead-ends, etc.

However, what I love is, how unique it is. how many places on earth are you able to take a boat taxi to an international airport?!

I visited Rome, Florence and Venice in January.

I can't recommend the season enough, it felt as if I had some aspects all to myself.

In the summer, I understand the crowds are insane. The only drawback is moderate rain.

My favorite was the old city of Ostia.

> how many places on earth are you able to take a boat taxi to an international airport?!

Also Boston Logan International Airport in Boston:


(This page describes a public ferry service, but there have also been, and I think still are, private water taxis that serve it.)

that's awesome :)

What's awesome about venice airport is, when you get off the dock, you're basically in the terminal!

I enjoyed visiting a few years ago, but yea, it feels more like "Renaissance Disney" then a real city. Even in out of the way parts of the city, the tourists and staff commuting in from the mainland seemed to far outnumber anyone that actually lived there.

I actually found an out of the way synagogue specifically for a gift for a friend, and otherwise did make a point to find a few places where I saw no obvious tourists.

I'd recommend Vicenza and Verona. A single train line connects them to Venice, too.

You'll probably never read this but: were you part of Insomnia Crew?

Wow, you have a great memory. Yes I was. I wrote a (terrible) guide to C when I was 13-14 years old.. :D


And I "composed" a (terrible) anthem for the crew (I used to use the nickname 'throttle' back then). So there's that :P

Small world :)

At first I thought this was going to be fantasy or some kind of conceptual piece and the front page photo was faked with Photoshop or something like DALL-E 2 with a prompt like sad minotaur girl lies in street in Italy while tourists watch, photorealistic. Looks like it's actually from some kind of (very well-done) street performance art piece.

Starting to feel what it's like to be living in the era where thinking a photo is real isn't a pretty safe default assumption.

Yeah, I was expecting some 3D walking through Venice in my browser window, something like Google street view but more smooth open space. This was very underwhelming afetr opening to just find some text musing about visiting.

It's almost as if you can't guess what an article will be about based on a two-word title.

It'a a photo of Uffe Isolotto's We Walked the Earth, at the Danish pavillion.

My SO used to work seasonally in Venice so I was a frequent visitor.

If you haven't been there I recommend arriving by train. It's like setting foot on an alien planet.

As for everything else: much to the locals' distaste the city, like many others in Italy, is slowly turning into a theme park.

Good thing they at least managed to put all the party people on Lido.

The general outlook is grim - young Venetians are increasingly moving out due to high cost of living combined with few employment opportunities outside of tourism.

My fondest memory of Venice will always be the experience of running through the city - I needed to catch a train. It's possible, but frowned upon for the same reason that cycling is forbidden in Venice proper, namely the risk of falling or pushing someone into one of the many canals.

Visited Venice last year late November. During the day, the most enjoyable parts for me were walking a bit further away toward the northern sections (Cannaregio) which are away from the main shopping centers and thus crowds. Then during the late night/early morning I would walk with my wife and explore the city a bit more once the crowds died down and the city felt quiet (after 11pm). That was romantic. I’d parrot with others that it’s amazing not having to worry about cars.

We did Rome, Florence, Tivoli, Siena and Venice. All beautiful cities coupled with amazing food. Florence felt like I was walking through a painting at times; I loved them all.

I grew up in Italy, lived abroad from 2008 to 2020 (Luxembourg, Singapore, San Francisco), then moved back to Italy, and settled in Venezia since.

I live in Venezia now. AMA.

What do you do? How much do you make? How much is cost of living in a month? Are you worried about the drought of the Po River?

Venessiani gran signori

The thing I find most interesting about the Venice Biennale is that it is an event that really embraces the whole city. While the main exhibitions are hosted in the Arsenale and the Giardini venue, there are so many events scattered in gardens and palaces that are otherwise closed to the public. It's a unique chance to experience some hidden gems a tourist would never be able to see.

If anybody is interested in exploring the Biennale Arte, I have built a non-official app that helps you navigate all those events, [0]. It's a hobby project, so please be kind! If you go and want some tips, feel free to get in touch.

[0] https://apps.apple.com/gb/app/biennale-arte/id1620771374

Well done, Alessandro!

Do you live in Venice? We should get a Spritz together :)

My email is my HN username at gmail

Thanks for this piece, I enjoyed reading it.

I was in Naples a few weeks ago and they drive theough all the tiny streets there, it was so stressful. We saw Pompei also. I could not help but marvel at how closw and homley everything felt. Abolish cars in cities!!

When I first visited Venice, I loved it, but that was 40 years ago. Thirty years later it had lost much of its charm. There did seem to be too many tourists, but in all honesty, I think the age of a visitor alters perception.

In any case, City Walk videos may not be ideal, but they provide a rough idea of the current situation.


I've been visiting Italy for years and this last trip during the pandemic, sans the typical tourist volumes, was fantastic. Now that travel is back on, I recommend getting away from the main tourist hot spots, the rest of the country is just as nice and much less crowded.

If you are interested in the topic - try to get a copy of "Migropolis: Venice / Atlas of a Global Situation":


Ha! That front picture is of the Biennale!

Denmark is bringing it! (they made the centaur art thingy)

This has that cringey quality you can only find in self-indulgent writing. Kind of like what you'd expect from a small lib arts school undergrad lit major. Some things are better left unwritten or delivered in conversation over a drink or two.

Sounds like it’s not your cup of tea, but I wonder what prompts you to leave this negative comment? Do you think the author will read it and change his style?

And, what do you think about the actual matter subject of the post rather than the style?

> Sounds like it’s not your cup of tea, but I wonder what prompts you to leave this negative comment?

The hackneyed gerund-noun title is reason enough. Seriously, the writing is coming from someone who wants to be a writer as opposed to just being one: the contrived cadence, the awkward diction, the constant minutiae...

> Do you think the author will read it and change his style?


> And, what do you think about the actual matter subject of the post rather than the style?

It's a terribly cliched type of travel essay: "This city is absurd, but there's beauty in places."

> the writing is coming from someone who wants to be a writer as opposed to just being one

Mod has made a living writing, creating books, and taking photographs for many years. I'd say that makes him a writer, not a wannabe writer. You have critiqued his style, and that's fine. You don't like it, but your stylistic preferences don't govern who deserves to be considered a writer.

Would you mind sharing an example of writing that is in your preferred style?

>But you learn. You learn to navigate the shameful ATMs, and you learn, quickly, routes between places that avoid the crowds. You learn the Biennale is Good. And you find a talented shiatsu specialist named Lorenzo who communicates only via Google Translate.

Isn't that style meant to be read ironically? The general 'you' cannot learn about the shiatsu specialist named Lorenzo.

Is that still bad style?

Sometimes it's nice to shout into the void a bit when something irritates you - I can't say I haven't ever done the same :)

I couldn't agree more. A tourist patronising other tourists from the self-perceived giddy heights of extrospection.

I enjoy his travelogues and photography. His observations of Japan as a foreign resident are particularly perceptive. He's been able to indulge in a life as a travel writer-- if you can look past the cringe there's quite a lot there.

I'm glad I was not the only one thinking that. The writing is clunky and the verbiage is weird even for someone who travels often. Probably the peppered-in Japanese does it in, which is completely unrelatable to anyone who's not an expat in Japan.

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