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  • This video is an excerpt from a much longer Italy Travel Talk. To view other

  • topics, or to watch my Italy Talk in its entirety, visit ricksteves.com, or

  • check out my Rick Steves YouTube channel. Enjoy.

  • Hi, I'm Rick Steves and I want to

  • share with you my take on one of the greatest cities you can visit anywhere

  • in Europe, and that is Venice, and when you think about Venice you also have to

  • think about the Veneto, that is the region around Venice, which has some

  • beautiful towns. So we're gonna look at Venice, we're gonna take a side trip to

  • Padova, Verona, and then a little bit out of the Veneto, towards the South, but an

  • obvious side trip from Venice, and that is called Ravenna.

  • Thanks for joining us, and we'll start with Venice. Now Venice is the best

  • preserved big city in Europe. It is just beautifully preserved in the middle of its

  • lagoon in northern Italy, and it's a town that goes way, way back. Remember,

  • Venice started out as a refugee camp, really. After the fall of Rome,

  • peace-loving people on the mainland were overrun by all the barbarians going back

  • and forth, having their little villages burned and trampled. Finally, they got

  • together and said, "this is going to be miserable but let's move out in the

  • lagoon, and hope the barbarians don't like water." So they abandoned their farms,

  • they literally deforested that part of Italy, to pound tree trunks into

  • the mud to support their little town, and they made a village, a fishing village

  • instead of a farming village, out in the lagoon, and gradually that morphed into a

  • trading center, and they were great traders, and when they reach their

  • pinnacle, they had a trading empire that stretched all the way to the Holy Land,

  • and they were the economic powerhouse in Europe. It was-their dollar was the

  • dollar. And when you go today, you'll find that the Venice of a thousand years ago

  • survives remarkably well. It was able to control a lot, not because only was a

  • great trader but it was also quite an impressive military power. Venice had

  • the first really mass-produced military sort of complex called the Arsenal. And

  • at the Arsenal, and you can see it today when you walk out there, it's a10 minute

  • walk from the main square, you'll find the place where they could mass-produce

  • their warships. in a very early form of mass production with an assembly

  • line, they could put together an entire warship in a couple of days, and

  • outfit it in one more day. The story is, whenever Venice had an adversary, a

  • potential military adversary, they'd invite him down, and they'd say,

  • "let's go to the arsenal and we'll show you how we make our ships." And they would build

  • the ship in, like, two days, and those potential adversaries would go home and

  • say, "let's just not mess with Venice". I mean it is such a powerhouse. When you look at

  • Venice today it's the shape of a fish, and it's perfectly preserved. There's a

  • law that prohibits anybody from changing any of these buildings, I believe there's a

  • couple of modern buildings in the town, the only one you're likely to see is the

  • train station. When you look at that fish-shaped island, you can see, if it is a fish,

  • the great intestine would be the Grand Canal, right. And up until a century

  • ago it was an island, but then it was connected with the causeway. The causeway

  • goes to the mainland and it brings the highway and several train lines, so

  • you've got Venice now connected with the rest of Italy, and the rest of Europe. You

  • got a big train station, and you got a big parking lot right there near the

  • mouth of that fish. From there you get on your boat, and you wind through the great

  • intestine and you dump out at Piazza San Marco. That's where the Doge's Palace

  • would be, and that's where Basilica San Marco is. The trick for us is to break

  • out of that middle zone between the train station and Piazza San Marco, and

  • explore to the far reaches, and that's where you find the magic Venice without

  • all the crowds. Here you see a schematic diagram of the city with the different

  • neighborhoods and I'll remind you, you got the train station. It takes about an

  • hour to walk from the train station across town to St. Mark's, where the

  • political and religious center is. It's a delightful walk, halfway between is the

  • Rialto Bridge. And between the Rialto Bridge and St. Mark's, that is the main

  • shopping thoroughfare. And most of the tourists spend most of their time just

  • in a shopping trance,

  • walking back and forth with all the other tourists, with all the fancy

  • displays, just marveling at the crowds and the high prices. It doesn't occur to them

  • to get out and walk to the tail of the fish, or walk to far reaches of that

  • beautiful island. This is where the Grand Canal dumps out, and this is the end of

  • the Grand Canal, looking right from the top of the bell tower. This is where you

  • arrive, in Venice this is the train station, and that's the building from

  • Mussolini's time, that's a fascist architecture. In front of the train

  • station you'll find the boat dock. That's called a vaporetto. You get around Venice

  • by boat. They don't have city buses because there's no cars or buses. And

  • what you do is think of the boat, the vaporetto as a floating city bus. It has

  • numbers, it has stops, and the only difference is, if you get off between

  • stops you can drown. you hop on the boat, and you wind your way down the Grand Canal, under

  • the Rialto Bridge, all the way to St. Mark's Square. And this is it, just a

  • parade of beautiful palaces, and mansions, and merchant's villas. I've worked for

  • thirty years to take groups around Venice, I love tour guiding in Venice, and

  • we've created an app that has guided walks through the very most important stops

  • in Italy and the rest of Europe. it's Rick Steves Audio Europe, it's absolutely

  • free, and I want to really stress it here, because when you go to Venice, you're

  • gonna want a guide. And you can hire a guide, it's quite expensive, you can read a book,

  • or if you have a mobile device, simply download Rick Steves Audio Europe, and you

  • go to "tick tick tick," whatever you want to pick, on your computer, you can listen to it

  • on your mobile device, you can listen to it offline. Stick me in your ear, get

  • on that slow boat on the train station, and I narrate every little way-all the

  • way across town to the Doge's Palace. It's a lot of fun, and it works really,

  • really good. The main square, St. Mark's Square, it's the only place that gets to

  • be called a square in the town. It's facing the Basilica San Marco and the

  • bell tower, the "campanile." This is one of the greatest pieces of real estate in

  • Europe. This is a romantic painting from a couple centuries ago, but if you stood

  • in the same spot and looked at it today,

  • it hasn't changed very much. And it's got the same kind of romance, there's

  • something about it that I never get tired of. When you're in Venice you want

  • to get caught up in the romantic of Venice, you want to be on that square in the

  • evening when the dueling orchestras are playing. You hear people complain

  • about "oh it's $25 for a glass of wine or a beer at the famous café on the St. Mark's

  • Square." Well no, its not $25 for a beer, it's $25 for a table at the most expensive

  • piece of real estate in Europe, listening to live orchestra, surrounded by the

  • wonders of Venice, and it comes with a drink. Come on, don't complain. If you want a

  • beer, go four blocks away and step up to the bar and get a beer for the same

  • price as anywhere else, you know, but this is one of the great experiences of

  • Europe. Here you are, looking at Basilica San Marco, wow. Now I want to remind you,

  • Venice started out, as I mentioned, as a refugee camp. It was really important,

  • ultimately, politically and religiously, or politically and economically, but of

  • no great important religiously because they didn't go back to biblical times, it

  • was a relative upstart town, and they had no bones. You had to have relics to be

  • important in those days, and Venice had all sorts of money, all sorts of power, but an

  • inferiority complex when it came to religious importance. Now I don't know

  • exactly how they knew the stuff but I think there was, like, newsletters going

  • around or, something but the bones of St. Mark were available in Egypt. St. Mark's

  • bones. Venice sent a crew down to Egypt to, what they call, "rescue the bones

  • of St. Mark," from the Muslims, you know, and they brought it back to Christendom. And

  • they planted Mark under the altar of St. Mark's Basilica, and

  • suddenly, St. Peter and the Dragon are out, and St. Mark and Winged Lion are in, and Venice is

  • now on the pilgrimage trail, and it's a complete town. Here we have a thousand

  • year old mosaic telling the story under the door of st. Mark's Basilica,

  • and if you look closely, you can see Mark on that great day, being brought in after

  • that voyage across the Mediterranean from Egypt, and finding his ultimate

  • resting spot there in Venice, under the altar of St. Mark's Basilica. And it is a

  • gilded, lavish

  • rich, thousand year old treasure chest today.

  • Well worth checking out, you gotta check out the interior of Venice, St. Mark's. And

  • all over Venice, in fact, all over Venice's Empire, you will find lions with wings,

  • 'cause that was the symbol of St. Mark, St. Mark's Winged Lion. This is the

  • political and religious center of Venice right here, you can see the Doge's Palace,

  • that was, you know, the political powerhouse, the Capitol building, and

  • you've got the bell tower which you can still climb to this day, and behind that

  • you've got St. Mark's Basilica. When we look at it today, it's the same thing.

  • Venice is remarkably well preserved. Now this Doge's Palace is worth touring,

  • and when you go inside you'll find lavish rooms, and you'll find all sorts

  • of history, and when you go out back you've got the Bridge of Sighs which you can

  • walk over in order to get to the old prison, just like Casanova did. And all

  • those other people who, according to legend, would be sentenced in the Doge's

  • Palace, take one last look at their beautiful, beloved Venice, sigh, and then

  • rot in those prison cells with all the rats and everything, on the other side of

  • the canal. Venice has so many gorgeous corners, and it's so fun for us to check

  • it out, but I wanna remind you, it's human nature for all of us tourists to stay right

  • where all the people, and the glitter, and the glass, and the trinkets, and the

  • glasses, okay. Break away from that. Break away from that, because Venice is much

  • more than tacky tourist shops, Venice is a chance to get out and explore a

  • town of 70,000 people. Venice is a small town today, that entertains 10 or 12

  • million people a year. But the core town is a parallel existence. The local people

  • know their Venice, and they've got kind of blinders, and they can almost live

  • oblivious to the crush of tourists that come and go every day. If you're up early,

  • if you're out late, if you're in the far fringes of that island community, you do

  • feel the pulse of the community of Venice. One great thing about Venice is,

  • wonderful art. If you think about art in Europe, remember you gotta have money to

  • have art.

  • In southern Italy, there was not a lot of money, and there's not a lot of art

  • today. The money was in Venice, the money was in Florence, and that's where your art

  • is five hundred years later. I like art in situ, rather than in museums. In situ,

  • where was originally commissioned to be, and Venice has one of the greatest

  • examples of in situ art, and that is the Church of the Frari, the Church of the

  • Brothers. This is the exterior, not a very impressive exterior, but if you step

  • inside, you got masterpieces by Giorgione, by Titian, and by a handful of other great

  • masters of the Venetian Renaissance. To see one great painting in situ by a

  • great master, to me, is just a delight. To go to a church where you have eight

  • paintings, by eight different masters, all where they're originally intended to be, is

  • flat-out amazing. I like it so much that one of the actual tours on the Rick Steves

  • Audio Europe list is of the Frari, just so I could walk you through that and

  • appreciate that. If you like Venetian art, remember there is a gallery, it's

  • sort of like the Uffizi, or like the Vatican, and in Venice it's called the Accademia.

  • And there you've got a, just a whole lot of very sumptuous Venetian art. The

  • Renaissance started in Florence. It was brought down to Rome by the Pope. In 1521 when

  • Raphael died, the Renaissance carries on in Venice, funded by the rich merchant

  • class. In Venice it became the art of wealthy people. And it was art that made

  • wealthy people feel good about their wealth. You can imagine, if somebody's

  • filthy rich, they want to have an artist that makes them feel cultured, and

  • high-class, not crass and materialistic, and I think you get that kind of agenda

  • in the art of Venice. A key for me, as a tour guide, when I have a group in Venice,

  • is to get my people walking. Now, a lot of Americans are nervous about getting lost

  • in Venice. Don't worry about getting lost in Venice, you're gonna get lost in

  • Venice, alright, there's almost no street names, you don't know where the heck-

  • what street you're on or anything like that.

  • Wander to your heart's content, and remind yourself, "I'm on an island

  • and I cant get off without knowing it," okay. You're on the island of Venice, it's not that

  • big, and you just can't get

  • irrevocably lost. One very nice trick is, any business, any little hotel, any

  • restaurant, and they are everywhere, has a card, and on the back of that card is a

  • map that says, "you are here." Anywhere you go in Venice, they love to give up

  • their cards, you know that. Pick that up, and that's where you are and they want to

  • help you get to that restaurant, but it's also gonna help you get the heck out of

  • that restaurant, and it shows you where the big landmarks are nearby, so you got

  • that sort of, "I am here"

  • aid. Also remember, when you're walking around, and I used to do this to my groups,

  • I'd walk all over, my groups would think we're hopelessly lost, and I would actually

  • know where we are, because I would just look above the crowds. If you look above

  • the crowds, you see signs pointing to the nearest landmark. You navigate by

  • landmarks. In this case, you can get to st. Mark's by going left or right. I love

  • to wander to the edge of Venice. Look at this, there's no tourist in sight, it's just a

  • pastel wonderland, and this is all yours any day of the year, even in the most

  • crowded day of the year, you could come to this spot and see no tourists.

  • Beautiful, pastel, sleepy, dreamy, romantic Venice. If you can get a guided

  • tour of Venice it's a great idea. On the ships, on the boat, on the back lanes, there's lots

  • of good guides in Venice, there's good books, and of course we cover that in our

  • app. This is the Bridge of Sighs, and to go under the Bridge of Sighs in a gondola

  • with your favorite travel partner is a beautiful thing. Remember, when you go to

  • Venice, you can get a gondola ride. Now it's kind of a tourist trap these

  • days, it costs about $100 for 45 minutes in a gondola. You can divide the cost and

  • the romance by up to six people. Six people in a gondola, okay, it's not quite as

  • romantic as you and your partner but it's very inexpensive, and it's a

  • beautiful, beautiful moment. I think you gotta budget it. It's a beautiful, beautiful

  • thing, and we do with our groups, I like to do when I'm there. I will tell you,

  • you're stuck on a boat with a gondolier, and some gondoliers are just ruffians, and others

  • are charmers. They're all hustling for your business. Talk to a bunch of them,

  • it's fun, they're all trying to sell their services.

  • Find one who you like,

  • that you feel good about, and then hire him, he can take you around. Nothing's quite like a

  • beautiful evening on a gondola with a good travel partner. Now if you don't

  • have enough money to get a gondola, you can go on a traghetto. These are gondolas

  • that are public ferry gondolas, that go across the Grand Canal where there's

  • no bridge. The Grand Canal's a long canal, and it's only got, I think, four bridges the

  • whole way, so what you want to do is look on the map, and any good map will show you

  • where the traghettos are. This just costs a couple bucks and then, you kind of

  • stand, like George Washington crossing the Delaware, and you feel very local

  • when you're crossing the canal with a bunch of locals going to the market on a

  • traghetto. Enjoy the vaporetti.

  • The vaporettos are these city bus boats. I like to sit in the front of the boat

  • and just joyride. It's a beautiful experience, and you can get around, and

  • you can go to the far reaches of the lagoon. Now, when you're exploring the

  • lagoon, remember, you've got a bunch of famous islands in this Venetian Lagoon.

  • Murano is famous for glass, Venice had