I have a love-hate relationship with Venice. Every time I go there, I am completely overwhelmed by the decadent beauty and outlandish originality of the place, and simultaneously horrified by the glut of tacky tourist merchandise and the exorbitant cost of just about everything. Still, I keep going back there. With all its faults, Venice is still one of the most fascinating places I have ever visited, and – even when the city is full of day-trippers – there is nothing quite like it anywhere else in the world. Venice is often compared to a mirage, a dream, or some other altered state of reality; just about every writer who ever sets foot in the city ends up making some kind of reference to its slightly surreal nature. So, let me not be the first to break with tradition (though I’ll try to keep the purple prose to a minimum). Venice really IS like one of my anxiety dreams, in which I walk down streets that lead nowhere, through landscapes that shift as I approach them, until I reach a destination that may or may not be what I was looking for in the first place. Only without the anxiety – most of the time, at least.
Navigating the city, even with a good map, is always an adventure – a route that looks like a simple A to B journey on paper will in reality involve many twists, turns, bridges, or underpasses within the space of a few hundred yards. I always feel uncharacteristically passive while trying to make my way around Venice, somewhat as if I am being led from place to place by the streets themselves, rather than actively taking myself somewhere.
Venice has a well-deserved reputation as an expensive place, but there are still some good deals around, including the recently renovated Albergo Bernardi Semenzato. The best rates are for rooms with shared toilet and shower facilities, and rooms are available in either the main building or a nearby annex. The front desk people speak a variety of languages, including English, and the breakfast servers are remarkably cheerful and friendly (though I’m always impressed by people who can smile at 7:30 in the morning). We also found the hotel to be extremely child-friendly – the staff helped me carry my daughter (asleep in her stroller) up two flights of stairs when we checked in, and one of the servers tucked an extra packet of chocolate-hazelnut spread into our bread basket at breakfast each morning.