- Get a water taxi from the airport to your hotel.
Yes, it’s expensive but you will arrive at your hotel (or as near as the canals allow) feeling like James Bond.
The alternative is the airport waterbus which takes ages, can be overcrowded and doesn’t offer you the wow experience of seeing Venice when you first arrive. Obviously the waterbus is a heck of a lot cheaper.
- Book a Free Walking Tour. This is a great way to get to know the city as it takes you off the normal tourist routes, gives you loads of information about Venice and at the end they give you a brilliant map of Venice, which advertises great shops and restaurants to visit.
- Learn how to stand. If you can stand at a counter to drink and eat you will save a fortune in Venice. Venetians will pop into a cafe or bar stand at the counter and drink their coffee or a small glass of house wine called an ombra, pay a euro and walk out again. If you sit you pay more.
- Eat like a local. Don’t eat in restaurants that show photos of food. If you want to avoid the tourist traps look out for osterie and bàcari that sell Cicchetti (also sometimes spelled “cichetti” or called “cicheti”) These are small cheap snacks that you can stand and eat with your ombra. Or if you want something a bit bigger look out for the restaurants that don’t usher you in but have small menus with only a few options.
- Learn how to sit on anything that isn’t a chair. As I’ve said if you sit you pay. Therefore, fountains, steps leading up to bridges, the side of a canal all make great places to take the weight off. We found a great spot close to our hotel next to the canal where we would drink like a local (see no. 6) and eat pizza (see no. 9).
- Drink like a local. There are little shops that sell you wine straight from the barrel into a plastic bottle for just a few euros. This means you can grab a couple of plastic glasses from your hotel room, find a spot with a view and relax for a couple of hours watching the gondolas go by.
- Don’t get a gondola until you’ve done no.6.
Whilst sitting ‘drinking like a local’ we witnessed nose to tail gondolas slowly going past, the passengers engrossed in their phones or looking completely bored. It looked like the most unromantic thing EVER. If you have to tick the gondola box go off the tourist route to avoid the traffic jams and make sure you get a gondola with a steel end looking like the ones in the pic. If it doesn’t have a steel it’s not a registered gondola.
- Shop with locals. Venice is full of tourist shops full of imported masks, fake Murano glass and leather that has been sprayed with a ‘real leather’ scent. Look out for authentic Italian artisan’s shops to spend your money in. You’ll find these off the tourist routes in back streets usually with unassuming signage.
- Eat in the streets. Sandwiches, paninis, rolls, slices of pizza can all be bought hot from shops and enjoyed next to a canal – couple it with no. 6 and you’ve got the best picnic ever.
- Get lost. The best way to explore Venice is by wandering the streets without a map. Get up early and see Piazza San Marco when it’s empty. Cross the Rialto bridge when it’s deserted and best of all watch the locals getting ready for work. If you can, walk until your feet hurt and then get the vaporetto back at sunset.
So last weekend, for the want of anything better to do, OH and I headed to the west coast. We booked a night in the Gleddoch Golf and Spa Hotel, a dog friendly hotel not far from Greenock.
On parking we could see from outside what had been an old, secluded, country house had now been extended up the hill with a new build. Not that you could see the modern extension in any of the hotel’s online pics, of course.
We wandered into reception, which was full of Chesterfield couches and club chairs. Obviously, I looked just like the kind of customer they would roll out the red carpet for carrying a bulging, well used, Asda bag full of dog food, chews, a water bowl and blanket. Classy. However, the receptionist was warm and friendly as she booked us in. She gave us our key and advised us that although we were more than welcome to go up to the room via the inside of the hotel it was recommended to take the car up to the car park as it was a bit of a trek and there were a lot of stairs.
So OH, the dog and me humphing my Asda bag, all went back out to the car and drove up to the first car park and looked around for an entrance. Nope. We drove up to the next car park. There were no signs but there was an open fire door so I checked it out and right enough found No.5. The room was fantastic. Concealed lighting, huge comfy bed, all the bits and bobs you could ask for (my favourites – free bottled water and biscuits) and a large walk in shower with multiple settings. Not long after we took the dog out for a walk around the side of the golf course and explored the hotel grounds. The view from the hotel was stunning – right over the Clyde to Dumbarton.
Later we then tried to find the hotel bar, which OH had spotted next to reception. Remember we were now 2 carparks up from there? First off we walked along the first corridor. Nope. Dead end. Next we found the restaurant. Looked around there. Nope no sign of the way to reception. Back tracked. Started again. Another dead end. Back to the restaurant and through it to the pre-dinner sitting area where we were stared at. We persevered and walked through the on-lookers. We found another corridor and walked slowly along it looking for signs. There were none for reception but we did find the pool. We then met a waiter who pointed us in the right direction down stairs, then more stairs and another corridor. We eventually emerged into the reception area. It was only at this point I thought about leaving breadcrumbs…
…too much wine later and high heels in hand it was like a scene from the Crystal Maze as we tried to retrace our steps. Giggling and using stage whispers we found our way along corridors containing wheelbarrows, found numerous dead ends and eventually, and thankfully, found our room again.
It felt like no sooner had our heads hit the pillow than the fire alarm was going off. Oh yeah, suddenly I was wide awake. Good Morning Dumbarrrrrton! To be honest, it was after 9 but that’s not really the point. I gingerly made my way out to the car park wearing sunglasses even though it was dreich. The only one delighted with the rapid exit was the dog who darted off to the golf course to help with watering the fairway. It turned out the alarm was down to an electrical fault and the ongoing building work. I was just glad the alarm stopped when I nipped back to the room to take my phone off of charge.
Not long later, showered and dressed in clean clothes this time, we left our room and went for breakfast. It was chaotic. I’m hoping it was due to the fire alarm and this was not the norm. Dirty plates were on the cold buffet table – probably dumped when the alarm went off and forgotten. Serving dishes were empty, juice jugs were lacking and there were tables needing re-set with people waiting. One waiter – actually the one that showed us how to get to reception the night before – was sprinting between tables trying to meet everyone’s needs. White sugar here, more butter there, here a jam, there a knife, everywhere some toast toast.
One chap who had been helping himself from the hot buffet returned and sat at the wrong table, which was completely cluttered. Surprised that he had no clean cutlery he asked for some without questioning it. His wife joined him and looked around confused as he wolfed down his bacon and sausage. She lifted a cup that was in her way and asked if it was his. With bean juice running down his chin he shook his head. She struggled to find a clear place to put the cup down again. She then asked if he had seen her phone. More head shaking. It was only when the wife spotted her phone on the other table that she realised they were at the wrong table. Oh the hilarity as they got up and moved. The man quipped, “I wondered why I could no longer see the Clyde” as he returned to his own table not worrying about his faux pas. Other diners laughed along with him. I’d have been mortified and would have had to leave my breakfast as I allowed the ground to swallow me up.
To be fair we enjoyed our stay. I found the scene at breakfast hilarious – even when my toast turned up only toasted on one side. The trek from room to reception was a highlight and the surrounding scenery and room were brilliant. The staff were friendly and helpful and if it weren’t for the fire alarm turning breakfast into a comedy sketch it would have received high marks. Well, apart from the fact that there was no tv in the bar so we couldn’t watch the footy and had to speak to one another.
To recap – bits were so bad it was great 🙂