Jane Nicholls · The Australian · 12:00AM January 7,
2017We’re making like George and Amal Clooney in our own water taxi zooming around Venice. Please, no photos, tourists! The shiny prow of the wooden hull cuts smoothly through the canals and we stand leaning against the roof of the cabin, taking in the city’s magical sights.
The best part of this movie-star experience? We’ve not had to negotiate the price for the water taxi, struggle to find our vessel among the dozens jostling and bobbing at San Marco dock, or even tell the driver where to go. It’s all part of our three-hour insider’s walking, talking, cruising tour of Venice with our private guide, Davide.
As we travel through the canals, Davide shares information (the history of Venice’s cemetery island, Isola di San Michele) and fun observations (tiny terraces, known as altane, sprout from rooftops all over packed-to-the edges Venice).
A native Venetian, he tells us how in the 1950s his parents would swim in the canals, which is now probito. Also forbidden are my daughters’ bare legs at St Mark’s Basilica, but Davide magics up a wrap to cover them and, inside, gets us to hang back until there is no one else in front of Pala d’Oro, the bejewelled byzantine altarpiece which is accessible for a €2 fee. Former art-history lecturer Davide proudly details the gold cloisonné treasure’s fascinating past for us. Davide alerts us to tourist-trap restaurant strips, clues us in on the gondola da parada that ply short routes to cross the Grand Canal (“ride a gondola for €2, not 80 — the locals will stand for the whole time!”) and grosses out the kids at a horsemeat butcher.
As we cruise the canals, Davide’s delightful stream of facts and anecdotes is only interrupted by the occasional “duck!” or “watch your head!” as the water taxi approaches a low bridge. I flash back to a private guided motorcycle tour from Fang, in the Golden Triangle region of Thailand, in my backpacking 20s. Far from watching our heads, our guides seemed to be going full throttle trying to kill us.
The “cultural tour” was a direct route through the jungle to a bamboo-hut opium den, with the three of us riding pillion, helmetless, on motorbikes bouncing along a potholed track. As we prepared to ride back to Fang, our exuberantly hammered guides (their few remaining opium-stained teeth now shockingly apparent) offered us slugs of local whiskey, gratis. It wasn’t quite the local high we’d signed up for.
Perhaps that explains the gap of several decades before I returned to the private-guide track. When my question-a-minute children became my fellow travellers, I wanted to help them imprint the cities and historical marvels we were visiting together, weaving into our journeys fascinating yarns and surprising details. And I needed to go beyond my guidebook gleanings and half-baked fragments of high-school history.
To see the city one walks, and to see it well, arrange for a guide from Walks Inside Venice. Sara Cossiga, our guide is an art historian, certified sommelier and cheese taster. Her partner Roberta Curiel, has a degree in art history, is a specialist in foreign languages and author of “The Venetian Ghetto”, a book about Venice’s Jewish history and synagogues. Let them know your passions and they will design a memorable customized walking tour of Venice. We enjoyed the Rialto food market and views from the Rialto Bridge as well as, the history and shops in the Jewish quarter and of course, the shopping. We gained an appreciation of the museums, art, culture, history and the canals with the gondola rides. Whether it was detailed descriptions or an overview of the key sites, Sara guided us around and time seemed to fly.
RICK STEVES ITALY 2016 & RICK STEVES VENICE
For a shopping tour focusing on arts and crafts contact Walks Inside Venice, which offers several different itineraries (www.walksinsidevenice.com; for details see page 31)
THE SACRAMENTO BEE: DISCOVERING AND PROTECTING THE CITY
(…) Another tip: Take a recommended walking tour and learn about Venice’s one-of-a-kind history, language and culture.
I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with guide Chiara Agnetti of Walks Inside Venice and a family from Petaluma, with whom I wove in and out of the city’s many islands and squares, or campos as they’re called.
If there’s any place to understand what you’re seeing, Venice is that place.
LONELY PLANET VENICE
DURANT IMBODEN – VENICE FOR VISITORS
If you have a good map, plenty of time, and feet that don’t
tire easily, you can easily explore the city on your own. But if you’re a
typical foreign visitor who spends only two or three days in Venice, a
professional guide can help you make the most of your stay.
The challenge, of course, is to find a licensed tourist guide who
speaks fluent English and offers itineraries for individual travelers or small groups.
Roberta Curiel and Sara Cossiga have come to the rescue with Walks Inside Venice, which they and a former colleague founded in 2001 after more than a decade as licensed guides in Venice.
Walks Inside Venice offers more than 20 itineraries under the
headings of “Art & History,” “Discoveries,” “Venetian Lifestyles,” and
“Specials” (the latter including such topics as a photographic tour and Murano Glass).
Most of the walking tours last three hours, although you can
request an extra hour or two when booking if you’ve got strong feet and a long attention span. One itinerary, “Exploring the Lagoon,” runs six hours, including boat travel to the islands of Murano, Burano, and Torcello.
And for those travelers who’d like to imbibe more than culture, the “Cicheti & Nizioleti” tour offers a chance to sample vino and viands at traditional bacari or wine bars.