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EVERYTHING YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT VENICE

SHARE EVERYTHING YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT VENICE

Few self-respecting Venetians will be found in the city on those high days and holidays when the tourists arrive in their droves. Those who can, shut up shop and head for the hills.

Those who remain seek to make as much money as possible from the tourist invasions.Venice could not survive without the constant lifeblood of tourism, but equally, the city at peak periods seems likely to sink under the tramp of visiting feet: several times in recent years the causeway that links Venice to the Italian mainland has been sealed off because the city has been full to overflowing with visitors.

Wise travelers avoid the heat and crush of the summer.

The visitor can take Venice at face value - and what a public face of glorious palaces and palazzos, museums and monuments and churches and canvases - or lift the mask and discover the Venice of the Venetians behind the city's facade.

The moment you turn off any one of the main tourist routes, the discovery begins. There is no more beautiful city for walking around, undisturbed by the noise or danger of motor traffic.

In a minute you will find yourself alone, wandering down a narrow calle (alleyway), crossing an ancient bridge, with a dark canal silently running beneath you, where you glimpse the outline of a gondola sliding past.

Finally you end up in an empty square or courtyard, perhaps once inhabited by Marco Polo, Vivaldi or Byron, dominated by the peeling facade of a Renaissance palazzo or a Baroque church, with only the pigeons and a few of the city's thousands of stray cats to keep you company.

This is when you will stumble on a bacaro, one of the traditional Venetian bars dating back to the Middle Ages. An ombra, a glass of local wine, such as Verduzzo or the excellent sparkling Prosecco, costs here only 55 cents, and the counter is piled high with delicious cicchetti of grilled prawn, polenta topped with salami and wild mushroom, or creamy baccala.

Must see

St. Mark's Cathedral and Doges Palace: Of all the fabulous sights in Venice, nothing compares with the first moment you walk into the Piazzo di San Marco. A dazzling mix of European and Byzantine architecture, the cathedral was originally built in 1828 to house the relics of St. Mark.

The adjoining Palazzo Ducale, with its Titians and Tintorettos, was erected as the ultimate symbol of Venice's power and wealth, and crossing through the Bridge of Sighs still gives a chill.

Rialto Bridge and market: Visitors need to see this bustling, colorful market to be convinced that Venice is not just one great museum. In the early hours of the morning, boats sail up the Grand Canal stocked with fresh fish and vegetables, as they have since the Middle Ages.

The Accademia: There are almost too many museums to choose from, but the one not to be missed is the Accademia. All the great Venetian Masters are here. It's only open from 9 am to 2 pm, so get there early to avoid wasting time in line.

Chiesa Santa Maria Di Miracoli: Church bells ring out from every corner in Venice, but you will need your map to find this tiny but exquisite church. Designed by Pietro Lombardo in 1481, this masterpiece of Renaissance architecture is one of the most perfect buildings in the world.

Teatro La Fenice: The Fenice is a beautiful and intimate opera house. This was where Verdi composed Rigoletto and La Traviata, and the chance to see an opera here is not to be missed.

The Grand Canal: The great miracle of Venice is that somehow the magnificent, crumbling palazzos that line either side of this long, winding waterway continue to resist the lapping water and rising tides. Venice may be slowly sinking, but look at a Carpaccio painting from 1500 and little has changed. The canal remains a hub of activity, with vaporettos, speeding taxis, lazy gondolas and long transport boats weaving in between each other.

The Lido: It's easy to forget that Venice is actually on the sea. Take the double-decker Moto Nave boat from outside the Danieli Hotel and, 15 minutes later, you've crossed the lagoon and landed on the Lido. On the other side of this narrow sandbar lies a long beach, grandiose villas and the Adriatic.

La Scuola Grande Di San Rocco: The Venetian scuole can be described as a mixture of charitable institution, guild society and masonic lodge - reflections of the incredible wealth of Venice at its peak. Some scuole house masterpieces of the Venetian painters they sponsored.

Caffe Florian: The prices are extortionate, you are going to end up seated next to a bunch of tourists. But you would regret refusing a drink at this Venetian institution. The problem is to decide whether to bask in the sunshine on the terrace in St. Mark's Square, accompanied by a string quartet, or to take a romantic corner inside one of the Casanovaesque salons.

San Giorgio Maggiore: The island of San Giorgio Maggiore, dominated by the facade of its Palladian church, is in many ways the key image of Venice. Appreciate its classical lines from the steps of the Doges Palace across the lagoon, climb up its campanile bell tower for a panoramic view over the city.

Where to shop

Behind the tacky souvenir shops hawking Taiwanese plastic gondolas, there are some fascinating shops. The city maintains a great artisan tradition of glass-blowing, paper-making and printing. Seek out these hidden boutiques.

- Mondo Novo Maschere, Rio Tera Canal 3063. The best mask shop in Venice; they even supply the opera house. You can still see the craftsmen making the masks in the back room.

- Legatoria Piazzesi, Campiello degli Calegheri. One of the most famous paper shops in Italy. Irresistible. The owner, Falsio Bos, is always willing to spend time explaining her methods of making marbled paper.

- Pastficio le Spighe, Via Garibaldi 1341. What would Italy be without pasta? Here, two young women, Tiziana and Doriana, produce multi-colored fresh pasta before your eyes.

- Pasticceria Marchini, Ponte San Maurizio 2769. The finest patisserie in the city. The aroma as you walk in is good enough in its own right until you see what the master chef creates with chocolate.

- Parapamiso, Frezzeria 1701. This tiny boutique is a dazzling Aladdin's cave of `Venetian Pearls," glass beads manufactured on Murano, centuries old, collected from all over the world. The smallest beads cost only about $3, while collector's items go into the thousands.

- Creazioni Artigianali Veneziani, Rugheta del Ravano, 1077A. You will pass hundreds of Murano glass shops, all displaying pretty much the same thing. Here the work is original and creative. Lucio Bubacco displays contemporary glass objects, while his American girlfriend, Leslie, has designed a fun range of earrings, brooches and hat pins at affordable prices.

- Fiorella Show, Campo San Stefano, 2806. Fiorella is Venice's answer to Jean Paul Gaultier. Her outrageous designs hang off wooden statues of punk Doges. Great selection of T-shirts.

- Ser Angui, San Vio 868 (only open in afternoon). Venice is expensive for designer fashion, but here they stock samples and extra stock direct from the Milan fashion houses, at half price or less.

- Livio di Marchi, Salizzada San Samuele 3157A. The most original shop in the city, not to be missed. Eccentric artist Livio sculpts everyday items from wood - a bra hanging on a washing line, a wooden shirt, even a life-size Fiat Tipo.

Where to eat

Fish and seafood are the great specialities of Venetian cuisine. The Rialto market is filled each day with fresh produce from the Adriatic and the lagoon itself - lobsters, crabs, clams, sea bass, monkfish and John Dory. But it's not always so easy to find a restaurant where you can eat well at reasonable prices.

Beware of the Menu Turistico, with a lousy bottle of Chianti. Apart from trattorias, there are many old-fashioned wine bars - known as bacaros - worth seeking out. The wines they serve from the Veneto region are excellent, and each bar has a delicious selection of cicchetti, the Venetian version of tapas.

- Al Mascaron, Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa, 5225 (522 5995). One of the liveliest places in town. The bar is always packed with noisy Venetians, while the chef, Carlo, creates an amazing spaghetti with lobster. $28 per head.

- Poste Vechie, Pescaria di Rialto 1608 (721 822). Its own private bridge leads direct from the Rialto fish market into this charming 16th century restaurant. Great for a romantic dinner, but have your credit card ready. $50.

- Corte Sconta, Calle del Pestrin 3886 (522 7024). Very fashionable hangout. The entrees never seem to stop, but if you are still hungry, they serve one of the best frittura mista you will find. Delightful garden in summer. $46.

- Antico Dolo, Ruga Vecchia San Giovanni (522 6546). Like the Macaron this is half-bar, half-restaurant. Very popular at lunchtime with raucous gondoliers, in the evening with the arty crowd. The friendly owner, Bruno, serves traditional dishes like "gnocchi di zucca`' (pumpkin), and hams and country sausages hang from the ceiling. $19.

- Harry's Dolci, Giudecca 773 (522 4844). Forget about joining the tourists at the overpriced Harry's Bar where the food is secondary to the atmosphere, and take the vaporetto over to Giudecca to the restaurant Mr. Cipriani originally opened for his friends. Prices are expensive, but not outrageous. Don't miss the carpaccio - this was where it was invented. Wonderful view over Venice from the terrace. $50.

- Osteria al Nono Risorto, Sotoportego de Siora Bettina (524 1169). Bustling, fun restaurant, one of the few places with live music. Go for the pizza and atmosphere rather than the a la carte dishes. $22.

- L'Incontro, Rio Tera Canal 3062A (522 2404). One of the rare restaurants to specialize in meat, with a chef who would be a star in any city he chose to cook in. The simply grilled filetto di Manzo is the best choice, but for more complex dishes there is rabbit, hare and game in season. $22.

- Trattoria al Tucano, Ruga Giuffa 4835 (520 0811). If you feel the need for a pizza, avoid the actual pizzerias and head for Tony's restaurant, the Tucano. The pizzas are great, price reasonable, and he plays fantastic music behind the bar. $13.

- Al Mondo Novo, Salizzada San Lio 5409 (520 0698). The owner here is a fish trader at the Rialto market, so you won't find fresher seafood. It's one of the few places guaranteed to serve late. $22.

- Boldrin, Salizzada San Canzian 5549 (520 6868). Best place in Venice for lunch. Old-fashioned self-service cafeteria, ultra cheap, and home-cooking. Beppi Boldrin has one of the best collections of wine in the city. $10.

Getting around

The best way to see Venice is to walk, so bring a comfortable pair of shoes. There are bright yellow signs everywhere to the major sites (Rialto, etc). Everyone follows them, but it's much more fun to get lost. Forget about catching the speedboat taxis (ridiculously expensive) and stick to the water bus, the vaporetto.

There are special, go-as-you please tourist passes, depending on how many days you stay. At the tourism office, check out the "Rolling Venice" program for people aged 14-29. There are often discounts, for travel, restaurants and shopping.

It's difficult to resist a gondola ride. Prices are actually fixed (check in Un Ospite di Venezia), starting at 35,000 liras for 25 minutes. Don't take a gondola on the Grand Canal or St Mark's, it's much more interesting to explore the back canals.

Where to stay

Accommodation in Venice ranges from some of the most luxurious hotels in the world to some of the least salubrious. Bargains are not easy to find and often package deals are the cheapest way to visit. Prices can vary as much as 50 percent to 60 percent by the season, and in winter even deluxe palaces like the Danieli offer reasonable weekend breaks.