Port of Venice
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Venice once ruled the Mediterranean as a shipping power, amassing vast wealth and producing some of Europe's greatest artistic and cultural treasures. But, over the centuries, Venice has declined a bit and now has less than half the population it had at its peak. What remains of its former grandeur -- the crumbling palaces, the sumptuous art in its museums and churches, the fantastic rituals of Carnevale -- makes Venice a living tribute to the past.
Aside from a number of charming squares, such as the famous Piazza San Marco, Venice is mostly composed of a warren of narrow canals and streets spread over more than 100 islands. These tangled passageways are an attraction among themselves. There are few better cities to simply get lost in, particularly if you want to escape the tourist hordes that clog the main arteries around San Marco and the Rialto Bridge.
So once you've seen the major sights, fold up your map, and set off on foot. You'll discover pretty, residential neighborhoods with colorful flowerboxes in the windows and clean laundry billowing in the breeze. You'll discover tiny trattorias where the locals enjoy the catch of the day. And, away from the vaporetti (water taxis) and motorboat traffic on the Grand Canal, you'll discover one more pleasure of this place, aptly dubbed La Serenissima -- the unexpected quiet of a city without cars.
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Where You're Docked
Large cruise ships dock at Venezia Terminali Passeggeri
Smaller cruise ships can tie up at the Stazione Marittima by the lovely Dorsoduro neighborhood and fronting the Giudecca Canal. From the vaporetto, stop just outside the port gates. It's a quick water-bus ride to any of Venice's hot spots.
Riverboats are often given berth at a third spot, near the Bienniele, adjacent to the Giardini (public gardens), and a pleasant 10-minute stroll to San Marco. However, there's no port terminal.
Good to Know
Your feet -- Venice is a walking city, full of labyrinthian streets and tons of bridges (usually requiring steps up and down again), so wear your most comfortable shoes.
If you, like most visitors, plan to take a vaporetto, make sure you have your ticket stamped at the first station you visit. (All stations have automated ticket machines.)
Credit cards are accepted at most places, but we found that many restaurants and shops refused to accept American Express, so make sure you have a MasterCard or Visa handy.
Finally, Venice during the months of July and August in particular is a cautionary tale: It's overcrowded, maneuvering its narrow pathways is difficult at best, and it's often hot and steamy.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The local currency is the euro and ATM machines, which are plentiful, offer the best exchange rates. Visit www.xe.com for up-to-date exchange rates. Local "cambio" shops and banks exchange dollars to euros for a fee.
Venetians speak a unique dialect of Italian called Veneziano. English is not widely spoken (or comprehended), aside from tourist-oriented hotels, restaurants and shops.
Venice is famous for its Murano glass (and a trip to the island of Murano, with its numerous glass galleries and handful of factories is a great way to get a feel for it) but whoever's made it, glass objects make great souvenirs and range from inexpensive glass necklaces -- sold on the street for about $5 -- to elaborate barware and chandeliers.
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