San Marco, San Marco, San Marco, San Marco…WHY San Marco?

OK, call me the Venetian Curmudgeon, but why would anyone want to choose lodging anywhere near Piazza San Marco? The Piazza, the Basilica, the Palazzo Ducale, these are all things to come to see, enjoy, and then leave to go to back another sestiere, any other sestiere, all of which are far more personable, pleasant and interesting for exploring, enjoying, and getting to know a bit of Venezia vivibile (live-able Venice).

I have nothing against it personally, mind you. Senza dubbio, without a doubt, the Piazza is nothing short of spectacular once the sun has slipped beyond the bacino. By then, day-trippers have been reloaded in their motor coaches, en-route to the next one-day destination; the pigeons (who first called them flying rats?) have gone to roost who-knows-where; and those who remain willingly succumb to the enticing ambience of a summer’s eve: the exotic backdrop of the illuminated face of San Marco, a chosen orchestra; an impromptu waltz; a fantasy cocktail at the Caffè Florian.

But in the harsh light of day, San Marco and the area immediately surrounding it, hosts nothing short of a carnival – no – circus atmosphere, un casino. (In the Instructions, I state that “Italy is a country, not a theme park.” As I thread the wagons of souvenirs that carpet San Zaccaria boat stop though, I fear I may have misspoke). The area harbors the worst, most expensive food, the most cynical hotels, the kitschiest and chic-est shopping both, the biggest tourist traps, the most suffocating crowds. This is a fact: and why people choose to ignore it – and then come and have it ruin their time here – it simply beyond me.

Of course, living almost a year’s time an apartment that’s halfway between San Marco and Il Teatro La Fenice – an apartment that’s perfect for a week’s, or even a month’s stay – and hearing O Soooooooooooooo-le Mio for the umpteenth time today, and later at night than I ever would’ve expected….could be coloring my perception a bit, I’ll grant you that.

The fact remains, though, that although I’d never recommend coming here to stay on the mainland in Mestre, or even in Lido, there is so few locations here that are not “central” in Venice, that for a more pleasant and enjoyable stay it’s ridiculous not to explore lodging in Dorsoduro, Santa Croce, San Polo, or Cannaregio…anything out of the Riato-San Marco-Santo Stefano loop. Credimi (Believe me)!

(Hmmm…sorry for the rant. One too many caffè, today, you think?)

9 thoughts on “San Marco, San Marco, San Marco, San Marco…WHY San Marco?

  1. Sharon

    I agree with you and stay in apartments in different parts of Venice–with one exception. In November 2003, I decided that I wanted to be close to San Marco. A Venetian friend of mine suggested the Hotel Anastasia, in Corte Barozzi near S. Moise. It was a wonderful location. I would go to San Marco at 6 in the morning and enjoy the deserted piazza. I’d go late at night for a nightcap before going back to the hotel. But in between, I kept far away from the tourist traps.

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  2. Shannon

    My second and third trips to Venice, I stayed in an apartment right off the Piazza (on Rio Terra d. Colonne) and I LOVED it… That street was very quiet given the location, and I could see the Campanile looming in the kitchen window, and hear the Marongona as though it was ringing IN THE APARTMENT. Of course, those were those first trips where everything is magical.

    I stayed on Calle delle Rasse, again within spitting distance of the Piazza when I was finishing the research on my book. It was weird – the street itself was insanely busy, then you ducked into a little courtyard and it was perfectly calm and peaceful. But, I would not stay there again. I think I am partial to my old ‘hood of SS Giovanni & Paolo, and San Polo these days, in terms of where to live. But don’t totally discount staying around the Piazza, especially in the low season – now that you are staying up late, I can tell you those 3:00 A.M. bottles of wine at an empty table at Florians can be awesome! (Though, granted, you don’t really have to live a minute away to take part in this.)

    Loved these last couple of posts Nan… let me know if any thunderstorms come and whip the chairs at the Lowenbrau bar into the Grand Canal. That’s always fun.

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  3. nan

    Thanks guys, but the Venetian Curmudgeon still says: for tourism run amuck, stay near San Marco. My point is, that nothing else except maybe St. Elena and the Ghetto is “far,” and I bet you will both agree. So many people who make the San Marco choice have never been here, and so can’t comprehend the pros and cons. Most also say they want to “get a feel for the culture,” which is completely at odds with anything you’ll find in the ring around San Marco.

    The Florian is my favorite San Marco cafe by far. There are very nice hotels in the area, and the Anastasia is one of them. The Piazza is never a disappointment. But the milieu that churns around it from 9a to 9p, April to November, past non-stop glass and mask stores, paying too much for bad food (Shannon can help you here), are operating under a terrible misconception that if they lodge anywhere else in the city, they’ll be “too far” from the center and missing something somehow. They will not…don’t you agree?

    OK, basta. Off my soapbox and back to work!

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  4. Shannon

    Ah… there are so many travelers who don’t do their research. Even me on my first trip when I never even left San Marco except to go to Accademia! Never even saw the Rialto Bridge! Don’t tell anyone! 🙂

    Then so many of those travelers go home and whine because Venice was so touristy and crowded.

    I really think it is because many people do not research and plan their trips. Seventy percent do not look past Piazza San Marco, not only because that is THE big sight (I’d say center but we all know that is Rialto) but because they just don’t know any better, trust their travel agents too much, etc. All the chains are in San Marco and Castello and some people never break out of the chain mentality. There are people who are money driven and will only stay at the Danieli or Luna Baglioli and will have their nightcaps in the bars there, instead of at a real Venetian bar. It’s too bad… adventure is what makes travel fun.

    How many people make it as far as Via Garibaldi or even Campo Santa Maria Nova? Not too many….

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  5. Sharon

    Nan,
    I agree–and disagree:

    “Most also say they want to “get a feel for the culture,” which is completely at odds with anything you’ll find in the ring around San Marco.” On my first visit, I stayed at the Monaco & Grand Canal (before they did that awful renovation that makes the inside look like a shopping mall!) and we had a great time discovering the culture. A highlight was attending a Palm Sunday mass at S. Moise. I’ll never forget the people and the palms–and that weird altar!

    “The Florian is my favorite San Marco cafe by far. There are very nice hotels in the area, and the Anastasia is one of them. The Piazza is never a disappointment. But the milieu that churns around it from 9a to 9p, April to November, past non-stop glass and mask stores, paying too much for bad food (Shannon can help you here), are operating under a terrible misconception that if they lodge anywhere else in the city, they’ll be “too far” from the center and missing something somehow. They will not…don’t you agree?” I totally agree with that. My favorite places to stay have been those far removed from San Marco. And I’ve been in Venice for weeks–and not gone to San Marco! (Except when I can’t resist the call of Florian’s.)

    And Shannon, “Then so many of those travelers go home and whine because Venice was so touristy and crowded… I really think it is because many people do not research and plan their trips.” HOORAY for you. You are so right.

    Here’s my wish: may we all meet up in Venice for a spritz–in some place that’s not crowded with tourists wondering why they’re in Venice….

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  6. nan

    It’s interesting…I get the opposite impression: that we travelers OVERPLAN, thinking first of all that we have not only some hope of anticpating what’s here, but also of being able to nail it all down before we depart (thus eliminating any space for discovery…such a shame).

    In addition, we plan in an American enviroment, with our American judgement, reasoning and expectations…great for a trip to Montana, but useless for crossing an ocean into a culture made for discovery, not planning. On arrival, we’re confused, confounded…naturally…and completely unprepared to cope with the discomfort of being so! Auito. The most desparate of us blame our destination for not fitting into our expectational box (the room’s too small!), the rest of us arrive in Venice with an address that includes number and Sestiere, thinking this will help us find the hotel.

    Venice is a touristy city…this is a fact…but it survives [sic] both because and in spite of it. I listen almost daily to Venetians’ recounting of life before mass tourism, with such nostagia for the town and modo di vivere they watched disappear, and so quickly. But they’re also a realistic, if not philosophic bunch, and see Venice’s micro evolution as a mirror for that of Europe, the West, the world.

    I’ll try to recount some of these flashes from the past here, piano piano, gleaned from ongoing casual incontri at various locals, cene, et. al…but away from San Marco…

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  7. Sharon

    Nan,
    Venice has been a touristy city for a long, long time. (See Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad). The trick is to attract the tourist without turning the city into a Disneyland.

    I don’t know about the overplanning. It seems that I run into a lot of people who haven’t bothered to learn the basics, like how do you get from the airport to Venice! Oh, it’s too early to rant–I haven’t had my coffee yet. 🙂
    Sharon

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  8. EVO

    This lively exchange on San Marco inspired a little someting: [URL=http://www.casesf.com/caffe_florian.htm]Caffè Florian[/URL]

    Thanks for the inspiration.

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  9. Zooks

    Nan, I’ve just discovered your blog and am having a lovely time reading all the archives. I just had to stop and comment on this one.

    I’ve always stayed in Dorsoduro when visiting Venice and I would never, ever consider staying in San Marco for just the reasons you discussed. I enjoy getting away during the peak tourist hours during midday for either a siesta in the hot months for by exploring the outlying sestieri in the more temperate months. I save wandering around San Marco for the late evening/early night hours.

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