TESTING the Waters in Venice; It May Be Sinking but Italy's Most Photogenic and Astonishing City Still More Than Repays a Visit. Hannah Stephenson Offers Some Advice to Tourists on How to Get the Most out of a Stay There
Byline: Hannah Stephenson
There are few cities in the world where you step out of the airport and straight on to the water - but Venice is one of them.
And the half-hour's water journey to La Serenissima - Most Serene Republic as it is known to its own - is worth its weight in gold as your transport weaves its way along the Grand Canal and cuts through the narrow waterways lined with a myriad of architecture from Byzantine to Gothic.
Venice, it has been well reported, has long been sinking and you can see some of the damage where the constantly-lapping water has eroded the base of buildings. There is flooding every winter and while many solutions are mooted, none has yet come to fruition.
Nevertheless, each year millions of tourists come to this incredible city steeped in history to see its many riches.
It's undoubtedly best to come here out of season in either spring or winter. That way, you'll miss the massive queues that form outside St Mark's Church and the Doge's Palace and the hot, humid summer which brings with it the accompanying pong of pollution and waste.
And while you may have to walk along the wooden staging erected in St Mark's Square when flooding persists, the wealth of treasures this city has to offer far exceeds the discomfort of occasionally getting your feet wet.
Venice sits in a lagoon, separated from the Adriatic Sea by a line of sandbars. It is made up of 118 islands, 400-plus bridges and 170 canals. The city is divided into six districts but it is amazingly easy to find your way around by water or on foot.
The wonderful thing is that there are no roads - the only traffic is on the water and there is no better way of getting your bearings than to take a Number 1 waterbus (vaporetto) to take you the length of the Grand Canal.
This is far cheaper than the more romantic sounding - and astronomical - gondola, which will take you through the narrow waterways off the Grand Canal.
Be prepared to pay between pounds 40 and pounds 50 for a half-hour gondola ride. Americans and Japanese queue up for the pleasure and cram themselves on, four or six at a time.
I would have thought that being squashed together with a handful of fellow tourists might take the romance out of the occasion but it didn't seem to worry them as they handed over millions of lire.
Indeed, gondoliers are among the richest Venetians who still live in the city - we were reliably informed that they earn a minimum of pounds 50,000 a year and that those who live on the mainland reside in swish villas rather than small apartments.
Most inherit their trade as gondolas are passed down from father to son and most are in pristine condition. Hardly surprising as these elegant vessels can cost up to 100 million lira (around pounds 33,000) to replace.
You won't find many locals in Venice - the population has halved since the 50s as a result of the erosion of buildings, huge cost of living, lack of space and increase in tourism. …