Rick Steves’ Venice 2009 is a personal tour guide in your pocket. Better yet, it’s actually two tour guides in your pocket: The co-author of this book is Gene Openshaw. Since our first “Europe through the gutter” trip together as high school buddies in the 1970s, Gene and I have been exploring the wonders of the Old World. An inquisitive historian and lover of European culture, Gene wrote most of this book’s self-guided museum tours and neighborhood walks. Together, Gene and I will keep this book up-to-date and accurate (though for simplicity, from this point “we” will shed our respective egos and become “I”).
Engineers love Venice—a completely man-made environment rising from the sea, with no visible means of support. Romantics revel in its atmosphere of elegant decay, seeing the peeling plaster and seaweed covered stairs as a metaphor for beauty in decline. And first-time visitors are often stirred deeply, awaking from their ordinary lives to a fantasy world unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.
Those are strong reactions, considering that Venice today, frankly, can also be an overcrowded, prepackaged, tacky tourist trap. But Venice is unique. Built on a hundred islands with wealth from trade with the East, its exotic-looking palaces are laced together by sun-speckled canals. The car-free streets suddenly make walkers feel big, important, and liberated.