If you’re going to go and see what all the fuss is about this year, we suggest you take heed of the advice we’ve acquired over the opening week of the Venice Architecture Biennale – or at the very least, please learn from our mistakes:
You’ll need a full day for the Arsenale, one for the pavilions of the Giardini and almost another one altogether for the biennale main pavilion in order to do them any justice. If you can manage at least one more day for fringe events it would serve you well, as there’s some great stuff scattered about but be warned — it often takes longer to find the locations than to look around the exhibits themselves.
Do not rely on La Biennale or Wallpaper Guides to provide you with maps you can actually use to get around. This is not the city of the flaneur. Treat Venice like The Zone from Tarkovsky’s Stalker and you won’t end up walking in circles free-styling your way to the next bar like we did.
With all the leaflets, bags, postcards, stickers, temporary tattoos, chalk houses and nodding Jimmy Carters you’ll (surprisingly) acquire, you may need around 6kg extra on your return. And that’s without the heifer of an exhibition catalogue and separately published essays. Any free space you have in your luggage on your way out you may need for mozzie spray.
Arriving by speedboat in Venice is probably one of the most pretentious things we’ve ever done. But given that it’s only an extra €12 extra over the cost of the Alilaguna vaporetti to share one (via venicelink.com) across the lagoon from the airport quay straight to the door of your hotel, you’ll probably find it’s worth it just to save lugging your suitcase up umpteen bridges. Plus, it’s damn good fun.
Beyond the Giardini and the Arsenale, there’s one heck of a lot of exhibitions scattered throughout Venice and the outlying islands. Even if you’re not a Rossi fan, his drawings and investigations in form at the Teatri exhibition in will give you a greater appreciation of the context in which a lot of this year’s exhibitions are placed (see Cate St Hill’s much better review). There are only two rooms for your €10, but you’ll still need a good 45 minutes to soak it all in. Entrance to the Emilio Vedova exhibition is included, and two free (but admittedly lesser) exhibitions on Rodchenko and Planning For The 90% are further up the quay from the San Spirito vaporetto stop. If all that’s not lure enough in itself, it’s also a short walk from the famous Gelateria Nico. You can chalk that up as “cultural acclimatisation”.
Once you’ve had your fill of the ubiquitous white bread tramezzini inside the biennale, the Via Giuseppe Garibaldi between the Arsenale and Giardini seems a natural place to stop off for something more substantial to eat — which is precisely why you shouldn’t. Apparently Il Nuovo Galeon on the right of the entrance to the Viale Garibaldi is very good, but we’ve never been able to get in as apparently everyone already knows this. If you’ve got the energy to stagger a little further, Barbaria Delle Tole has some great places that are cheap and non-touristy, about 15 minutes’ walk north-west from the Arsenale entrance.
Given the almost traumatising lack of wi-fi generally available in Venice, head to RossoPomodoro around the corner from San Marco (Calle Larga San Marco) where it’s provided for free to their customers. Sure, it’s a chain — but if you can ignore this fact and the occasionally surly service (who may in turn ignore you too) you can reconnect with the virtual world over a spritz or some wonderfully cheap house wine, and between 5pm-8pm and they’ll ply you with plates of little snacks too.
Most close around midnight so your choices are limited. Your best bet is heading to either the vegetable market near the Rialto, or to Campo Santa Margherita in Accademia, if you can find it
Very few people wear them in Venice, it seems, and with all the traipsing around that’s required you’ll be happier in a decent pair of flats. There’s one heck of a lot of gravel about though, so you might want to bear that in mind before you pack a bundle of flippy floppy sandals. My pedicurist-come-stonemason can confirm this is an idiotic idea.
You’ve probably already swotted up on Death in Venice and Don’t Look Now (red ponchos are available in the biennale gift shop for €5, incidentally) in preparation, but don’t forget Moonraker for the hilarious speed-gondola chase sequence: