When in Venice the most challenging part of adjusting to the fact that the main highways are made of water is the sheer chaos of them. Stand on top of the Rialto Bridge for a while and look up or down the Grand Canal and you’ll be struck by the way the vaporetto (ferries) plunge across the canals from side to side, gondola weaving in between, cargo boats trudging up the middle laden with food and furniture and building materials, while private motor boats dart in and out of the narrow side canals.
But what looks chaotic to us outsiders is just another school run or business delivery to the Venetians. There are rules of the road if you know them. The best thing to do is put your trust in the experts. Vaporetto are the quickest, simplest and cheapest way to move around Venice.
Walking might seem a good option until you’ve tried it – Venice is the most confusing city on earth. Narrow streets wind between tall buildings leaving you no chance to find landmarks (aside for occasional signs high on the walls). Streets suddenly end at a canal, or a square or they just end. The crowds sweep you along. And try finding a specific address! Venetian addresses are a language all their own. Gondolas are wonderfully tempting and the gondoliers very charming, until you find out the price. But exploring Venice from water-level, as the gondoliers call around corners and use their feet to push off palazzo walls is fabulous. To get a compromised version but much cheaper, catch a traghetto, a slightly larger version of the gondola in which people stand to cross the Grand Canal very cheaply where there is no bridge.