Venice, Italy. Tim & Steve’s Travel Underdogs, Part 1

Steve and I want to start a new mini series of travel advice called “Tim and Steve’s Travel Underdogs.” The idea is that, for every major destination that’s on every traveler’s bucket list, we have an idea for somewhere to go that’s just as nice and safe, more enjoyable, less expensive, more authentic, more friendly, and more rewarding. First up, Venice! (If you have a suggestion for a future destination, leave it in the comments!)

Now, it’s well known by any traveler that there are hidden gems everywhere, just waiting to be found. And the problem with the Internet is that these “hidden gems” are quickly being discovered and being turned into the next “killer” destinations. What we hope to do in this series is to train you to be able to find your own hidden gems. By publishing these suggestions, I know we run the risk of pointing too many people on these specific little-known destinations, but we are just a couple of guys, and we want to provide our friends an example of how you can plan a trip and not just go where everyone else goes. In future posts, we will describe how you can find these locations yourself.

Responsible tourism is all about spreading out your travels to a wide area of equally interesting and rewarding places. Bring your tourist dollars to the rural areas and support them directly; they have lots to offer as well! You don’t have to go to the same place as everyone else to have a good vacation; in fact, we’ve always had a more enjoyable time in places no one has heard of.

Quick intermission: If you like our blog or our advice, please support the AIDS/LifeCycle ride. Steve and I have given all of our free time this year (and the past 5 years, combined) to training and raising awareness of this organization aiming no short of ending AIDS. Donate in recognition of Tim:
For Steve:

On our most recent training ride with our friends and amazing people, Greg and Gary, plus San Francisco AIDS Foundation COO, Greg Sroda. (You get used to the porta potties after 7 days.)

Okay, back to travel. So you want to go to Venice! Awesome, you are curious about life outside your home, and you want to see new and unique things. Italy is such a fascinating place, and we as Americans are particularly enamored with its food, its culture, and its landscape. Why not?! It’s amazing. And Venice! Who isn’t intrigued by a city built on canals?

Here’s the thing. Venice isn’t real anymore. Venice is chock full of Chinese and other tourists, scrambling their way from one place to another, clogging the streets, and changing the atmosphere from a romantic Italian coastal town to a hectic Asian capital. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Asian capitals; we love them! But it’s probably not what you had in mind when visiting Venice, Italy, is it?) Plus, it’s stupid expensive, with hotels commonly around $500/night. I could buy the most comfortable brand new mattress in the world for $500; why would you spend that on a hotel for just one night?

Our advice: Skip Venice. Seriously, DON’T GO! If you want to get your Instagram shots (the same as everyone else), we can’t help you. But if you want to have a great vacation, here are some ideas where else nearby in Italy you should go.

Chioggia, Italy. Described in this blog as “unspoiled Venice”, we would agree 100%. It’s just a short boat ride from Venice, not far from Bologna, and it has all the Italian charm you are actually looking for in your Italian vacation. When we cycled through, there was a farmer’s market occupying the entire downtown area, selling all sorts of Italian foods and products, and every canal we looked down was pristine and beautiful. There were few foreign tourists, just locals and some Italian tourists, including our friend Matteo, who rode with us for the day. Yet everyone was friendly and welcoming! After we got to Venice, we totally wished we had just stayed in Chioggia! Seriously!

Chioggia, Italy (NOT Venice) with our friend Matteo, an AIDS/LifeCycle rider from Italy who cycled with us for a day.

Trieste, Italy. Okay, you want something a little more metropolitan? Try Trieste. On the border of Italy and central/eastern Europe, Trieste has a fascinating history, excellent food, a unique coffee culture that rivals the rest of Italy (macchiatos are the best here, known locally as a ‘capo in b’), plus grandiose squares overlooking the ocean, and ancient ruins reminiscent of Rome and Greece.

Ancient ruins in Trieste, Italy.
Sunset over the Adriatic from Trieste.

Ravenna, Italy. Come here to try black squid ink pasta, camp in the sand on the ocean, see the historic old town, and laze along the Adriatic coast, watching local fisherman draw in their catch. This is the laid back old school coastal Italy you’ve been dreaming about. While Chioggia itself has a magical and beautifully preserved old town that you expect from Italy, the coast here is rarely visited and has only a few fishing villages, hotels, and campgrounds where you can literally rent a piece of sand all to yourself on the beach.

Our camping spot on the Adriatic near Ravenna, Italy.
Local fishing nets along the Italian wetlands
(credit Wikipedia – Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna)

Bonus: Emilia-Romagna, Italy (Bologna). You’ve heard about Tuscany, sure. But on the other side of the Tuscan hills is the university city of Bologna in the region of Emilia-Romagna. Just as beautiful, more local, better food (the birthplace of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and pasta Bolognese), this region is so under-rated that you just have to see for yourself.

The view from our (inexpensive) villa in Emilia-Romagna.

We hope you’ve enjoyed the first edition of Tim & Steve’s Underdogs. Let us know what you think in the comments. Have you been here? Do you agree? Where should we review next? Peace and love to you all, Tim & Steve