A Field Guide to the Humans of Venice

All species of fauna observed in June 2014. Provided as a tongue-in-cheek, good-natured service to fellow zoologists travelers.

The “Off-the-Beaten-Path”-er

Campo San Polo

Identifying features: Smug look, no guidebook (or guidebook surreptitiously accessible on iPhone), frequent references to “the locals.”

Usually spotted: At “undiscovered” cicchetti bars, pretending they can’t hear the group of Americans next to them; at St. Mark’s Basilica, smirking at inferior species who don’t know how to circumvent the long line.

If attacked: Tell them they haven’t really seen Venice until they’ve been to that new contemporary art gallery out in the Castello district. OTBPers are quick to scatter if they feel threatened by superior intelligence.

The Dad


Identifying features: Dorsal sweat stain caused by overstuffed backpack; maxed-out credit card; unyielding determination to create Memorable Family Moments on this vacation. Note that this species is marked by exceptional ethnic diversity, and may come from any country on earth.

Usually spotted: Leading his mate and offspring down a narrow street while clutching an upside-down map and ignoring his brood’s cries for pizza.

If attacked: Check the eyes for signs of desperation. If you detect mental instability, give The Dad your bottle of water and turn his map right-side-up for him, and he will generally move along without incident.

The Entrepreneur

Identifying features: Always male, usually bearing a tarp filled with negotiably-priced wares, eyes peeled for signs of law enforcement.

Usually spotted: Everywhere. During daylight hours, the Entrepreneur generally hawks knockoff designer handbags. After sunset, you may see him on St. Mark’s Square tossing cheap light-up toys that resemble flying jellyfish.

Piazza San Marco
Click for better view of flying trinkets

If attacked: Find the nearest small child and throw him into The Entrepreneur’s line of fire.

The Brangelina Wannabes

Brad and George
Photo from JustJared, not Joel. I wish!

Identifying features: Males – slicked-back hair, crisp linen shirt with one too many buttons undone. Females – minimum of 10 pieces of gold jewelry, shopping bag from Celine boutique.

Usually spotted: Stepping out of a water taxi onto the Hotel Danieli’s private dock; clinking champagne glasses on their Grand Canal-view balcony.

If attacked: Unlikely, as they will not acknowledge your presence.

The Guided-Tour Hostage


Identifying features: Lanyard around neck, gaze locked on the guide’s raised sunflower, running shoes tightly laced. Note that this species is almost always of East Asian or North American provenance.

Commonly spotted: In groups of six on gondolas when the light of day is harshest; in St. Mark’s Square between the hours of 10am-5pm.

If attacked: Remain calm and do not move. The GTH is a simpleminded but peaceful creature. Allow the herd to sweep over you, leaving you unharmed.

The Cruiser

Identifying features: Close relative of the GTA, above.

*Note: Do not miss the chance to observe the truly awesome sight of the nightly Great Cruiser Migration. Each day around sunset, flocks gather en masse to make their majestic exit into the open water beyond the lagoon, where they nest for the night.

Cruise ship

The Venetian Bro

Identifying features: An increasingly endangered native species. Usually living large on some sort of watercraft; possibly potbellied and pantsless at 11am on a Sunday.

Sky’s out, thighs out.

Commonly spotted: Advertising “Personalized Lagoon Tours” and raking in (untraceable, un-taxable) euros from several of the species listed above.

If attacked: Assess The Bro’s potential for predatory behavior. Then fork over your cash and get on the party boat.

The Hopeless Romantic

However you choose to see Venice, and whatever strange creatures you encounter, may you always fall into this category. In spite of the heat, the hustlers, the UFO-sized cruise ships, and the rising water table, Venice is still improbably, heart-stoppingly beautiful. It’s one of those places that really is as enchanting as you imagine it will be, and it’s even more precious because of its fragility. Wait until nighttime, when the crowds have dispersed, grab your travel buddy, and ask him to dance you across the cobblestones of St. Mark’s Square to the melodies of the dueling orchestras. Ah, Venice.

Just watch out for those flying jellyfish.

Sachi’s Diary Part II: Feline Insurrection

You may remember that we brought our cat with us to France. Recently, I got ahold of Sachi the Feline Princess’ diary to see how she’s feeling about her upcoming return voyage.

June 10, 2014

Finally feeling at home here in the new royal residence. Life is not without its challenges—most notably, my weekly battles with the intruder who comes to vacuum my floors and dust my furniture. Courage, thy name is Sachi.

But all in all, quite satisfactory. I think I’ll allow the humans to continue living in my presence.


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9 Weeks of Trips, 9 Travel Tips

Whew. Where did spring go?

We just came off a stretch of nine straight weekends during which we were either traveling or hosting intrepid friends and family here in Paris. Crazy? Oui, bien sûr. Blessed? Wildly so.

Allow me to share some lessons from our whirlwind spring:

1. Burgundy: Seek Out the Weird.

More specifically, if a rich winemaker has dedicated his life to amassing a collection of dozens of Cold War fighter jets, scores of midcentury French race cars, and all manner of broken-down farming machinery, and if said winemaker has made these treasures available to the public at his chateau…well, friends, all I can say is that your bucket list just got one item longer.

Château de Savigny-lès-Beaune

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Why You Should Get Out of Paris

“In America 100 years is a long time. In Europe, 100 miles is a long way.”

France is only 80 percent the size of Texas, but I would bet that 9 out of 10 tourists see Paris and no other part of the country. That’s a shame, because they’re missing out on a treasure chest of architectural wonders, delectable cuisines, and high-speed train connections to the capital.


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Manly Men and Their Barbie Cars

Several weeks ago, we attended our first professional rugby match.

At first it all seemed pretty American, truth be told. Outside the stadium, fans bought hot dogs and milled about in the Paris team’s colors. A marching band of visiting Stade Toulousian fans clogged traffic at the security lines.

Inside, munchkins from local youth teams paraded around the perimeter of the pitch, waving Stade Francais flags to the applause of 63,000 fans. Cheerleaders bounced around on the sidelines. A classical choir in full-length robes performed a French-accented rendition of “Another Brick in the Wall.” You know, just the usual.

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How Not to Visit Versailles

Or, 5 Ways to Not Jeopardize Your Faith in Democracy in Front of the Louis XIV Equestrian Statue

1. Don’t go on a free admission day.

No matter how little money you have, you have more than enough money not to go to Versailles on a free day.

Ponder that for a minute. While you ponder, Google Versailles crowds and let your agoraphobia run wild.


What day should you go to Versailles? I wouldn’t know. We went when it was free.

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Scenes from a Parisian Winter

The Rick Steves Paris guidebook suggests that you schedule your trip to the City of Light for spring or fall to maximize daylight, good weather, festivals, and outdoor experiences. Rick cautions his readers against visiting in January, February, and March, for these are the months “when Paris is most alone with itself.”

I trust in Rick wholeheartedly. We are highly suspicious of sights or destinations not recommended in the pages of his gospel guidebooks. But on this point, I must disagree.

Our advice: Come to Paris in the winter.


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