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Turns out  Piazza San Marco is a pricy tourist trap

Tim Nelson
August 09, 2018

Picture yourself on vacation in Italy: what image comes to mind? You may find yourself sitting on a patio, leisurely sipping on a caffè espresso under the Mediterranean (or Tuscan) sun. Maybe in Venice’s picturesque plaza, perhaps. No matter the finer details of your daydream, you’re probably too enchanted by the image to worry about would cost you.

Well, it turns out one Venice visitor found out living that fantasy can end up costing an absurd amount of Euros if you’re not careful. Chilean tourist Juan Carlos Bustamente experienced some buyer’s remorse recently when he decided to dine outside at Venetian cafe Lavena, located in the floating city’s iconic Piazza San Marco. The total damage for two bottles of Pellegrino and two espressos? A whopping €43, equal to almost $50 or 32190 Chilean pesos. According to UK rag The Sun, that’s roughly ten times the going rate for a similar bill of fare at other local cafes.

That absurd upcharge had some of the 10,000 people who shared Bustamente’s Facebook post crying highway robbery. But from Lavena’s perspective, those high prices were more the result of some Machiavellian cunning, as the cafe leverages its location to charge extra for outdoor seating. While a coffee at the bar costs just €1.25, a spokesperson for the cafe says those who enjoy their food and drinks while soaking in the renaissance-era atmosphere that one of the world’s most famous squares should expect to pay a premium.

“if they want to sit outside and enjoy the music of the orchestra, look at the bell tower and the Basilica of St Mark's, then they are paying for an entirely different experience,” they told The Sun. “People get annoyed when the bill arrives because they do not listen when we hand them the menu even though it states clearly enough that prices are higher to sit outside.”

While the price gouging at Lavena may feel like capitalism run amok, it seems to be something of a standard practice among the cafes that line the square. Telegraph travel writer Anne Hanley says that nearby Caffè Florian is another such offender with a “music surcharge” for outdoor diners, a factor that plays into her declaration that “Venice is a minefield of overpriced, tourist-trap restaurants offering depressingly mediocre food.”

So if you long to visit the floating city of Venice before it sinks, take heed: avoid the temptation to sip espresso in Piazza San Marco, or else expect a monstrous bill. Sit inside, stroll the famous square on foot, and spend those savings on a gondola ride instead. You’ll be blessing your buona fortuna when you do.  

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