This is me, working really, really hard on my next novel. With a looming deadline, I did what any self-respecting writer would do: I took my family on vacation. Wandering around
was much more fun than staring at my computer screen, trying to puzzle out my tortured characters' motivations, and wondering why that bit in the middle isn't nearly as exciting as it should be. Venice
You'd be hard pressed to find a more spectacular city than Venice. You don't even need to try to find beautiful things. There are, of course, the many splendid vistas across the Grand Canal, but (and this is my favourite thing to do) just wander anywhere and you'll discover small streets and little squares and quiet bridges and, everywhere, the beautiful decrepitude that Venice has had centuries to achieve.
So by all means, start with the Piazza San Marco. After all, it's been in James Bond movies and stuff, so you kind of have to see it. The Basilica looks like this:
My advice: take in the square and Ducal Palace, the pigeons, the quarter of a million tourists -- and then get out of there. As quickly as possible. Of course, if shopping really turns you on, nearby you'll find shops like Bulgari and Prada and Gucci where you can see handbags and clothing so appallingly silly and ugly that it shakes my faith in the human species. But that's just me.
The farther away from the square you get, the more interesting the city becomes, especially as you find the small streets and neighbourhoods where there are real shops (that sell, um, food and vacuum cleaners and stuff) and real apartments where real Venetians live.
You can usually tell the real Venetians easily from the tourists, especially the women. They are often very well dressed, smoking furiously while talking into a cell phone and walking with terrifying speed, while emanating a thought bubble that very clearly reads: "Get out of my way, or I will kill you with the stiletto heel of my designer shoe."
The other cool thing about finding a quiet local square, say to have lunch on a red bench while your littlest daughter chases pigeons, is that you will come across real signs of the real city, like this garbage can with very helpful and specific information on it, about what NOT to put inside. I myself witnessed some locals trying to stuff their entire refrigerator into the can, without success -- but it didn't stop me from, later that night, cramming in an ugly armchair which was taking up too much space in my hotel room.
But then my various editors started getting anxious about a) where I was and b) when I was coming home and c) when was I planning on finishing the second book of the Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein.
So I came home.