Venice is one of those mystical cities, that attracts people from all over the world. Perhaps because it’s sinking? The fear of losing it makes us appreciate it more.
Being there is like stepping into Canaletto painting Venice: The Grand Canal with S. Simeone Piccolo. The outside world stays behind and even GPS is helpless.
After arriving to Venezia Santa Lucia we blindly gave into CityMapper’s hands to guide us towards Airbnb apartment where we had a nowhere near romantic key pick up date.
Twenty minutes of waiting in the rain and pointless walking around the building we called Airbnb to help us get in contact with the owner. Long story short, we had to be walked to our flat that appeared to be around fifteen minutes and a few bridges away from where we thought it was.
Since, we had only two days to immerse ourselves into the surreal experience of getting lost in the narrow alleyways and crossing one bridge after another to realise that the bridge we were looking for is a few more bridges away, we began our adventure in Venice without further delay.
The bridge everyone is searching for is the famous Ponte dei Sospiri, also known as the bridge of sighs, built back in 1600. The title is far more glamorous than the story behind it. The bridge connects interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace with the Prigioni Nouve. The prisoners would catch the last glimpse of Venice and sigh on their way down to the cells.
Personally, I sighed seeing Ponte di Rialto, built in the 1181, it is one of the oldest bridges spanning the Grand Canal and leading people to the historic Rialto Market where locals and city guests meet for centuries to celebrate one of the few greatest pleasures – food. Spices, vegetables, fruits, meat and fish, everything is there.
Nestled in a little square right by the Rialto Market a family-run deli Casa del Parmigiano sell artisan cheeses and quality cured meats. I was told they have Parmesan in multiple stages of ageing, as well as a plethora of cheeses from all over the country, plus a small charcuterie counter featuring fine prosciutto and culatello among other delights.
I also learnt that it is possible to experience a gondola ride for as little as €2 from fish market to Pescaria to The Palazzo Santa Sofia, also known as Ca’ d’ Oro. It is a short trip, but if you are traveling on a budget and are less than keen to splash €50 or more, this tip might become handy.
Having said that, a gondola tour isn’t something you should save on when in Venice. Book in advance and queue at Calle Larga Ascension to get the best seats as you will be sharing the boat with others.
We got a Gondola Ride and St Mark’s Basilica Tour for €43 and loved every single bit of it. I got my chance to pull-off Brigitte Bardot, of course she did not have to squeeze on a tiny boat with eight strangers, but that’s another story.
Basilica di San Marco with all its picturesque detail, such as gold ground mosaics, accompanied with a guided tour is a must. The famous church is one of the best-known examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture and has a history dating back to 828. You can also admire the Basilica from the outside and choose to visit St. Mark’s Bell Tower instead?
We skipped the Bell Tower and went to Scala Contarini del Bovolo, a small palazzo famous for its spiral staircase, erected back in the fifteenth century, a less hectic spot to enjoy the view of Venetian rooftops.
Visiting Italy is a treat for soul as well as taste receptors. I would consider it unfortunate if someone manages to go on a trip to Italy and come back hungry or disappointed with the selection.
There are a few great places in the Piazza San Marco. The historic Caffè Florian, that charges you for sitting down and sometimes for the music, if the orchestra is playing. And an authentic tapas bacaro Fiore. Bacaro, a typical Venetian place where you can find wines and small portion of food, like Cicchetti, the Venetian tapas. Order a glass of Spritz or vino della casa and some typical delicatessen like baccalà, stew or fried codfish, polenta or sarde in saor, marinated sardines. Are you hungry yet?
It is simply impossible to visit all the recommended places and try all the specialities, but some spots shouldn’t be missed, as for example Gelateria Nico, that serves the best of the best ice-cream in town. Ask for the Gianduitto, it’s their specialty.
The gelateria is located a bit further down, in Dorsoduro area. It is an excellent opportunity to explore other less touristic parts of the town. If you are in search of souvenirs, you will find quite a few shops situated in Calle Sant’Agnese. If you are a modern art lover, visit Peggy Guggenhaim Collection or at least pay a tribute to Peggy and her dogs who are buried in the small garden.
Dorsoduro is a sensible part of Venice that offers you peace and quiet (or at least doesn’t suffocate you in the crowds of tourists). It’s a walkable distance from the San Marco buzz yet has plenty to offer: cultural attractions, local bars, restaurants and hotels. There is also less chance you will be asked to pay €5 for an ordinary cup of black coffee.
Castello, another Venetian district close to the Arsenale Di Venezia, with laundry hanging outside residential building windows, gives a glimpse of true face of Venice, if I may.
She takes the extravagant mask off and becomes this relaxed bohemian goddess strolling through the residential neighbourhood of Castello, all the way to the gardens of Sant’Elena. At the core of the gardens is a lovely café, build inside a liberty greenhouse, called Serra dei Giardini, especially convenient for a coffee break and a rest after the hefty walk. It’s peaceful place and on a sunny afternoon feels almost heavenly. An instagramers paradise, almost like a perfect image filter, the place makes a cup of coffee and sandwich look like lunch at Four Seasons.
Coming back to the subject of Italian cuisine, let’s not forget pizza, and once you’ve tried pizza in Venice (or anywhere else in Italy) it’s hard to go back to frozen tasteless replicas you get in your local supermarket. The best pizza in town is hidden in narrow streets’ labyrinth and is served at Antico Forno, a small over the counter sort of place where you can mix and match and have as many slices as your heart desires. If you wish to have your pizza sitting down and make a dining experience out of it, try Jazz 900.
After an evening meal walk to Palazzo Ducale. It is a glorious sight, a perfect place for la passegiata, an Italian tradition of an evening stroll, an elegant finale of yet another unforgettable day.
Libreria Acqua Alta, located on Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa, is one of the most unique bookshops across the globe. It is breathtaking place and the best to say farewell, as it encompasses everything this magical city is about.
Promise to get yourself a book, a memory that will always remind you about the dreamy conversation between you and Venice.