Saturday, November 2, 2013

I am mad at Venice.

It's so touristy.

It's a dying city built on dirty water.  It's full of people trying to rip you off.  It's too crowded.  It's like a theme park.

You can't eat a good, authentic meal without paying as much as your monthly salary.  You can't find a decent place to stay that doesn't cost as much as your monthly rent.  It's hard to get around.  The locals are really mean and hate tourists.  It's just not worth all the hassle.

Gondola parking by San Marco
The little island of Burano, about 45 minutes in vaporetto from "main" Venice

A Venetian water bus view at rush hour.  Not a bad for for a commute.

But I'm mad at Venice because I never went sooner.

I'm absolutely in love.

Rialto Bridge at sunset
I heard all of the above reasons for avoiding Venice for most of my life.  Before moving to Italy, I came here on vacation seven or so times, and somehow managed to always keep Venice out of my travel plans.  Put off by accommodation prices and a little intimidated about people's lamentations of bad restaurants, it just did not sound like it was for me.  I live in one of the more touristy parts of this country, and have a high tolerance for that sort of mess, but was very apprehensive about throwing myself into that same mess along with them.

We booked a few days in Venice and as soon as we stepped out of the station, I cried a little (this is not weird, I am one of those people that cries at especially touching phone commercials and sunsets).  I was just floored to see a street made of water, a metro stop of boats not busses.

We got on our little vaporetto, and my ear to ear grin did not stop until we left this incredibly magical city.   La Serenissima (one of Venice's many nicknames, meaning "the most serene") is it's a city built not on the water, but actually IN it, on about 118 small islands.  You see locals hopping in a traghetto to cross the canal without holding onto anything for balance, and can't help thinking that these people are of the water, not of the land.  Like the city they live in, they balance on the water.  They live in it.

Vacations are different for everyone, and logically everyone has different experiences, but we had a perfect few days of 22 degree sunny weather (low 70's F), no cruise ships, no big tour groups, and a city slowing down off the summer season.  Of course there were other tourists, and getting a sunset picture at the Rialto Bridge was a bit of a nightmare, but it didn't dampen any of the wonder I felt wandering around such a strange, unique and beautiful city.

Typical cicchetti at a bar by Santa Marina
We took a boat to Burano, full of colorful houses and fishermen perched on little canals, and explored the glass making island of Murano.  We drank spritz cocktails at sunset sitting along the canal.  We inhaled plates of sarde in saor (a sweet and sour agrodolce dish of sardines cooked in sugar and onions and pine nuts served over polenta) and munched on lightly fried local soft shell crabs, called moeche.  My favorite part of the eating is going into a little osteria or bacaro (venetian for a sort of bar that serves cicchetti, or tapas snacks and small plates), grabbing a glass of local wine that costs a few euros, and asking for a few snacks - the cicchetti can cost a few euros each, but many places will make you a mixed plate for a fixed amount.  You can see the selection on chalkboards or in the glass cases by the bar.  The price only applies for standing up and eating at the bar, along with the Venetian men on their way home from work who stopped in to down a glass of wine and have a quick nibble or two.
Mixed cicchetti plate for 2 at Osteria Bancogiro - cost 15 euro for 20 pieces

The people we interacted with, with their heavily cadenced Italian and totally incomprehensible local dialect, were really fantastic.  I found everyone to be friendly and helpful, explaining water bus lines, recommending wines, and even explaining some of the local plates to us at the bar.  I saw a tiny old lady crossing one of Venices 456,567 little bridges with difficulty, but then stopping to let some little blonde swedish babies pass her, all the while gently chiding, "be careful you beautiful children, it can be a little slippery" with a big smile on their face.  Their blue eyes looked solemn as they seemed to absorb the message, understanding nothing of the older woman's Italian.  She stopped, saying to herself, "how beautiful those children are", and smiling, pausing at the start of the steps of the bridge.  I wanted to hug her.

The view from our room at Ca'Amadi.  Note the elderly woman hanging out her laundry.  You drop a sock here, you are done kids.  Canal sock must be a common happening for novices.
I can see how there is the potential for Venice to be too much, but that can be the case in most cities (and small villages on the Ligurian coast, for example) during high season for a day tripper or a cruise ship tourist. We were lucky to have the experience that we did, but that is part of the reason you need to come to Venice.  Regardless of all of the mixed opinions of it, it's something that you need to decide for yourself.  Love it or hate it, Venice is a place that the word beautiful does not do justice.  It's bewitching, magical and unique, getting lost in a small alleyway that empties out to a lagoon lapping at your feet.  And you have to decide for yourself which spell this enchanting city of bridges and canals casts.

Notes about our trip:
Branzino with pancetta and spinach at L'Osteria di Santa Marina
We stayed at Ca'Amadi, a great little b&b a few steps from the Rialto Bridge.  Once the house of Marco Polo, the suite we had was large and airy, and had two windows opening onto a small canal, which was surprisingly quiet at night.  We also got a fantastic rate last minute, mid-week in late October/early November.

I had the best meal I have had in a very long time at L'osteria di Santa Marina.  It is a refined place that serves incredibly well prepared plates and left us speechless.  I don't know how they do not have a Michelin star.

I also inhaled the best branzino (sea bass) of my life in Burano, at Rivarosa Ristorante.  Sitting along a little canal on this perfect little island with it's rainbow of houses, eating such a succulent piece of fish in the sun is a memory I will have for a long time.
Sarde in Saor at Vini da Gigio

Local branzino steamed with local roasted artichokes and a great chardonnay at Rivarosa, in the island of Burano
Vini di Gigio is a great place for a nice, simple meal of local plates (sarde in saor, moeche, and even the land dishes of the region, like a small hen stuffed with livers and salame then roasted) with a great wine list.

We loved the cicchetti at Cantina Do Mori, an ancient wine bar not far from the Mercato full of local old men knocking back wines and snacking alongside of us.

We also loved Osteria Sacro e Profano, Osteria Bancogiro, Osteria All'Alba and La Cantina...I didn't think it was possible to find a population of people that drink more then the Monterossini, but I did.  A spritz at 10:30 am is not at all strange in Veneto.

Definitely, 100% bring a smartphone or tablet with GPS.  You will get lost.  Many times.  After a few hours, I resigned myself to the fact that when I decided to go right, it would most certainly be wrong, and I would have to turn around at least 4 times.  Plan on an extra 15-20 minutes to arrive somewhere you haven't been before - at night it all looks the same, and you will literally wind up at a canal in the dark more then once.

Bring a charger or extra battery for your camera or phone.  You will take an amount of pictures of this incredible place that borders on obscene.  Then you too will start a blog solely to show them off to your friends and family.

Be patient, smile, and remember that you are walking in one of the most incredible cities that man has ever built.  Not something you do every day.



  1. I have visited Venice many times and I think you captured its charms perfectly. Thank you for all the wonderful recommendations. I think it is hard to find good food in Venice because of all the touristy spots. It's always a good idea to get off the beaten path and, since I have heard 90% of the visitors do Venice as a day trip, and spend the night. It's amazing how the place empties out in the evening. Thanks for a quick little visit to Venezia! Louise

  2. Hi Christine! We love Venice too! Have been there 4 times now and are going again in April. We hardly need a map anymore! I think one reaps what one sows and in Venice if one can dismiss the stereotypes of bad food, rude people, and get away from San Marco (except early and late), one can have a marvelous time.

    BTW, we were back in the Cinque Terre last month, 3rd trip. Always love fall there! Ciao! Laurel