In March I went to Venice and wrote this post during my visit there. It’s taken me a while to get it typed up and edited, but here it is, finally. It’s a long one, but I hope it comes in useful should you be travelling to Venice, or trying to decide whether you should (you should – take me with you, I’ll play tour guide). Here we go….
I sit here, my 3rd visit to Venice and find myself even more in love with the city than ever – if this is possible. After my first visit to Venice I begged, “take me back”, the beauty and magic of the city being completely unrivaled and imprinted on my brain.
Today its raining. I’m sat at a table with a glass of Bellini at Ristorante Caffe Saraceno which snuggles into the infamous sight of the Rialto Bridge. A sea of umbrella clad tourists huddle on the bridge taking photographic souvenirs and bustle into the array of coffee shops that line the Grand Canal.
Even in the rain, Venice looks beautiful. The green water laps at the side of the canal, ripples breaking as the various boats of Venetian life pass by, a couple on the table next to me talk animatedly in french, while to the left of me a lone male studies his guide book, no doubt circling the many attractions there are to see. If heaven were a place, sitting canal side in Venice with my pencil to paper would be top of my list.
The idea of this hour alone, that I’ve finally managed to steal on our 3rd day here, was to sketch. Last time I came to Venice I had the idea that I wanted to sit outside a cafe and draw the city around me, through my eyes. A unique lasting piece of memento. I wound my way through the streets of the city to track down an art shop in the hopes of seeking out a sketch book and pencils especially for the occasion. However, with pencil to paper my (extremely rusty) GCSE art skills are failing to pay justice the incredible beauty and intricacy of the architecture and city around me. Instead, I thought I would take the time instead to do what I do best and write. Write about Venice, though my eyes. The Venice that I know and love (this is classed as my best – I apologise)
Venice According to Charl
This is a must do. Ditch the map and go where the streets take you. The several districts of Venice each have their own delights to behold and many of the sights in your guidebook will emerge from within the streets of the city as you walk.
Start at St Marks Square, pick a side street to head down and just keep walking. In doing so you’ll stumble upon some beautiful shops, restaurants and architecture that are packed away within the back streets of the city. Cross over the Grand Canal, take your own photograph of the very snapshot that has inspired so many works of arts. Fasten a padlock onto the metal work of the Accademia Bridge as you cross over into Dosodora and revel in the delights of the local street fairs tucked away behind the Accademia Gallery.
Head north of the Rialto towards the Cannaregio district for some beautiful local scenery and get a glimpse into the everyday life of the Venetians. As soon as I wander into the areas where I see tea towels and socks hanging out of residents windows, that’s where the hidden Venice is. Some way or another, wherever you are in Venice, you’ll find yourself happening upon the Grand Canal, or you’ll find yourself spilling out of one of the many side streets which leads into the wonderous beauty that is St Marks Square.
To me, there is no greater way to experience Venice than to wander aimlessly – take comfortable shoes though, for godsake.
Eat Like Its Going Out Of Fashion
Each time I visit Venice, I feel like I’m going to go home a good stone heavier than I arrived. Italian food is my weakness, and the Venetians sure know how to serve it in abundance. My absolute love of food from the sea is catered for en masse and is cemented even further as I step foot into one of Venices hundreds of restaurants. With restaurants lining the streets with special set menus that cater purely for the tourists, I’ve found its best to follow the same rule as number one – follow the locals – this way you’ll find some mouth watering meals right in the heart of Venice. Seafood is Venice’s speciality and Trattoria Alla Madonna, a stones throw from the Rialto Bridge, serves up some of the best known and tastiest seafood dishes in the city. The quality of Madonna’s is proven through the heaving tables of regulars and tourists alike and I loved it so much that I’ve visited this little gem on each visit to Venice and fully intend to slowly work my way through the entire menu.
Hole in the wall pizzeria are common place in Venice and they serve up some mouth watering slices of all crusts, topping, sizes. I’m partial to a crispy based slice of spinach and ricotta pizza from pizzeria a 5 minute walk from the Rialto (pass the Rialto market as you come off the bridge and keep walking, you’ll find it on your left). With cheese oozing down my chin and a plastic cup of mulled red wine from one of the market venders in my hand, my belly feels warm and content enjoying this classic Italian dish.
You can’t visit Italy or Venice without partaking in a little gelato time. With a rainbow of flavours on offer, Tiramisu, Pistachio, Melon, Mint, Lemon Caramel… its the perfect cool me down on a hot day, or a tasty treat mid afternoon… who am I kidding, you’re in Venice. I had gelato in the morning, then again in the rain, and again in the evening as I strolled around St Marks Square. There are no rules when it comes to gelato.
There’s one thing that I always try to do when I’m abroad, and that is to sample the signature dishes of the country. My last trip to Venice a customer in the restaurant next to us was eating spaghetti coated in what looked like tar. After consulting my “brother the chef”, I learned that the dish was spaghetti with cuttlefish ink – a Venetian delicacy and a favourite with the locals. Despite its… interesting aesthetic, I vowed to try it on my return and it tastes sensational. I had mine served with clams and artichoke and it was practically an orgasm on a plate. Yum.
Make Like A Local & Relax
One of the things that I love about Venice is that its so magic and different from the life I lead at home. With no cars on the island, everything travel wise is by boat or by foot. Despite the hustle and bustle of the tourists, the locals live a much more simplistic and relaxed nature
Simple. Everything is slower, more simple. I love to find a coffee shop, a bar, a step somewhere to just sit and watch the locals. They talk animatedly, order incredible food, laugh, soak up the sun and just seem so content.
You want to see everywhere in Venice, sure – there’s a lot of beautiful sights to see, but the island is relatively small and using a combination of the local Vaparettos (the Venetian version of a bus – its a boat) and your very own feet, you can quickly make your way from A to B.
Slow down. Take in the sights when you’re walking or pick an Osteria (bar) or restaurant with tables outside to watch Venice go by. I liked to sit on the steps by the water at Santa Maria della Salute on the mouth of the Grand Canal. You can watch the boats go by, watch the tourists come and go to take pictures of the amazing architecture and take some incredible photographs.
Visit St Marks Square, Again & Again… & Again
I know I said to stay off the beaten track, but Piazzo San Marco (also known as St Marks Square) and the Rialto Bridge are my exception. As symbolic for Venice as the Eiffel Tower is for the Venice, St Marks Square is the heart of Venice and you can’t help but happen upon it as you stroll around the city. The Campanile, the Basilica and Palazzo Ducale are all situated in the biggest tourist spot in Venice. The architecture of the buildings in St Marks square is breath taking. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve walked into the Square, stumbling out of a side street into the herds of tourists and been blown away time and time again. I stand beneath the fascias of the Basilica and gazed up in complete awe at the sheer intricity of the freezes they are decorated with. I’m not going to bore you with a history lesson or pretend that I know anything about Art, that’s not what I know. What I do know is feelings, and the feeling I get when I enter St Marks square, whatever time of the day or the time of the year, is that of butterflies. In the day the square is buzzing with tourists and pigeons (as symbolic for St Marks Square as they are in Trafalgar in our fair London), but by night the crowds disappear into one of the many eating establishments that Venice has to offer, and a quiet kind of calm falls upon the heart of Venice. A magnificence is revealed, such beauty that I could quite possibly pack up my lipsticks, buy a tent and a sleeping bag and live right there on the square beneath the Campanille. Pigeons and all.
Take a Boat Trip Up The Grand Canal…
.. and by this I don’t necessarily mean in a Gondola. A Gondola trip is a wonderful experience, but it’s extremely expensive, and if you’re trying to do Venice on a budget its not always feasible. The most inexpensive way to tour the Canal Grande is to hop onto one of the many ACTV Vaparettos that travel the waters of Venice each day. These are the Venetian equivalent of a bus in the UK and are used by both tourists and locals alike to get from A to B. The Canal is lined by the most beautiful buildings and palazzo (again, I won’t try and pretend I know how to talk architecture) but the sights are picture postcard beautiful. As you travel slowly up the winding Canal, sit at the back of the Vaparetto on the open seats to get the best view and make sure you grab your camera, the sights you’ll see will make perfect photo souvenirs. Board at St Marks Square and hop off at any of the steps along the way (they’re yellow bus stop like and easily recognisable) to save your feet from all the walking or simply stay on till the last stop Mestre) to get a full view of the city in all its splendor. Hop on after dark (and when your belly is full of lots of Venetian food) to take a load off you feet for an extra special tour. The city really is at its best at night. A lot of the buildings are lit up along the canal and it adds that extra bit of perfection.
To me Venice is like going home to a home from here. There’s something about the tranquility of the city that resonates with me completely. Each time I see pictures of Venice, see it on the TV or hear people talking about it I have those butterfly feelings that one would have for a lover. There are no cars allowed on the main island of Venice. All bus and rail communications stop at Mestre (one of the many, but not as fabulous ways to arrive in the city) which makes it feel as though you’re stepping from one world into another. It’s a world I’d give up my entire collection of lipsticks and handbags to stay there long term.
Places you MUST visit:
Trattoria Alla Madonna – best fish restaurant in all of Venice. Spaghetti Vongole is beautiful, as is the Tiramisu. Such a busy and bustling restaurant favoured by locals and tourists alike.
Bacaro Jazz Club – this little spot is just minutes walk from the Rialto on the way to the department store Coin. A jazz club with bras of all sizes, colours and nationality hanging from the ceiling, Bacaro has a buzz about it. With Happy Hour from 4 till 7 (drinks are buy one get one free) and food served from 12pm till 2am, Bacaro has the friendliest owner and bar staff – they make mean cocktails! I could be found here everyday between 6 and 7 for a few drinks before heading back to the hotel to get ready for an evening with my lover (Venice being my lover).
Caffe Florian – this beautiful little cafe is situated in the Procuratie Nuove of St Marks Square. Established in 1720, Caffe Florian is one of the most stunning coffee shops (yes, more so than Starbucks, could you believe?) Boasting some extremely expensive coffees, this caffe is a must do. Its fabulously beautiful. I took my mum here for her birthday.