It was B’s birthday, we hadn’t been anywhere for a couple of weeks, and I had a hankering for spaghetti carbonara. So, we went to Venice for a weekend in December.
It was back to usual on the transport front, with a late night flight after work on a Friday. Nearly a little too late, actually; after landing and going through security we found that the last water taxi into Venice was about to leave in 15 minutes, and that it was a 12 minute walk down to the pier it left from. However, after the fastest ticket purchase in history and a determined power walk (8 minutes), we made it on board with time to spare and set off into the darkness of Laguna Veneta.
It was a good thing we did catch it too. Our place for the weekend, Hotel Firenze, was situated just around the corner from Piazza San Marco – a great spot, but it would have been nearly impossible to get to/find at 12:30am had the boat not been stopping almost right outside. After a brief disagreement at the counter (the old guy seemed to want to keep our passports, for some reason. We obviously didn’t like this, and he eventually checked us in anyway, grumbling away to himself in Italian. We never saw him again, and all the other staff we met were amazing) we were in and asleep by about 2am.
We woke up the next morning to a stunning winter day in Venice. After a quick Skype call to family back in New Zealand, and a test of the temperature out on the balcony (cold), we headed down to breakfast and then out to see the city. The young guy manning the front desk at the hotel gave us some great tips (chief among them was to stay off the main tourist streets) and circled a few of his favourite spots on the map for us on our way out. This guy was clearly really proud of his town, which is always nice to see in people.
Now, as I’m sure anyone else who has ever visited will attest to – Venice is a total maze. In a great way, because it is a beautiful city to be wander around lost in, but still a maze. Even with the benefit of a GPS map on my phone it was hard to find our way around with any real direction, so most of the time we just didn’t bother trying. For at least the first few hours, we just wandered around totally aimlessly, taking in all the great little streets and canals.
After a while we came across what appeared to be a fairly substantial fish market, next to the Grand Canal. I always enjoy looking around fish markets; we grew up doing a lot of fishing, as is common back home in New Zealand, and it’s quite interesting seeing what other people catch and eat in different places around the world. This one was particularly engaging though, because half the people shopping looked as though they’d just stepped out of a fashion magazine or something. I’m pretty sure I even saw one old lady drop an octopus she’d just bought into her Prada handbag. I’ve said it many times before – I love the Italians.
Next up we headed north, to one of the areas our mate at the hotel had recommended. Strada Nuova is one of the main tourist shopping streets, and is quite frankly terrible. It was bad enough when we were there, off-season in December, so I can’t even imagine how crap it must be in peak summer. We were going a couple of blocks north, however, and our guy was right – this was a great spot. There was almost no other tourists at all, and the whole place just seemed a lot more authentic somehow.
As an added bonus, it also has the happiest fire hydrants in the world.
While up that way we happened to stumble across what I’ve decided now ranks in my top 3 favourite wine bars of all time: Vino Vero. Now, I’m not saying to search this place out as such, because it is very hard to find anything deliberately in Venice. But if you do come across it – go in. It’s small and cozy and run by some awesome people, the wine options are massive (and since I say this every blog now it seems, very cheap compared to London), and the food is just about perfection. I’d call it a kind of Venetian version of tapas, which changes daily (we know because we liked it so much we broke our ‘don’t walk the same path twice’ rule and went back), and absolutely delicious. It also comes on wooden boards which also have a hole to hold your wine glass too, which I thought was a particular stroke of genius. Tripadvisor agrees as well, just in case you don’t believe us – as I’m sure you have noticed if you follow the link above, it has near perfect reviews. I’d definitely give five stars too.
Keeping with the food theme for a while longer, for dinner that night we decided to go somewhere a little fancy. In any new city this can be a bit hit-and-miss, but this time we lucked out and found a good place in Bistrot de Venise to celebrate B’s birthday. It was a little more expensive and quite a bit more fancy that we usually look for, but for something a bit special – fantastic. We tried something of just about every part of the menu (cocktails, starters, mains, desserts, digestifs) and it was all absolutely delicious. I was particularly excited to find I could try soft shell crabs, or ‘moleche’. They’re a local delicacy that the local guy at the hotel had raved about, and while they’d normally have been out of season the unusually warm start to winter meant they were still available for us. I loved ’em.
In the morning we went and did a couple more structured touristy things. Our first stop was St Mark’s Basilica, sitting on the eastern side of St Mark’s square. Both are so called after the historical figure of Mark the Evangelist, whose remains were supposedly stolen by the Venetians (I’m not at all sure why) and whose name now adorns some of Venice’s best locations. The Basilica is about a thousand years old (apparently nobody is quite sure of the exact dates), and is very impressive – the upper walls and roof are covered in around 8,000 square metres of gilded mosaics. Probably the most well-known feature is the Pala d’Oro, which is a panel made of gold and precious gems hung right up the back. Why no photos of such an amazing sight? We didn’t forget or anything; as at many religious places around the world, visitors are requested not to take photographs. A heap of people ignore this though, as always, and so if your friend returns from Venice and shows you a snap of the inside – inform them immediately that they’re a bit of a dick.
Back in the sunlight, we caught a ferry out to San Giorgio Maggiore, one of the many nearby islands. This one in particular has what I’m told is one of the nicest views of Venice, from atop the bell tower of the church on the corner of the island, looking back into the heart of Venice. We had a perfect day for it, and as I’m sure you can see below the views are indeed fantastic.
After that, we ferried back to the main town and spent the next few hours just wandering again. Venice is an awesome city to walk in. Like a maze, as I’ve said, but such a rewarding one. Just around every corner is another beautiful view of a canal, or another tight winding lane between two old buildings, or another grand square backed by a church. It also has no cars, and while that may not sound so amazing it really does make a big difference to a city. It cuts down on noise, for one thing, but the main benefit is that you’re free to walk wherever you please without having to worry about being run over. We’ve come across this a few times now, like in Freiburg, and I think it is something more cities should think about doing, at least in part.
And then the fog rolled back in, and then it was time to grab our things and head back to the airport. We had one minor issue along the way: for some reason, the water taxi only took us about half way to the airport. There they instructed everyone to get off and wait for the next boat….which of course didn’t come at the scheduled time. Neither did the next one, or the next. We’d left with plenty of time to spare, so we got there eventually and it wasn’t a big problem, but just something to note – life in Italy happens at an Italian pace.
All in all, Venice is an amazing place, truly one of the great cities of the world. I loved it. I know I say that in just about every post I write, but this time I really mean it. If you ever get the chance, go there.
Until next time, B & A.