Everyone tells you to go to Venice. It is a must-see on most Italian tourists’s itinerary. It is fabled with legends of love and romance, rivaling only Paris. It is shrouded in mystery from its beautiful canals to it’s literal masked festivals. Venice is charm, intrigue and sass in the world’s eye.
When I think of Venice, I think of a lady dressed in a flowy velvet dress with a black gold eye mask, walking down an alley looking back at you with mysterious smile and a sparkle in her eyes….. One makes an attempt to follow her. She laughs a tinkle and jumps onto a passing gondola and forever skips out of your reach even as you just make the landing where she was not a moment ago. Yet, her laughs echos and rings in your ear forever thence…. You never manage to catch or catch up with her and yet she will always be with you as a memory that always brings a smile and lifts you up!
I feels this about Venice today….
from Ponte Rialto
Truth be told, I visited Venice at the lowest point of my life. I went alone, which, in itself is unsurprising because I was living in Italy at that time and my roommate-travelmate-close friend was away the weekend I chose to go. But, that solo-ness did have an impact as my story will tell. But more, I was numb and deadened within at that time and many of Venice’s charm whisked past me without a mark like water on a duck’s back. Yet, they all lingered somewhere in my subconscious and resurfaced when I did and with that came the memories and unfelt smiles.
Let me start with the most important lesson I learnt. Do not visit Venice alone! It is not a place for the lonely. It is a place that you want to share. It does not have to be a lover; a good friend, a travel enthusiast, a food enthusiast (more on that below!), anyone with whom you can connect. Venice’s superficial beauty is easy to find but the its hidden joys are ones that you explore and understand only in connection with another. Walking across its myriad bridges is mundane if not for the pleasure of simply standing with a friend and looking onto the canal, and well people watching and just passing the time. Sometimes, you need another to point out a beauty hidden in plain sight or around the corner, because you were not looking that way. And, the city is full of such treasures!
It is a good thing my photos are so prolific, because I caught those gems as I was editing them and they made me smile and a brought a new envigored perspective of the place.
Every canal is unique, every bridge different. Yet, look up and beauty abounds everywhere. The architecture of the city delights in the city’s position on the spice route, mingling both the Christian and Ottoman styles. Pretty much everything in the city is a fusion of histories passing by. The cuisine as much as culture. And, yet, you find many things distinctly unique, as much as only a city built on water, that lives and breathes by the natural-ness surrounding it, can be!
Piazza San Marco is obviously the Rome of the city with all roads essentially winding towards it. Dominated by a stunning cathedral, it is a gathering place for locals and tourists alike, although unless you are loaded, you would be wise to stay clear of the restaurants in the square. There is usually a outdoor live band playing, the pleasure of which you pay for with you coffee that is priced five times normal. :) But, you can simply sit in the middle of the piazza for free, enjoy the view and loose yourself in the beauty of the cathedral. :)
EVERYDAY LIFE & PEOPLE
Venetians are Venetians and perhaps the only truly international Italians. I make that distinction versus cosmopolitan (such as Milan) because in Venice, globalness has been truly imbibed into the local culture. They are Italian but also not. There is a distinct expansiveness there, which, ironically, runs contrary to the narrowness of the canals!
Italians I have found are rather laissez-faire for the most part. But, Venetians did not seem to exactly be that and yet were very Italian in their own way. Talk to the locals and it isn’t long before you realize it is kind of precarious and expensive to live in the city; The houses all need constant maintenance and it is a personal cost. But, none would even think of leaving the city for more stable land. They love the shifting grounds and the beauty of it. Indeed, they perhaps enjoy life ever more because of it.
I loved peeking into verandahs and common spaces. Often, I felt like I had walked into old Parsi Bombay. From its distinct Persian influences in architecture, to the white linens hanging off clothes’ lines, to the random chair by the door that looked exactly like it would in a Parsi home, I was simply hit with waves of nostalgia.
And, then, there was the Wisteria! Oh the smell and beauty of the lush lavender flowers overhanging the walls. I stayed in a little hotel (a converted nunnery!) slightly outside the main city center because even though I visited pre-season, Venice center is always expensive. I was rather glad I did because the garden had the most prolifically blooming wisteria with it sweet smells wafting up to my room every evening! Joy!
ARCHITECHTURE & VIEWS
The best things to do in Venice is to randomly walk, choosing alleys away from the thronged tourist routes (leading to San Marco) and glimpsing into the everyday lives of venetos. I meandered through in circuitous routes, walking and walking and never tiring. I bumped into little artist shops, artisan jewelry, tiny bakeries that were popular hyper-locally, wonderful restaurants in the nooks of little piazzas, and random conversations with shop owners because they had time and were not looking to sell to tourists.
FOOD & MARKETS
They say Venetian food is not really Italian and the city really does not have a cuisine, per se. Unlike other regions, which, are known for specific dishes or ingredients, Venice has always been a fusion ground, blending indigenous Italian staples with the influences of passing trade ships. So, it is not surprising that by Italian standards, it does not have a ‘cuisine’. And, yet, it does, in it very versatility and ability to flow with what washes up its shore.
Obviously, seafood is king here with amazing fresh caught fares sold everyday in big and small markets. I wish I had stayed in an Airbnb because I would have LOVED to cook the stunning catches that I saw sold along with the glorious produce!
The most distinct item of Venetian food that you hear about is cicchetti. Basically a form of tapas without it being free for alcohol as in Spain. These are basically finger food, some fried, some cold cuts, but most eaten standing from tiny hole in the wall places as is common in Italy. Honestly, I was not super impressed by them. The lines were long and the experience lacking.
What I enjoyed more was finding little places that served good food, from pizza to pasta, from tiny bakery to sit down restaurant. Below are some of the places I loved -
Bacaretto - Sicilian place with a wonderful owner
Novecento Jazz 900 - live music and bar
Osteria Alla Frasca - Lovely food, tiny spot with 6 tables!
Creperia Artigianale Casteo
Outer Islands - Murano & Burano
I remember wandering into a beautiful shop (Atelier Flavia) that made costumes for the carnival! I desperately wanted to come back during the festival. They were handmade and beautiful! I have had a life long desire to go to a masked ball…