It’s hard to believe a city built completely on water actually exists, but seeing it in person really solidifies the charm and magic you hear about in stories and film. Not only do the characteristics and charm of Venice’s architecture, canals, bridges, brick walls and Venetian window panes live up to its reputation, the transit system is one of the most unique ones I’ve experienced.
First off, let’s start off with saying that I now have such a deep appreciation for roads and cars. Here in Venice, their main -and for many parts – their ONLY means of transportation are boats. The most common way to get around the city is by foot or water bus. If you suffer from motion sickness…this might not be the best place for you to go. But, if you can tough it out – the memories created here will be some of your most cherished.
Armed with a xerox copy map from the hotel, I set off to explore the winding streets and tiny side corridors that make up a city maze of homes and shops. One of the most famous bridges is the Rialto bridge. All along the way are shops, DELISH pizza stands, and an array of Venetian masks and trinkets. I felt like a jam packed against other tourists, constantly grabbing my purse to make sure no one tried to pick pocket me.
I also noticed that, in comparison to Paris, Venice’s items were significantly more expensive. When I picked up a pair of ruby earrings at a tiny local shop by St. Mark’s Square, the woman said (I shit you not), “Ciao, those are 1,600 Euros, but I give you discount.” My jaw dropped. Either the cost of low quality rubies had somehow quadrupled in price in the last 4 days, or this woman was obviously crazy. I opted for the latter.
Then, it hit me. I can’t compare Venice with Florence, or Paris or even US prices – the whole city’s commerce is almost all dependent on water transport. Naturally, things are more limited, and it only makes sense that the majority of what they sell is more expensive. At the very least, their architecture is free to look at. One of my favorite pieces of Venetian decor were the beautiful ornate pink glassed street lamps sprinkled along St. Mark’s Square. Since I was staying on the other side of town, I didn’t get a chance to bask in its elegance at night. Instead, I ventured off onto my next adventure – the food.
The best places I ate at were local pizza joints and a fancy Pizza Cucina in La Croce. The first pizza parlor was an inexpensive fast food spot – QUANTO BASA. You can buy a whole pizza for under 5 Euro, and they taste amazing. Also, they carry a wide variety of European and Japanese beers to go along with your meal. This is the perfect place to stop for a quick bite and gelato – simple, tasty, and fast.
The BEST cucina was one we ran into by chance. We literally followed the smell and found ourselves walking through quiet and dark alleys till it opened up to a small open space with a solitary restaurant - MURO PIZZA & CUCINA – it was deliziosissima! Chef Francesco is innovative, creating unique combinations of first and second courses, rolled pizzas, and some of the best pasta I’ve had in my life.
I ordered two pizzas: buffalo mozzarella, porcini, and Parmesan; sausage and mozzarella. The crust is extra thin, and the cheese just slides right off from the fresh tomato sauce beneath. Yum. The next course was the greatest – pasta! Their ridiculously fresh tagliolini with scampi in ‘busera’ sauce was out of this world. Look, I know a lot of people say Venice doesn’t have great food or pizza, but each experience is what you make it…and no matter where you go in the world, you WILL find great food.
Strolling through the streets of Venice at night was interesting. The city was so quiet, it seemed to echo with my footsteps. A lot of their squares start quieting down around sunset, and almost everywhere you go the shops all shut down early. Gives a person time to take everything in. Just remember, use a real map to navigate – I know, a REAL one. Even iPhone maps can’t catch most of the alley streets.
One thing to bear in mind is that no one here seems to understand the definition of ‘punctual.’ This is very common in Italy. So, if you’re like me and like sending postcards out to loved ones, remember to get stamps mid afternoon or before closing. Even though the sign says they open at 8:30am, don’t expect to see anything but a padlock on a dark room for awhile before the doors actually open.
One crazy thing did happen though…while I sat eating breakfast and feeding birdies at a cafe, I could’ve sworn I saw Woody Allen look right at me as I was prepared to attack the pigeons that were stealing from my baby birds! Slightly embarrassed (I kid, I have no shame) to be caught chasing a pigeon, I sat down, straightened out my hair and turned to see that he had disappeared. Now, either I’ve been traveling too much or that was definitely Mr. Woody Allen. If it really was him, I’m hoping he’s crafting a new film taking place in Venice. After all, ‘Midnight in Paris’ is still my top pick for this year’s awards season!
Also, before I forget, aside from good old Woody…we took a Gondola ride from a guy named Rudi Vignotto. Little did I know he was actually the 8 time winner of Venice’s historic gondola races and he carried the Olympic torch through the Italian city for the opening ceremony. Wow. Talk about getting the best gondola driver in town. He took us through canals that were so small I thought for sure we were going to scrape. Rudi not only didn’t – he gave us detailed introductions to all the different buildings and structures along the ride. Turns out he started rowing when he was 4 and holds the coveted title of ‘champion’ and ‘#1 Gondola’ in Venice. Now that was a lucky streak, how often do tourists get that kind of a guide?!
Lastly, if I can offer any sort of travel advice for Venezia – eat, drink and EXPLORE. Get lost in the city and don’t be afraid to take a street that is so tiny you wonder how most Americans can squeeze through. Sometimes those are the ones that lead you to a beautiful bridge, pier, farmer’s market, pastry cafe or restaurant that will be well worth your while. That’s how I ran into these delicious brioche babies!
Venice was much more fun than Paris on this trip, but surprisingly – my favorite city turned out to be Barcelona! As I sit here finishing up this blog, I can’t stop thinking about going out and experiencing more of its culture and food. Stay tuned for a new post on Barza soon.
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Ciao a e presto!
P.S. Food on my first night was a bust. I stumbled into ‘Antica Casa Carettoni Locanda’ – don’t eat here if your life depended on it – food was a step below Chef Boyardee and the service made China’s rude servers look like saints. Avoid at all costs!