Venice | Italy

Posted by on November 29, 2006

What is there left to say about Venice?  Perhaps that I never particularly wanted to go there, since I’m not a water person, and I pictured myself having to jump down in to a boat whenever I wanted to go anyplace.

Now this is akin to withdrawing your projections about another person and finding out that you really like them a lot. – in other words, extremely shortsighted.

It took me about 10 minutes to become fascinated with Venice. (And that was on the taxi-boat coming from the airport.) Venice really got my attention when I saw it from the plane, just like looking at it on a map, which by then I had memorized, being the compulsive preparer/researcher that I am. So I was READY. And it took no time at all to fall in love with the Vaporetto pass, which was my constant companion and respite from miles of walking in the never-ending desire to get to the end of the road. (There is no end in Venice.)

This trip was undertaken by me and my DH (this is Fodorspeak for “Darling Husband”) and two dear friends, after talking for years about going to Venice.  They were Venetian veterans, having baby-sat a tiny grandchild in Cannaregio for three weeks, so we had built-in tour guides.  We stayed at a perfect first time hotel, the Pensione Accademia, which has been the setting for many movies. It is located in Dorsoduro, very near the Accademia Museum, a super location.  Our room had a view of the Grand Canal, and of the charming garden restaurant of our hotel. Couldn’t have been better.

They say Venice is crowded all year long.  That is certainly true in the most popular tourist venues, like St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge.  We studiously avoided the Rialto Bridge, in fact, I never even crossed it. We could not, however, resist St. Mark’s Square, called Europe’s outdoor living room.  We even fell for the expensive ice cream by sitting down at a table, (sitting down is the kiss of death in Italy, as you are charged much more for doing so, I suppose you all know this, but once in awhile you do need a REST.)  Also the people watching in the square is world class and free – oh, and also the dueling orchestras in the evening, another must.  We had to go in to the Basilica, but we did it on the one rainy day when not too many people wanted to wait outside to get in, so we were lucky.  We also booked ahead for the Secret Itineraries Tour of the Doge’s Palace, which I would give a miss, as it was really only a tour of the attic, and the jail cell where they put Casanova, until he escaped.  The basilica is a stunning example of the marriage of Europe and the Byzantine Empire. (I don’t think they ever actually tied the knot.)  But go.

We spent a lot of time in churches. (See the Frari and Miracoli for sure, San Zaccaria if you can, and whatever others you can get in to.  They are treasure troves.) And we also spent a lot of time in restaurants (of that more later) and a lot of time in jewelry stores (not too much damage, but some) and lots of time in the vaporetti going to Murano, Burano and even Torcello.  These islands are each very different and worth a day on the lagoon.  When tired we jumped on the vaporetto that went all the way around Dorsoduro, along the Zattere and then the whole way down the Grand Canal. It was a great way to rest while watching the unique world of Venice drift by.

Favorite meals were at La Piscina, the restaurant at the Hotel La Calcina (a top choice for our next trip.)  This is located in the Zattere, sort of the backside of Dorsoduro, a long wide walkway along the main shipping canal, facing Guidecca, perfect for the morning stretch.  Also on the Zattere we found a totally different dining experience, called Pizza Ae Oche.  There are sidewalk tables facing the canal, and a giant warehouse inside. We ventured in, off-putting though it was, since we were starving hungry, and the outside tables were full.  We were blown away by how good the salads and pizzas were, and how cheap.  Do not hesitate (even when you hear it’s a chain,) to join the locals here; they know what they are doing.

As for other dining spots, we found a few terrific ones, and none of them are very well known.  The more expensive restaurants we tried were basically disappointing.  Here are three musts:  a bistro called Oniga in the Campo San Barnaba, near our hotel, a casual spot where the food and service were easy and delicious. I remember a veggie antipasto with grilled mushrooms, onions, beets, and turnip, each done differently and surrounding a lip-smacking polenta. With a glass of fresh white frizzante wine, it was a winner.

Another winner was the Osteria Enoteca San Marco, right near the square, at Frezzeria – San Marco, 1610.  I’m giving you the exact address because there are many places with similar names in the area. And this is another winner, a wine-bar with marvelous food:  my dish was ravishing ravioli with asparagus. Perhaps the best was an out-of-the-way place called La Zucca, in Santa Croce.  This is what I wrote in my diary:   “I had the pumpkin flan with ricotta stagionata and pistachios, which was the best thing I’ve ever eaten.” (Well, I wrote it at the table, after a glass of wine.) You can find it at www.lazucca.it. Please believe me, these places are worth the pain of finding them.

You’ve probably noticed that I’m better on food than on shopping, but if you want Venetian glass that is unusually interesting, the place to go is Genninger Studio, in Dorsoduro, right at the Vaporetto stop for Ca’ Rezzonico.  I bought elegant earrings there and some gifts, which I won’t describe, as they will be Christmas gifts.

I’ve left out museums, and walks, and shops and much more – but I hope you’ve gotten the message – it was one perfect week.

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