A long weekend in Venice – part three
If you missed my two previous posts about our long weekend in Venice you can read about them here:
Day One is all about arriving, the logistics of getting there as well as half a day of seeing some of the popular sights which include the Rialto Bridge, Piazza San Marco and San Marco Basilica.
On Day Two we took a boat trip out to the nearby islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello which was fascinating and included a guided commentary on the history of these unique and contrasting islands.
Day Three was our last full day, and because we’d felt like we’d already had a great overview of the city on the first one and a half days, we decided to take this day as it came and just wander about exploring.
Today we decided we would like to get lost! We had a vague notion we might try a gondola ride, we wanted to buy some gifts for the kids and the friends who’d cared for them and also look for a restaurant for our last supper – I was keen to have a good risotto, one of my all time favourite dishes – but apart from that we had no specific agenda.
This was the day I feel we gained insight into the people of Venice and what it must be like to live there. We started this day by heading out north from our hotel to explore the Cannaregio area. We discovered this is home to a couple of modern uninspiring large apartment blocks and is clearly a working class neighbourhood. It was interesting to see that behind all the touristy places, there’s a community of people who have to live here and make a living. These people are the backbone of the city, their daily lives are invisible to visitors but they are essential for its existance.
We browsed a bedraggled jumble sale in a freezing church yard and I was briefly tempted to buy a fur coat that looked like a hand-me-down from the 1950’s.
One thing that is fairly obvious when you’re in Venice is that there are no cars or bicycles, only boats, canals and pathways. But it never occurred to me before that it should be equally obvious that all services have to be carried out on water.
We saw a fire engine boat, which had a very long hose but didn’t need to carry a tank of water (obviously!) We saw an ambulance boat with flashing lights as it approached the dock of the A&E department of the hospital. The hosptial has to have it’s own private jetty for bringing in casualties. We saw a sewerage disposal boat with an even longer hose snaking it’s way across marble paving along an alley between houses. We made a point to step very carefully over this pipe.
We also saw courier boats, a market stall boat and hundreds of taxis and water busses as well as thousands of small private boats moored beside people’s homes. In addition to all these functional boats, there is also a marina for yachts and docking stations for gondolas. So I guess if boats and water are not your thing, you should think twice before deciding to live in Venice!
Everything you buy has to be carried up and down steps and over bridges – so you can’t do a huge monthly grocery shop for example unless you call a taxi or have your own boat that will bring you to your own doorstep.
I noticed a number of people pulling little wheeled ‘granny trolley’ shopping carts with them as they went out to buy their few pieces. If you were trying to shop for a large family here you’d have to go out everyday.
One of the things I love about exploring with no fixed agenda is that you stumble across real gems you hadn’t been looking for. At one point while Athol popped into a swanky hotel to visit their loo I popped into the Church of Madonna dell’Orto that we just happened to be standing beside. It turned out that this houses a large art collection. As there were a couple of people sitting near the font, a young person in a wheelchair and a companion in the adjacent pew, I sat down to be still and pray for a few moments. These are the small moments that stay with you long after you’ve visited a place.
We continued to wander along the north eastern edge of the city past the hospital and stumbled across a Christmas craft market in a beautifully ornate building. We went in for a browse but weren’t able to get past the first table without being greeted enthusiatically by the woman who had handmade all the Christmas gnomes on her stall. After she spoke Italian to us for 5 minutes while we nodded and smiled I was finally able to get a word in to let her know that unfortunately and I’m very sorry but our Italian isn’t very good. She was equally friendly in English too and we spent another five minutes deciding which Venetian gnome to bring home.
Not long after that we came across the most remarkable bookshop in Venice, if not the world! The Acqua Alta book shop is an utterly amazing dream come true shop for bibliophiles. There are books from the floor to the ceiling, there are steps and walls made out books and there is a lifesized gondola down the centre of the shop which is piled full of books. It was crowded and overwhelming, I’m not sure whether you’d be able to find a specific book if you wanted it, but it was totally fascinating.
We finally made our way down to the southern edge of the city near the Doge’s palace and stopped to admire the classic Bridge of Sighs.
We had contemplated going in a gondola ride that day but it was freezing cold so the idea of sitting still in a boat on the water didn’t appeal to me at all. Also I felt that doing the archetypal ‘tourist thing’ just isn’t me – being poled along by a total stranger while you sit back and get stared at by passers by just isn’t my cappuccino. Besides which it was outrageously expensive, I took a whole heap of photos of hunched-up tourists in gondolas instead.
In the late afternoon we stopped for a toasted sandwhich and a coffee in a bit of a tourist trap café near the Rialto Bridge. We should have known better than to eat there but by then we were tired and cold and happy to sit at the nearest table. Handy Tip: try to stay away from the most popular areas if you want to eat authentic Italian food, or plan to find somewhere before you’re desperate!
That evening we wanted to find a place to eat that wasn’t too far from our hotel, that was affordable and that had good reviews. So we had a quick search online and discovered this amazing place called Bacaro Quebrado.
A bacaro is not a restaurant, it is a Venetian experience!
This bacaro only has four tables and a happy hour for as long as Lele the chef decides. He also decides what’s on the menu for the day and is the soul of the place as he brings out dish after dish for the buffet sidebar. He sings and offers free drinks as he flurries about with his hands full of plates of pasta and appetizers.
Greta the art student from Turin was his smiley and chatty waitress, they both stopped by our table to spend some time with us – we felt warmly welcomed and as though we had been served dinner by friends that night.
Everyone says Venice is expensive, and I guess the gondola rides are, but at the Bacaro Quebrado, €5 gets you a drink plus as much as you can eat from the buffet of appetisers. We ordered a main pasta dish each too (sadly no riotto!) as well as another drink each and at the end of our meal Lele brought us liqueurs on the house. We had more food to eat than what we could finish and the total bill came to less than €40.
Handy tip: Use Trip Advisor to find places to eat that are recommend by locals as well tourists.
We had a few hours to kill on our last morning before we had to catch the bus back to Treviso Airport so we decided to explore the western part of the city, the Dorsoduro region from the Giardini Papadopoli park down to the Ponte dell’Accademia.
I have to say this is my favourite part of the city and I’m so glad we made the last minute decision to see it!
This is where the last remaining market stall boat is situated and is also a neighbourhood where many of the classic Veneitian masks and costumes are designed and made. We passed a number of shops with gorgeous window displays and could quite often see the craftsman tucked away working in the back of shop somewhere.
Sadly we didn’t have time to do justice to the Gallerie dell’Accademia or the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, I didn’t get to visit them the first time I went to Venice either. When I was a student I couldn’t afford the admission fee but this time I had a companion who isn’t quite as interested in art galleries as his wife!
However, we did find a cool little exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci machines. This consisted of interactive displays created from Da Vinci’s sketches and included various pulleys and winches, enormous geometric shapes, his famous pre-cursor to the bicycle, flying machines, bridges and instruments of war.
After a perfect final cappucino in a trendy café/bar close to the Università Ca’ Foscari we made our way back to the hotel to collect our bags and catch the bus to the airport.
It had been a full and fantastic three nights, and a perfect city to have celebrated our anniversary in. I felt as though we had thoroughly explored the city but now I was ready to go home and see the kids. There are still a few things I didn’t get to do, like have a risotto or visit the famous art galleries, but I am of the firm belief that you should always leave a place wishing you could have stayed longer and seen more.
The whole time I was there I imagined my kids returning as backpackers themselves in the next few years. This is the first time we’ve been a way as a couple that I’ve been aware that travelling without our kids will become more and more likely. Now that our eldest is fast approaching 17, my kids’ childhood holidays will sadly become a thing of the past.
So although I loved this anniversary weekend away, I’m looking forward to our next adventure with the six of us when we go back to South Africa in April to visit family!
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