There is something romantic about a city built on 120 islands, 150 canals and 400 bridges (approximate numbers). It’s like stepping back in time to where there are no cars but only foot traffic and of course boat traffic. You have the gondola men in their horizontal stripped navy blue shirts and stubby straw top-hats and people at all times of the day drinking espresso or wine at the counter tops in local cafes. The main ‘canal’ is known as the Grand Canal and throughout the city there are only 3 bridges that cross it (the Rialto, the Academia and the Scalzi).
It is Venice, or known to locals as Venezia & I know I have said this a lot in the recent weeks, but it is one of my favourite places in Italy. I love every bit of it from the gondola men shouting ‘gondali, gondali’, to the cougars out walking their chihuahua’s with pink puffer jackets. It is just simply gorgeous (and hilarious!) and if you can find yourself lost in the copious amounts of back alleyways filled with Bacaro’s (wine bars), hidden away from the bucket full of tourists then you will understand the even greater side of Venice.
We arrived in from Lucca (3 train changes later, including a rather hectic run to catch one) in the early afternoon to Santa Lucia train station. I must admit that this is the first place in Europe where you walk out of the station and are just like ‘WOW’. Most train stations are in the not so nice part of town however in Venice you walk out and are greeted by the mighty emerald-green Grand Canal. Instead of rushing off quickly to the hostel we had to step back and really take in the beauty of the place.
Our hostel was about a 20 minute walk from the station, Residenza Maddalena, luckily we had pinpointed it on the iphone otherwise we may have had some trouble. Honestly if your going to Venice do yourself a favour and make sure you have some sort of GPS. It is no use having a traditional map as instead of normal street addresses they simply just state the 1 of 6 districts for said location, followed by the locations number in that district. Some have streets names, however every single time we pulled out our paper map it ended up getting trodden on by google maps on the iphone.
The hostel was a simple 3-bedroom apartment – the 4th bedroom, actually the kitchen was the residence of the owners. It was nice, however no kitchen, which meant we would have to either eat out or go back to our old ways of bread, salami and cheese.
Our first evening was spent wandering round the area of our hostel – the Cannaregio district that has one main street full of restaurants, fresh fruit and veggie sellers and of course plenty of touristy shops and masquerade mask sellers. We also stopped back into the train station to ask at the Eurail office how much an overnight train to Paris would cost for a sleeper cabin, and after hearing it would be 150 Euro we decided we should get a bite to eat and come up with a backup plan for making our way to Paris. As a result of a bit of curiosity over the extremely long and thin shops along the main boulevard we came across a sort of ‘food-hall’ feel restaurant called ‘Ristorante Bar Brek’ (Cannaregio 124, www.brek.com). It is a small restaurant down the back of a café where there is no service or cover charge (this means you aren’t charged for sitting down, it is usually about 1.50 Euro per person). You grab a tray and then pick what you want and take it up to the counter and pay for it. There is everything from meat and potatoes, fish, pasta, salad, antipasto meat platters, dessert, etc. We opted for pasta each, both were roughly 5 Euro. Morgan had mushroom lasagna and I had creamy salmon pasta. We washed the pastas down with a 500ml carafe of Cabernet Sauvignon for 3 Euro. All in all it did the job of filling our stomachs and it was extremely cost friendly for a meal out.
The big mistake came next when we saw this tiny little bottle shop with wine in barrels and a big sign saying ‘wine take-away’. We ended up buying a bottle of the Cabernet for 1.80 Euro and Morgan’s favourite frizzante for 2.50 Euro. Needless to say we both had pounding headaches the next morning and we shuddered each time we had to walk back past the place. Evil, very evil.
So the next day, despite our headaches, we ended up walking all over Venice, across many a bridges and down various back alleyways. Our first stop was our favourite gelato place right outside our building called ‘Il Gelato’ and it was here that we realized we were seriously getting ripped off in all the other Italian cities we have been in, here we were paying 1.30 Euro for the same size cup we had been paying 2.20 Euro for. Next stop was the main Venice tourist attraction, the famed San Marco Piazza with its glorious mosaic decorated cathedral (Basilica di San Marco) and hundreds of thousands of pigeons (not my cup of tea at all!). However the pigeons and gazillions of tourists kept our visit a short one.
The rest of the day was spent wandering over bridges and down the back streets stopping for various snacks along the way including pizza rolls (pizza based rolled up with various toppings on – mine had tomato base sauce, mozz eralla, tomato and lettuce), espresso and hot chocolates (the best one of my life!). We actually ended up getting a bit lost just as it was starting to turn dark at 4:30pm – however thankfully the trusty iPhone got us home safe and sound. We ended the night with a salad from the local supermarket and a decent 5 Euro bottle of wine this time. Quality over quantity!
The following day was much like the previous day, we spent the time wandering. However we did have a bit more of a motive – Morgan had read on the internet about ‘Bacaro’s’. A bacaro is a very small bar, which specializes in wine and cicchetti (finger-food). They are normally off the beaten track; so 9 times out of 10 you will find yourselves surrounded by locals. Glasses of wine cost from 2 Euros upwards, extremely affordable and likewise the cicchetti cost from about 1.50 Euro upwards – more likely than not they are some bread buns with various fillings from porchetta to pancetta to salmon and cheese. Some places specialize in more seafood focused cincetti’s and others had more deep-fried sort of foods like mozzarella sticks. They are cozy places, which normally have Osteria or Cantina in the name.
We managed to visit 4 on this particular day; Cantina Paguba (a glass of prosecco is 2.10 and a glass of red it 2.50 Euros, they also serve ‘Morgana beer’ ), Ostaria Al Ponte (gorgeous little place on a bridge funnily enough, lots of fresh seafood), Enoteca Boldrin (great tasting glasses and some fabulously old bottles to check out on display) and Cantina Vecia Carbonera (great cicchetti, more touristy as its on the main drag in Cannaregio.
All up it was a great day, we decided to have a cheap dinner due to our train reservations for the next day setting us back 40 Euro (not a happy chappy about that one, however it doesn’t look like it could have been helped). Bread, salami and cheese with the remainder being left for lunch on the train the next day.
We had a great stay in Venice, it truly is a city that is best just to be explored – my top tip is to make sure you get lost too, because that is when you come across the good stuff. Just make sure you have an iPhone or GPS handy to find your way home. My iPhone is fast becoming the best traveling tool I have ever invested in. Somehow I just need to teach it how to pack up my bag each time though…
Click here to see my guest blogger article on HostelBookers about Venetian Bacaros.