The best things in life are free. The second best things in life cost 75 dollars, last an hour, and land in Venice. As they say, “Life is good”. DanubeWings zipped us down from Bratislava and back uneventfully and threw in a chocolate chip cookie for good behavior. Our long weekend in Venice had begun.
If the little upstart who dreamt up a city built on wooden stakes pounded into a lagoon
had been my kid, I’d have put an end to his day dreaming. I could not envision this city; awe-inspiring, breathtaking, crumbling, mobbed. There would be no Venice.
Each night, an exhausted flock of tourists scratch Venice off their bucket lists before collasping into bed. Each morning, a new pack of tourists arrives replete with fanny packs, cameras, umbrellas, cell phones, and an unflagging spirit of adventure, bolstered by the vision of one of the wonders of the modern world.
Venice is the tale of two cities. The worst of times can be found in the hoards of people flocking between San Marco square; with the Doge Palace, St. Mark’s basilica, and Bridge of Sighs; and the Rialto Bridge crossing the Grand Canal. Here lies the detritus of the modern world – every form of expensive clothing shop and crummy souvenir stand, lousy restaurant and overpriced gelato joint. The main sights are worth seeing – the mosaics in St. Mark’s Cathedral are world-class.
So get a good night sleep, grab a quick cup of coffee and a Valium for breakfast, and
attack the big sites. Then go to bed dreaming of quiet canals, romantic dinners, and singing gondoliers. Sleep peacefully knowing the best of times begin in the morning.
Fortunately, we visited Venice a few years ago and were able to forego the tourist sites. Our weekend was consumed aimlessly wandering – popping into churches, shops, cafes, and museums as the mood struck. On a rainy afternoon we visited the Peggy Guggenheim Collection – her former home on the Grand Canal. I’m not a Picasso fan, and the very obviously excited naked guy statue peering out at the Grand Canal, is beyond my art appreciation ability. But I enjoy seeing art displayed as it was intended, in the private home of one of its most influential patrons. If you have a chance, and it starts to sprinkle, drop by.
Even during the most frenzied times, a quiet corner can be found by striking out away from the crowds. When everyone else turns left, turn right. Maps are frustrating in Venice so put them away. If you want to return to your hotel, note a landmark, resurrect the map, and chart your course back.
We devoted one day to cruising the best known islands. By purchasing a three-day, unlimited transportation pass we were able to jump on and off the boats which connect the islands; cruise the length of Grand Canal; and get from our hotel to the airport when we departed.
The first island, just off the northern shore of Venice and a 5 minute vaporetto ride from Fondementa Nova, is San Michele cemetery.
It’s the final resting place for the most famous Venetians and some every day people and a peaceful oasis to stroll, listen to the birds, and visit the gravesite of Igor Stravinsky. I am a cemetery buff. If you aren’t, skip this stop and save your energy for the ancient island of Torcello later in the day.
From San Michele, another five-minute hop delivers you to Murano Island. Murano is famous for Venetian glass. I don’t particularly like Venetian glass, so I have generally avoided this island. I was wrong. While glass stores and glass making operations consume a good bit of the island, it’s easy to leave this behind and spend an hour or two strolling through the less discovered, and far less touristy, rest of Murano. Our goal was to wander until we felt isolated enough to find an authentic local restaurant for lunch. As noon came and went, we started our meanderings in earnest. After passing a little osteria a few times, and finally getting up the nerve to peek in, we decided to take a chance.
This was the culinary equivalent of Doug Flutie throwing the hail mary against Notre Dame or the bambino pointing to the stands before imminently poking his home run to the designated spot. This little spot was culinary bliss.
A primi of pasta in red sauce with mussels, crusty rolls, a fish secondi (calamari for me, sea bass for Pat) and the best table wine of our visit was all washed down with my gentle – and only slightly irritating – moaning. This is the only osteria on San Bernardo square. If you make it to Murano island, give it a try. When we return to Venice, we will make a special trip back to this find.
The last island of our hop was colorful Burano.
You can easily explore this island in an hour or so before returning to Venice on the 40 minute boat ride. In a few minutes we could have skipped from Burano across the canal to Torcello, the most historic island in the archipelago. But three islands was enough for a day. Thanks to a smart aleck with a fool hardy idea and a very supportive mother, Venice will be here for another trip. Life, as they say, is good.
Make it happen:Airport Connections:
If you are cool, arrive by 110 Euro water taxi from the dock which is a short walk from the arrivals terminal. If you are me, arrive by one of two other options:
Alilugna “boat” bus: This is the cheaper water arrival option. Once you exit into the airport arrival hall, you can buy a ticket from the Alilugna service desk. They will help you understand which boat to take, what stop to exit for your hotel, and where to go (a short 10 minute walk) to catch the next boat from the airport dock.
ACTV Bus: You can buy an unlimited ACTV pass for the duration of your stay. This will include the number 5 bus to/from the airport to Piazzale Roma and vaporetto boats within Venice which link stops along the Grand Canal, stops on the perimeter of Venice, and the surrounding islands of Murano, Burano, San Michele, and Torcello. This is the most economical way to get to Venice, especially if partnered with the multi-day pass.
Rick Steves put the Pensione Guerrato on the map. It’s quaint, conveniently located near the Rialto Bridge, cheap (by Venice standards), and a stone’s toss from the fish
market. For 90 Euro we had a cozy room, bathroom down a short hall (shared by 3 rooms), and breakfast. The rooms nearest the fish market are noisy (which is probably the only negative for this hotel). Rooms with private bath are available – but sold out during our visit. The staff speak fluent English and French and makes great restaurant recommendations.
Cantina do Spade: This little restaurant is tucked on the “far side” of the Rialto Bridge from San Marco. I had a pumpkin ravioli with a creamy sauce. It had a slightly sweet and nutmeg taste. I thought it was delicious but not for everyone. We had a fish secondi. Very good food, good prices (for Venice), cozy and quiet. Each course was around 10 Euro or 25 Euro for 2 courses with wine per person.
Osteria al Diavolo e l’Acquasanta: One of those restaurants which feels authentic to the surroundings – charmingly Italian. I enjoyed our lunch here on arrival day. In spite of showing up for lunch close to 3PM, they welcomed us and didn’t rush us thru our two course meal. The mushroom and scallop lasagna was a classic Venetian pasta dish. The white fish a light secondi. Each course was around 10 Euro and 25 Euro for 2 courses with wine.
Trattoria Pizzeria al Nono Risorto: I had a mediocre steak dinner one night. But it is a great place for pizza. Nice atmosphere in 2 inner rooms and an outside terrace. It’s a bit hard to find on the back canals beyond the fish market. Walk 3 minutes to Campo San Cassiano and just over the bridge on Sotoportnego de Siora Bettine.
Categories: Western Europe