My thoughts on Venice, after three and a half days in the city.
Reader, I hope you don’t mind that instead of a recipe instead you’re getting a post about travel. I’m sorry. I just haven’t had my act together in the kitchen what with the traveling. I actually took a class on travel writing my freshman year of college so now I guess I’m getting the chance to put everything I “learned” to good use.
I mentioned on Wednesday that while I had spent the day in Padua, I was writing the post from Venice. I spent three and a half days/four nights in La Serenissima (The Most Serene, one of Venice’s nicknames). There are so many guides to Venice, I just want to say I’m not trying to make this a full on travel guide. But I do hope that what I write here helps anyone who is planning a trip, or who is just interested in the city.
During my senior year of college (which ended almost a year ago!) I took two advanced Italian Renaissance art history courses. They were so interesting and made me really want to go to Venice, even though before I had thought of it as mostly a very touristy city. Which it is, completely. It seemed like there were equal numbers of Italian-, English-, German-, and French-speakers there, not to mention the smaller numbers of Chinese and Japanese tourists. But it’s also a city which has a rich history and culture, and both of those are fully on display.
The city of Venice was a republic in it’s own right which lasted about 1100 years, ending in 1797. Because of this, the city doesn’t feel Italian. There are no scooters rushing by, the architecture is different from both what you’d find in Rome or other places in Northern Italy, and it’s not particularly well known for its food.
The main sights are, as mentioned, crowded with tourists. Walking through the church of San Marco is like, I don’t know, waiting for a ride at Disneyland. Everyone is packed tight, you can hardly turn to crane your neck which is what you really need to do to take in the church’s interior. But there are pockets of quiet, lots of campi (squares) just off the beaten path are empty with sunny church steps perfect for sitting on with a book or a cone of gelato. The gelato is probably the best thing you can eat in Venice–my favorite was tiramisu flavored from some bakery that didn’t have its name in an obvious place.
It’s so easy to get lost in Venice, having a map is a must. Because so many people are tourists, blatantly checking your map is acceptable. But getting lost in Venice is nice, too, because you end up away from the crowds and get to see a bit of the “real” Venice.
The architecture is what might be called “eclecticism” by an art historian. The majority of the buildings seem to date from the 16th or 17th centuries, when Venice was still a far-reaching republic. Its ties to distant places can be found in the architecture, with classical elements symbolizing a relationship with mainland Italy and the Renaissance, Gothic elements tying it to Northern Europe, and elements of Byzantine and Islamic architecture signifying the connection with the Byzantine and later Ottoman Empires. When you’re in Venice, don’t forget to look up and take in all the windows and cornices, as they are just as interesting as the shop windows.
Venice is a city of canals, even more so (in my opinion) than Amsterdam. In Amsterdam there are still streets where you can bike or take a tram. Not so in Venice. Public transportation means taking the ACTV Waterbus, which is only really necessary to go to the outlying islands. At €7 ,00 one way it’s too expensive for anything else.
Speaking of prices, Venice is a pricey city. It was my splurge vacation, and I didn’t even splurge that much. The cheapest way to eat is to grab a sandwich or pizza from a snack bar displaying such things in the window. There are many options, though most have prosciutto/speck/salami (things I don’t like). One thing I would recommend is to have a spinach and ricotta-filled focaccia, sort of a Venetian version of spanakopita.
As for seeing the sights, I really enjoyed myself but was also completely overwhelmed because there is just so much. I think my favorite things were the Accademia (which houses so many stellar pieces of Venetian Renaissance art), the church of San Zaccaria (more wonderful art, but only €1,50 to visit the nave and chapel), seeing the Piazza and Piazzetta San Marco (which felt like stepping into an art history textbook), and taking in all the architecture on just regular houses. By the time I got to the islands of Burano and Murano, I mostly wanted to just sit and read, though I did enjoy seeing lace and glass making demonstrations. I was really looking forward to visiting the church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, but one of the Titian altarpieces wasn’t on display (and the copy in its place was much too small) so I felt a bit deflated about that. However, I do have to say that the Giovanni Bellini altarpiece in the Frari is also great, though I had forgotten about it.
All in all, I enjoyed myself. I traveled alone, which has its advantages and disadvantages. I’d like to go back someday, but with friends or family, as certain experiences are better shared. I wouldn’t go back to any of the Civic Museums except maybe the Palazzo Ducale, but I’d certainly return to the places mentioned above.
Oh, and by the way, I’ve started a new category for my posts specifically about travel. You can find those here. Or you can go here, where I’ve tagged all my posts that mention travel but aren’t necessarily entirely about traveling. Please let me know in the comments if you like reading about traveling, as that will determine how often I interrupt the usual stories of culinary exploits with travel!