That Venice is sinking is well documented, so when I arrived I half expected to see entire building facades sliding into the sea and those famous bridges warping through the slow but debilitating erosion process. What I found was a vibrant city where commerce is still king (much as it had been at its apex of power centuries ago.) No doubt this is from the overly thriving tourist trade (a population of 60,000 serves roughly 10 million visitors a year!) but you do what you can to survive and prosper. Take the gentlemen above, delivering water and Sprite to the hotels, restaurants, and ultimately the masses, a common site on the canals each morning.
But where Venice really excels, fostered by its position at the top of the Adriatic, is in the preparation of perfect seafood. Again, it’s worth it to get a little lost in this town because you will want to avoid the pizzarias that dominate the interior piazzas in favor of las frutas dei mare, the likes you may never see nor taste anywhere else. In pursuit of this end, I had been promised a wonderful meal at a trattoria favored by the locals, and where the staff would fawn over my uncle as if he was the Doge himself. But first a stop at the legendary Hotel Danieli on the Grand Canal just outside Piazza San Marco for an aperitif (Campari and soda – natch!) and a game of “Guess That Tourist!” That was fun, now let’s eat! Onto Trattoria da Remigio (On Calle Bosello near Scuola San Giorgio dei Greci, Castello/Riva Degli Schiavoni) where the restaurant’s owner did not disappoint delivering that over the top welcome on cue! We asked our waiter to bring us the evening’s freshest offerings and the procession of delicious sea treats began. First up: two crudos, of branzino and tuna, and some sweet (raw) prawns. Oh yeah, now that’s what I call seafood! Then we were treated to a Venetian specialty, gallina di mare, which literally translates to “chicken of the sea”. As you can see this is no canned tuna, but a curious looking crustacean whose meaty tail is a cross between the texture of crab and the taste of fresh water shrimp.
Next came the seasonal delicacy of razor clams (wish I had a photo of these long, sliver-y beauties but Google along here) which were unbelievably sweet and tender. The main course consisted of frittura mista (lightly fried seafood delights that included the tiniest anchovy, shrimp and calamari I’ve ever seen) and a fileted rombo (the Italian version of turbot.) Another highlight was witnessing a table full of older Venetian ladies enjoying their own evening out. They were the most elegant and beautiful women I had ever seen, and not in a “well-preserved” way either. Just classic and well turned out in their Bottega Veneta. I hope to grow up to be just like them one day – or at least steal their wardrobes!
The other fantastic meal was lunch after the Biennale at Corte Sconta (Calle Del Pestrin), known for its lovely grapevine-shaded courtyard and homemade pastas. It is very close to the Arsenale so a perfect way to wrap up a day of art. I chose the spaghetti neri, a classic Venetian dish made with squid ink, casting the pasta with a blackish hue, and sauced with calamari, mussels and tomato. A. Maze. Balls. An appropriately foochie term is escaping me now so my favorite word to describe the undescribe-able will have to suffice!
Before dessert we begged them to bring us the last of their softshell crab, which are nearing the end of their season, and again we experienced a delicious tiny package with a big taste, like a potato chip of the sea! You eat these guys whole, but pump the breaks if you can before popping into your mouth – they are fresh out of the fryer and piping hot!
To walk off this tremendous lunch and, more importantly, sober up before the long drive back to Bruzella, we wandered about the labyrinthine canals, did a little shopping, and secured that requisite snap of Piazza San Marco.
A few tips if you are planning a trip:
Overnight it – The city is small and you will “get it” immediately, but you should experience the faded glamour of a Venetian hotel for at least one night – the rates are quite high so you may not be able to afford more!
Take the Valporetto – This is the public water taxi that you can catch near the parking garage or train station that will take you to the main island with many stops along the Grand Canal. You can buy unlimited rides in 12 hour increments. It’s not exactly a bargain (my 36 hour ticket cost 20 euro) but they kind of have you over a barrel as your only other option is a private water taxi and one ride will set you back just slightly less than a hotel night. But the city vistas from the water are priceless!
Eat cicchetti – If you don’t feel like sitting down to a formal meal then step into any small pub where they have panini in the window and little tapas on the bar. This is the way the locals do it, and start filling up on them by 3pm when it’s time for their daily dose of white. Unfortunately we did not enjoy cicchetti ourselves, but I would gaze longingly at the Venetians as they noshed each time we passed one by.
Use Photosynth – This is a fantastic iPhone photo app and responsible for the great panorama shots on this blog. They use a photo recognition technology that literally “stitches” together the final image. I have been trying to stump it to create my own bizarre landscapes but I’ve yet to succeed!
Kill a tourist – It will be tempting, and there are so many to choose from, but I’m pretty sure that’s illegal in Italy.
Take a cruise – I’m sorry cruisers, I know you love your big boats, you get to “see it all”, and you have all-you-can-eat buffets and shuffleboard on the Lido deck, but you can’t soak up the culture with just a few hours in port. You just can’t! And this is not a ship – it’s an apartment block!
But if you must cruise, see the above DO’s to make those few hours count!