Imagine a city where every road is water, and every car a boat...Imagine Venice!
Being a city of water it was fitting that we arrived under the November rain. The incredible thing was that you almost didn’t notice the dark winter shower for the brilliance of the buildings which filled every corner of every glance.
Apart from the forbidding yellow border at each ‘station’, gliding down the Grand Canal in vaporetto no. 1 in the early evening couldn’t have been more of a contrast to rolling underground on the northern line after a day in the London office. After 40 minutes of dark waves, cold air and twinkling lights we arrived at Arsenale in the east of the city.
INSIDE THE CITY LABYRINTH
The streets were gentle and quiet and you could hear the sound of the waves lapping against the road edge. The impressive lack of smog throughout the city and the silence of the streets is an instant and very welcome sensation.
Admittedly November will be quieter than the height of summer but I was aware of a lovely overall sense of calm which filtered the calle. Within a matter of seconds we were already immersed in the gorgeous narrow backstreets of this magical city. There is something quite tempting about surrendering yourself to the labyrinth and seeing where it takes you…this time however, we knew where we were heading and once over the first little bridge, from beneath the corner of my battered umbrella, I saw the beautiful and welcoming facade of “Palazzo Grandiben“. Once inside the main entrance, I was immediately struck by a feature which, although so familiar to Venetians, was so novel to me…the “risacca” (sound of the waves) lapping against the lower steps of the internal staircase leading down to boat level.
Surreal, beautiful Venice.
THE INTERNATIONAL VENICE BIENNALE
As if we arrived when the curtains were resting, in the morning we woke to the daily show that is the theatre of Venice. Every campo a natural set, every window a spectator’s privilege. One of the reasons for travelling to this famous city of Veneto was to visit the inspired installations of the 53rd world famous “Biennale” displaying fabulous work from international artists.
On reflection, amongst the most impressive works of art on display I would also list the architecture housing the exhibitions and the bridges and houses along the route…“Che spettacolo!”
I am still curious as to how the water of the canals can retain such a brilliant, unmistakable green, given the passage of life that they carry. It makes me wonder what London would look like with azzure asphalt streets!
A SPRITZ OF LIFE!
As fantastical and theatrical as it may appear, Venice is a working, breathing, living city, and what better way to experience a taste of the Venetian life than ducking into the local restaurant. I must add that opening the dining experience with a “spritz” at aperitivo is the only true way to go…especially as this bright and refreshing cocktail was invented here. It’s orange, it’s exciting and it comes with a slice of orange or lemon…and an olive. The original ingredients are white wine, sparkling water and either Aperol, Select or Bitter (depending on your sweet tooth) so be prepared to name your poison. These days the wine and water element is often replaced with Prosecco but we were presented with the old school recipe and gleefully gulped away in the shadow of the marvellous Rialto Bridge.
The effect of this seemingly innocent drink is quite instant…and quite fun!
HIDDEN RESTAURANTS, NOT TO BE MISSED!
On recommendation from our generous hosts we then sauntered on to the Osteria alla Botte, hidden away in Calle delle Bissa – San Marco 5482 (you can find them also on Facebook!) Apart from great food, what awaits you is genuine warmth of place, engaging service and honest tradition. After ordering a selection of fish dishes from an Italian menu…in English…to a humorous waiter who responded in French, we spent several very pleasant hours tasting some pretty fabulous cuisine. The “saor”, a typical dish with slow cooked onions and sardines or scampi, was exceptional. So much so that we ordered the same dish the next day in Trattoria del Vecio Squeri in Campo Santa Giustina, 6553 – A superb family run trattoria bursting with energy and amazing aromas. They were happy to share part of the secret of their recipe which involved leaving the onions smothering sardines for four days (!) to ensure optimum flavour and hence that great taste!
Both of these eateries offered good food at a reasonable price.
Another spot worth a stop, especially for the aperitivo, is “Aciugheta” in Campo SS. Filippo e Giacomo in Castello 4357.
A great selection of wines (obviously a superb spritz!!) and an impressive array of appetizers including freshly baked mini pizzas with anchovies (hence the name Aciugheta…!) did I mention that you should try the “saor”? In the warmer months you will also be able to enjoy the piazza at one of the outdoor tables.
A DAWN IN VENICE
Catching the dawn vaporetto to the central station to head back to Florence was unforgettable. In a city where every other person is a visitor, this was a rare moment when we were the only tourists aboard a boat load of Venetians; on their way to work, tired, newspaper in hand, buried into warm scarves, listening to Lily Allen on morning radio, waiting for the barrier to let them onto the jetty and then disappearing off into the dark…a snapshot of the day-to-day life on the water. The only other boats to pass us by were the milk deliveries en route to the numerous bars and cafés for the baristas to start warming the hands and the hearts of the city with their cappuccinos…
The apartment “Grandiben” is everything you need for a fabulous and romantic stay in Venice. On the ground floor of the stunning Palazzo Grandiben, the fully equipped, spacious apartment with living area and kitchen, double bedroom, single bedroom (sofabed) and bathroom with shower is ideal for a couple or family with a young child. Located in the Arsenale district of “Castello” you will find yourself far enough out of the bustle of the central areas and close enough to walk along the Grand Canal to St. Mark’s Square (San Marco). You are also only a couple of minutes’ walk from the vaporetto stop of Arsenale from where regular boats take you the whole length of the Canale Grande. I truly recommend it…
Grandiben Apartment: For photos, more details and booking information about this apartment you can visit www.incentro.it/Grandiben
Florence-Venice by train (Eurostar – 2h and 40 minutes) – Cost: €35,20 (one way – 2nd class) – More info: www.trenitalia.com
Joëlle Edwards (London, Florence)