Venice: 10 Foodie / Artsy Highlights

Venice rooftops4

Do you remember the post where I sang the praises of Air BnB?  Well they came out on top again on our visit to Venice last month.

Above was the view from the little studio apartment we stayed in, in Venice. It’s so bizarre to be in a city and have an uninterrupted vista over the rooftops of old buildings. In most cities you at least see a peek of some unfortunate 1960’s concrete monstrosity, but Venice is like a city suspended in time (and logic).

I was fascinated by the practicalities of everyday life there, and staying in a building with other local (and very friendly) residents really brought it home. There are no dustbin lorries (refuse trucks) for example, so all rubbish has to be collected daily, hand carted though the streets and then transferred onto barges to be whisked away to the mainland. Deliveries to shops and restaurants all have to be offloaded off the boats and carried up the narrow windy streets and alleyways, and we even wandered past the hospital which had a fleet of water ambulances outside (not sure I’d fancy one of those collecting me if I were ill though!)

The pay off to all that effort from the locals is obviously the famous picture-perfect bridges, canals and car free streets, which didn’t disappoint.  We spent hours exploring and did a standard amount of the ‘big name’ tourist sights, but the best bits were the random back street wanderings and smaller exhibitions / concerts.

10 of the best under the cut…
1. I loved some of the details on old buildings which serve no purpose at all except for decoration / amusement such as these little hands holding the handrail inside our building:

Detail of hand on handrail in Venice apartmentHands gripping the rail in our Air bnb apartment

And I was also entertained by the letter boxes – they’re the same design on every building and look like little faces – when they have post sticking out it looks like they’re sticking their tongue out at you…

Mailbox in VeniceAlien (double) letter box

2. I bought a 1978 vintage ELO T-shirt and Ste got 2 Smiths LPs from a bizarre little treasure trove of vintage clothes and household bits called Aldo Strasse (which you can read more about here) , run by a lovely man who speaks no English but enjoyed communicating in gestures (in between polishing his shoes).

3. At the Palazzo Franchetti we caught an exhibition of Franco Fontana, an Italian photographer who is famous for abstract landscapes and cityscapes with bold saturation of bright colours. The landscape ones were stunning – impossible to believe they were taken in the 1970/80’s before the advent of photoshop etc., but my favourites were the people shots. They looked like Hopper paintings and it was fascinating to ponder on the lives of the folks caught on camera, who probably have no idea their 80’s selves are featured on the wall of a Venetian gallery:

Photograph of people on a street in Houston, TexasHouston, Texas, 1986 — Franco Fontana

4. We saw opera up close and personal at Musica A Palazzo, where the tiny audience of 70 or so people follow the action around 3 rooms of a fabulous Venetian palace dating from the 15th century. We caught the Barber of Seville and, though I can’t speak from a vast experience of opera-going, having a tenor sing about a 2 feet away from your face is quite something, and it all feels rather surreal and magical being whisked around the different rooms (with a civilised prosecco interval, of course).

5. Just up the alley from our apartment you coud pick up delicious 1 euro punnets of strawberries for breakfast from the fruit & veg barge:

Boat selling fruit and vegetables on Venice canalFruit & veg barges on the Rio di San Barnaba

6. We explored many a little cafes and osteria to try out various chichetti’ (Italian tapas). We ate like kings at this corner snack bar called Da Lele in Santa Croce where you could purchase glasses of wine from 60 cents and very fresh mini sandwiches for 1 euro each:

photo(31)Filling my face with the locals at Da Lele

7. Al Volto hidden down a backstreet just off the major tourist drag from the Ponte di Rialto had some lovely wines and bites at non- tourist rip off prices and couple of old school pews to perch and eat them on outside.

8. Delicious and unusual crostini were also served at La Cantina on Strada Nova.  They were all out of the communion bread they were intending to serve us (?!) but instead we got fresh swordfish and unusual cured meats and cheeses from the local region.

9. Had the best hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted from Pasticceria Didovich in Campo Santa Maria Formosa (it’s basically like very rich chocolate custard- heavenly).

10. As we were mainly staying in the Dorsoduro area near the student friendly square of Campo Santa Margherita, our adopted ‘local’ became the Ai Do Draghi ‘dragon’ bar which had funky low-key décor and a very dapper barman. Ste clocked that he was sipping a murky brown drink and on enquiring he explained that it was a local variation on the standard sweet Aperol Spritz, but this one is much more bitter and made from a liqueur called Cynar made from artichokes.  Ste look a liking to it, but it was an aquired taste which I didn’t manage to aquire (I stuck to my preferred variation which was Aperol Spritz with Prosecco).

 Lights and barman in Ai Do Draghi BarAi Do Draghi bar – with dapper barman, wooden panneled walls and light bulb strewn ceiling

So that’s my mini selection – a snapshot of many highlights from the trip.  I’d still love to go back again and see more of Venice and the Veneto region,  so if you have any recommendations feel free to share!

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