As the train rolled over the bridge into Venice at around 5:30 pm, we were awarded with a beautiful view of the city.
We were happy to get off the train, despite having looked forward to the trip. We accidentally ended up buying second class tickets rather than the first class liked we’d planned; a bit of a treat to ourselves that went sideways on us.
We sat across from a loud mother and baby with encroachment issues; dealing with cries, babbling (from the mom, who was way worse than her mildly behaved baby), constant kicks, again from the mom, and a mound of toys, snacks, dirty diapers, and various shit strewn basically across our laps.
The train had a food car on the exact opposite side, that was very hard to reach, and there were no seats, just a counter selling highly overpriced sandwiches and water run by very rude women.
Though we enjoyed some of the scenery, much of it was obscured by vegetation next to the rails.
This wasn’t the romantic train trip we’d dreamed of, that’s for sure.
Switching trains in Milan, we were then treated to SCREAMING toddlers for the next two hours. I did not get to sleep like I’d hoped, but we did get some absolutely stunning views of the Alps and the French and Italian countrysides.
Lesson learned. European train trips aren’t quite what I thought they’d be.
Hopping off the train, we made our way to our Airbnb to check in, and found it directly across the bridge from the train station. Perfecto!
The place was old and charming, but clean and comfortable and the host was funny and very helpful, offering a long list of things to see and do. Seeing that we were only spending about 24 hours in the city though, we decided to follow our own list (there were some overlaps).
Dropping off our bags, we headed right out to see the city. We figured we’d do an evening of eating, drinking, and strolling, then spend the morning seeing some of the touristy architecture and landmarks.
The first place I wanted to try was called Fried Land for a snack; not the best sounding place, but one that was supposed to be great.
We grabbed an underwhelming gelato cone on the way, then strolled through the north of the city to our destination.
I didn’t have high hopes for Venice, but I was already enamoured with the beauty of the canals and old buildings, despite the throngs of tourists. I do understand that we are also tourists, but I like to snobbishly observe that there are tourists, then there are TOURISTS. I like to call them junebugs because they stupidly ping off of each other and everything else, gawping, stopping randomly, and generally getting in your hair. We very much try not to be like that.
We found Fried Land (a little tiny take out spot just off the main drag) and our “snack” quickly turned to a huge cone of mixed fried seafood (fritto di mari) and a Venetian Sardine pasta (bigoli in salsa) in something like a Chinese takeout container, taken out from the tiny spot and eaten while leaning on a nearby canal railing.
Wow. First meal in Italy was so tasty!
The fried calamari was honestly the best either of us had ever had, perfectly cooked, and the pasta was absolutely delicious. The fried anchovies and shrimp that came in the cone along with the calamari were also tasty. They do come with heads on though, so if you’re squeamish, I’d stick to calamari. I’m not squeamish at all, so I ate the heads with relish!
With bellies much more full than we’d intended, we decided to just start walking and get ourselves lost for a while. We did just that, strolling over bridges, down alleys and tiny streets, popping out in pretty little piazzas, isolated docks, and just soaking in the city.
When the urge for a drink came over us, we made our way over to A la Vecia Papusa, where we sat outside at a little cafe table canalside and ordered spritzes, a specialty of the city.
Over the course of our stay, we tried 3 different kinds: aperol spritz, Campari spritz (something I drink a lot at home), and a Venetian spritz; all super tasty.
We also ordered some cichetti, the local equivalent to tapas, small bites of delicious food.
We grabbed a salami and onion, bacala (salt codfish) with tomato, and creamed bacala, all on bread, as well as some fried mozzarella stuffed with anchovies.
All were delicious, especially the beguilingly simple salami and onion, which was thin slices of soppressata over a red onion jam.
I was texting with my friend Justin, who’d been to the city several years ago and he mentioned that he was very much craving a Bellini now that I’d brought up Venice.
Of course that meant that WE had to have a Bellini (peach liquor and Prosecco), which I was sure to send him a picture of to rub it in.
Feeling a nice glow coming on, we then moved to Ca D’Oro alla Vedova, a hopping local spot who specialized in meatballs, or polpette. We stood, leaning against the bar in the crowded restaurant and enjoyed a couple glasses of Prosecco and the aforementioned polpette.
The meatballs were excellent, almost like a croquette, with a crisp fried exterior and ultra soft salty ground meat interior.
The place seemed partially free of tourists (probably the best you can do in Venice) and we mostly heard only Italian, as the waitstaff bantered with regulars. What a great spot.
We were struggling with our Italian, after having just been in France.
We’d respond with a merci, or even worse, a Spanish gracias, rather than the Italian grazie, then shake our heads and try to re-centre. This would just get worse as the trip progressed.
Most of the bocaros (lively bars serving cichetti) seemed to close at 10:30, which it was close to, so we headed to more of a sit down restaurant called Il Paradiso Perduto, which was supposed to be a hip place with live music.
We had unfortunately missed the music, as the band was packing up when we arrived, but we still sidled into the busy spot, and managed to get a table in the back.
This place didn’t really have anything small, so we ordered bucatini al vongole, thick spaghetti-like noodles with clams, and some more Prosecco. We’re not big fans of Prosecco (bubbly white wine) at home, but we now know it’s because we get trash Prosecco in Canada. The stuff we’ve had here so far has been incredible!
I’d made pasta alla vongole at home recently and hadn’t been all too impressed, so I was looking forward to trying it in a place that was known for it. Definitely much better. Despite the fact that we were already pretty stuffed, we devoured it, enjoying the brininess of the clams and the simplicity of the dish.
We had planned on having one more drink, but were feeling very full and tired. Luckily the food had soaked up all of that Prosecco, so it was a stroll and not a stumble back to the Airbnb, where we gladly got ready and laid down in bed.
I was out like a light, finally catching a half-decent sleep, even with an hour break of being awake halfway through the night due to some loud noise in the street.
I slept all the way to 8am or so, which definitely revived me after so long without sleep (the previous week before the trip had been hot and relatively sleepless as well).
We checked out of the Airbnb, the host graciously letting us leave our bags for the day as we walked around.
We headed out and found a caffe nearby, where we had a lovely cappuccino and croissant with some sort of tasty lemon curd filling.
From there our plan was to walk to the far east side of the island to a place called Trattoria alla Rampa, which was supposed to be open very early and sell early seafood lunches to fishermen and dock workers; just my kind of place.
After walking for nearly an hour, and almost arriving, I noticed on Google maps that the place was closed and didn’t open until noon. Open early??? Bad info!
We changed plans, not wanting to waste time killing 2 hours waiting for the restaurant to open, and headed to la Mela Verde for the best reviewed gelato in Venice, hoping to make up for the crap we’d had the day before.
This gelato was certainly NOT crap. Kathy got a pistachio one and I, watermelon (have I told you how much I love watermelon?) and both were absolutely fantastic.
We then checked out the Liberia Alta Acqua, a place I was excited to see, but disappointed with when we arrived. Books in this bookstore are piled into bathtubs and boats to keep them safe from flooding, while books that were obviously damaged by flooding had been artfully turned into walls or stairs. Cool, until there are 100 people slowly winding through taking pictures. Not really my thing.
From there we had a leisurely stroll to some nearby landmarks. Just kidding. From there we pushed, shoved, and dodged our way through the piles of tourists to check out some of the local landmarks. When I said throngs of tourists before, now there were THRONGS of them. I can’t imagine being a Venetian local and not absolutely detesting tourists.
Trying to work out if it would be possible to just walk on everyone’s heads rather than pushing around them, we found ourselves in the piazza San Marco, where we saw the Campanile, Basilica di San Marco, Bridge of Sighs, and the Doge’s Palace. All extremely beautiful buildings with so much statuary and decoration that our eyes went wonky trying to take it all in.
The lines to enter the buildings were easily half a kilometre long and neither of us could even imagine getting into one of those thousand-strong human centipedes to be pushed and shoved through a building; no matter how beautiful or interesting.
Instead, we soaked the beauty in from the outside for a bit, then continued walking. The thing that stuck out for us most of all was the bridge of sighs, a small covered bridge visible from another nearby bridge.
Apparently, prisoners who were being led to their deaths by execution or by rotting in a dungeon, sighed as they caught their last glimpse of the outside through the latticed windows of the bridge – hence, the bridge of sighs.
We both felt oddly emotional about it when we imagined ourselves in their shoes (or manacles as it were).
Realizing we were running a little late, we hoofed it up to Osteria Alberto, a local spot, where we stopped for some lunch. The restaurant was quiet and cozy (a relief after all of the crowds) and looked like it would be a super fun and busy place to visit at night.
We ordered sardines al saor, a famous Venetian dish, as well as folpi, or marinated octopus, and gnocchi with a Gorgonzola (Italian blue cheese) cream sauce… and of course, some Prosecco.
The gnocchi was fine, but the sardines and octopus could easily be counted amongst some of the best dishes of our lives. Just. So. Good.
The sardines al saor consisted of sardines (maybe canned?) amongst soft sweet onions laced with vinegar and dotted with raisins and pine nuts. What an unbelievable combo!
We made one more stop at Restopub da Nini on the half hour walk back to the Airbnb, having some espressos and Venetian spritzes outside while we people watched. Lovely.
We picked up our bags and boarded the train to visit our friends in the north, watching Venice disappear behind us.
Like I said, I didn’t have high hopes for Venice, but I ended up absolutely loving our short time there. The place was beautiful, the food and drinks were amazing, and strolling around the canals and bridges was enchanting. Finding non-touristy spots to eat and drink, quiet corners, docks, and alleyways to spend a moment to soak in the city, and avoiding silly things like gondola rides and kilometres-long lines is the key to enjoying it in my opinion!