Before we set off on our first Italian adventure, a friend gave us a fantastic description of Venice – that the whole city is like a living museum. And they could not have been more accurate. The city dates back to around 400 A.D. and you can really imagine people of old strolling through the narrow alleyways and paddling down the canals. Most of the locals of Venice have long since left the city and the vast population is made up of tourists and those servicing the tourism industry. I know this sounds a bit off-putting but if you view the city as a museum – an ode to a time that once was – rather than how people actually live nowadays, then you will love it.
We stayed at an AirBnB right in the middle of town and it was relatively inexpensive (compared to London), and there are plenty available. We visited in March and could not have picked a better time to go. If you are keen to avoid the crowds (well the really crazy crowds) then do not visit in the peak season of summer. This place is mad in summer and if you are anything like us then you will not enjoy it. March was perfect. Our accommodation was right near the Rialto Fish Market which we had a look around on our first morning in the city. There was every sea creature you could imagine and was a fascinating place to wonder through. It is also right near the famous Rialto Bridge where hundreds of people gather to get that perfect Venetian snap.
By far our favourite thing to do each day was to head over to the osterias in the student quarter for some delicious cicchetti (basically a better version on bruschetta) with every topping you can imagine, accompanied by cheap wine and cocktails (we are talking 1-2 euro – I know!). Needless to say, we gorged ourselves. Our favourite places were Osteria al Squero and Cantina del Vino Gia Schiavi and I highly recommend that you visit them both. I delighted in the pinot grigio and prosecco while Andrew could not get enough of the Aperol Spritz. You know you are in the right place when you see people drinking outside in plastic cups. Eat outside along the canal, people watch and guard your food from the seagulls!
While I’m on food and drink, the other must-try cocktail is the Bellini (apparently invented in Venice at Harry’s Bar). I would not recommend going to Harry’s Bar for your Bellini unless you want to pay extortionate prices. Instead I recommend visiting Casanova where the Bellinis cost 2 euro and are one of the most delicious things I’ve had. For pasta we popped into Dal Moro’s. It is tucked away in an alley and looks like any fast food place, but Oh. My. God. the pasta is divine and oh so cheap. As a general rule I would highly recommend getting your food to go and and eat it outside or standing. The reason for this is that there are two prices where ever you eat/drink and it is far more expensive to get table service. So do as the locals do and stand!
As a real splurge we received a wedding present to go to one of the top restaurants in Venice (I know our friends are fantastic). We went to a place called La Colombina and got the seafood set menu (of course, we’re in Venice). It was a real culinary delight and we basically had to roll each other home. You’re probably thinking, did they do anything else in Venice other than eat and drink? Well… kind of.
In a bid to give our stomach’s a break and to see a few of the sights, we decided to go on a guided blitz of a walking tour through the main sites. We elbowed our way to the Piazza San Marco and gazed at the San Marco Basilica and the accompanying Campanile di San Marco (large bell tower) as well as the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace). All three are stunning pieces of architecture, however we did not go inside. Nearby is the well-known Bridge of Sighs and honestly it was not as exciting to see as I was anticipating.
With the main sites ticked off we then hopped on a boat out to the island of Murano. Murano is famous for its colourful houses and glass blowing. However, the thing we enjoyed the most about Murano was the delicious bakery we found near the main canal that sold focaccia bread and sweet treats. We had a lot of recommendations to go to Murano but we weren’t that impressed with it when we got there. We are not big shoppers and the whole island caters to the glass blowing industry. So if you would like to buy some glass then I recommend, otherwise spend your time elsewhere. We considered going out to Burano (famous for lace-making) but after waiting in a very long queue and quickly deciding that queuing was not for us – even for all the lace in Burano – we hopped on a different boat back to Venice instead. Back to our cicchetti and back to our pinot grigio while lazing on the edge of the canals.
Getting around Venice is incredibly easy. It is the only completely pedestrian city in the world (not even bikes are allowed) and you can walk everywhere. If yo prefer to go by boat then the Vaperetto goes up and down the Grand Canal where you can hop on and off – just like a bus but on water. There are also water taxis (very expensive!) and gondolas (very very expensive!). We mainly walked everywhere and it led us to discover some wonderful parts of Venice, like Academia Bridge, which is big and wooden and beautiful and gives just as great views as the Rialto Bridge (without the hundreds of people).
The little things in Venice were by far the places we loved the most, getting lost in the narrow alleyways, laughing at the seagulls, and walking over as many small bridges as possible to gaze down the canals. So don’t get too caught up on the big ticket items and enjoy the rest of the spectacular living museum that is Venice.
Here is a breakdown of our costs for 2 people over 3 days:
Accommodation – E141 (NZ$234)
Food/Drink – E250 (NZ$414)
Transport (water taxi/bus etc) – E78 (NZ$130)
Total spent – E469 (NZ$778)