I’d studied Google images, chatted to my Venetian for tips and even consulted the Natwest Concierge service for some recommendations on what to do in Venice before we had arrived. It wasn’t so much knowing what to do though, the difficulty lay in actually getting there. A total surprise for Daniel’s mum, we managed to check in, board the same plane, fly to Italy, get off and get through the other side without being seen. A challenge even I, ever the optimist, didn’t think we could pull off. After saying our lovely surprise hello’s we took our first little boat across the choppy water to the hotels altogether. Despite being in Rome only last July, I’m amazed by the impressive buildings and the scrupulous attention to detail waterside and further inland. On arrival at the hotel and climbing out of the boat (semi engaged in conversation, concerned that someone could fall in or worse still, my hair straighteners), the smell of Italian cooking hit and made my stomach growl. “Shall we get lunch?” You read my mind, Jax.
To say that I spent all five days eating pizza for lunch would be a lie. I spent four. The one exception was when we popped into an organic restaurant and had a plate of gnocchi (fluffy pillows of deliciousnsess covered in basil, a light tomato sauce and more-than-my-hips-should-allow parmesan cheese), the best I’ve ever tasted.
Aside from the food, Venice is beautifully steeped in history and its palaces and other architecture seem to just spring out from the water. The artistic excellence is part of Venice’s culture so expect to see lots of galleries, art displays and even people on the streets painting in watercolour. The city has seemingly been sculpted over the years by both historical events (struggles and territorial disagreements) and the people themselves. Still to this day it’s deeply theatrical and romantic and on every corner you’ll find masquerades or a gondola to take a tour around the city. It’s worth taking as many boat rides as possible, (you can buy a travel card to use all day), so you can truly uncover every nook and cranny. That’s the thing about Venice, you’ll go through lots of winding pavements like as though you’re in a maze and stumble across some magnificent things that you didn’t know existed.
Life in Venice is chilled. You don’t see any sky high stilettos or women in masses amount of makeup during the day and rarely even at night. I now understand why my Venetian friend always wants to travel by foot in London because in Venice, you will definitely need some comfortable shoes and right now, a warmish coat.
The weather in Spring is pretty similar to London but in the sun it’s a lot warmer. There are no cars or roadways here, everything is by boat or by foot. Surprisingly, it doesn’t have a similar feel to Amsterdam despite the canals and I don’t recall seeing any bicycles so do expect to walk a lot. It certainly makes for an interesting read on your iPhone pedometer at the end of the trip. Don’t worry you’ve a tendency to be lazy after about half an hour of walking (like me) because there is plenty along the way to keep you distracted from your increased heart rate, especially chocolate and coffee. Passion and heritage are at the heart of service at Caffe Florian – as you’d expect at the oldest café in the world. The Florian Florence is a fine dining restaurant and a museum of contemporary art – great for a macaroon and coffee too! It first opened in 1720 and truly does feel as though they ‘own’ coffee. It sits right on the side of the famous ‘Piazza San Marco’ (or St Marks Square to those less linguistically adventurous). The square is a hive for tourists but worth going to see what it’s actually like. Apparently it is said that Napoleon referred to the Piazza San Marco as “the drawing room of Europe”. Although I’ve lived in London for some time now and like to think I’ve seen it all when it comes to tourist attractions, I was still amazed that people were keen to hold pigeons in the centre of the square for photo opportunities. Of course when we got there we had to walk unknowingly right in the middle of bird feed being thrown and have to try and escape from a swarm of pigeons (so gross). Do try the mocha’s nearby, Dan’s parents found the perfect sun spot here (and no, the blending in with the seats was not intentional).
The food in Venice is by far some of the best food I’ve ever tasted in my life. In typical Italian style, the food is insanely fresh and it’s all about the simple ingredients with immense flavours. My pizzas of choice ranged from garlic and herb, to four cheese to mushroom, onion and tuna and Dan’s parents were the same. We all thoroughly enjoyed every restaurant that we visited for both lunch and dinner and there was one incredible restaurant in particular, Michelin starred that sticks out in my mind which we headed to for a very very special meal for a very very special occasion, Bistrot de Venise. Quite possibly the best meal I’ve had in Italy.
I was told before hand that Italians are very hot on their ‘Aperitivo’. The idea is simple; it’s sociable and fun. The aim is to get you to mingle with the locals and other guests by meeting up and enjoying drinks or nibbles, before your dinner. The best places to do so are the famous Harry’s Bar next to Hotel Monaco, one of the original bars on the waterfront (another wonderful suggestion I was given by my Venetian friend) or on the pricier side, the Oriental Bar at the Met hotel (1 Michelin star). But don’t worry about searching and stressing over good places as everything in Venice is good food and drinks wise.
Trying to ignore the urge to sit and drink spritzers all day while devouring bread dipped in oil, Daniel’s parents suggested some wonderful places to visit together. We headed to Murano on the boat where we strolled along the canal looking at the hand made glass jewellery shops. The history of Murano is fascinating. In the early 1900’s, Venetians feared that buildings (mostly wooden) would be burned so ordered the glass makers to Murano for protection. Back then, glassmakers were considered the populations most highly regarded citizens. They were able to wear swords and couldn’t be prosecuted by state. Even their sons and daughters were married into affluent families. Murano is how you associate the glass used in ‘Venetian vases’ etc with the city.
We also visited the Venetian Ghetto. Despite having studied this in History class, I was still overcome with emotion when stood inside the tiny area. This Venetian ghetto is the first ghetto in the world (we say “ghetto” in English for the Italian name “ghèto”) and dates back to the early fifteenth century. The ghetto was the area in which Jewish people were compelled to live under the Venetian Republic and most recently during the war, lots of families lived in these tiny, cramped rooms, often hiding from the Germans as so many had already been lost, sent to the concentration camps. It’s a truly sombre experience and one that I think all people should visit. On a more happier note, there is also the amazing Rialto to visit where you’ll find the stunning grand canal with a hub of activity.
For sure one of the biggest and best things to do in Venice aside from the sight seeing and history finding is – SHOP! Just off St Marks Square you’ll find all of the eye watering price shops as well as a few high street thrown in. Splurging is worth it here as often the price is in Euro what is it in sterling in the UK so you could save yourself around 15% in some shops. Coin is a great department store worth checking out if your in the mood for some mid range designer goodies and believe me, you could literally spend all day in there.
In a quest to find a coffee shop, we came across a special little vintage shop that stocked only high end designer. I fell in love with an original 1920’s Japanese Kimono and a Chanel bucket bag. There was a 1980’s style Gucci suit with the huge shoulder pads and even a cute little Fendi scarf. Despite wanting everything, we only found that little shop once more during the whole trip. Oh to go back with a shed load of savings!
The shopping for Italian leather is what its all about in Venice and even as you walk past the stores you can smell that buttery soft skin. Be it a handbag, shoes or jacket, there’s a wealth of leather goods available to bring back home and it’s not that expensive. Dan’s mum tried on the most amazing fitted leather jacket and for me, the shoes were out of this world. Even Daniel got a bit carried away in Guiseppe Zanotti with the cool new high tops. Alas no wedding shoes to be found though.
Italian sizes tend to be a little smaller (and that’s not just down to the extra weight I put on eating pasta, pizza and Tiramsu every day), so I did get a little sad when I went into Dani and almost everything was too small. Don’t feel too disheartened though, the hour long walk back will make you feel better. I didn’t feel much like Amal Clooney on her wedding day on the boat back, put it that way.
I hope that you had a lovely birthday Jax and it was so lovely to help you celebrate!
Have you been to Venice? What did you think?