Italian Iter | Venice

Cannaregio building

Venice has two faces. Walk one way and it’s a floating historical park, corroded by touristic cruft, cruise ship day trippers, aggressive rose peddlers, and well-marked routes that all lead to the McDonald’s on Strada Nova. Walk another way and the city is a man-made miracle, a living example of magical realism, where the sun sets in crystal skies over the lagoon, Maine coon cats lounge on a wooden bridge, pastel laundry hangs out to dry. At night, a labyrinth of empty streets, dark alleys, blind corners — the kind of places you would avoid anywhere else — usher you toward unexpected surprises, like an Italian band playing “Jailhouse Rock”.

View from our window
View from our room
Food and Drink

We loved staying in Cannaregio around the corner from Tintoretto’s workshop. We had our breakfast spot, our wine spot, and our gelato spot. Really, we needn’t have gone anywhere else, except that we were born to wander. A directory of favorites:

Vino Vero (Cannaregio) – elegant, fresh cicchetti with many vegetarian options; stellar wine list including an ambrosial Lambrusco and a sparkling pinot nero rose so delightful John had a glass two nights in a row

Il Santo Bevitore (Cannaregio) – beer

Enoteca Al Volto (San Marco) – a classic wine bar; source for the recipe below

Gam Gam (Cannaregio) – delicious Kosher restaurant on the canal near the Jewish ghetto; get the eggplant appetizer called massa’bacha

Paradiso Perduto (Cannaregio) – best cacio e pepe ever!

Suso Gelatoteca (San Marco) – creative, swanky, intensely flavored gelato

Bacaro del Gelato (Cannaregio) – the creamiest gelato; not fancy, just really good

We tried so many varieties of wine we’ve rarely seen at home: soave, arneis, malvasia, franciacorta. Heaven!

Cannaregio living
After dinner at Paradiso Perduto: finishing a bottle of Tokaj
Recipe – Artichoke Cicchetti

We loved Venice’s wine bars and cicchetti — little snacks, usually sliced bread with different toppings. We went to Enoteca Al Volto twice to eat their one vegetarian option and I have successfully recreated it at home.

Slice up a baguette. Top each disk with artichoke spread, like DeLallo Artichoke Bruschetta, and a slice of smoked cheese — provolone or mozzarella. Garnish with chopped pistachios.

Top Five Sites

We visited the Doge’s Palace with its militaristic murals, traveled to the fabled islands of lace and glass, gazed upon Carpaccio’s epic paintings in the Accademia, but my favorite things were:

Monteverdi's burial
Paying homage to the father of opera at Frari Church
San Marco
Marveling at the Basilica di San Marco with its Byzantine flourishes and thanking the heavens for no entry line
Exploring Torcello, the smallest, quietest island with its beautiful flowers and Byzantine mosaics
Castello cat
Walking through the Castello district on a quiet morning from  Arsenale to the Chiesa di Sant’Elena
Going to no place in particular. I learned to accept that we would get lost. We were always winding up at dead ends, doubling back, looking for bookstores that had disappeared years ago, but somehow we would always end up on a bridge with a glorious view.
Toilet Troubles – As Promised

Listening to a bandThursday night in Dorsoduro, we walked by the Venice Jazz Club, but it was closed. On our way back north, we came across a cover band playing at San Duich Bar. The band occupied most of the tiny interior, so we joined the audience outside and sang along since we knew every song. A glass of sangria later, I needed the restroom. I locked the door and when I was done I couldn’t get out. I jiggled the handle. Rattled the door. Turned the key this way and that. When my maneuvers became more forceful, a bartender shouted something at the door in Italian, switched to English, and then came to my rescue. “See, it’s easy,” he said while showing how smoothly the key turned in its lock. I had to disagree.

Social Encounters

Before I got locked in the bathroom, we had dinner at an unremarkable place on the Campo Santa Margherita. An older American couple — she was Jewish, he was black — sat next us and struck up conversation by first thanking us for not smoking. Later the wife invited us to share a bottle of wine with her since her husband doesn’t drink. We couldn’t say no to such an invitation! It’s the kind of thing I would like to be able to do in the future when we are too old to be mistaken for swingers. Turns out the couple are from California and work in higher education. We had a free-ranging conversation about the Donald, traveling, Jewish ancestry, wine, Italy. They warned us about Florence. “If you think this is crowded…”

Notes for Next Time

Peggy Guggenheim Museum.

Marciana Library. It was closed for some unexplained reason.

Basilica di San Marco. Again.


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