I can’t write about anywhere without talking about the food!
Venice was recently in the news – tourists were given exorbitant bills. In Italian restaurants, fish may be priced by the 100g. Unsuspecting tourists think this is the full price and then freak out when the bills arrive. Beware! However, food is quite expensive in Venice. Everything is quite expensive in Venice. It’s had quite some journey to your plate.
I did read about excellent meals served in Venice. I sadly didn’t see or have one. But, for the record, Venice is beside the sea and so has a lot of seafood. In a better world, this is a no-brainer. Hint – stick to the three Ps: pizza, panini, and pasta…as usual!
The first night we decided to follow Chowhound advice and went to a fancier restaurant. It was along the Cannaregio canal so it was easy to find. We had a 72 Euro meal. Was it worth it? Judge for yourself.
And, yes, Venice has fast food — misnomer! Italians don’t do ‘fast.’ At the McD’s – where I caved and decided a McMuffin for breakfast was better than a sweet pastry (the usual Italian breakfast food) there was one server, one cook, everything done slo mo. I left after 15 minutes of standing, certain I’d be another 15. At the KFC I had an awful time telling them what I wanted but eventually it arrived – a tiny container of barely BBQ beans, and a corn cobette – ah, roughage!
Shopping is interesting. There are a lot of small shops. I did see one department store near St Mark’s Square that looked absolutely fabulous but it wasn’t open yet so I couldn’t go in. I was not going back to that area again! Venetians also seem to like pretty fashion items, leather, and lots of lots of souvenirs here.
Yes, Venice does have streets! On some of them you can’t tell that there’s a canal anywhere close. And it has squares. Once you get away from the canals peace settles and there are mostly locals, except for the occasional tour group. There are no cars and the roads may be cobbled or made of bricks. There are many narrow alleyways, some lined with homes and others just passageways to the next street or square. And sometimes there are trees, and parks. With no roads, you don’t see stop signs, traffic lights, or vehicles of any type. What you do see are people pulling or pushing large carts from place to place. It’s a whole other way of life and I wonder how it feels to have been born into such a place.
There are lots of old, old houses. There isn’t really anything new. There are also lots of renovation works, old cavernous and dirty spaces where people are working to bring yet another space up to scratch. As you walk along the canals, if you look up, you’ll see fantastically large rooms with very high ceilings and, if you’re lucky, art and tapestry hanging on the walls, and even magnificent chandeliers. (I tried to photograph one of these but it was dark and the image was blurred. Krish said it looked like there was a Chihuly.
Pictures speak louder than words…
And some street art. I’m not fond of Italian street art but there were a few…
As we left Venice, there was a nice farewell. While wandering around the University area of San Polo, an older man was engrossed with playing his violin-type instrument. Finally, a truly romantic view of Venice.
We’ve been to Venice before many years ago. At that time we weren’t very experienced travellers. I remember arriving and immediately seeing the Grand Canal and taking the vaporetto (a motorised ferry barge-like vehicle, one of the only ways to get around Venice) to our hotel. That hotel wasn’t so easy to find and the room was very old fashioned but it had a canal right under the window and, by peering out carefully, we could see the Rialto Fish Market. Venice was packed with tourists when we were there then. I’m fond of telling people that I felt I was in Epcot (not that I’ve ever been) instead of the real Venice.
So when we decided to go back – Krish really regretted not buying a mask the first time so – we thought we’d go in October when it was quieter.
Our train took three and a half hours to get to Venice.
The station had had an overhaul but it was obvious right away that there were tons of people in town. As we left the station, thankful we didn’t have to take the vaporetto this time, we walked straight into the crowd. The place was teeming and we were already wondering if we should have come at all.
We got off the crowded main street from the station towards the Rialto Bridge and St Mark’s Square as soon as we could. Immediately, you can feel the change. The streets are rough, the houses are simple, the bridges aren’t so grand and the canals are much narrower. This was more like it.
We were staying over in the Jewish ghetto and we knew from last time it would be quieter. Our directions weren’t very clear but Krish is a great navigator so pretty soon we found the place.
Our Airbnb was called Romantic Cannaregio. So was it? No way but there we were! (My review is included at the end, if you’d like to read it. Rewriting it here might actually depress me.
We ended up not being great fans of Venice. I think it’s somewhere everyone should see. It’s quite remarkable in many ways. However, it’s overrun by tourists, it’s very expensive and it just doesn’t seem like a real place, as noted. We were very lucky to be staying close to where real people lived and having the energy to walk around and explore. It’s a pedestrian and waterway city, with all of its inhabitants getting around in their various motorboats, as comfortable on the water as they are on land. Be prepared to walk your feet off even if you can afford the daily fare pass of 20 Euros a day!
Despite many misgivings, I took over 400 photos of the place. It’s definitely picturesque and I knew that from the last time. I’m going to divide my thoughts into various chapters and share some photos that show Venice as I saw it.
My review for Romantic Cannaregio: I was disappointed with my stay here. First off, we got no real directions or instructions. Based on the descriptions, I was led to believe that someone would meet me or be in touch once we arrived. Instead we had to navigate our way to the flat (which isn’t easy to find when you aren’t used to the Venice geography) and there were no real instructions on how to use anything. In retrospect the photos do show the place as it is. However, I think some very good lighting was used to show it looking brighter and more relaxed than it was. In fact, it was dark and airless, with a hard white tiled floor that makes it look clinical. There’s a large piece of a wall missing in the living room, the couch is extremely hard and slippery so impossible to relax on. The fridge dripped water constantly onto anything we put in there. The bathroom light wasn’t working and was so small, it was difficult to turn around. We had to really explore to find any soap etc. As well, whenever we showered, the bathroom floor got a small flood. I had hoped there really would be romance since we went to Venice for a special anniversary but it’s tough to do when you can’t even sit together in your own space without sliding off the couch. This is one of the only places I’ve stayed in that had no tourist information, such as a map, or an idea on where to shop or eat locally, etc. Finally, a real killer of romance – printed pages stuck on the walls with a little bit of info/The Rules. I felt like I was staying in a hostel or prison. The only saving grace was a comfortable bed and the location – within the ghetto area, which is interesting, charming and somewhat away from the constant sound of luggage being pulled around, and the staggering throng of tourists in the centre of the city.
We were staying in the New Ghetto. There’s the new ghetto and the old ghetto. The story gets a bit confusing. At any rate, the Ghetto of Venice is the oldest in the world.
In medieval times this part of the Cannaregio had a getto (foundry) pronounced jettoin Italian. Eventually the German Jews’ pronunciation took over, with the hard G it has today. From the 16th to 19th centuries it became the Jewish quarter. By a 1516 decree, all Jews were locked into the gated island of the Ghetto Nuovo (New Foundry) from sunset to sunrise. At night only doctors were allowed to leave, since they were known to be very good at their art. During the Spanish Inquisition in 1541, there was no place to put everyone and so people moved into the upper storeys. The conditions were awful.
Numbers kept growing and the Ghetto was extended into the neighbouring Ghetto Vecchio (Old Foundry). This creates the confusion where the older Jewish area is called the New Ghetto and the new is the Old Ghetto. At any rate, we were in the New Ghetto, on a street called Ghetto Novissimo.
When Venice fell to Napoleon in 1797 Jews were free to roam and the ghetto was briefly renamed the Contrada dell’unione. It didn’t last long – just six moths. In 1866 Venice joined Italy and Jews were emancipated. Then when the Nazis occupied Venice, many escaped but 246 were arrested and sent to concentration camps. Only eight of these survived.
In 1797 the French army of Italy, commanded by the 28-year-old General Napoleon Bonaparte, conquered Venice, dissolved the Venetian republic, and ended the ghetto’s separation from the city. In the 19th century, the ghetto was renamed the Contrada dell’unione.
Today, the Ghetto is still the main Jewish cultural area of Venice, although only a few of the some 450 Jews of Venice live here. There’s a museum, synagogues, and shops that sell food and Judaic items. The wooden gate surrounds are still there as reminders of the days when Jews were prisoners of the island.
On our street in the New Ghetto, on many of the door frames were indentations. They gave me pause.
They were unmistakably where mezuzahs (a parchment inscribed with religious texts and attached in a case to the doorpost of a Jewish house as a sign of faith) had once been. Had the tenants left and taken theirs with them? Had the tenants been turfed out? Had the mezuzahs been taken out to hide the inhabitants’ faith? Had they been removed by bigots? I don’t know but the indentations are there to remind us who first lived there.They had been there since the houses were built, imbedded as they had been in the frame.