Yes, I know that Travel Man already use the 48 hours in…. title. But seeing as I pretty much spent EXACTLY 48 hours in Venice, from arrival to getting on the bus to head home I figured it was as good a title as any for a quick run down of my birthday trip earlier this month.
Yes, folks, this is the year I turned 40 and stopped being a “30-something blogger” and started being a “40-something blogger”. Whether that means I will get less or more press releases about nappies for the children I don’t have only time will tell.
Mr LLL wanted to surprise me with a trip to Venice, a city that has been on my must-visit list for some time. However, I hate surprises, so I’d known about the trip for months. After all, half the excitement of a trip is in the planning.
In my head, I’d envisaged a trip to Italy to be all big hats and sunglasses. I’d dug out my summer frocks and ordered a new pair of fresh white Keds, my favourite Summer walking shoes.
In reality of course, while the UK basked in sunshine, I arrived in Venice to this.
But I was not deflated, for I was in Venice, and even in the rain it was gorgeous and for some reason, I was really surprised by how much it looked like, well, VENICE.
We’d booked the “White Romantic Studio” AirBnb and having popped the details into Google Maps the 10-minute walk from the bus station seemed easy. So off we headed.
Within minutes we’d come across a dead end and had to retrace our steps, even though Google Maps promised us the road kept going. A few minutes later we found ourselves wandering through areas that seemed to be student accommodation, but certainly didn’t feel particularly touristy, and frankly were making me a bit nervous.
More by luck than judgement we finally found our way to the Cannaregio canal, and then onto our apartment. We should have learned a lesson at that point, but actually, it’s a few more hours till it finally sunk in.
The studio apartment was cute, a little dark, but I was enjoying pretending I was a starving artist living in a one room apartment in Venice.
I didn’t want to be *too* starving, however, so we decided that our first port of call should be a supermarket of some kind. I consulted my phone using the handy free wi-fi and was reliably informed that there were 2 small supermarkets within walking distance. We picked one, and headed off. We ended up in a more touristy area with streets lined with shops selling Murano glass, Venetian masks, fridge magnets and “I <3 Venice” hats.
Google Maps once again promised me that the supermarket was just down a road. However the road that it specified ended up at someone’s front door, and, once again, definitely DID NOT keep going.
After 30 minutes wandering round and round in circles I had begun to learn my first top tip for visitors to Venice.
DON’T RELY ON GOOGLE MAPS
It seems that addresses in Venice are absurdly vague, giving just a region and a house number. Much as if you lived in London and gave your address as Islington, 10. This, combined with the fact that the high buildings made the GPS leap around the map like a grasshopper, and that “roads” is a very loose term in a city built on canals, means that the most you can expect from Google Maps is to tell you that the thing you are looking for is around here somewhere.
By now I was starting to get hangry, and I was wet and a bit cold and starting to wonder if Venice was a good idea after all. Having been warned about tourist trap restaurants that add absurd extra fees and rip you off I refused to go anywhere near any restaurant with a person standing out the front and shouting at me, ending up, eventually in a little restaurant called Ristorante All’Aquila.
It does not score highly on Trip Advisor, but maybe we were lucky. The prices were obviously tourist prices and the waiters managed to enthusiastically upsell us 5 pieces of bruschetta for 10 Euros on top of our 12 Euro set menu (we were hungry), but we didn’t feel hugely ripped off. A 2-course meal with bruschetta and 2 glasses of wine each set us back around 60 Euros. Not cheap, but not the horrific rip off stories you hear about.
I had pasta in squid ink, a local speciality and venezian liver, whatever that is, with some slightly greasy chips.
Now at least convinced I wasn’t going to starve to death, we wandered the around the streets and almost immediately spotted a SPAR. Not the supermarket we’d been looking for, which was still AWOL, but it sold food and fizzy wine, so we stocked up and headed back to our apartment to escape the rain, listen to classical music, drink espresso and Prosecco and generally chill the hell out.
I’m not necessarily recommending wandering around in the rain and eating at a touristy restaurant as an excellent use of your first 5 hours in Venice, but rather I hope that you can learn from my mistakes. The only way to use Google Maps in Venice is to check the general area that something is in, then wander around, and maybe ask people where it is, until you find it.
One more thing of note happened on our first day in Venice, and that’s that I impulsively checked the EasyJet app that evening and noticed that our return flights were booked for Wednesday, but our AirBnb was only booked till Tuesday.
I’m not sure what you, dear reader can learn from this, other than make sure you check all your reservations in detail, but a panicked few minutes being very grateful for credit cards that aren’t up to their limit yet rectified the situation and replacement flights were booked.
Day 2 dawned and we were already 18 hours into our 48-hour stay and all we’d done is eaten an overpriced meal and found a supermarket. The weather was considerably brighter and we had ambitious plans for the day.
Our apartment was in the Cannaregio district at the top of the island. It’s a residential area, and one I’d highly recommend looking at if you pay Venice a visit, it’s not a long walk to anywhere else, with some nice bars and restaurants nearby, and well served by water buses to all the sights.
Our plan for the day was to walk across to St Marks Square in the early afternoon, taking photos of canals on the way, visit the Basilica and Doges Palace, have an evening drink and some dinner in Cafe Florian, which I had heard was very expensive, but beautiful and worth it, then get a waterbus back to our apartment so we could get out on the water in the absence of being able to afford to spend 100 Euros on 20 minutes in a Gondola.
But first. Shopping.
We headed back to the touristy shops to buy Venetian masks, small glass dogs and stop off at the SPAR to pick up some more essentials (I mean Prosecco, obviously.)
We also stopped off in our first Venetian Church, Chiesa di Santa Maria di Nazareth. A beautiful Roman Catholic church, right by the station, yet somehow not too busy.
I like to light a candle in churches, but was a little disappointed to find that the ones here were battery operated. You put a euro in the slot and a candle lights up. Somehow it wasn’t the same. We passed through the gift shop on the way out where I somehow refrained from buying bottles of holy water in case of vampire attack.
As we headed back to drop off our goodies and start the day proper, we realised it was nearly lunch time and decided to stop off at one of the restaurants along the Cannaregio canal, near to the apartment for a glass of wine.
Trattoria della Marisa was highly recommended on the Eat Venice App and in several other places (and I highly recommend the app, I actually paid for it and it was worth it!). It was literally round the corner from our apartment, but also very popular with the locals, and therefore very busy.
Instead we chose L’Osteria Le Guglie. Opened very recently, the waiters were friendly and helpful and the menu looked good, including a section of vegan options. We had a glass of wine, then decided to stay for lunch on an outside table overlooking the canal.
I had the most amazing seafood platter of crayfish and prawns, and Mr LLL opted for ragu. We had 2 glasses of wine and commented how much better the complimentary breadsticks were than the ones in the previous days restaurant, and the whole thing only set us back 40 Euros.
In short, I definitely recomend the L’Osteria Le Guglie.
Suitably refreshed we crossed the canal and headed back to our apartment to drop off our shopping before heading out for the afternoon.
Outside our apartment, a woman stopped me and offered me a flower. Now, I’ve been to enough big cities in the UK to know that if a woman offers you a small flower you firmly say “no, thank you” and walk away, before she starts demanding money and shouting. So that’s what I did, before I realised that this particular woman was wearing a high vis jacket and standing by a dust cart. She’d just found some Jasmine growing in the garden of one of the apartments and wanted me to smell it. So I did. It was beautiful. She gave me the Jasmine and said “Welcome to Venice” before going back to collecting rubbish, and I felt warmed by the kindness of strangers.
One of the great things about Venice is it’s completely car-free. The rubbish collections are done by hand by operatives pushing carts around the streets. The carts are then picked up and emptied into a canal boat to be whisked off to whatever landfill/recycling plant/wherever rubbish goes to die for a million years, this means that you do see a lot of the high-vis jacket operatives wandering around. I can’t promise they will all give you Jasmine though.
St Marks Square and the Trip There
Having refreshed ourself for the afternoon we headed off in the general direction of St Marks Square. The plan being to wend our way there via a Gelateria and hopefully some bars. Queues allowing, visit the Basilica and Doges Palace, enjoy an early evening drink in the fancy Cafe Florian serenaded by a string quartet and then head home eating chichetti (like Italian Tapas) and drinking Aperol Spritz.
The sun had started to peek from behind the clouds and our first stop was due to be Alaska Gelateria. The only Gelateria I could find recommended in Venice, and also featured on the aforementioned Travel Man.
Based on the previous days experience I expected it to be a nightmare to find, but we rounded a corner in its general vicinity and suddenly there it was, a little further up the street than we expected, but otherwise right where it was supposed to be.
I can’t even remember what flavour I ordered now, but it was delicious and pretty cheap at, from memory, 1.50 Euros for a cone. The owner was super friendly and got very excited about my jacket covered in badges, telling me I looked like a punk (I suspect he may have been an ex-punk).
So, if you visit Venice, I will happily add to the recommendations for Gelateria Alaska.
As we continued our wanderings the sun came out, so my jacket came off. The streets were fairly quiet and peaceful. Occasionally we would cross a canal on a fetching bridge, or walk past a shop selling air-dried ham and cheeses. Occasionally the streets widened out into quiet squares with the occasional shop selling masks and postcards.
We peered into overgrown courtyards and looked at slowly disintegrating old Venetian mansions with small gated areas of water that I guess would be much like a courtyard in a grand English house to allow the gentry to alight from their carriages in peace.
It was beautiful.
We came out into one sunny square and spotted a cafe on the side, so we stopped and drank an Aperol spritz at the bar. I can’t tell you what it was called as the sign outside simply said “cafe”, but there was a guy in the square playing a guitar, and a bench with a sign that said “gondoliers only”.
I felt very happy.
As we continued to wander we started to signs on the walls pointing us in the direction of the Rialto Bridge and St Marks Square, before we finally emerged into a square that I believe was called the Campo San Giacomo di Rialto. It was hugely noisy, not only from the people in the square, but with noise we could hear coming from the nearby Rialto Bridge.
As we wandered we spotted a painting on a wall down an alleyway and impulsively headed down to take a look. We found ourselves in a near-deserted back street, which was odd considering how busy it was nearby and found a tiny bar called Sacred and Profane advertising chichetti. We vowed to head back later and headed out into the tourist throng.
Now follows my second piece of advice.
If you have just a short time in Venice…
DON’T BOTHER WITH ST MARKS SQUARE
Or the Rialto Bridge for that matter.
The Rialto Bridge is the oldest bridge spanning the Grand Canal, this final version I believe was built in 1591, but it was just awful. It was packed with shouting tourists and lined with shops selling replica football shirts, overpriced handbags and other pointless things that I can’t believe people go all the way to Venice to buy on a very old bridge. In some places you could see where the kiosks containing the shops had been unceremoniously squished into a beautiful old arcade with a painted ceiling. It was frankly a bit depressing.
We then walked through a maze of streets containing designer clothing shops and yet more tourist tat shops, till we finally popped out into St Marks Square.
It was huge and impressive, the buildings were gorgeous, but it was also just packed with people. The queue for the Basilica was long so we decided to skip it and walked around to the Doges Palace. There was no queue there, but we spent some time staring at the entry prices before deciding this was not actually how we wanted to spend our time in Venice and that more Aperol Spritz were probably in order.
We wandered along the edge of the lagoon and located the famous Harry’s Bar, opened in 1931 and frequented by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Charlie Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock. It is the home of the Bellini and declared a national landmark in 2001. It would have been a must visit on my list, except it is also horrifically touristy and gets terrible reviews, so I decided a look at the door was enough for me.
We then jumped onto one of the water buses and headed across the lagoon to find a bar we had seen mentioned in a guide book called the Corner Pub.
Near the university, it is apparently frequented by British students missing home as it is similar to a British pub. I will tell you that it is not much like a British pub at all, other than that it sells beer, but that it was very nice. We enjoyed a glass of wine and watched people drinking Aperol spritz in plastic glasses sat on the bridge outside and we let the disappointment and noise of St Marks Square drift away.
By now it was 5pm and we wandered the streets a little. The Guggenheim museum is in this area and as we were currently in the opening weekend of the The 58th International Art Exhibition, which goes on till November there were several pieces that could be spotted from the street or the bus.
The streets were quieter and the sun was shining and Venice felt like a lovely place once more.
We headed back and stood outside Cafe Florian, but I decided I did not want to pay £20 for a glass of wine as I would not be able to hear the string quartet over the sound of shouting tourists.
It looks beautiful, but it just wasn’t for me.
Instead we headed back to Osteria Al Sacro & Profano, where, despite the crowds 1 street away buying tat and eating hotdogs, we were the only customers. We ordered Chichetti and drank more wine and eavesdropped on a walking tour that was suddenly guided past who shared with us the interesting piece of information that the bar is owned by a famous Italian musician.
Food definitely perked us up, so our next plan was to ahead away from the crowds and find some lovely places to drink more Aperol Spritz, at only 2 euros a glass we reckoned we could fit in a fair few more before we headed home.
We only had one more bar that we intended to find, recommended by ruthi.tutti.frutti on Instagram, Bacarando in Corte dell’Orso was not far from where we currently were, so we set off to find it using our now refined technique of seeing where it was from where we were on the map and then wandering in the general direction.
Amazingly we found it almost immediately. It was 2 imaginary streets over from where Google Maps said it was, but our navigating technique was flawless.
Sadly we were still full of our previous chichetti, because the food in Bacaranda looked amazing. We took a seat at the bar and ordered an Aperol Spritz and a Ginger Spritz. The bar was buzzy and friendly, with amazing glass lampshades and we could easily have stayed all night and trialed the exciting cocktail menu, but there was exploring still to be done.
By exploring, I mean drinking. In a very festive mood we pointed ourselves in the general direction of our apartment, and began to wander, stopping in any bar we happened to pass that looked like it might be fun.
We popped into another couple of churches to light candles and marvel at the grandness, and we felt bad as locals out for an evening jog made us feel like we should have made more effort to squish our running kit into our hand luggage.
During the evening we visited the following bars that I can heartily recommend to those of you who might fancy paying Venice a visit:
We popped into Ai Divini as it started to rain. It was a fairly modern bar, that seemed popular with the locals. They served chichetti, and there were crispy bread snacks on the bar. While we were there they bought small plates of ragu with plastic forks around to all the tables. Mr LLL was too scared to eat it in case we had accidentally stumbled into one of those tourist traps and they charged us a million pounds for it.
I ate it, I am happy to advise that was not the case.
This one grabbed our attention because there were vintage record players and stacks of records. The bar had only 2 other customers when we arrived, who left shortly after (I don’t think the 2 were connected) so we had a fine time choosing old jazz records to play and drinking organic Pinot Grigio, we were served some more crunchy herby bread snacks and we thought maybe we were too full of free snacks to need dinner at all.
The final bar we visited was full of dark wood, with big windows. There was one large table that appeared to be a mix of locals and American tourists, but it was otherwise fairly quiet.
A few locals popped in while we were there and there appeared to be some kind of drama in Italian, but unfortunately my knowledge of Italian begins and ends with “Grazie” so I can’t enlighten you further.
This was probably not the best Aperol Spritz I’d had, and it was served in a tumbler rather than a wine glass, but by this point I was in too good a mood to care.
As we left we noted it was now gone nearly 9pm and that maybe we ought to eat more food that wasn’t salty bar snacks. In an impulsive spirit we decided to head back and get takeaway pizza from the promisingly named “Very Good Pizza” just around the corner from our apartment. Getting takeaway pizza in Italy seemed like the best idea we’d ever had after several glasses of wine, so we checked the map, got our general bearings and headed off in the right general direction.
We’d barely been walking 5 minutes when we found ourselves standing outside a rather large Co-Op, which, it seemed, was the elusive supermarket we’d been looking for the day before by walking round in circles 5 minutes down the road.
We didn’t need anything now, but we went and looked around it anyway, just for completeness. I wish I’d taken a photo of it now. It was much nicer than the SPAR.
Our pizzas at the Very Good Pizza place took a while to be prepared, so we had another glass of wine, naturally before trotting off back to the apartment to stuff our faces and drink Prosecco.
Day 3 – The Last 4 Hours
Day 3 in Venice, and the last few hours of our 48 hour stay dawned with us feeling astonishngly perky, considering.
Perhaps it was because we didn’t finish the Prosecco we’d opened to drink with our pizza?
Nevermind, we drank it with breakfast because a) we were on holiday and b) it seemed a shame to waste it.
We needed to leave for the airport at around 1pm, our plans for our last few hours in Venice were as follows.
- Buy small 100ml travel bottles so we could decant the 200ml bottle of Limoncello we had foolishly bought and get it through security
- Have some coffee
- Have some lunch
- Buy some Venetian tat
- Investigate the possibility of getting an exciting water bus to the airport instead of the regular boring road bus.
Our first couple of stops for number 1 were a fail, and we started wandering vaguely round streets we hadn’t been on before that were mostly residential, but very beautiful.
Then we realised that the mornings ill-advised Prosecco was kicking in and we both desperately needed the toilet. Which seemed like a good opportunity to tick the second item off our list.
We slightly desperately headed back towards some of the more main canals, and stopped in the first coffee shop we saw that didn’t look like a burger bar.
It turned out to be the rather wonderful Sullaluna, part bookshop, part coffee shop, it was a really tranquil space and I could probably have stayed there all morning if it wasn’t for the Limoncello mission.
After leaving Sullaluna we headed back into a more populated area, and finally found a Tiger where we could buy small bottle to decant our Limoncello, thank goodness for globalisation, hey?
Numbers 3 and 4 on the list were dealt with easily, though I suspect we visited almost every mask store available looking for a blank mask as Mr LLL had the impulse to decorate one. An impulse that, like many holiday impulses, faded almost as soon as we landed back in the UK.
Lunch could have been any number of exciting things, but we opted for a pregnant sandwich. We’d seen them in the SPAR and were intrigued. It was like half a sandwich, but with the filling of a whole sandwich stuffed in the middle, very odd, but very tasty and cheap and satisfied our curiosity.
The answer to the final item on our list may be of use to you if you ever visit Venice, so I shall share it here.
The water buses that take you around Venice, that we had purchased a 24 hour ticket for the day before, are operated by a different company than the water bus that goes between the airport and central Venice. Those buses are considerably more expensive, so instead we said goodbye to beautiful, car-free Venice, and headed back to the bus station to get a regular boring bus with wheels to the airport.
And there, if you made it this far, ends the story of how I turned 40 in Venice.
I’ll pop a few links below that you might find useful!
“White Romantic Studio” AirBnb
Restaurants & Bars
Trattoria della Marisa
L’Osteria Le Guglie
Osteria Al Sacro & Profano
Bacarando in Corte dell’Orso
Retro Wine Bar
Osteria Antica Adelaide
Very Good Pizza
Eat Venice App