I have three weeks to explore Italy, a country I have longed to visit but, in reality, know nothing about (my knowledge that they make good pizza and pasta wasn’t really going to get me very far). With little to no prep before I went, I anxiously jumped on a plane to my first stop: Venice.
With it’s canals winding through the city like veins, it’s clear why Venice is such a popular city to visit.
I arrived on a foggy afternoon and stumbled my way onto the vaparetto (boat), unsure if I was on the right boat or even going in the right direction. It was then, when I was already slightly overwhelmed by everything that I remembered that I get boat sick and that perhaps choosing a hostel that was only reachable by boat might not have been my best move and maybe travelling wasn’t for me (I may have been a bit tired and emotional – I quickly told myself to man up). I hoped that a new day might make everything a little less difficult and daunting and scary and funnily enough, it did!
In the fresh light of day, I could just about navigate my way from Guidecca to St Mark’s Square. It was there that I realised all my (limited) knowledge about Venice was from the (new) Italian Job film and that wasn’t very helpful. My little to no prep was starting to show me up. I had lots to learn about this city.
St Mark’s square was filled with tourists and after I had a glimpse of the Basilica I tried to get away from all the crowds. I was a bit worried that all the galleries and museums would be filled with all the tourists from St Mark’s square but actually, they were all virtually empty – it seems that the tourists spent their whole trip standing looking at the Basilica (each to their own).
Aside from visiting all the galleries and museums that I finally got around to reading up about, I did a lot of walking on the hunt for interesting places to eat. I knew that staying near the centre was going to be expensive and the food a bit meh, so I went to find the interesting and quirky places that were filled with locals. I used this article from the Guardian website and my lonely planet guide and mostly I came up trumps.
I’ve come up with a list of places that I would recommend visiting:
- Caffe La Serra – having got on the wrong boat I ended up at the Giardini della Biennale (Venitian gardens) and (somehow missing the gardens entirely) I stumbled across this cafe in a greenhouse. They specialised in interesting teas and, to be honest, that was just what I needed after getting lost. In one big open space they were selling flowers and tea side by side and it worked perfectly.
- Le Spighe – just around the corner from the cafe on a big open street (very different to the narrow, slightly claustrophobic streets around the centre was this Vegan cafe. It was incredibly basic – the owner/chef makes five dishes a day, which if you decide to eat in, she microwaves on a paper plate. This didn’t matter in the slightest because you knew the food would be delicious and healthy. I got the impression that it was a place the locals visited regularly to grab a take away lunch. If you want interesting home cooking this is the place to go.
- Ostaria Dai Zemei – Venice is filled with these cute little tapas bars down little side streets. This is the one that I found but I’m sure they are all good. A glass of wine costs €1.50 as does one cichetti (tapas) so it’s a great place to grab a bite for lunch. The one I was in was filled with locals and if I could understand them I was sure I would overhear some juicy gossip!
- Caffe Florian – located in St Mark’s square this is supposedly the oldest cafe in Venice and the world. It also happens to be the most expensive! I decided to treat myself to a Carnivalle breakfast and although way over my breakfact budget it was a really special place to eat.
- Harry’s Bar – an equally expensive haunt was this bar just off St Mark’s square. The reason for the price tag here is for the former guests, from Ernest Hemingway to Alfred Hitchcock, that used to frequent it. I did get a lot of ‘free’ olives that I managed to polish off so my €10 prosecco was worth it (it wasn’t).
- The cafeteria at Palazzo Franchetti – a buffet is laid out in this big open room next door to the Palazzo Franchetti. There were around 20 different dishes and for just €15 you could go back as many times as you like so it was great value for money. Everything I tried tasted delicious.
- Ai Cacciatori – round the corner from my hostel on Guidecca was this local restaurant. Filled with locals who all seemed to know one another, excellent food and friendly waiters, this was by far my favourite place to eat (nothing to do with the complimenary limoncello they gave me at the end of the meal!)
My top tip – Always look up. Especially in the Churches – they are all so ornate and beautifully decorated they could be easily missed.
Where I stayed – The Generator Hostel, Guidecca. As far as hostels go, I think this one was pretty good. It was very clean and quiet and the beds were comfy enough. The only downside is that you are not on the main island but it’s only two stops away on the Vaparetto so it’s not a deal breaker.
Some more photos –