In November I found myself in Italy on a whim. I sound fancy when I say that because who travels to another continent on a whim unless they’re fancy, but let’s just say I had an unexpected opportunity to fly the coop for a couple of days and Venice was where I found myself two days later.
It was the few days of the biennale and my first time in Venice. Five days of rugging up (it was 3 or less degrees the entire time. Fuck u people who look good in cold weather, I look like an unmade bed.) and looking at art and finding bacari (little wine bars) to eat cicchetti and hanging out with new friends in the colourful little island town of Burano and buying all the beautiful glass I could possibly haul back from Murano. Let’s just say I’m glad the flight was free.
I don’t have a whole lot of tips because so much of my trip involved art. Side note: I prefer the Kochi biennale (we made a whole issue for LOVER), but I did enjoy many of the countries pavilions, especially those that I felt were contextually relevant or located outside of the two exhibition sites, Arsenale and Giardini. Iceland for instance, had a really wonderful offsite one with a makeshift cafe on the island of Giudecca (from which you can take in beautiful views of the main island).
Honestly I feel conflicted about even posting this because Venice is an ecological nightmare - it’s overrun with visitors in the summer and thanks to a heady mix of global warming and cruiseship tourism, it’s sinking.
- So go in the off season. Summer smells in Venice anyway on top of there being way too many bodies. I went in November and though it wasn’t warm, it was beautiful with very little jostling for space with other tourists, no big boats and no icky stench. Go to Venice if you’re a responsible tourist, otherwise I didn’t send you.
- Ride the water taxi down the Grand Canal during the day, it’s the most incredible boat ride and it’s included if you have a pass. (P.S. Get a pass as soon as you get in because those rides really add up.)
- Gondolier rides are touristy and hella expensive - if you have money to splurge, by all means, go ahead, but a much quicker journey is via traghetto, a shared gondola ‘ferry’ which takes you just across the canal. Great if you want a picture, or need to get to the other quickly as we did when we were on our bacari trail - scroll down for recos.
- Go to Quadrilatero, the old market. If you’re not in the market for produce, there are bars around the old square that are really nice for hanging at the window sill of with drinks.
- Don’t buy shitty souvenirs. I mean this goes for pretty much everywhere but especially in Venice where there are replicas of cheap glass and a thousand stores selling China-made plastic keyrings. Buy one thing but make it worth your while. Venice has a rich tradition of craft - masks, glassware, marbled paper, leather goods. I bought a leather phone book for my grandmother at Il Mercante Veneziano, a quaint atelier run by the craftsman himself.
- Go to Murano and Burano. Pictures in the next post!
Lastly eat cichetti. Cichetti are the tapas of Venice, two-bite-sized finger foods like polpetti (meatballs) and crostini topped with ham or cod or other deliciousness. You can’t go wrong with drinking vino and eating cicchetti at these bacari on your visit.
Al Arco: We went around noon to Al Arco and a whole bunch of gondoliers in stripy shirts were on their lunch breaks sipping wine and eating tiny sandwiches. Oh Italy, ILY.
Da Mori: This bar is so atmospheric, it feels like a date, even if your only romantic interest is the cichetti.
Osteria da Moro: One of the nicest places I ate ciccheti was on Giudecca, the island across the water - where I took in the view, drank prosecco and ate polpetti for breakfast.
Cantina do Spade: This is a fun spot to eat cicchetti around a communal table and drink wine in the evening.
Nota bene: On my first night in Venice I accidentally ordered by sight at Cantina and what I thought were cicchetti ending up being mains (apparently pointing at plates coming out of the kitchen while saying ‘what’s that? I want it.’ to the server isn’t quite how you do it). So Venice’s famous cheap eats ended up costing me 50 something euros but who’s complaining when you’re up to your ears in stuffed squid, gnocchi, octopus salad, baccala with polenta, fresh mozzarella, and a warm cabbage salad. Yeah, not me.