The word “ghetto” comes from the Venetian dialect. The ghetto in Venice was once a restricted neighborhood, sealed off at night from the rest of the city by iron gates. Today, it is a bustling area, home to 5 synagogues, a museum, Kosher restaurant, and a very moving Holocaust memorial. Be sure to stop at the bakery there for dolce di veneziano, a slice of raisin bread pudding that will make you want more.
Peggy Guggenheim’s unusual palazzo looks modern, but was built in the 1700s and never finished beyond the first floor. It houses her collection of twentieth century art.
A visit the Rialto Market, located on the San Palo side of the Rialto Bridge is a colorful way to spend a morning. The seafood and produce couldn’t be fresher, and you are guaranteed to see items you’ve never seen before. Just remember, don’t touch the produce. Read on for more about that.
The Museo Storico Navale near the Arsenale chronicles Venice’s naval history. The ship models, some full sized and themselves works of art, provide a nice break from the abundance of masterpieces in other museums and churches.
Take a stroll to Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo to see the colossal church by the same name and called San Zanipolo by Venetians. Adjacent to it is the most ornate hospital you will ever see. Known as the Scuola Grande di San Marco, it dates back to the 1400s. On your way, pass by Santa Maria dei Miracoli, a marble wonder.
A trip to the coastal fishing town of Chioggia (key-oh-ga) and its wonderful seafood restaurants makes a good excursion and the transportation is free with your ACTV vaporetto pass. Take the #1 vaporetto to Lido, cross through the round about to the main street and then take bus #11 to Palestrina. At Palestrina, you switch from the bus to another boat. Along the way, you will travel the length of the Lido, journey on a ferry, pass the impressive sea wall, and see the stilted fishing shacks and fishing nets.
In odd numbered years, Venice hosts a major contemporary art show known as the Biennale di Venezia. Artists representing many nations set up exhibits at the two main locations, the Giardini garden and the Aresenale, as well as occupying various buildings throughout the city. The Beienale runs from June to November and to celebrate it, modern artworks spring up all over the city.
The Venice Film Festival, the oldest film festival in the world, is held every year at the end of August/beginning of September.Although the major venues are on the Lido, outdoor films are held in the evenings at some of the campos in Venice. Almost all of the films, if not in English, have English subtitles.
There are numerous opportunities for concerts in Venice. Vivaldi, a “local”, predominates. Two popular orchestras with a full schedule for concerts are Interpreti Veneziani at the San Vidal Church between the Accademia bridge and San Marco and Virtuosi di Venezia at Ateneo di San Basso in San Marco by the cathedral. Both have websites.
Shopping opportunities abound in Venice, although a lot of it is very “touristy.” Walk the shopping route from San Marco to the train station, or vice versa. For a diversion, cross over the Rialto bridge which is chock full of shops, turn left and walk back toward the Frari church. Souvenirs tend to be less expensive on the other side of the Rialto!
Every neighborhood has a grocery store; some are larger than others. As signage is minimal, names to look for are Billa and Coop. Although we in the US have only lately begun to popularize bringing our own shopping bags to the store, it has always been common in Europe. If you forget, you can buy plastic bags for a few cents. In Italy, in stores and at markets,you never touch the produce with your bare hands. At a small stand, point to what you want and the proprietor will fill the bag for you. In grocery stores, disposable plastic gloves are provided for selecting your fruit and vegetables. After placing them in the bags provided, you then take your items to the scale, weigh them, look at the accompanying chart, select the number that corresponds with the type of produce in your bag, and viola, the price sticker is printed.
For a true Venetian experience and inexpensive wine, look for the wine “fill up” shops. Bring in an empty plastic container such as a soda bottle and the proprietor will fill it up with your choice of wine from large jugs for less that 2 Euros. Not to fear, unless you are a top connoisseur, the wine really is good!
A true Venetian experience is to visit one of the bacari, local bars that serve tapas like food called cicchetti. Or, sit in one of the local campos (not San Marco; it’s too touristy) to sip an ombra, small glass of wine or spritz con Aperol. Aperol is an orange colored liqueur similar to Campari, but a little sweeter. It is mixed with Prosecco and a splash of soda for a refreshing appertivo. Campo Santa Margherita in Dorsoduro is a perfect location to sip an Aperol and observethe local color. If you pick a local’s spot, you will pay only 2 Euros for your Aperol; if you choose one more touristy, you may pay up to 7 Euros!
Venetian cuisine includes an abundance of fresh seafood.
Don’t let the black color of sepia al nero dissuade you from this flavorful dish of cuttlefish in its own ink. Usually it comes over spaghetti, but risotto alle seppie is also popular. Zuppa di Cozze is steamed mussels in a seasoned broth. Sardine in saor (sour vinegar sauce) is a popular appetizer. Polenta and Risottos are common, with risi e bisi (rice and peas) being the classic Venetian version. A seasonal accompaniment not to be missed is fiori di zucchini, fried zuccini blossoms. Local wines include soave, valpolicella, and bardolino. If you want a small carafe of wine, order “un cuarto” (1/4 liter); a larger carafe is “un mezzo” and a full liter carafe is “un litro.” Cappuccino is a breakfast drink; no self respecting Venetian would drink it after noon. Un cafe is typically an espresso; cafe Americano is watered down, more like what Americans are used to drinking.
Some recommended low key, moderately priced restaurants are:
- Dona Onesta – Dorsoduro 3922. Get off at the San Toma vaporetto stop, walk straight to a T, turn left and go over the iron bridge
- Ristorante all Madonna – Calle della Madonna – Near the Rialto Bridge on the San Paolo side
- Birraria la Corte – Campo San Polo on the far side from the church
- Ristorante all Conchiglia/Trattoria da Giorgio ai Greci – Fondamento dei Greci. These neighboring restaurants with canalside tables are located in back of St. Mark’s near the Greek Orthodox church.
- Taverna San Maurizio – Calle Zaguri, San Marco 2619. Near St. Mark’s, off of Campo San Maurizio.
Venice is used as a setting in many novels. Some favorites that give a good flavor of Venetian society are:
- “City of Falling Angels” by John Berendt. This author who wrote “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” takes on the colorful residents of Venice as he tells the story of the fire and rebuilding of the Fenice opera house. A nonfiction work that reads like a novel.
- ”A Venetian Affair” and “Lucia:A Venetian Life in the Age of Napoleon” by Andrea di Robilant chronicle the lives of his Venetian ancestors.
- There are soon to be 20 books in the Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery series by Donna Leon. They provide insight into daily life, politics, and justice in Venice.
Although there is much to see in Venice, the real joy of the city is to just wander about and get lost in the back calles. If you enjoy walking, you will never tire of it in Venice!