I love Italy. Of all the countries that Mrs Departures and I have visited, it is one of our most favourite places. We have travelled across most of the country and have countless favourite places and as we all started to emerge from Covid restrictions late last year, we decided that our first trip abroad would be to Venice.
Many moons ago early on in our relationship, I lived near Lake Garda and Mrs Departures lived in London so we used to meet in Venice or Verona every few weeks and as a result, years later it still has a special place in our hearts.
After spending a few days in Valencia first which you can read about here, we flew to Treviso and got the shuttle bus to the island. Even at night in the dark, arriving in Venice is something special. We were really looking forward to spending time here seeing the many beautiful sights on offer and especially getting the ‘bus’ on the Grand Canal with better views than bus rides normally offer.
We don’t generally carry much with us luggage-wise on short trips, so we walked from the bus station, crossing various bridges to eventually get to our hotel using Google Maps. I’d usually recommend getting lost in Venice as part of the experience, but for now we just wanted to get to a hotel and find a local bar for a glass of something.
We had chosen the San Lio Tourist House for its central location just around the corner from the Rialto bridge and after checking in, we went straight out and found the wonderful Bacarando bar and cicchetteria which I had read about while doing research for the trip.
With a dizzying array of cicchetti available (kind of Venetian tapas), we ordered three or four and found a small table in the bar area where a band were already playing jazzy, blues and rock & roll covers.
Our drinks arrived – Negroni and Aperol Spritz – and we had a toast to celebrate the fact that we were back in Venice again. The band even did a cover of ‘Stray Cat Strut’, a song by one of my favourite bands, the Stray Cats. Surely, that’s a sign of some kind!
After a while there, we then strolled through the stunning colonnades surrounding Piazza San Marco because you kind of have to. It may be one of the most touristy places in the world but it is also one of the most unique and beautiful, especially late at night in November with very few people around.
As the early riser of the two of us, I tend to go for a wander in the morning to find coffee places and somewhere nice for breakfast. It was a Wednesday morning, so it was interesting to see people going about their daily business, going to work and taking the kids to school.
The school run here is inevitably different as there are no cars, but it still involves rushed parents and kids with backpacks bigger than they are trying to keep up with them.
I ended up in Farini which was a bakery about 30 seconds away from the hotel. Turns out it’s a chain, but the baked goods on offer were exceptional, as was the coffee. The smells were still so reminiscent of favourite bakeries in places where I have lived in Italy.
Though very modern, like all coffee shops, Farini also has that role as a social equalizer where people from every part of the community would pop in on the way to work for a coffee and a baked good of some description. My favourite was the croissant with pistachio cream. I love how Italians make pastries and coffee an essential part of their day. My kind of thinking.
On this trip I noticed that many of the more traditional coffee shops/bars had been replaced by these more contemporary ones. Progress, I suppose. Or maybe even, a consequence of the pandemic.
We later bought a couple of 24-hour boat tickets near Piazza San Marco and travelled down the Grand Canal trying not to take hundreds of pictures of absolutely everything we saw. Despite us being away for a long time and Covid happening, it’s strangely reassuring to see Venice hasn’t really changed all that much.
We got off at the Dorsoduro stop to have a wander around there as it was an area we didn’t know that well and also to find a bar called Cantine del Vino già Schiavi which we had seen on a TV show called Somebody Feed Phil that we like – Venice is featured in Season 2 Episode 1.
What a fantastic place! A glass of wine and a couple of delicious cicchetti each there and we were on our way again, this time to see what things were like over in the Cannaregio neighbourhood. Another wonderful thing about Venice is how walkable it is. Admittedly, it kind of has to be as there are no roads to drive on, but it’s a lovely feeling walking around a city without cars and being surrounded by water and history at every turn.
We stopped off in a local bar and I was astonished by the cost for just a coffee – €5.50 for a double espresso! In the past, the area around Piazza San Marco inevitably was and still is expensive as it’s the tourist centre, but years later, it looks like that area has now spread across the rest of the city. I guess things had changed after all.
We then went back to the hotel for a snooze and in the evening we came across a basic, tiny and charming bar called Al Merca on the other side of the Rialto bridge where there was only room to stand outside. You know the drill by now, a glass or two of wine and a cicchetti or two there, this time followed by a stroll over the Rialto bridge at night which led to another trip back to Bacarando as we had liked it so much the night before, and we returned to the hotel tired and happy.
As we knew Venice quite well and had seen the usual sights such as the Doge’s Palace and St Mark’s Basilica in Piazza San Marco in the past, there was no need to do that on this trip, so we continued to enjoy meandering, loosely following a list of things to do and places to see that I had put together and bumping into things that piqued our interest on the way.
Mrs Departures is a big fan of Murano glass and on one of our morning wanders, she remembered seeing a glass shop in the Arsenale and Ospedale neighbourhoods, which were both new areas for me, so we went looking for it. And this is where we got lost.
Google Maps can help but a combination of very wet weather that day together with all the tiny nooks and crannies of the city that make internet access unreliable conspired to make finding the shop more challenging than we had anticipated.
But getting lost is an essential part of the Venetian tourist experience and I highly recommend it as you never know what you may come across on the way.
We took refuge in Cafe Libano and then braved the weather where we then came across Ae Forcoe, which became our new favourite bar. Finding an interesting bar you like is just one of the benefits of getting lost in this city. The dilemma that faced us though – was 11.30am too early for a glass of wine?
I think you know the answer to that.
Ae Forcoe is very much a local bar with a good range of food and charming ambience and it isn’t too far from the centre. Spending time there was also nice just to get in from the rain for a few minutes.
Later that day, we visited the incredible opera house Teatro La Fenice. It was originally built in the 18th century, has survived three fires (its most recent reopening was in 2004) and is unquestionably the most beautiful opera house interior I have ever seen. You can almost touch its history which has included premieres of works by Verdi and Rossini, as well as performances by Maria Callas.
A late lunch today was at the delightfully traditional Ostaria Campana for local speciality, bigoli in salsa (thick buckwheat pasta in an anchovy and onion sauce, a local speciality) and then back to the hotel for a post-lunch siesta. We have lived in Andalucia for a few years after all and have picked up a few habits there.
As we had only popped into Ae Forcoe earlier in the day, we went back there in the evening for some quality time and it didn’t disappoint.
The following morning, I found the delightful Pasticceria Ponte delle Paste just around the corner from our hotel. It was raining so much that morning and I fortunately didn’t need to go too far for good coffee and pastries. They even had another of my favourites (I have a few), bombolini con crema.
We got the boat to the island of Murano later to have a look around there. Mrs Departures went to spend time browsing in the many glass shops and I had a walk around getting a feel for the place and met her later.
It’s an unusual place and definitely worth a visit, but one of my favourite things about Murano and I realised about Venice in general was travelling by boat. You get to see Venice from all kinds of angles and you also get to see people who live there living their lives, going to and from work. Even the emergency services use boats which you are naturally aware of but it still strikes you as strange when you see a boat ambulance with a siren wailing or parked in the hospital jetty.
I had read about Il Mercante during my research for the trip and so we headed there in the evening and though a bit of a trek from the centre, it was well worth it. With its 1920’s music and decor, interesting cocktails and fabulous cicchetti (faves included the nduja and mascarpone), we loved the place. The sort of place that would be perfect for a big birthday at some point in the future perhaps!
It was so wonderful being in Italy again after all this time. My Italian may now be practically non-existent (I got a degree in it 25 years ago and my professor would be ashamed of my level now), but it was enough to get by. It was also such a lovely feeling knowing that Venice still has a special place in our hearts.
Like much of Italy, with the language, food, coffee, pastries, wine, history, culture and architecture, especially in a place like Venice, you are just so spoiled for beauty everywhere.
We caught the first boat to the train station at 5.30am the next day to get our flight back to Valencia, so we had a relatively early last night.
You may have gathered from this post that Mrs Departures and I really enjoyed this trip. We’ll be back. And we’re not going to wait ten years this time!