Basta! Basta! Enough! Enough! She said. I looked and I saw an elegant old lady holding a wooden cane in her right hand. You could see she was upset, her husband tried to reason with her but she wouldn’t hear it! Then her phone rang, she answered with an irritated voice, pronto? Hello? Ah Antonella! I guessed her daughter. He moved uncomfortable in his chair. She began, then it all came pouring out! Since this morning, your father … he refuses … imagine that he … can you believe that? She went on and on and I smiled. I felt happy. I was on a bus ride from Mestre to Venice, anxious once again to start exploring Venice in winter.
We always stay in Mestre, a nice mainland suburb of Venice. It is very convenient, particularly if you are driving like us. You have a safe place to keep your car as you can’t take it to Venice and several buses a day to take you to the city, just 20 minutes away. Hotels are also cheaper than in Venice. We were on a long weekend profiting from the catholic holiday December 8, that celebrates the ascent to heaven of the virgin Mary. To think that you leave Vienna and 6 hours later you can be in Venice is wonderful.
Fog greeted us in that early morning of December 5, there was a chilly breeze blowing from the Adriatic but my spirit felt warm and welcomed once again. And there she was!
Right away I noticed something was missing. The hordes of tourists that usually take over the streets of Venice. I enjoyed the calm and relaxed atmosphere of a saturday morning. Venetians seemed to have taken over their city. I looked into the cafes and felt at home. Italians, like Portuguese, like to start the day with coffee, ristretto, espresso, cappuccino and many other variants. Always strong and wonderfully scented. Venetians also like to have a shot of hot chocolate. To accompany the drinks, a freshly baked pastry is the perfect match. I follow this wonderful custom and feel ready. I’m grateful I can once more take my time, enjoy the architecture and the wonderful canals without being hit by a selfie stick or a backpack.
We had no major plans, just a morning walk to the market. Rialto market is famous and a mandatory visit when in Venice but today I had planned to visit a specific part of the market, the “Pesheria” or fish market. There is nothing like a market to find out what the locals eat, what is fresh, what is more popular.
Looking at all the fresh fish, I wish I could follow the example of the Venetians, buy something and take it home, if home was in Venice. I could roast a whole “Branzino” or sea bass with potatoes and vegetables. I like the simple approach, extra virgin olive oil, a few cloves of garlic, thyme, sea salt, pepper. One can always dream …
Seafood is always present as well, cuttlefish with ink, squids, octopus, several varieties of prawns, you name it. I wandered from fish stall to fish stall, admiring and even envying the Venetians. I wondered what sort of dishes would be created from all these fresh ingredients. Besides the cool tattooed fish mongers, gondoliers seemed to enjoy the market atmosphere as well.
And it was nice to once again admire the skill of the fish monger. Lacking a sea and the fish and seafood choice found in Italy, good fish mongers are hard to find in Austria.
After a brief stop at the vegetable market, looking around at the offer, finding familiar products like these delicious “castraure” or small artichokes and watching people enjoying their weekend shopping
You turn your attention to the canals just a few steps away and the architecture around the market. I felt I had never noticed certain details, for the first time I wasn’t rushing, I could take all the time in the world. No plans, no schedules, just letting ourselves go like the flow of the water canals and enjoy the city.
We were getting hungry but we did not want to eat at the usual tourist traps so we decided to follow the locals. Under the arcades not far out from the market and in side streets we noticed there was a lot of “Osterias”. These are small restaurants who serve drinks and simple but delicious food. Usually the menu is not very big and offers local dishes with pasta, meat or fish. There are also a variety of small tapas you can choose from. On a weekend these are lively places, bustling with local clients who due to the limited places inside, end up spilling into the street, holding a glass of wine and often having bite size tapas.
After purposely getting lost on a series of side streets and having difficulty in finding a free table we finally got lucky at Cantina do Spade, one of the oldest Osterias in Venice. We managed to have the last not reserved table and were surrounded by locals, not one tourist in sight. After walking for so many hours in the cold we felt we needed something warm and comforting. We chose gnocchi with a meat sauce and tagliatelle with a sword fish sauce. Food was great, the lively conversations all around us and the nice service made us feel at home.
I strongly advise you do the same. The saying when in Rome do as the Romans can be applied to Venice as well. When in Venice, definitely be a Venetian. Observe, do what they do, try some of the local dishes. Above everything else, enjoy the happy atmosphere, listen to the loud conversations, have a little wine and relax.
Another advice is, get lost in Venice. Don’t worry, you will eventually find your way back to some important landmark. There are always signs pointing either to Piazza San Marco, Piazza Roma or Rialto. Put the map away and just walk aimlessly. Enjoy the lack of tourists this time of the year and let the path choose you.
That is exactly what we did, that and our 5 year old daughter who had great fun pointing out the way and photo opportunities for Mummy. I can’t help feeling proud, she is as observant and visual as me. The narrower the streets and alleyways, the better for her. Often ending up in dead ends at the canals but always with amazing architecture, interesting details or happy encounters.
And yes, sometimes the canals do smell badly. There is an unpleasant scent that can greet you in certain places but still your other senses prevail, making your olfactory sense seem almost obsolete in the presence of such beauty.
As usual we tried to follow the sun as far as we could.
Until we finally reached Piazza San Marco. There we finally saw groups of tourists so I pointed my camera up trying to escape all the excitement and photo opportunities around me.
The light was slowly fading away and that is when you can catch the Grand Canal in all its glory.
It was almost the end of service for the gondoliers although some were still waiting around for possible clients.
All that was left to do was to wait patiently for that moment when the sun slowly starts its descent.
The sunset in Venice is always breathtaking. We then slowly started walking towards it to catch the bus back to our hotel.
In the bus I watched a couple in love, kissing, a big contrast to that morning. I felt grateful for being in Venice once more. The Viennese cold, a sore throat and a bit of weakness that had accompanied me to Venice, did not stand a chance today. All was totally ignored in favor of a blissful day, where plans and maps were overlooked and forgotten. Letting go and enjoying the special moments was the motto. I wondered what tomorrow would bring.
We woke up the next day to a misty Venice. Parts of the city were behind transparent veils of fog. But at times it was like a painter’s brush strokes had left hints of colors here and there among the prevailing grayness around.
We went to the canals. The vaporettos looked like ghostly apparitions but we were determined to get into one. We took the first one to Murano. Again we were surrounded by Italians. You could tell some had come from other regions taking advantage of the holiday and long weekend.
Murano although beautiful as always was not our final destination though.
No glass factories or museums this time, we had already done that the first time in Venice. This time it was just a convenient stop where we would take another vaporetto to visit the less popular island of St. Erasmo, considered the vegetable garden of Venice.
Fog accompanied us all the way to St. Erasmo, you could only perceive shadows along the way.
When the vaporetto left us on the island, only one other person came off. He was obviously a local as he took his bicycle from the station, one of the most popular transports in the island. He looked at us with curiosity as visitors must be a rare sight in winter.
We walked for an hour following the main road. The landscape was just beautiful, like bucolic countryside paintings.
Being winter this is the season where some fields recover and get ready for the rebirth in spring.
But we still found a few active vegetable fields.
And what to say about the canals, the fog and the quietness made it all seem magical.
You can walk for miles and never see a soul. We must have seen three cars passing in total during our walk and the only inhabitants we ended up finding on our way didn’t seem to mind our presence.
When it was time to say goodbye catching the next hourly vaporetto, we felt happy we got to see the granary vegetable garden of Venice. The misty atmosphere made it all more beautiful. We won’t forget the impressive farm fields and even the spiritual signs on the way.
Next stop was our favorite island, Burano. We had lunch at a small restaurant and it was great to have cuttlefish with ink again. Although we know it well by now and have visited the wonderful lace museum, I can’t get tired of Burano’s colorful buildings and canals.
When we finally managed to reach Venice again after what seemed an eternity as there were so many Italian tourists and not enough vaporettos, we were tired but happy we had taken the day to visit the islands. On our way back to the hotel, there was still time to say goodnight to the canals and thank the fog for making my pictures even more inspiring to me.
The canals greeted us the next morning to what would be our final day in Venice. Fog was stubbornly lingering on around the city. We wanted to visit the Peggy Guggenheim collection this time around. Being one of Europe’s best Modern Art Museums it had eluded us the previous times we were in Venice.
To find it we went through other side canals we hadn’t seen before. It was a more residencial area of the city and it was bustling with activity.
There were trade boats in the canals along with market boats selling fresh vegetables and fruits among other things.
Always following the canal path we finally reached the Peggy Guggenheim Collection at Palazzo Venier dei Leoni.
When we entered the gardens, there was a bench that caught my attention
The masterpiece collection is amazing and by itself would be worth it but there is much more. As this was also Peggy Guggenheim’s residence you follow in her footsteps from room to room. You see part of her furniture along with her works of art, where she ate, where she slept, where she worked or relaxed.
And the Grand Canal is always present through the windows.
But also through doors. I wonder how many times she must have come down those steps and enjoyed this view or even a gondola ride.
Another favorite place was Peggy’s sculpture garden which is a pleasure to explore.
And finally there she is, her ashes buried alongside her beloved babies as she used to call them: her dogs.
Light was fading when we left the museum and before saying goodbye to the city I wanted to pass at the Marco Polo International Bookstore which has Italian but also English books and a few French and German books as well. It was nice to browse around and I enjoyed in particular their section on Venice.
Time had come to bid our farewells. We were returning home the next day but not before visiting the wonderful Ceccon family whose craftsmanship produces the best Panettone and Foccacia Veneziana I ever tasted.
I will always remember fondly those last few moments of light, the last colorful details, those narrow passageways and the dark dreamy canals.
It was time to leave Venice to the Venetians once more …