It seemed like a good idea at the time, the 7am VCE – LGW flight. Other people I knew were doing it, and it was so cheap, what was the worst that could happen? Well I’ve come through the other side, perhaps to tell everyone: DON’T DO IT KIDS. To state the bleedin’ obvious, Venice it has no roads – no not even ones that the guide book don’t talk about, which is what I expected. So being a city of canals, visitors are completely reliant on water buses, which start service at 5am. Cutting it fine isn’t the word.
The hypertension was worth it though – it’s truly a unique city, and all for wonderful reasons.
The reason for the visit was ostensibly Biennale, the major art festival which takes place every two years. Set just 20 minutes walk from San Marco’s Square, it hosts separate exhibitions from around the world, in addition to a themed central exhibition – this year ‘All The World’s Futures’. Fairly ambitious, then.
We won’t comment too much on the art itself – leaving that for the experts – but the experience itself was soul-nourishing, spending two whole days wandering around both Giardani and Arsenale, with each pavilion or exhibition expanding one’s mind in a small but significant way.
The opposite of musical festivals like Primavera, the festival during the day leaves you time to explore the city by night. Which is a shame, because there’s not too much going on. So leave party shoes at home (no really, Venice often floods) and instead concentrate on refined dinners, great wine, post-dinner walks to central squares, and early nights.
As is well-documented, Venice isn’t cheap, particularly not when looking for a tasty Italian meal. Tourist-friendly trattorias dot the warren of streets and offer reasonable options if you don’t mind laminated menus with country flags on them. Then there’s a foodie-layer of Osterias, above which are alluring wine bars like Chat Qui Rit. This particular establishment holds the essence of an Italian eaterie, with an extensive wine list by glass or bottle and tasty bites – and price tags to go with. Lucky for us, Italy is the home of Prosecco, so is €7 a glass. Winner.
For a restaurant experience, up your price range and expectations. It’s only right that at least one meal is enjoyed overlooking the famous Venice waters, and there are few better places to enjoy a canal side evening than De Pisis Restaurant. Attached to the Bauer Hotel, a five-star destination hotel on the banks of the Grand Canal that’s brimming with Italian opulence.
Fittingly, the restaurant is just as grand, with a range of well-thought out dishes – our favourite was the pumpkin ravoli with red pepper prawns. The creamy pumpkin filling was complimented by shade of almond from the amaretto, leading to a smooth and exemplary dish.
But they saved the best until last. The chocolate bar dessert was spot-on: rich with flavour but light enough after a heavy meal. With a bottle of wine to share, the meal was e180 for two starters, two mains and a dessert to share – a steal at Venetian prices.
We paid just as much for a meal at Caffe Centrale, which was hit-and-miss. Though the hits – the burrata with delicately flavoured tomatoes – were a triumph, the deconstructed mojito for dessert (featuring rum caviar lime sorbet and ice, topped with powdered mint) was better in idea than in execution.
For a very much constructed mojito, we went to the Skyline bar. But if you prefer, head to Piazza San Marco, find a seat, and people-watch until the wee hours.
A weekend is far too short to fully discover a city comprised solely of scores of nooks and crannies. We will return – just on reasonably-timed flights.