Somerset in the Floating City – An Exploration of Venice

Venice’s beauty, in my opinion, lies in its ability to resist the strong force of modernity and technological advancement. The numerous selfie-stick sellers aside, when you walk through the maze of floating alleyways, it’s as if you have been transported back in time. The absence of glass skyscrapers and a constant drone of traffic is, for me, what makes this place so magical.

This is why, on a recent trip here with my boyfriend, my favourite activity was simply roaming the streets and soaking up the architecture and culture. Having said this, I will share with you some specific sights, bars and eateries that I think should definitely make the to-see list.

Gelateries

Gelateria il Doge

Being a couple in love with all things ice-cream, our late-afternoon arrival into sunny Venice meant that we were in agreement; setting off in search of the perfect Gelateria would be a great way to begin our exploration. We located one with rave reviews in Campo Saint Margherita called Gelateria del Doge. It’s fair to say that it definitely lived up to our expectations. In need of a pick-me-up, I tried coffee and caramel and Jake had Meringue, a flavour which he would thoroughly recommend!

Suso

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The following day saw us head over to the main commercial area of Venice, which is situated in district named San Marco & Palazzo Ducale. On turning a corner we found we had to battle our way through a large number of queuing people; it didn’t take me long to discover that they were queuing for ice-cream outside a bustling joint called Suso. I know the majority of us hate queueing, but at least when there’s a queue for food, it’s usually a sign it’s going to be good. A must-try is the special house flavour: Orient Express. With its mixture of ginger, cinnamon and caramel, it doesn’t fail to hit the spot!

Gelateria Ca’ d’oro & Gelateria di Nutura

On our final day, with the distance between us and the delicious Italian gelato looming, we felt it was only right to try two places. In the afternoon we found ourselves in The Ghetto, being drawn into Gelateria Ca’ d’oro. I treated my taste-buds to a creamy white chocolate flavour whilst Jake had refreshing banana. During our trip, we caught wind of a well-known parlour called Gelateria di Natura which can be found in three different parts of the city. After our last meal and a couple of drinks, we thought it only right to try this place out too. Jake had cookie and I, no word of a lie, had the best coffee ice-cream I’d ever tasted! Sitting in the dimly lit Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio enjoying our gelato was the best end to an incredible trip.

Famous Sights

Don’t worry – I’ve finished talking about ice-cream now; they were worth me rambling on for a bit though! Now onto the sights…

Saint Mark’s Square

One thing I’ve always found when visiting cities is that the famous landmarks always fall short of my high expectations and that my most of my enjoyment comes from wandering the more underrated streets. When visiting Paris a few years ago, I went to the Eifel tower and found the grass in front of it, which is always perfectly green and neat in the pictures, to be all brown and covered in litter. Similarly, St Mark’s Square usually looks so serene in the pictures, but in reality, it is heaving with people. This, however, doesn’t necessarily detract from the magnificence and intricacy of the architecture. It is for this reason that it does make it onto my list of must-see sights. What’s great is that it’s free to actually enter the basilica, though there are places inside which require a fee. We found that even if the queue looks long, it does move relatively quickly. You aren’t allowed to take big bags in with you though, so be sure to store these in the luggage area before queuing!

Outside in the square, a high tide causes the water from the canals to come up through small holes in the ground and form large puddles. These make great reflections and allow you to enjoy the scenery from a whole new angle. Just be careful not to get wet feet!

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According to our gondolier, at 427 years old the Rialto Bridge is the oldest of the four bridges which cross the Grand Canal. It is no wonder then that, like Saint Mark’s Square, it is a very busy tourist attraction. Whilst the view from the bridge is spectacular, if you make your way down to the canal-side you can gain a better perspective on the grandeur of this ancient construction. This is one sight that I would definitely recommend seeing in both daylight and sunset. There is something about the way the pinky-orange light hits the side of the bridge that makes it look completely different in the evening.

Gallerie dell’Accademia

Wanting to learn a little about the Venetian history, we decided to check out the old Venetian art over the more modernist works in the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. The gallery features many religious pieces, so it’s worth brushing up on your knowledge of Saints, in particularly Madonna, before you go. What I found most impressive about the pieces was their size; they covered entire walls and ceilings and contained many intriguing figures. My favourite works were those depicting Heaven and Hell. It was fascinating to see what the afterlife looked like in the imagination of this particular Venetian artist.

Top tip: If you’re aged 18-25 you can get discounted entry at a lot of the galleries in Venice. Instead of costing us €15 each to get in, it was €7.50. Bargain!

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The Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta is, in my opinion, a somewhat underrated building. Its beauty can be seen across the canal from Saint Mark’s Square, and it intrigued me. So much so, that we made a plan to visit it on our last morning. Again, both the exterior and interior architecture is impressive, but what I preferred about this building is its ability to let in more sunlight. It felt light and airy, and showcased many religious artworks that were just as grand as those in the gallery. Although it’s a little bit out the way from the hustle and bustle of the main city, I think it’s definitely worth checking out!

Hidden Gems

Keeping along the line of underrated places – there are many hidden gems that we stumbled across on our trip, and their surprise factor made them all the more beautiful!

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One of my favourite finds was the Acqua Alta Library. In the centre of the satisfyingly messy bookshelves is a gonodola, again, messily filled with books. Even the yard in the back has a staircase constructed of old books. If you’re a lover of literature then it’s definitely worth checking out. Despite most of the titles being Italian, there are a few English ones to get your hands on. Why not grab a copy and take a pew in the gondola moored out the back? Or if you have less time, it’s another great place for a photo.

Arsenale

The Arsenale is a medieval ship-yard in the Castello region of Venice. What I loved about this sight was its serenity. It was quiet and almost eerie. The water that ran underneath the bridge and between the two clock towers was incredibly still. After what had been quite a busy morning, we were able to slow down, take a pit-stop and plan our evening away from the hustle and bustle.

Ponte di Chiodo

The abundance of some 400 bridges in Venice would initially make this sight seem very unimpressive. However, this is the only one in the city without any sides. It exists in a quiet area, tucked behind the main strip of The Ghetto, but it still manages to attract a small crowd. It makes a great photo spot and is especially good if you’ve had your fill of regular bridges, you know, the ones with sides!

Food and Drink

There are many great places to wine and dine in Venice, hence why I won’t bore you (like I did with the ice-cream) with everywhere we went. Due to our reasonably low budget, the places we visited were relatively cheap, but they still served up great quality.

If its cheap drinks and a cosy atmosphere you’re after, look no further than Osteria del Filo. They do a fabulous version of the Italian cocktail – the Spritz – at just €2.50 a pop! It is very popular with the locals so visiting here is a great way to soak up the culture. Everyone usually gathers outside to drink. If you’re struggling to find it, then just head for the buzz of conversation. We enjoyed it so much, we went back twice!

Wanting to save ourselves for our evening meal, we often ate lunch on the go. There is an endless choice of bakeries selling pizza slices, calzones, and focaccia – so it’s not easy to go hungry! Unfortunately, Venice lacks places to sit and enjoy a picnic lunch, with many signs warning you off certain areas. I would recommend heading for a square, because you’ll usually come across a bench there.

Again, there is lots of choice when it comes to deciding where to eat an evening meal. So much so, we found ourselves wandering around for hours looking at menus, always thinking there would be another, potentially better place around the corner. My favourite of the places we ate was a quaint little restaurant called Trattoria al Ponte del Megio, which looked out onto a busy alleyway and a small bend in a canal. We enjoyed a plate of antipasti and some home-made pasta whilst watching the world go by and planning the rest of our trip.

So now that I’ve given you a flavour of what to expect from beautiful Venice, let me share with you my 3 top tips:

  1. Toilet Fees – it can cost anything up to €2 to use the bathroom in Venice. We found that going somewhere you know will be cheap and buying a drink or snack to use the toilet will mean you get something to show for the money you spend.
  2. Walk – for me, walking is the best way to see Venice. Much of its beauty is hidden down small alleyways which can’t be reached on water-taxis or buses.
  3. Go on a Gondola ride – Getting a Gondola is a must whilst in Venice. Nowhere else in the world is it acceptable to pay €80 for a 30 minute boat ride, but it really is a great way to get a new perspective on the city.

So there you have it; I hope reading about our little trip to Venice will come in handy one day if you get the chance to visit.

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