It took a third try and a change of seasons for me to fall in love with Venice. My other two visits were in July with kids in tow, and we barely got past the Piazza San Marco. A friend and I now went in January. Cold yet magical. Here was one perfect day.
We saunter out of our hotel and over the Accademia Bridge, pausing at the top to admire the classic Venetian view of the dome of La Salute. The mist is just lifting and the winter sun peeking out, creating that ethereal light loved by so many Renaissance artists. Our destination is Ca’ Rezzonico, a palazzo filled with sumptuous 18th century Venetian art. We meander past the stately homes in Dorsoduro and stop at a floating vegetable market—a gondola serving a more prosaic function than usual. Then we see it, a little bacaro perfect for a quick snack. We enter and find ourselves having to jostle with a half-dozen old men for elbow room at the tiny bar. We order espresso. They are downing glasses of red wine or spritz, the official Venetian cocktail made of fizzy water and liqueur.
It is not yet 11 in the morning.
Not to be outdone, we try the spritz as well and chat with the bartender: she is a feisty young Englishwoman who spent two years in Brooklyn, moved to Lake Como to ski and now calls Venice home. Watching her banter with the local patrons in lusty Italian gives rise to the improbable fantasy that maybe I’ll retire here and exchange English lessons for Italian ones. Ah someday..
Meanwhile the bar has emptied except for one particularly salty creature. He offers to buy me a drink, calls me bambina and loves having his photo taken, asking for repeat shots of wine so that we can capture the right toast on camera. A Voi, he shouts, To You! He eventually kisses my hand goodbye, saying he must meet up with friends (yeah, the bartender tells us in English, so they can all go to another bar and repeat the morning ritual). Fortified, we continue on our way.
Ca’ Rezzonico does not disappoint. We are able to ogle the Tinttorettos, Guardis and Canalettos at leisure with no summer hordes to compete with. Our next appointment awaits, a walk through the Jewish ghetto with friends we are to meet at the Sottoportico del Ghetto Vecchio. It is clear across town and we want to have lunch beforehand. The opportunity comes as we cross the sun-drenched Campo San Margherita, an unusually large square. Locals and tourists are sitting outside the caffé. We join them with our sandwiches and glasses of Presecco. Venetian meats, fish and vegetables are beyond compare but not so the bread: it is either very hard or what we are presently trying to swallow, dense white reminiscent of Wonder Bread. We watch the Italian love affairs with their dogs and eavesdrop on the next table where one young girl is tutoring another in English (If something goes wrong, say Bollocks!).
Alas, it being Saturday the shops in the ghetto are closed. We walk past a memorial to the Holocaust and emerge on Cannaregio’s busy Strada Nova. Our quest is the perfect pasticceria at which to buy dessert for tonight’s dinner. Our friends have rented an apartment and gone early to the outdoor Rialto Market. The rabbit they purchased is already marinating in oregano and lemon and will be simmered with sweet sausage. Accompanying it will be treviso, a type of radicchio that resembles long tapering fingers, nutty Jerusalem artichoke and polenta. The tiramisu torte at 29€ costs twice as much as our breakfast and lunch but no matter, we are ready for the feast.
But there is one more stop to make before dinner. It is at the chocolatier our friends have found in San Polo and made daily pilgrimages to. The hot chocolate is served in Dixie-size cups and eaten with a spoon. It is dense melted chocolate flavored with cinnamon, ginger or chilies or served plain and topped with chocolate-covered crisps. Picture six normally voluble grownups unable to speak for the next 10 minutes, with dreamy faraway looks, slowly licking tiny spoons. Choosing which chocolates to take home is a 1/2 hour discussion. I finally leave with two boxes, one of the more traditional variety and another of the shop’s specialty, fruit partially dipped in dark chocolate. The lemons, orange slices, kiwis and berries gleam in the little white box, begging to be bitten into.
Dinner is as good as it promised to be. Even though our hotel is directly across the canal from our friends’ apartment, Venice’s lack of bridges across the Grand Canal means a long walk home. We cross the Rialto Bridge, passing several campos filled with young people out late on Saturday night. Just as suddenly we have left the gaiety behind and plunged into a dark warren of narrow lanes. Our footsteps sound disconcertingly loud since they are not competing with any other street or traffic noise. It is eerie and mysterious, as if we are the only humans on a giant movie set. With relief we reach our hotel and enter our jewel of a room. It has fabric covered walls in red and cream, long drapes, Baroque furniture and warm lights everywhere. The fog closes in thickly as we drop off to sleep, perchance to dream of our next visit to this magical city.
If you go, here are some suggestions:
Rialto Market – daily except Sunday, with more color and history than Union Square Market. Go early, it’s over by midmorning!
Palazzo Sant’Angelo – Lovely 4-star hotel with great location and elegant Venetian feel.
VizioVirtù Cioccolateria – Don’t walk, run to this shop which advertises itself as Chocolate No Taboos.
This article was originally published on The Three Tomatotes.