Friday, June 27, 2008


It really is as romantic as everyone says - bridges overlooking the canals, gondolas, old cathedrals, public squares, outdoor cafes and restaurants and gelato stands do their best to charm you as you sigh with pleasure. I'd been expecting the worst tourist trap of all time, and that our stopover really was just to see what all the fuss was about, but I found myself wanting to stay longer.

What surprised me most was how unbelievably different Venice was from where we just were. It's a small enough city that you can get around on foot easily, which made it ideal for our very brief stay. D and I spent exactly 1 day in Venice, far too short, but our budget wouldn't really have allowed us to stay much longer (a not-very-fancy hotel will run you at least $200/night). We stayed at the Hotel Atlantide, close to the train station, so that we wouldn't spend too much of our precious little time dragging our suitcases across the city. The hotel was nothing special, just a good basic room with clean sheets and everything you really need, but I would steer clear of the buffet breakfast - probably the worst we'd eaten in Europe. What was funny was that just last night we were watching Michael Palin's Around the World in 80 days and noticed that he stayed at exactly the same place! What a coincidence.

Wandering through the narrow streets

We walked through the narrow streets and wound our way down through the Rialto Market to the Piazza San Marco, mostly just taking in the views of the hundreds of canals, boats and bridges along the way.

Pasta coloured with squid ink, beet juice, saffron and other things. I bet only tourists buy these, but they were still fun and pretty to look at.

Rialto bridge and market area

Piazza San Marco was lovely, but as expected, an absolute tourist zoo, with the most English we'd heard being spoken our whole trip thus far. The tourist thing to do appeared to be posing with the pigeons eating out of your hands, but to me it looked like they were going to be eaten alive (the little kiddies looked scared). That, or dressing your small children in the striped gondolier souvenier t-shirt and straw hat and then making them pose with the pigeons. Luckily, I limited my tourist shopping to some Murano glass trinkets.

Basilica San Marco

Side of Doge's Palace (I think)

Cafe in the square

We had some very nice food in Venice, much to my surprise, because I'd heard and read a lot about places offering 'fixed tourist menus' and was worried we might not be able to escape it. When you wander about 15 minutes away from the train station though, you start finding some delicious places to eat. What made it a challenge, however, was that the menus ceased to have any English on them and we had to rely on an awkward combination of pointing, a bit of Italian, English, even French, and pointing and nodding. It all worked out in the end.

Can you believe these are marzipan fruit?

Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia

We had a great dinner at a little place called the Trattoria Allantica Mola, following suit with other diners by ordering the squid ink pasta with chunks of tender squid,a Venetian specialty (later I found out it was cuttlefish, which is similar). We sort of accidentally ordered the grilled fish of the day, without any idea what is was, how it would arrive, how big it was, or how much it cost (D had also just accidentally ordered a whole bottle of red when he said, 'vino rosso per favore', so perhaps this contributed to our ordering enthusiasm). Lucky for us, the fish was an exciting surprise, and absolutely delicious. I think I was most thrilled with watching it fileted tableside, so neat! There were four fishies on the platter, along with some grilled scampi:

Speedy filet and deboning work.

Sadly, we never found out what we were eating, but it was delicious, and at that point we'd shared a whole bottle of wine, so it was lost on us to bother asking any questions we may later have been glad to have asked. We were pretty happy.

I leave you with my favourite sneaky shot of Venice:

'A mullet so fine the man next to him appears to have fainted' - D

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