Lost in Venice
The joys of getting hopelessly lost, in the district of Castello
Unbelievable, but true. The first time I arrived in Venice, I felt as if I had been teletransported from mainland Mestre to an incredibly ornate, mind-bogglingly beautiful, and fantastically fictitious floating funpark, created for all the millions (an estimated 22 million a year!) of gullible old romantics just like me.
Fortunately, it didn't take long to see beyond the flotillas of swarming tourists, the gaggles of gargling gondolieri, the troops of trinket-sellers and the endless tourist traps, to discover the Venice which I now adore.
Not surprisingly, given that the city was built on water, the only way to quickly and comfortably get around Venice is by boat. This said, for me, the best way to see and, more importantly, get lost, in Venice - is on foot!
Venice's art gardens
More often than not, my day in Venice starts with a trip to the Biennale gardens. I've learnt my lesson, and these days, so as to avoid the confusion along the crowded Riva degli Schiavoni, the wateredge walkway which links St Mark's Square with the gardens, I take the vaporetto and get off at the "Giardini" stop.
Even when the Biennale is in full swing and the pavilions are filled with art and art lovers, the atmosphere is relaxed and you can expect to see plenty of signs of "real life" - like the kids of Venice playing on the swings and slides.
From the Giardini, cross over Viale Giuseppe Garibaldi, to get a glimpse (and a sniff) of the market stalls. The fresh fish stall left of the statue of Garibaldi is awesome
Getting lost, in the lagoon city
Sure, a map of Venice is a useful thing to have in your bag or on your Smartphone but, if you want to experience Italy's lagoon city to the full, I strongly suggest you leave both in your hotel (you risk spending most of your time desperately trying to locate the names of the various calle and campi, and missing out on the string of unexpected treasures hidden between one bridge and another).
Let yourself go with the flow, following the salty scent of freshly caught fish and seafood and the sound of the indecipherable Venetian dialect, to reach the district of Castello which, for me at least, is the most authentic of all the "sestieri" in the ancient republic of the Serenissima.
- Osteria ae Spezie: (Salizada S.Antonin) ideal if you want to experience Veneto's traditional fish dishes, like seppie alla veneziana (Venetian squid) and baccalà alla vicentina (Vicenza-style cod). Just a few tables and hardly a tourist in sight.
- El refolo: (Via Garibaldi) this place is miniscule, which is why the vast majority of the tables are set outside. Famous for it polpettine and spritz, El rufolo is the perfect place for an aperitif following an afternoon in the gardens of the Biennale. One of my favorites.
- Luna Sentada: (Campo San Severo) despite its vicinity to the canal, this little restaurant is anything but touristy. I love the fusion of indigenous Venetian and oriental flavors... inspired by Marco Polo perhaps?
Making your way (mapless) to St Mark's
If you manage to find your way there, take a walk around the Arsenale and beyond, to the Foundations of San Lorenzo and the Church where Marco Polo was buried, making sure to take a sneaky peek through the windows of the patrician palaces facing the canal, to see rooms filled with precious antiques and lit by massive crystal-drop chandeliers.
Of course, from the moment you put your foot inside Venice's most famous square, you'll have no other option than to forward march, as you find yourself unwittingly enrolled in the growing army of tourists battling their way to St Mark's Basilica.
If, having survived St Mark's Square, you're ready for another adventure, just cross over the Grand Canal and delve into the district of Dorsoduro... without a map, of course!
Our Insider is Elettra
Salerno-born Elettra spent her childhood and much of her adolescence in Martina Franca, Puglia. Copywriter and blogger, travel-addicted Elettra Boccia lives in Naples from where she regularly commutes to Capri (poor thing!).
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