With its fairytale of narrow bridges, colorful piazzas and breathtaking architecture, Venice is arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is surely the most romantic. Once I delved a little deeper into the city, I found that it's also a whole lot more.
|The seaside near Piazza San Marco|
|Piazza San Marco|
Nothing really prepares you for this floating city. Not the guidebooks or websites or even traveler hearsay. If you ever thought love at first sight was a delusive metaphor, Venice will surely change your mind.
For someone like me who grew up surrounded by the backwaters (network of brackish lagoons and lakes) of Kerala, Venice was a natural love. In fact, the town of Alleppey which is just 50 kilometers away from my home is one of many places in the world known as the Venice of the East.
Once I was done taking in the sights at Piazza San Marco and admiring the magnificient architecture of the Palazzo Ducale, I ventured to find less touristy things to do. I was curious to know how the typical Venetian lived (and ate) amidst all the tourist hullabaloo.
I started by taking the vaporetto to the main market in Rialto. Vaporettos are water buses that connect all of Venice much like metros do in other cities.
Mercato Rialto has an abundance of seafood not just in quantity but also in variety-- ranging from the common rombo (Mediterranean turbot) and branzino (sea bass) to the more obscure cannoce (flat, grey-shelled creature vaguely resembling a lobster) and granseola (spider crab). The fish appeared so fresh here that I was convinced it was alive just a few hours before. I felt the joy of a kid visiting a zoo for the very first time, albeit an edible one.
|Seafood in abundance at Mercato Rialto|
|Various crustaceans at Mercato Rialto|
|Tagliolini a 'araignee de mer at Trattoria Antiche Carampane|
Famished from looking at food all morning, I headed to Trattoria Antiche Carampane-- a family run restaurant and a local institution of sorts tucked away in one of the backstreets of Venice. Here, I tasted the best pasta dish of my life, the Tagliolini a l'Araignee de Mer. Homemade tagliolini pasta tossed in a sauce made from spider crab, tomato and lemon. Delicate, balanced and simply divine. The sign outside the restaurant was a dead giveaway that the food would be above average. "No pizza, no lasagna, no menu touristico."
With lots of eating came the responsibility of shedding it. Next on my agenda was walking off the extra calories. I let go of the iPhone and my Lonely Planet guide and decided to explore Venice the 'old' way. I walked to such desolete corners of the city that I came across narrow pathways and bridges completely devoid of tourists.
By dusk, it was time to get drinking and what better way to do it than a pub crawl! The giro d'ombra ('giro' means stroll and 'ombra' is slang for a glass of wine) is a tradition unique to Venice wherein people stop by at various baccari (local bars) for a glass of wine and a sampling of various munchies they call cicchetti.
|Fried sardine at Al Pesador|
|Bancogiro - just one of any stops on the pubcrawl|
|Baccalao on sepia polenta cake at Bancogiro|
|Cicchetti options at Do Spade|
|Pickled onion & anchovy and marinated baby octopus at Do Mori|
I started with a glass of prosecco and baccalao crostini at Osteria Al Portego, a hip local hangout with great food. I tried the fried sardines at Al Pesador and braved to taste the baccalao over sepia (cuttlefish ink) polenta at Bancogiro. The juicy shrimp-stuffed calamari at Do Spade made way for the fish meatball at Dai Zemai. I loved this pub crawl so much I repeated it the next night eager to try out many more baccari. Do Mori with its pickled onion and anchovy on a stick and the marinated baby octopus stood out as did the fried calamari at All'Arco.
|One of many canals|
On the outside, it would seem that Venice is chock-a-block with tourist trap restaurants advertising special menus and cheap pizzas. It is. For the discerning traveler however, it also has a wonderful, understandably seafood-centric cuisine tucked safely underneath.
Having spent a few days in Venice, I came to realize that the best way to experience the city is to get lost in it. I walked around for hours having left aside the guidebook, smartphone and map and surrendered myself to the maze of alleys and bridges. Most people would be apprehensive about this idea but as far as I was concerned, Venice is made up of a bunch of islands and there's only so far I could go and so lost I could get!
To appreciate the city in all its glory, I learnt to see it as one giant work of art. And like any great piece of art, the sense of awe stayed with me until the very last moment before I left.