Published by The Style Line, September 2016
First class train tickets are sparingly priced between Bologna and Venice, so we smugly settled into wide seats upholstered in royal blue leather for a comfy two-hour journey. Soon, we were gawping at the fairytale view over the Venetian Lagoon as the train rolled across the long causeway that adjoins the mainland with Venice island.
The Lagoon is an industrious watery freeway; boats piled with commuters, tourists and produce, police boats and ambulance boats, fishing boats and taxi boats zip between buoys from island to island, leaving their bubbly trails in the choppy water behind them. The towers of St Marks Square punctuated the first view of the city as we approached Santa Lucia station. I had visited Venice before, but it felt special to arrive by train. It’s just a few steps down from the grand art deco station building to the Grand Canal: Venice’s main artery and beating heart. We hopped on a Vaporetto, or waterbus, and enjoyed the ride down the full length of the canal and across the Lagoon to the Lido – a long, thin island where we had booked a hotel near the beach.
Venice is an extraordinary place conducive to an extraordinary birthday. The following morning, we made a beeline for Caffé Florian. The ornate coffee house was the first in Europe and the likes of Byron, Casanova and Dickens have all paid too much for a drink here. The house orchestra were playing a repertoire that manoeuvred expertly between Vivaldi, M.J. and bond theme as we ordered champagne for breakfast to start this particular birthday with 18th century swagger.
We wandered towards the Accademia bridge and crossed the canal. The streets are quieter in Dorsoduro: Venice’s largest sestiere (district) and home to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. The grand dame of the modern art world and niece of Solomon R. Guggenheim lived in Venice during the last 30 years of her life, and her modest, one story palazzo is now a museum dedicated to her incredible art collection. It’s a joy to explore and reads like the coolest trans-atlantic who’s who of the 20th century, from Picasso to Pollock.
Not flush enough for a full breakfast at Caffe’ Florian, we were hungry for lunch and Al Squero is just a short walk from the Peggy Guggenheim collection. It’s one of the city’s well-loved bacari – cheap little hole-in-the-wall bars where locals and tourists in the know enjoy a spritz or glass of prosecco and a plate of small, tasty snacks called cichetti. It’s known for serving the cheapest drinks in Venice, and it was packed. We sat on the canal wall outside with a view of one of the city’s remaining gondola workhouses, plastic cups and paper plates that added to the charm of this little backstreet eaterie.
Al Squero is a few steps away from the Zattare quay, where I can confirm that some of the best pistachio gelato in Venice is to be found. Back to the Accademia bridge, and we hopped on a vaporetto up the Grand Canal to Rialto for our next spritz at All’ Arco: another standing-room-only bacaro near the Rialto Market.
A walk over the bustling Rialto bridge to Cannaregio sestiere, which stretches across the top of the city, led us to the last bacaro of our mini spritz crawl: Ca’ d’Oro. As the sun went down, we zigzagged over and along the canals to Osteria Anice Stellato. Fish is the staple of any Venetian diet, and we’d heard great things about this little seafood restaurant. We were seated by the canal and watched boats glide past over delicious plates of Risotto Nero (made with black squid ink) and Fritto Misto (mixed fried fish) – unfussy Venetian classics.
Evenings in Venice are sleepy and wind up early, but there are a couple of lively wine bars on nearby Fondamenta Misericordia, where we ended our perfect day in Venice.