It’s been almost a year since I visited Venice, and I can’t get it off my mind.
So much so that I’ve been scouring the Internet for train tickets and places to stay all week. In between schoolwork, I’ve been slowly planning a trip to return during the weekend of my 21st birthday in April, and I can’t wait.
I thought I’d write a bit of a piece about the single day I spent in Venice last March with a couple of my friends from university, since I never shared anything about it here. It was one of the greatest and most memorable days of my life — and it was the first time I felt the “love at first sight” feeling for a place.
Before I begin, I’d like to credit pretty much all of my knowledge of Venetian culture, life, and history to my friend and roommate, Sabi. She is one of the most passionate people I know, and her knowledge, and pride for Veneto as an Italian region is surely one of the reasons why I loved Venice so much. She showed us around, fed us the best food, and she patiently let us all take in one of the most magical places on Earth — and I will be forever grateful! Andiamo…
If I told you I was completely sober on this day, I’d simply be lying to you.
In Venice, they say, you must do as the Venetians do — and the Venetians drink. This I quickly learned, as we ordered our first glasses of wine at 11 in the morning.
We’d just taken a bus ride from Lido di Jesolo, where we were staying, and were hungry for some cicchetti, small bites and snacks that are an important part of Venetian cuisine. We found a bacaro, a Venetian wine bar, pretty shortly after exiting the bus, and ordered some small bites: fried eggplant and zucchini flowers, fried seafood, and small sandwiches of various sliced meat.
“Do you want a drink?” Sabi yelled from across the bar. It was empty, except for our group of six. She had just ordered cicchetti, and the waiter must have asked her for our drink order.
And so, along with our food came six glasses of white wine. Though in Venice, a glass of wine is called an ombra, which is the Italian word for shadow.
According to Venetian legend, when wine was served in Piazza San Marco — the city’s most famous piazza — wine vendors would use shadows of the bell tower to keep the wine cool. Overtime, ombra became the word Venetians used as they’d gather in the square, drinking ombre underneath the ombra.
Needless to say, we started the day on a good note.
We stumbled and wandered and got lost in the maze that is Venezia. We had nowhere to be, so we just explored.
It’s weird, because Venice is one of those places everyone sees photos of, over and over and over again. I thought I’d be unimpressed, having liked and saved my fair share of Venice canal photos on Pinterest over the years. But I was anything but unimpressed — it is far more special than I could have imagined.
We’d been walking for over an hour, and there was no end in sight, seeing as walking is the most efficient way to get around the city.
Sabi, being the resident tour guide, took us to a true local gem: Cantina Do Mori. It’s an incredible wine bar that’s been around since 1462 — the oldest bacaro in Venice.
The interior is slightly dark and cavelike, and the ceiling is lined with copper kettles. It’s “standing room only,” so locals and tourists drink wine and munch on the famous cicchetti while standing at the bar or around the few tables in the back.
It was lunchtime, so we ordered some small bites and, of course, some wine to go with it. We stood at the bar, and despite the slightly busy atmosphere, I had never been more relaxed: this place was oddly comforting. I could feel the passion for food and drink in the air, and I’d never experienced anything quite like it.
I’m normally a vino rosso type of gal, but I had some of the best vino bianco on this day.
Paired with it was a selection of snacks, including a francobollo, the Italian word for stamp, due to its tiny, stamp-like look. This is what the bar calls these tramezzini-type sandwiches, and they’re filled with sliced meats and vegetables and cheeses.
Other cicchetti included baccalà mantecato, cod with garlic & parsley & oil on toasted bread, and capo di toro — yup, I had my first taste of tongue.
And then, minutes later, I had my very first taste of octopus.
The wine helped, for sure. But also, I’d never seen half of these foods before, and I had no idea what most of them were. I didn’t know if I’d ever get a chance to come back here, so I put on my bravery badge, scratched the vegetarian title, and Anthony Bourdain-ed it.
It was pretty good, too! I’ve had octopus a few more times since then, and I am happy to report that I like it. I prefer it cooked, but… I like it.
(Now someone keep me from reading this book, which has been on my to-read list for a while. I know that once I do, I’ll likely never eat another one again.)
Five gelatos later (six total — I’m not that crazy), we stopped at another bar for, yup, another drink. This time, a spritz.
The spritz is everywhere these days. On my first trip to Prague last September, the entire escalator down to the metro was lined with ads for Aperol. And yet, apparently, it is nowhere to be found, back in the states!
In Venice, though, the spitz is around every corner — it’s a Veneto creation!
It was invented in the 1800s, when Italian regions Lombardia and Veneto were combined and ruled by the Austrian Empire. Austrian diplomats, merchants, and workers weren’t used to the strength of the Veneto wine (which is some of the best) — so they began to water it down.
Eventually, they graduated to carbonated water, and the spritz (spritzen meaning “splash” in German) became more of what it is today.
It wasn’t until 1920, though, that the Spritz Veneziano was born, after Select, a bitter, was invented and added to the drink. So, the real Spritz is not made with Aperol, but with Select… but it’s still just as delicious, if not more so.
So we drank our Spritzes at a little tiny bar outside of Bacaro Risorto Castello, sitting on the crooked bar stools alongside the busy Campo S. Provolo. They even had a bathroom we could use — a rarity in Venice. It was a good day.
It was the end of March then, so the sunset felt never-ending until we sat down and watched it quickly lower itslf, touching the lagoon at lightning speed.
One of my favorite memories from this day was just this — la dolce far niente. We had been walking all day, and our legs were tired, so we sat along the lagoon underneath the setting sun.
As we watched water taxis speed by, creating tiny waves, more and more people started to sit along the lagoon. Groups of friends, couples, locals, and tourists — everyone, in the same place, for the same purpose: to soak in the last moments of sun.
As we watched the sunset, we ate ice cream from Gelateria Nico, ordering the legendary “Gianduiotto” — a square of gianduja ice cream (chocolate/hazlenut) with a heaping spoonful of homemade whipped cream. Another great food recommendation courtesy of Sabi, and one of the best things we ate that day. (Plus, check out the amazing typography on the cups!)
We talked and laughed and licked ice cream from our lips for what felt like forever. I remember looking at the sun every few minutes, noticing how quickly it was setting all of a sudden. Pretty soon, it was gone completely: the only light left came from the streetlights behind us.
We stayed for another two hours or so, wandering the streets at dusk and admiring the city from a new angle, free of sunlight.
Before catching the traghetto (water taxi) back to the mainland, we ate a quick pizza dinner at a pretty shitty touristy restaurant. It was what was nearby, and we just needed something in our stomachs to survive until the next morning.
A mediocre meal often puts a damper on my day, as it should… but that day, all I could think about was how happy I was. Call me dramatic, but I remember thinking to myself, on multiple occasions: If today was my last day on Earth, I would be completely satisfied.
There were not-so-amazing parts and there were parts I guess I would eliminate, but that’s how life always is, and I’d want my last day to be a perfect representation of life. This day was just that: food, friends, travel, color, & sunshine. It’s all I need, and it’s all I crave — every single day.
Alla prossima, Venezia!