Lost & Found: Venezia

18-20 January 2008

Stay at:

3479 Ponte Chiodo - This guesthouse is a real find in pricey Venice - a first floor double room with canal views and a private bathroom for only 70 euros. The owners were friendly, the ample breakfast is included  (croissants, cereal, yoghurt, juice, biscuits) and it's in a nice quiet residential area which is just a stroll away from all the main sights and the Grand Canal.

Make sure you:

Go in winter

. I have to publicly admit my error here. When Tim first suggested going to Venice in winter I pooh-poohed the idea 'Venice is all about walking and it'll be too cold to be outside'. Gradually I realised that artists, writers and my mum all believed that the best time for Venice was winter and having been there now, I'm converted. The weather is generally a pretty mild chill. There are barely any tourists, it doesn't smell and there are no children screaming at pigeons at Piazzo San Marco. You can admire Basilico di San Marco and the canals in misty and reverent stillness. My only disclaimer: many of the restaurants are closed in January.

Visit the mothership. If you worked at Mallesons (or Minters or Telstra for that matter) then you'll know which famous bridge I'm talking about.

Walk and get lost. You won't need to try, it'll just happen. The winding alleys, quiet canals and elegant bridges means that you'll see a picture-postcard view every time.

Take Vaporetto No. 1 along the Grand Canal. Cvery guidebook will tell you that vaporetto no. 1 is the cheapest way to see the beautiful palazzos and bridges of the Grand Canal. A single trip will cost you 6 euros, but that is significantly cheaper than a gondola ride, which the tourist information quoted at 80-100 euros for 30 minutes.

Visit the Peggy Guggenheim collection. This is a small jewel of a museum as every piece was bought by super-rich Peggy Guggenheim (who seemed to have very good taste) and placed in this Venetian palazzo facing the Grand Canal. The collection includes delicate Calder mobiles, mathematical scupltures by Antoine Prevsner and a fantastical Magritte. In the garden are other sculptures, including a mirrored triangle structure which created interesting reflections.

Climb the loggia of Basilica di San Marco. Out of the hundreds of churches I've visited in Europe, San Marco has always stood out for me. It's unexpectedly dark when you step inside, but as your eyes adjust the golden mosaics which cover the whole ceiling and the domes cast a soft glow. It's worth paying to climb up to the second level and listening to the audio guide, because for 1 euro you get an explanation and the mosaics are lit up for you. Also, there are spectacular views of Piazza di San Marco and the four bronze horses from the loggia.  

Eat at/Don't eat at:

Trattoria da Fiore

- Venetian restaurants are reknowned for being expensive, as they most cater for a tourist clientele. I was keen to dispel my Food Curse of Venice (I've visited several times and never had a good, reasonably priced meal) so I did my research about this down-to-earth trattoria. However, this was not the place I'd hoped for - bright stark lighting and two courses of dodgy food (overcooked spaghetti vongole, a slop of black cuttlefish and white polenta) came to a headache inducing 95 euros. The only thing to commend it was the wine - a carafe of house wine was surprisingly palatable and only 8 euros.

Osteria Al Ponte La Patatina

, We liked the fact that it seemed crowded in locals, and the blackboard menu looked appetising. On entering though we seemed to have descended on the Sunday creche feeding time - lots of kids eating their spaghetti and gnocchi and frazzled parents wiping faces patched with tomato sauce. I wasn't in the mood for this hectic atmosphere but the pasta promptly put me in a good mood - beautiful flavours and textures and piping hot. However, the main dishes were awful - nasty dog-food tasting sausage and creamy fish pate-like balls, both served with rubbery polenta. My tip is to go, but stick to the pasta or else have a look at what the locals are eating, and only order it if it looks appetising. 

Caffe Florian - Yes its in every guide book, yes its full of tourists and yes the hot chocolate costs 8.80 euros...but I'd still recommend making a stop in this beautiful cafe (the oldest in Italy) for the relaxed ambiance, the gilded interior and the view out over Piazza di San Marco. I bought a packet of their chocolate spiced biscuits too and can highly recommend.

Shop at:

We must have been the only tourists who didn't buy Venetian glass, masks, lace or fans.

Italian underwear stores. Italians do a couple of shopping items well, and one of them is underwear and hosiery. All the shops were on sale which meant that the classy stretchy tops from Intimissimi (all purchased in black, naturally) and funky hosiery from Goldenpoint were all half price.

Vizio Virtu. A slick homemade chocolate store on San Polo with the best chocolate coconut crunch that Tim had ever had.

3479 Cannaregio, 30121 Venice

T: +39 041 2413935

Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Palazzo Venier dei Leoni
Dorsoduro 701
I-30123 Venezia

T: +39.041.2405.411

Osteria al Ponte "La Patatina": Calle Saoneri 2741/A San Polo, Venezia

T: +39 041 5237 238

Caffe Florian: Piazza San Marco

VizioVirtù Cioccolateria s.a.s: San Polo 2898/A 30125 Venice

T: +39.041.2750149