It was short notice that we went to see the movie—the day had been taxing and we had been stress cleaning when we decided we deserved the break and the trip to the New Picture House to see “A Haunting in Venice”. As soon as the movie was over, we looked at each other and simultaneously said: “We have to go to Venice”. This is how we decided on our reading week destination.
However spontaneous, Venice did anything but disappoint. The city sits in the Venetian Lagoon, studded with richly colored glittering jewels, like a mosaic mirage of history and culture. It is a constellation mirrored in the Adriatic Sea that’s delicious to lose yourself in, and ideal for a few days away with one or two friends.
For flights, we found the best deal later in reading week, flying there with Ryanair and flying back with Easyjet. We flew into the Venice Marco Polo airport late on Thursday and got the water taxi into the city. Although it was dark, and the taxi more expensive than the bus, this was still the best way to arrive. Your first experience of Venice being from the water will be unmatched. A kiosk at the airport was open to give us advice on the best route to take and the best stop to get, so the process was easy. While tracking down the keys to our Airbnb we stopped to get some pizza from an open-late kebab shop, and afterward, we also stopped for gelato. Venice undeniably operates as a daytime city. After dinner, the streets empty quickly, meaning the number of people we passed was quite limited. Venice at night is absolutely magical. The entire city is made of alleyways and corners and surprise courtyards that feel as if it is a treasure chest just for you. The wet streets sparkle gold in the streetlights and scraps of the night sky peek at you from between the rooftops and each bridge, different in design, carries you somewhere new. Venice at night was most definitely my favorite version.
We stayed in a small Airbnb that felt like a hotel room, consisting mostly of a bed, bathroom, and a table and chairs. Admittedly, what made Venice a bit more expensive than other European trips was the accommodation cost. My best advice to avoid this would be to book as far in advance as you can. We stayed in the Canaletto Room and found it basic but clean and in the best location, in the Venetian Ghetto. For hostels, another friend highly recommended Sweet Home New and spoke highly of the host, but it was unfortunately booked up for our dates. We woke up the next day and picked up snacks from Despar down the street before starting our day. Our first stop was Doge’s Palace. Venice is a city where the “touristy” sites are still worth a visit, and Doge’s Palace was a great first stop because it provided an insight into Venetian history and culture that helped contextualize the rest of the trip. Wherever you go it is a good idea to ask for a student ticket—in some cases, it cuts the cost of the ticket in half. Doge’s Palace was laid out with a specific flow of traffic for visitors to help you not miss any sights and is an ideal opportunity to see amazing art. We also booked tickets that day to see St. Mark’s Basilica the next day. Both St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace can have long lines, especially if you go midday. The line for Doge’s Palace wasn’t offputting, but I do think the reserved tickets for St. Mark’s Basilica were worth it.
After our trip through Doge’s Palace, we set out for some pasta and Spritz for lunch. We used the price of carbonara on the menus posted outside to judge the overall expensiveness of a restaurant, which is a measurement system that worked surprisingly well. We found a good menu and good prices at Ca Dolfin, which seemed to be popular with Italians—a good indicator of the quality of the food. We both ordered Carbonara and Aperol Spritz, and they brought limoncello with the bill (which you sip, even though it’s in a very familiar-shaped shot glass!). My friend also ordered a bellini, which is a must-try at some point on your trip.
We then made our way to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, which was a bit further out, but definitely worth the walk. Along the way, we stopped in the open smaller churches, including San Salvador, Santi Apostoli (from the seventh century), and Santo Stefano di Venezia (my favorite). Venice is a quilt of cultural influences from exploration, trade, and time. Visiting churches is one of the best ways to sample all the styles Venice has to offer, but keep in mind your outfits every day to make sure this is possible. Most places in Venice are picky about things like sleeves and shorts, so it’s best to stick to the modest side. After our quick stops at these chapels, we arrived at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, which sits in a peaceful Palazzo where Peggy Guggenheim herself lived. Peggy Guggenheim was an incredible woman who directly affected the development of twentieth-century art. Even if you are not in art history, you will likely recognize many of the modern art pieces in her collection and it helps break up Venice’s signature Baroque style.
After exploring the museum, we headed back to the Airbnb to charge our phones and refresh. For dinner, we decided to explore cicchetti, which are small dishes and sandwiches (often served at wine bars) specific to Venice. Although they were delicious, admittedly I think we would have liked to eat some pasta or something filling at home beforehand, because the portions were quite small. We went first to Cicchetteria Venexiana Da Luca e Fred and had our cicchetti with Aperol Spritz (was most of our trip guided by when we would have our next Spritz? No comment). This is definitely a place where it is good to ask the servers what they recommend—they helped point out some Venetian classics. After dinner, we got takeaway Hugo Spritzes from Bar alle Guglie and drank them as we walked to the edge of Venice to look out over the water. Standing at the edge of Venice holds the same magic as standing at the edge of a cliff. It is easy to see why the city held such a command of the Mediterranean for centuries upon centuries. The next stop on our bar hop was Osteria Sottobanco (definitely my favorite place where we got drinks). Here, the drinks were cheap and the staff friendly. It was relatively quiet as well. I ordered a glass of amaretto–considering how confused the staff were I assume it’s not a common order, and straight amaretto is quite an acquired taste–but it was delicious. My friend ordered a few glasses of red wine.
We then made our way to Bacaro Jazz—allegedly one of the only places open past midnight in Venice. We were the youngest people by at least 20 years and made friends with an older married couple from Wales. The atmosphere was complete with a ceiling encrusted with a rainbow of colors of bras, music videos with subtitles for everyone to sing to, and dancing between the tables. I ordered an “Italian’s Margarita”, which I assumed just had amaretto instead of triple sec. In reality, it was a margarita glass full of tequila (with a splash of amaretto as an afterthought). I mean, great value for money, I guess? My friend ordered Long Island ice teas, and in the end, there was a service charge (which was a bit unexpected). Overall, despite the priciness we were promised Venice possessed, and some signs of it in the price of food and accommodation, the price of drinks was relatively low (especially compared to St Andrews). Super Tenants was actually prevalent and quite cheap if you got it from a Co-op. We did feel the need to stop at an Irish Pub on the way home–true to our Molly’s habits. We found the Irish Pub Venezia, located off Strada Nuova.
The next day we made our way to St. Mark’s Basilica, which took my breath away. We got the basic ticket without the extra admittance to the rest of the Basilica but this felt more than enough. The Byzantine art is rare and absolutely amazing and each place you look there is something new. I had goosebumps. As soon as you enter you are transported into the center of an ethereal sun space;—I could have sat and studied the elaborate golden ceilings for hours. When you visit, keep an eye out for the part of the ceiling depicting St Andrews, which felt like the definition of a full-circle moment. Also, notice the flooring and diverse marble patterns. Every bit of the Basilica is spell-binding.
Later in the day, we went and sat in the Royal Gardens, which were in full bloom when we visited in October. It is a great space to sit down for a spell and people-watch. We then set out for lunch. We had been ordered by a friend from the area to try fritto misto, which is an assortment of fried seafood. For this, we went to Acqua e Mais, which was a bit expensive for what it was but the take-away food was delicious and high-quality. We watched them fry it in front of us and they had an assortment of other authentic foods to sample. This was a new area of Venice for us, and it felt distinct and quieter, much more so than other areas. We meandered for a bit before finding the Museo di Palazzo Mocenigo, which showed the life within traditional palazzos in the height of Venice for an influential family. There were interesting displays of the history of perfumery in Venice and some modern art worked into the space. What was especially amazing were the highly decorative ceilings and Murano glass chandeliers. We crossed the Grand Canal on the gondola ferries, which were two euros (in cash) a person and certainly the most affordable way to get the iconic gondola ride in Venice. Although it is a short ride, you still get the experience.
After another recharge back at the Airbnb we hit the streets again just in time for sunset, which washed the city and water in color. There was some flooding, but to be completely honest the best way to deal with it is just to commit and walk quickly through flooded sections. We then got pizza and pasta (and a bottle of white wine) at Trattoria al Poggio. I had the Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia, another recommended dish from our Italian friend. The pasta is cooked with squid ink and served with squid. Although it was a bit intimidating (the waiter even made sure I knew what I was ordering) it tasted fabulous and is definitely a must-try. Afterward, we talked ourselves into Harry’s Bar, an iconic spot internationally famous and with history with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Truman Capote, and George Clooney. Were the bellinis €22? Perhaps. Were they worth every cent? Yes. It doesn’t even just taste like biting into a peach—it tastes like biting into a peach orchard. The house-made concoction was thick with perfection.
We went to bed early and got up in the morning to catch a train. My friend’s family friends lived a little over an hour outside of Venice and had invited us for an Italian barbeque. The train was easy to figure out and catch and we feasted on beef, chicken, sausages, polenta, and potatoes. We sampled white asparagus, specific to the region and almost impossible to transport (so try it when you’re there!) and tasted many different wines from his collection. After an unfortunate May Dip incident involving a bottle of wine, I am not a massive fan and can be quite picky. However, every wine we tried—prosecco, rose, white, red, another red—was insanely delightful. Prosecco is grown locally and made nearby, and there is always something especially enchanting about drinking a wine where it is grown. After lunch, we sampled spirits including grappa and maraschino, maraschino being a type of liquor made from local cherries. There was also a homemade chocolate liquor that was “just for the ladies” and I think will be one of the most delicious things I will ever drink—thick like syrup and chocolate heaven.
After lunch, their son and his friend took us to Asolo, a small hillside town with nicknames including “The Pearl of the province of Treviso” and “The City of a Hundred Horizons”. Obviously, with such nicknames, Asolo was easy to fall deeply in love with. We walked to the top of the hill to the Rocca di Asolo, with commanding views that made the many steps easily worth it. We then walked back down and had Campari Spritz within the fantastical Castello della regina Cornaro. A quick guide to common Spritz is as follows: in order of bitterness, it goes Campari, Aperol, and then Select. If you struggle to like Aperol, try out a Select as it is easier to drink. Campari is significantly less sweet and slightly stronger alcohol-wise.
Although we could’ve easily spent many more days in Venice, getting out of the city to see some of the surrounding areas was definitely worth it. Asolo was somewhat touristy, but it felt to be mostly Italian tourists. We then went back for dinner and had the family recipe Ragù before catching the train back to Venice. We stopped one last time at Osteria Sottobanco to have a Select Spritz. We got one last gelato on the way home before packing. In the morning we left early on the bus for the airport, which was crowded but sufficient.
Leaving Venice behind was physically painful. Visiting was like falling back through time to a bejeweled and golden era of political intrigue and inconceivable cultural glory. As suggested by our original inspiration, ”A Haunting in Venice” (which I do recommend you watch with a word of caution that it will light the Venice fire in you too), Venice is a city that whispers of ghosts in the small streets and alleyways and canals. The water ripples a specific shade of aquamarine but doesn’t allow you to see the mysteries beneath the surface, instead reflecting thousands of years of splendor at you. It is truly a treasure chest, pushed from the water by the city’s favorite Neptune, to behold.