Reflecting on my ventures abroad with family or friends, it’s interesting to see how my travel habits have changed. Walking tours were never on my list before and now they’re pretty much the first thing I seek out. Getting a compelling tour guide really depends on chance, but even if you find their storytelling style a little dry, you can subtly peace out or power through until the end to tip however much you please. No-one has yet beaten the wit and charm of my tour guide in Brussels and I’ve had some very nondescript tours, but it’s a great starting point when for you arrive. More than just the historical background of the city, free walking tours always seem to give the best maps, pointing to hidden gems and authentic places to eat.
This was how we found Aqua Alta, a curious little bookshop tucked away in Venice’s side streets. A Venetian term that refers to the tide peaks causing the city to flood, Aqua Alta is a treasure of a store. Selling new and old books of various languages, they’re stacked precariously in boats, bathtubs and gondolas! There’s a staircase made of books in the shop’s tiny courtyard and upon climbing to the top, you’re greeted with a quiet view of the surrounding houses and canals. The source of the store’s whimsicality spills out generously from its owner, Luigi Frizzo. Making an effort to talk to everyone, not to mention flirt with some American tourists, he has become somewhat of a local celebrity. (There are also four adorable cats lounging amidst the books!)
A notoriously expensive activity on most people’s list when visiting Venice are the gondolas. It’s a flat rate of £80 for a mere 30 minutes (2016) and although far from a ‘must do’ item, it was pleasantly luxurious to ride in one and take in the sights. Amusingly enough, our tour guide earlier was accurate in stating that the gondoliers will point out a house that is mistakenly assumed to be Marco Polo’s. Whether they know, or even care, be sure to look into a more accurate history of Venice beforehand. The route you take on the gondolas won’t be anything you can’t walk yourself, but there’s a certain enjoyment that comes with taking such a lavish means of transport. Smaller groups of travellers may wish to share a boat with others (up to a maximum of 6 passengers) to split the eye-watering fee.
Our diet in Venice across the 5 days can be summarised by bread and spaghetti. I always find it difficult to eat a good amount of fruit and vegetables when travelling, but side orders of roasted vegetables and fruit from Rialto Market helped keep our vitamin intake at a healthy level. We ate at Trattoria Da Gianni the first day, ignoring the advice to stay away from restaurants with photographs for menus. Whilst the salad was pretty ordinary, we did find that the seafood linguine was generous in terms of seafood and the mushroom tagliatelle was equally as good. Guided by the walking tour map, Ristorante Antico Gatoleto was slightly more expensive, but still delicious (if a tad salty) and its waiters were friendly. Finding a good restaurant at a reasonable price can be challenging in Venice, but some light research and tips from tour guides/hostel staff will hold you in good stead.
Next week: Murano & Burano!
P.S. I think I fixed the commenting issue on my blog, if you still find you can’t comment, let me know via the contact form!