You, Me, Cicheti and Vino in Venice

Venice Sky and White Wine
Venice Sky Floating in White Wine

I count myself extremely fortunate to have found a partner who shares my passion for travel, food and wine. Day after day, my Husband and I tailor our lives to ensure all of our extra time, energy and money can be funneled towards traveling the world together. This year, one of our many trips was to Venice, the incredible sinking city.

Sinking Streets of Venice
Sinking Streets of Venice

Sadly, it’s a fact made clear on a few days of our journey when encroaching tides and sunken streets rendered our map useless. I can only say, if you have dreamed of seeing Venice, go. While Venice is not likely to sink in our lifetime why wait for the modern day Italian version of Atlantis. I believe you should seize life everyday, grab hold with one hand and with the other grab a glass of wine to toast your wisdom in not counting on tomorrow.

When arriving in Venice, immediately upon stepping out of the train station, one’s first vista is of the poetically iconic Canal Grande. I’m not kidding when I say, at the first glimpse of that water with my own eyes, flowing with gondolas, exactly as I had seen in so many movies, I lept for joy like a child. Twirling around to face my husband I saw a mix of pride and delight in his eyes, for this was my first trip to Venice, his third. I’m not sure if that pride was for his home country, or somehow knowing that he had planned what was to be one of my favorite travel experiences so far in life.

Vaporetto View of Venice
Vaporetto View of Venice

Similar to Manhattan, with no land left available for sprawl, Venice is accepted by tourists to be a very expensive city to visit. Knowing this ahead of time, my mood did not dampen one bit when we skipped the pricey gondola experience in favor of the cost effective vaporetti, the public transit of Venice.

A mere 20 minutes after arriving at the train station we debarked our fair vessel at the Rialto Bridge. My Husband somehow found a room at The Graspo De Ua Hotel right in the heart of Venice just steps from the great bridge itself. A rather fitting location for us as Graspo De Ua means bunch of grapes in the Venetian Dialect.

One of the most remarkable things about Venice, is that with no cars, bikes or really wheels of any kind permitted on the tiny streets, it’s unexpectedly quiet and instantly relaxing. Given the street sounds were primarily chatter and shouts of joy from the Carnival Celebrations, we felt lucky to be given a room overlooking Calle Bombasei two stories below.

Just after entering the room, I threw open our large windows. Unencumbered by cliché American screens, I leaned out to watch the foot traffic below. Tourists and locals alike passed by unaware of my Eagle like presence. Perhaps the real charm in Venice went gliding by, Gypsies. I watched on as one repeat crosser, a half-bent-over old lady, admired a small necklace before sliding it into her loose sweater pocket as she turned the corner.

Pickpockets are really the worst worry for tourist while in Venice. It’s a safe city, even during Carnival there was never a sense that I should be on high alert. So small, If you get lost, you simply wander your way to found. It’s a city that allows you to be the best kind of tourist a relaxed, curious, hungry and thirsty adventurer.

Delighted in Venice
Delighted in Venice

In love with the experience already, the gleeful smile did not leave my face as we departed our hotel to wander the canals in search of our first meal. I will never forget the slight drizzle of rain, the chill in the air as we navigated the walkways perched mere inches above the water.

My Husband ever the planner, had downloaded a street-map to his iPhone to help us wind our way along. Among many other things, I love this about him. He traveled the world from a young age with his parents and consequently is the epitome of a perfect travel companion. His planning and foresight frees me to explore a new city, safe with curious enthusiasm. I can simply twirl about looking at everything, filling my eyes with views and memories. A decadence I’m grateful for.

Torino to Venice via Train
Torino to Venice via Train

After a day that involved an early morning train from Torino, a vaporetto ride and a few hours happily wandering tiny streets, our stomachs had finally started to growl. It did not take long before we located Osteria Alla Staffa, a spot high on my researched list of places to eat.

Alla Staffa, nestled in the back half of San Marco, is a short hike of 11 minutes from Rialto. When we arrived late afternoon, it was pleasantly packed with a mix of tourists seated at tables and locals standing at the bar catching up after a days work, happily sipping their small glass of white wine and munching on bites of Cicheti (or Chicchetti.)

Considering the fact that I had picked what I deemed to be a ladylike outfit fit for Venice, complete with three inch heels, I welcomed the opportunity to be the tourist. We settled into what would be one of the most impactful meals of the trip at a tiny corner table near the window. While we did not stand like the locals, we did dine like them starting with Cicheti, the traditional local appetizer that lines the counters of bars all over Venice.

Osteria Alla Staffa Cicchetti platter
Osteria Alla Staffa Cicchetti platter

As we sipped the perfectly chilled house white wine and toasted our first meal in Venice the most friendly waiter-owner-host-manager around served us perhaps the perfect plate to begin our culinary journey through Venice. Six unique little bundles sat before us, each with a different tasty friend fresh from the boarding waters. My Husband went straight for the Octopus, I straight for the Anchovy. Each bite was balanced perfectly but simply, fresh white bread with a little chewiness soaked in and held up fatty, salty, bright, briny bites.

Next up a Cuttlefish Stew that our friendly host joked he would jump in the lagoon if we did not like for it had simmered away for six hours before we arrived. The rich, unctuous, tender squid akin fish that had cooked in its own ink did not disappoint and in fact fostered a frenzied eating pace as my Husband and I launched into a friendly battled for each bite.

Nearly two hours later, we asked for the check. Utter shock met us as we realized we were not breaking the bank by any means. The bottle of house wine was fairly priced at 12€ the complete opposite of the markups we have grown accustomed to avoiding in New York City. We walked out on top of the world, relaxed with a slight buzz as full bellies carried us on through the winding streets in exploration.

We had expected more of what we had read, Venice is pricey. Yet at Alla Staffa, we were delighted to confirm, like many other great cities of the world, for reasons we can not fathom, tourists cluster around a few key spots in the city and stay there to dine. In New York, it’s Times Square, Paris the Champs Elysées in Venice it’s Piazza San Marco. Definitely worth the attention, spots not to be missed but never a place to find a great meal without spending a small fortune.

One of my rules while traveling is to always get lost when hungry, wander away from the crowds when it’s time to eat, explore and you will be rewarded. Simply put, you’ll save a fortune and your taste buds will thank you.

We spent the next four days wandering each of the six sestiere (neighborhoods) of Venice. While most people love San Marco thanks to the historic piazza and Saint Marks Basilica, my heart belonged to the Giudecca. This section of Venice, is full of churches and beautiful sweeping views that keep you company as you stroll the long dock and down the full length of the island.

Compared to the rest of Venice, the Giudecca is extremely residential. The streets were nearly empty save for the two of us. It was a Saturday morning and most shops were still closed. We passed an old woman walking her dog outside a church and a child riding his tricycle, a surprising sight on an island where wheels are not welcome. I stood beside my Husband in the calm neighborhood seemingly frozen in time as he captured one of my favorite photos of the trip, part of his Venice collection.

Laguna Aperitif Paolo Ferraris Colors
Laguna Aperitif Paolo Ferraris Colors

We spent the next hour discussing how we would move to Venice someday as we walked back along the island to the old Molino Stucky mill, converted into a Hilton Hotel. It was here on the top of the hotel, in the Skyline bar where I truly fell in love with Venice. The view captured below here again by my Husband, brought me to tears of appreciation. As the sun went down and the evening lights began to glow, reflecting on the water, Venice came alive. Gondolas, motorboats, vaporetti and numerous other small seafaring vessels pass each other into the night in beautiful, orchestrated chaos.

Molino Stucky by Paolo Ferraris Colors
Molino Stucky by Paolo Ferraris Colors

One of those other things, about my Husband that I love so dearly, is how his photos are the only thing that surpasses my memories of our travels. I have the great fortune to be married to an artist who is passionate and sees the beauty of the world, through his own unique lens. He sees happiness, he creates pieces that jump from the walls of our home and greet me each morning with inspiration to travel again as soon as possible. He has recently launched his work into the world with Paolo Ferraris Colors. Paolo inspires anyone with travel in their souls to dream of far off places. My blog will say, time and time again how proud I am to be his wife, fellow wanderer and private cook.

Among the other memories I hold dear from Venice, that I can share in a space my parents read… was the discovery of white polenta baked crisp almost carmalized from Trattoria Antiche Carampane. Half the fun of finding this restaurant is it’s proximity to Ponte Delle Tette a bridge that would send any man back to high school humor since it basically means Bridge of the Tits (sorry Mom!)

Baccalà is thankfully everywhere in Venice and I dare share a bold choice on the dinner menu at our wedding. One night at the height of the Carnival Celebrations we nipped into All’Arco to find Baccalà done right. It was as if the Cod, instead of being caught, air dried and cured in salt, feel asleep on a perfectly crisp crostini and dreamed itself in a whipped, creamy spread for the tasting.

Perhaps my favorite though, was an afternoon, spent at Al Prosecco taking in the crisp chill in our Prosecco and the air, while watching the local life stroll by in Campo San Giacomo da l’Orio. We planned to snack and ended up feasting on the most decadent combination of cheeses I’ve ever had. Among them a triple cream from Piemonte I’m convinced I’ll spend the rest of my life tracking down. I foolishly forgot the name, I blame the half of the bottle I consumed seen here. I just know on one of my trips to my Husband’s family home in Italy, I’ll stumble across this fromage from heaven. I am convinced my sense memory will sing out, “I’ve found you again!”

Enoiteca Al Prosecco Cheese and Charcuterie
Cheese and Charcuterie at Enoiteca Al Prosecco

UPDATE: I found the cheese nearly a year later while in New York City. Here’s the story of rediscovering… La Tur! 

While in Venice, I walked through a city with streets barely wide enough to pass, twirled through canals with boats full of romance and ended with a final day warm enough to shed my coat and go full on tourist in San Marco with ice cream for two.

Continue the Adventure: Love Letter to Venice, Memories of Myanmar, ROBIOLAUnserved Dishes Around the World, Cheap Travel for Introverts, Recipe Archive, More Travel Stories

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