Venice, Italy - a city built on canals, a gem of Northern Italy, and the first stop on my Italian Thanksgiving vacation! Check out some of the best thinks we eat, drank and did on this leg of our trip.
Hello, hello and happy Sunday from Marco Polo airport in Venice! It's about 6 AM as I'm writing this, following one of the longest travel days and most sleepless nights of the trip - but more on that later. I've just spent an incredible 7 days in Venice and Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, and I can't wait to share all of our adventures with you!
Last Saturday seems like an eternity ago, when I woke up hungover AF after a night drinking with my roommates and out at Soundcheck, drove to my parents' house to drop off my car and leftover cream puffs, and began my trek to Italy. In what was probably the most ridiculous travel arrangement of all time, our group drove up from DC to the Philadelphia airport, parked in a cheap lot, and flew out of Philly. Don't ask me why, I didn't make the itinerary.
After a 7.5 hour flight to Frankfurt, the rest of my group (my friend Candice, her brother Austin and his roommate Cole, their parents and their parents' friends) hopped on an immediate connecting flight to Venice, while I had a 4 hour layover in Frankfurt. So, while they were greeted with a private water taxi in Venice that took them straight to their hotel, I faced the masses on water taxi public transit. When I walked up to the captain, I was so astounded by his beauty that I completely lost track of my languages.
Captain - Ciao!
J - BONJOUR!
C - You go to San Zaccaria?
J - Oui?
C - Ah, no! Ticket says San Marco!
J - Ah, danke! Gracias!
I'm the worst.
After a 1.5 hour water taxi ride/tour of Italy, I finally arrived at San Marco, and through some miracle my direction- and internet-less self made it to Hotel Ala, where we were staying. This left just enough time for a (life-changing) shower and change of clothes before heading to dinner at...
Nevodi is a relatively new restaurant in the San Zaccaria area of Venice that Candice's mom had found on Facebook, and we had a reservation for 5 PM. Candice and I were running slightly behind, so we made the ~1.5 mile walk along the water by ourselves and met the rest of the group there. Highlights of this trek included a saxophonist playing "My Heart Will Go On," which was one of our go-to karaoke songs in the Amazon rainforest*, so naturally we stood next to him and sang. Embarrassing Americans, part 2.
*My life is really, really weird.
When we arrived at the restaurant we were surprised to find that there were no menus on the table, just the waiter walking us through the cacchietti (small plates) menu. We ordered two pieces of all 8 available, 7 of which involved fish and the 8th which was a meatball. This was the moment where I decided I was breaking vegetarianism for this trip.
Unfortunately, their meatballs (deep fried and served cold - apparently this is standard?) weren't very good. FORTUNATELY, wine is a thing. A very, very cheap thing. Bless. After a significant amount of wine and almost an entire bread basket (I was STARVING after the trip, especially since I had been too hungover to eat) we were finally presented with menus.
There were two vegetarian entrée options - an eggplant parmigiana and a pumpkin ravioli. I opted for the eggplant parmigiana, and was very happy with this choice!
Once we had finished dinner, our group headed out to do a little shopping. While most of the group was exhausted and headed straight to bed, Candice and I caught a second wind and decided to see what Sunday night in Venice had to offer in terms of nightlife. Which led us to a little bar/restaurant (name unknown) in an alley!
Dessert in Venice
As we passed a restaurant, a very tall, very attractive Italian waiter caught our eye and drew us in. As did the fact that we really needed to pee. Priorities. We grabbed a table outside to people watch even though it was chilly, and the waiters arranged space heaters around us. Weeach grabbed a large beer, which was VERY large - like 2 liters large. Welcome to Italy!
The plan had been to grab dessert, but when I returned from the bathroom, there was a giant bowl of olives on our table.
C - They said they don't have dessert, but he gave us these olives?
J - Works for me!
The olives, for the record, were delicious. After about 45 minutes, another party sat down next to us and proceeded to order just about everything on the menu. INCLUDING dessert. Had we been duped? We asked our waiters again, and they presented us with a dessert menu. Liars. Now privy to this knowledge, Candice ordered strawberries with whipped cream and I ordered tiramisu. Both were delicious, and the waiter gave us each a free shot of limoncello before we headed back to Hotel Ala and immediately fell asleep.
Venetian Food Tour
Monday morning came all too soon after a night spent in twin beds that felt like they were made of cardboard, but luckily our hotel had a beautiful breakfast spread. I loaded up on coffee, sparkling water and fruit while doing some writing and attempting to decipher the conversations around me in French, German and Italian.
At 10 AM we gathered the group and walked through rows of designer shops to the square where we were meeting our guide, Veronica, for a food tour of Venice. Veronica was incredibly bubbly and friendly - we couldn't have asked for a better guide! She introduced the tour to us, then walked us over to our first stop...
Stop 1: Casa Parmigiana
At Casa Parmigiana, we were fed two types of cheeses (both semi-hard, one aged), salami, and black and green olives. Yes, please! The salami was very soft and salty, which was very pleasant when paired with the hard cheeses and airy breadsticks we were also eating. Man, at that moment, I could have eaten all of those breadsticks - now, after eating them nonstop for a week, I never want to see them again.
The olives were also very good, although I’m a huge fan of olives - where my Olive Theory match at?! The black were slightly bitter, while the green were fairly sweet. Once we had finished at Casa Parmigiana, we moved on to…
Stop 2: Fruit & Vegetable Market
While this wasn’t technically a stop, it was hands down my favorite part of the entire tour! Venetians (like most Europeans) don’t make large grocery shopping trips, instead shopping at the market each day for fresh fruit, vegetable and fish. Their selection of fruits and vegetables was incredible and beautiful - I would love to live like this! If only the Safeway by my house had anything close to this. BRB moving to Europe.
Note: The fish market was closed, as fishermen don’t go out on Sundays. TG for my nose.
Stop 3: Franco Bolo
After making some purchases at the market (3 kinds of pasta, a few seasoning/salt mixes, and olive oil), our group headed to the next stop - a small boccaro (essentially a pub) for franco bolo (“little stumps”). These were small, appetizer-size sandwiches made of porchetta (thin sliced pork) and aioli on spongey bread. They were delicious, and the perfect size for an afternoon snack - almost like little tea sandwiches.
From our franco bolos, we moved on to…
Stop 4: Mauro El Forner de Canton
A bakery! Finally! I had walked by so many beautiful Italian bakeries, most of them in the style I imagine the future outpost of Scones & Patron (bakery, bar*, coffee and community), but had held off entering until now. We waited outside the cramped space and admired the biscotti, cannoli and other pastries in the window as Veronica selected our samples.
*Liquor laws in Italy must be fairly lax, as almost every establishment sells booze. Also because there are no open container laws. Once again, I’m moving.
Each of us received two cookies - one sfogliatelle and one esse. The sfogliatelle is a long, flaky finger of cookie that is sweetened with just a touch of honey and is typically served at breakfast with coffee or tea. The esse is a cookie native to Venice - shaped like an ’S’, just like their islands. This cookie was lemon-flavored and harder, almost like a biscotti in texture. Both were delicious, but the sfogliatelle was hands down the favorite of the group. I have grand plans to make them shortly upon returning home, just you wait!
Stop 5: Acqua & Mais
After our bakery sweets we walked a good amount to our next destination, crossing several canals and traipsing onto a new Venetian island. All the stores we passed were so beautiful, with decorative masks displayed in the windows for the Venetian festival the next day.
Even more beautiful than the masks was this pizza we passed by - thick, loaded with toppings and absolutely dreamy. The pizza unfortunately was not a stop on our tour, but Candice and I made a note to return there later, as well as to another cocktail bar that Veronica had pointed out.
Our next stop was at Acqua & Mais for Venetian street food - quite different than the street food you’ll find in DC! The majority of the options were fried balls of different substances, from which we were allowed to choose. The majority of our group chose meatballs (served warm this time), one adult chose a fried zucchini ball, and I opted for the potato ball. This was like a deep-fried hash brown, y’all. Incredible. Each ball was served on top of a thin strip of white polenta, seasoned with salt and pepper and pan-fried. Everything was delicious, and this would be AMAZING as late-night drunk food. Duccini’s, take notes.
Stop 6: Cacchietti
As we were getting very full, we were glad that our next stop was about a mile away, so we could walk off the street food. As we entered the University area of Venice, Veronica led us into another Baccaro, this one light and airy with very modern decor. She introduced us to the shop owner, who stood behind a glass case of beautiful appetizer toasts that put avocado toast to shame. There were a few vegetarian options, though most revolved around types of charcuterie.
Candice, her mom and I all opted for a toast with brie and candied orange, which was INCREDIBLE. A world without brie is not a world I would like to live in. A few others chose salmon with strawberries, and Cole impressed Veronica most by a) choosing her favorite toast, speck with wilted spinach, and b) using the hand signal she had taught us for “super extra delicious” (twisting both fingers in cheeks). I really wanted a glass of wine at this point, but we took the show on the road to our final destination…
Stop 7: Gelato
Now, it wouldn’t be an Italian food tour without gelato, would it?! That’s what I thought. Veronica took us to a gelato shop in Campo* San Margarita (be still, my heart) and we each got to sample one flavor before deciding on what to get. I sampled a mascarpone and chocolate mixture, which was delicious, but a bit too rich to get a whole cup of. I eventually settled on Veronica’s favorite, pistachio, which was incredible. You could tell that the flavor and color weren’t fake at all. All the food in Venice was straight from the source!
Veronica, thank you so much for being an incredible tour guide, and infusing our foodie adventures with tidbits about Venetian history and culture! I can’t recommend doing a food tour enough, as it was a great way to get to know Venice better in the short time we were there.
*We learned that, while there are lots of squares in Venice, they are called ‘Campos.’ The only one that is actually referred to as a square is Piazza San Marco, where the Basilica is located.
Following the food tour, we were all in need of a drink. We headed across the Campo to Caffe Rosso, where we got 8 seats in the setting sun. I ordered a prosecco and then a negroni (both incredible and cheap!) while we pored over our pictures and laughed. The boys set off to a soccer store they had seen while the rest of us headed back to the hotel to drop off our purchases and freshen up before some more shopping.
Candice and I set back out with the group, but quickly became separated when we dipped into an incredible boutique and stayed there for an hour and a half. Classic. All of their clothes were insanely beautiful, and Candice ended up getting a silk shirt while I bought this amazing silver jumpsuit. Now, don’t rush all at once to invite me to your New Year’s Eve parties ;) . We also bought shimmery, gold plated heels that cost a small fortune but are SO comfortable and more than worth it. Shopping in Venice is dangerous, but wonderful. So much real leather!
After funneling our bank accounts into new wardrobe additions, Candice and I set out in search of the beautiful pizza from earlier in the day. Unfortunately, without wifi we didn’t trust ourselves to navigate the dark and often narrow alleys of San Polo, so we turned back shortly past the fish market… only to run into Austin and Cole outside Barcollo, the cocktail bar Veronica had recommended. We split a bottle of red wine at Barcollo, then set out to meet up with the adults for dinner.
Da Mamo Pizza
Upon walking into Da Mamo, the wait staff immediately busied themselves with pulling up another table so we could seat our 8-person party. We ordered a couple bottles of red wine for the table, then pizzas. As with most places in Venice they were personal-sized, so we ordered 8 - a combination of vegetarian, salami, and margherita. For whatever reason the pizzas came out unsliced (a cursory glance around the restaurant informed me that this was atypical), but after sending them back to be sliced, we had a seamless experience! The food was delicious, and the waiter followed the meal with mini chocolate shot glasses filled with Baileys. He also handed Candice and I heart-shaped chocolates to go. Have I mentioned how much I love Italian men?!
After our long day, we all headed back to the hotel. Candice and I unwound with some Italian crime television (weird? maybe), packed our bags, and prepared for the drive to the Italian Alps the next day.
And so concluded our time in Venice! It truly was amazing, and I'm glad to have gone in the off-season when crowds were thinner and canals were less smelly. Check back tomorrow for an incredible Cranberry-Almond Scone recipe, and on Wednesday for a recap of our time in Cortina d'Ampezzo!