After my first visit to Venice, almost ten years ago, lived up to all of the (not so great) stereotypes, I didn't think I'd visit again. But as I have found with quite a few places now, the second visit is always better.
I still can't believe it's been nearly ten years since my first trip to Venice (and many other European cities); my twenties have flown by way too quickly! That first trip to Venice was during the height of summer - sweltering heat, hordes of tourists, and mosquitoes. I will never forget the mosquitoes. Annoyingly, mozzies love the taste of my blood, I woke up in Venice one morning with upwards of thirty bites (welts), whilst my bestie Fairley awoke with three. We were sharing a bed, so you can imagine my outrage. Ha.
This time around a group of us (archinerds) were in Venice for the Biennale, an annual expo that alternates between art and architecture. Fairley and I missed the 2008 Biennale by a week or two, so I was pretty excited to finally see what all the fuss was about. It was definitely a great excuse to visit Venice again. And obviously the Italian food is a big drawcard.
When the canals and narrow streets have emptied out a little bit, I can understand why many people find Venice so romantic. Those canals really make for some picturesque vistas. I am still not sure how we managed to get around the labyrinthine streets that first time, without Google Maps!
This particular weekend in Venice was a bit of whirlwind, especially with so much of it dedicated to the Biennale. But this time I can safely say that I will be seeing you again, Venice. Scroll through the photos for my hit list. L x
This time we stayed on the eastern side of the Cannaregio district, closer to the Rialto, a little removed from the main hotels. Your options for getting around Venice are on foot or via the canals, so it does help to stay a little closer to the areas you'd like to explore. With so many palazzi to choose from, you'll be able to find something that suits your budget (if not necessarily your taste, the decoration can be a little over the top).
ARCHITECTURE & SIGHTS
Piazza San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale are the spots that you can't really avoid when visiting Venice; there's a reason why cruise ships' (literally) worth of tourists flock to the piazza. It is a must visit, but I do think it can be a short one, especially if you're not fond of crowds. Do a lap of the piazza, take in the architecture, and then move on. You certainly won't find me posing for a photo with pigeons (they are the rats of the sky).
The Ponte Rialto has just undergone a massive restoration, which was sadly still underway when we visited last year. It is a pretty spectacular sight, best to visit early if you don't want to jostle for a clear view.
A much smaller bridge, the Bridge of Sighs is a covered bridge that connects the Palazzo Ducale to the prison, and can be viewed just around the corner from Piazza San Marco. I actually think this is more picturesque than the Rialto; as the Bridge of Sighs frames a perfect little vista down one of the canals.
If you're in Venice for the Biennale, then you won't be able to miss the Giardini della Biennale. But for the archinerds out there, you'll want to visit anyway. In fact, I wish I had visited when the Biennale wasn't on, as I would have been able to get a better look at the pavilions up close. I'd been dying to see Sverre Fehn's Nordic Pavilion in person (another piece of architecture that cropped up a lot in architecture school) and it didn't disappoint. Those concrete beams are gorgeous and I'm looking forward to seeing it again when it's empty.
Australia's exhibition last year was THE POOL, designed by Aileen Sage Architects. And yes, I am biased, but it was the best exhibition of the Biennale. For the Aussies, the multi-sensory installation evoked feelings and triggered memories of being at your local pool. For the non-Aussies, the installation provided an insight into Australian culture. Excitingly, the NGV is bringing THE POOL to Melbourne, opening on August 18. It's definitely worth visiting!
This tip is courtesy of my friend Clowds, who was tipped off by a local tour guide. For the best view over Venice, catch the vaporetto from Piazza San Marco to the Abbazia San Giorgio Maggiore, where you can catch a lift to the top. Make sure you check the timetable, as the lift does close at certain times (like for Sunday Mass when we visited...).
The recently opened Fondaco dei Tedeschi, which houses a large DFS, is sort of my idea of heaven. Insanely beautiful, the palazzo has received a makeover by architects OMA, which is nothing short of genius. I could have spent a lot more time in this place (though it would have been worrying for my bank balance).
Carlo Scarpa would have to be on many architects' lists of favourite architects and some of his most notable works are located in Venice and nearby Verona (of Romeo and Juliet fame). I unfortunately didn't get a proper chance the last time round to explore Scarpa's works at the Biennale (once again the exhibitions and the people sort of got in the way) and I have still not managed to see the Olivetti Showroom in person - another one for next time!
FOOD & DRINK
The night we arrived, it was late and we were hungry. Osteria dal Riccio Peoco was our saviour, serving late night snacks (arancini anyone) with spritzes galore. The spot seemed to be very popular with the locals too; it was a bit of fight to get your order in at the bar!
We happened to walk past Farini Bakery and the cases of baked goods were too appealing to pass up (we made a return visit too). You'll be doing a lot of walking and one of Farini's focaccia or panini make the perfect lunch on the go.
If you've been following the blog a little while, you'll know I like to eat or try the local cuisine where I can. The Venetians like to use squid ink in dishes and I had the best squid ink pasta of my life in Venice at Osteria Il Milion, which claims to be the oldest restaurant in Venice.