Venice is at once both larger and smaller than I expected. But while it’s certainly a beautiful city, and the old palaces lining the grand canal (most have now been converted to galleries, institutions and other state buildings) are enormous, it’s somewhat worn and weary. Ca Rezzonico has been converted into an 18th century Venetian museum and is well worth a visit – again, either I didn’t remember to take any pictures or they’ve mysteriously disappeared somehow! It really is an excellent recreation of the way that the upper class – who weren’t necessarily royalty – lived, and includes some interesting historical artifacts like an antique gondola. It’s one of the few museum buildings where you can access almost every room and get a real sense of the layout, living quarters, and day to day life. The weather was sunny, clear and beautiful the entire time we were there.
Despite it’s current run down nature, it’s easy to get a sense for what an incredible city this must have been in the past, with it’s floating palaces and private courtyard gardens. I’m not joking when I say the Grand Canal is lined with palaces. Seriously, the houses are enormous, although many have been converted into apartments now.
But the thing that struck me most after a day of wandering around wasn’t the charm of the canals or the old architecture, but how EMPTY it was. Once you got off the main tourist pathways you’d go down alley after alley, come across some quite wide thoroughfares as well as large paved courtyards with old covered up wells in the middle of them (I really enjoyed all the different types of wells with their huge metal covers, and imagining what hubs of activities the little plazas must have been), as well as houses with big solid wooden doors and shuttered windows.
Through all this wandering, we passed few people if any. Perhaps it’s because it’s 2 days before Christmas or maybe because it’s all paved. I suppose at home I could go down a few streets without really passing many pedestrians but there are always cars going past. But in a city with no cars, there aren’t that many pedestrians or even boats on the side streets and canals. Where are all the locals? Honestly, it was unnerving and I don’t think I’d want to wander around by myself, even in the daytime.
I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere quite like it. The back streets are eerily quiet, some quite narrow and dark, and over all it just feels empty.
I also started to get the feeling that in Italy you don’t need to put churches on your tourist itinerary as you pass half a dozen everywhere you go anyway. If you’re not that fussed about going inside the churches (honestly there’s only so much religious Catholic artwork I can take before it all starts to look the same – I’m just as happy to view the architecture from the outside) then the museum pass at €24 per adult is much better value than the Venice Unico pass at €39.50.
We had dinner the first night at Taverna Scalinetto, only slightly off the tourist trail but a wonderfully welcoming and incredibly generous restaurant, where both my entree and main delivered about twice as much food as I was expecting or prepared for. My selections included an amazing creamy, oozy, perfect 4 cheese gnocchi, and a grilled steak with buttered spinach which I regret not being able to finish. This was our third night in Italy, but first truly Italian restaurant – I gained 2 sizes over dinner tonight. They also serve an excellent house wine, a medium bodied Merlot with rich berry tones.