The island of Torcello lies across the lagoon from Venice about 10km north as the crow flies (or halibut swims). There is a regular vaparetto (water bus) leaving from the Paglia Bridge near St Mark’s Square, which makes stately progress by way of Murano and Burano. This is not, although it sounds a bit like it, some kind of skittish homage to a well-known catchphrase of Mr Vic Reeves. It is, in fact, another pair of islets in the lagoon. Murano is famous for its glassware and tourists can readily purchase various knick-knacks and baubles. However these trinkets are - almost without exception - of hideous aspect and exorbitant cost and can safely be left to the Americans.
A convivial night culminating in us making short work of a large bottle of brandy meant that we missed the hourly Sunday morning vaparetto we were aiming for so, with a lunchtime table booked at the splendid Cipriani’s restaurant on Torcello, we hopped on to a water taxi. These little speedboats are, inevitably, a lot more pricey that the water bus but, on a crisp, clear autumn morning, as we bounced across the silver-blue waters of the lagoon, the exhilaration of the ride more than made up for the expense. And certainly did a lot to assuage any cognac-induced greenness around the gills.
Such was our air of wellbeing that we did not mind at all when the water taxi-driver insouciantly handed over control of the speeding craft to his 10-year-old son. The look of benign, paternal content on the father’s face as his nipper hurtled us across the deep brought to mind the dog in the Tom and Jerry cartoons (‘Spike’ was it?) with his indulgent chuckle of “That’s my boy!” as his yapping offspring chased Tom up a tree.
If you go in October or November, take a boat ride in the early morning from Lido back into Venice and watch the light of the water play with the spires and domes. If it's been foggy - all the better. Venice will appear out of the mirage.
If you do want to escape the tourist areas head for eastern Castello and the island of San Pietro where you will find the oldest church of Venice, San Pietro di Castello, which was the cathedral of Venice untill the XIX century.
The island, connected to Venice by two bridges, is the oldest settlement in the city of Venice and a church was built there already in the XIII century. The church you will find there now has been remodelled over the centuries but it features a facade by Palladio and a splendid leaning bell tower clad in candid white stone which was built during the renaissance.
The "Campo" in front of the church is a heaven of tranquillity and the silence is broken only by the activity of local fishermen and by occasional boats sailing along the canal.
Nearby you will find the busy via Garibaldi still a pretty authentic street full of locals and lively bars and restaurants. Stop for a light lunch at Bar Mio, in front of the public gardens gates and try their delicious "Tramezzini". The area is perfect for a relaxing break, especially when visiting the nearby Biennale exhibition and you will have the chance to see how the "last" locals live.
Good restaurants in the area are "il Giorgione" or the Pizzeria "Ai tosi", and obviously the fantastic "Corte Sconta", just a short walk away.
Eastern part of the Castello district, past the Arsenale. Ferry stop: Giardini or Arsenale.
A small hotel on the island of Sant'Erasmo. The island is quiet and agricultural (artichokes their own endemic variety), few cars, you get bikes from the hotel. It is cheap and quiet and friendly. Getting to and from the main parts of Venice is easy, its not far from Murano.
Via Forti 13, Sant`Erasmo.
o4i 523 0642
Take vaporetto 13 from Fondamenta Nuove to Sant`Erasmos
Small Italian hotel, some rooms overlook small canal and campo S. Apostoli, close to Grand Canal and Rialto, reasonable price and very friendly and helpful.
Camp San Apostoli, Cannareggio, Venice.
Situated to the east of the Duomo in via Pietrapiana where it joins Borgo la Croce, this is a local's market with a great range of food and there are also clothes stalls around the outside of the building. Cheaper than Mercato Centrale, it has a small cafe with large marble tables where the market workers eat. You can have a bowl of pasta and a litre bottle of beer for around four euro.
Miss Garnet's Angel by Sally Vickers is a beautifully written story based in Venice through the eyes of someone seeing it for the first time. There are many bits I identified with. It inspires you to search out her piazza and, in particular, the church the story is based around. I have tried twice now but each time it has been closed! It just creates a good excuse to go back again.
A pizzeria in the back streets of San Polo that has an enormous range, great staff and even better prices if you're trying to do Venice on a budget. Used by a mix of locals and lucky tourists, so you get a good atmosphere, but also an English language menu if your Italian isn't up to scratch but want to try one of their more interesting pizzas.
Santa Croce, 1552/a; Go out of Campo San Polo to the north-west, and follow the calle straight, over a little cross-roads, and Ae Oche wil be on your left. Not easy to find, but worth it
An amazing and unique guidebook. If only every city was written about with such passion and knowledge. This book is not your average Lonely Planet/Rough Guide/Time Out book and doesn't do restaurant or hotel listings. However, it unlocks the magic of Venice, takes you to some hidden places you probably wouldn't otherwise find and even makes you laugh. Links talks about having a Campari in Piazza San Marco on Christmas Day - if that's not dedication to a city then I don't know what is. A review describes it as not only the best guidebook to Venice, but the best guidebook to any city ever written. High praise indeed.
Take a map with you (a detailed map) but forget about it until the moment you decide you should be turning towards home - wander the streets (preferably at dusk) - explore the non-tourist areas (which are many and you'll find that, contrary to myth, Venice isn't always crowded and noisy) by 'feeling' your way.
If you want to be a little more organised then some great places to get lost are the surrounding streets of the Frari Basilica or the area behind the Cà d'Oro (fabulous museum) near the casino and leading out towards the church of the 'Madonna dell'Orto (literally the madonna of the vegtable garden - apparently her Brussel sprouts were second to none) where there is, as with many small chuches, a breathtaking collection of artworks. But the important thing in all this is the washing lines, the balconies, the kids playing football and the women in their curlers in the grocers, the tiny bars and bakery shops.
Oh, and one more tip, in Venice look upwards. And one more: for lunch look for places to eat that are full of workmen - they'll be the most economical and there you'll find the best food.
A small coastal medieval town 75km east of Palermo. It is easily accessible by car (1 hour) or a train runs along the coast (1.5 hours). Like most Italian town /cities, the old town has been well preserved and the cobbled, narrow streets, buildings dating back to 12th century and magnificent churches give this little town character. The restuarants are out of this world offering the local wines and regional food. Pizzerias are in abundance. I went in May and the weather was perfect during the day (25 degrees) but a little chilly in the evening. Coming from the northern climes I was able to swim in the sea although no Italians seemed to join in the fun. The summer months are hot. Visits to the Lipari Islands and Mount Etna make wonderful day trips.
In Bologna, this is the quintessential eaterie. The menu is hand-scrawled, only in Italian, as if the Bolognese want to keep Fantoni a secret for themselves. Simple, perfect Italian food with no frills and excellent prices. Queue or book ahead as the al fresco terrace is jammed all summer long.
Go to Fantoni, it is worth a trip to Bologna in itself.
Via del Pratello, 11; tel: 051 236 358
I enjoyed a fantastic meal here. Very friendly service - the waiters will talk you through the menu. We had a selection of starters that were divine.
Cannaregio 5039, Fondamente Nove, Venezia; www.algiubagio.net;
tel: 041 523 6084;
Near the vaporetto stop on Fondamente Nove
The best shopping street in Verona, found just to the left of the arena. Louis Vuitton is on the corner so it can’t be missed. Shops here include Diesel, Gucci, Versace, Benneton, Energie, Sixty, Miss Sixty, Sisley, MaxMara, Mandarina Duck, Witboy, Stefanel, Bulagri and Cartier.
A shop that’s not to be missed (I forget the name) sells shirts for both men and women but is on the right hand side as the arena is behind you. It sells the most amazing shirts I've ever come across at the best prices.
At the other end of the street (the opposing end to the arena end) is a small market selling fruit and veg and nice little souvenirs and if you turn right there is a little archway about 20-30m on the left, walk through it and you find yourself at Juliet’s balcony. Next to the archway is Armani Jeans store and about 20 metres further on the right hand side is a very big Emporio Armani Store.
For perfume walk down a bit further and on the right is a nice shop, with very helpful staff. The "more mature lady" who works there is best friends with a sales assistant in Emporio Armani, i ended up getting a discount, just be nice.
Off the main square, as the arena is in front of you, the shopping heaven is to the left with Louis Vuitton on the end
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