In October I turned the big 30, and I’ve been waiting on the present from the hub for a while – a trip to Venice. I knew it would be amazing, but I had it in the same category as Paris – some beautiful sights, but ultimately, a normal city like any other. This wasn’t the case. It took a few hours to shake the feeling that we were in a film set, or a themed area of Disneyland. It was too beautiful to be real.
There’s always a few nerves when you travel abroad as a vegan, as you know you can’t fall back on your Tesco metro falafel wrap, for example. But Venice was so easy – you can easily search vegan gelateria places before you go – but so many more than on Google do have vegan options. Any pizza place is happy to remove the cheese for you, and many restaurants mark allergens on their menus so you can easily see where milk or egg sneaks in. It’s really easy.
The trip started off like magic, a super early morning flight (set off at 07.20) meant we’d have breakfast at the airport (brought our own Jus Rol pastries obv) then be in Venice in time for lunch. For those whose Geography isn’t their strong point (*ahem*) Venice is located off the coast of North East Italy. Which means that as you approach, you fly over the Alps, which was stunning. As we got closer to landing, you can see the islands of Venice and the famous bell towers from the sky.
We already had tickets booked for the express bus into Venice from the airport. Yes you can get a water taxi or a boat, but it seemed expensive and took a while – we weren’t really sure of the layout of Venice and whether it would be worth it, so we went with the easy option. 20 minutes, directly to the bus station (Piazalle Roma). From there, there are no roads into Venice – everything is on foot or by boat. There are water-couriers who will transport your baggage for you to your hotel and you can head out to enjoy the day. The major hotels have their own transport services from the main water bus stops by San Marco. However – our hotel, Villa Rosa, was in a great location – 10 minutes walk from the bus station, so we meandered down on foot, taking in the sights as we went. Unfortunately, although the hotel was in a great spot, it wasn’t a great hotel. We had a family room in the attic, which had super low beams we kept hitting our heads on. The shower in the mornings was cold, and the bed was the lumpiest, hardest bed I’ve ever slept on – worse than a pull-out sofa or an air bed. They also hid the main blanket on the second night which I found in the wardrobe the next morning. The bathroom was tiny (you could literally wash your face while having a wee if you wanted). The plus points were it was right by a Vaporetto stop (water bus) and you could easily mooch into the centre of the city on foot.
So once we dumped our bags, this was what we did. Starving at this point, we wanted pizza. And we wanted to sit outside and feel sun on our faces. Not really knowing where we were going, we wandered away from the hotel, hoping we’d bump into the perfect spot. We ended up in a residential area, not really sure where we should head, getting hungrier by the minute. In a stress, we saw a restaurant with a paper sign in the window “TERRAZZA” (terrace). “Let’s just go here!”, finally fighting the hangriness to make a decision. With my best Italian I requested “ci sono tavoli nella terrazza?” (are there tables on the terrace?) and we were led outside. Sat alongside the canal, we saw our first gondolas pass by lazily, and opened the menu. And noticed a familiar smell – of coriander, and pickles, and garam masala. Yes my friends, our first meal in Venice was in an Indian restaurant. However, they had a pizza menu, and English pride and growling bellies stopped us from moving on. The even brought us complimentary breadsticks with raita and chutney to start. Anyway – it turns out that wherever you go in Venice, the pizzas are pretty great, even at Ganesh Ji‘s.
For the rest of Friday we had no real plan. We’d already booked skip the line tickets to San Marco’s for Saturday morning, we just wanted to wander, have some gelato, see the sights. All the Venice guides tell you to make time to just wander, get lost, absorb the real Venice away from the tourists. Well, this was unavoidable. The streets are like mazes, with dead ends and canals, so it’s super easy to lose your bearings and end up at completely the opposite end of town. But this is all part of the fun. You just wander down an alley, they come out in a 14th century square with huge stone buildings that rise up out of nowhere.
Saturday we kicked off the day with the big three sights – San Marco’s basilica, San Marco’s bell tower, and the Doge’s Palace. The first two always have huge lines outside, so we paid 2 Euro extra to book an entry slot in advance – well worth it. San Marco’s basilica was stunning – I hadn’t known what to expect, but it was grander, golder and more intricate than I could have imagined. It’s hard to imagine such a tiny island wielding such power and dominance so strongly to have built something so grandiose. As you except the main part of the cathedral, there’s a staircase on your left where you can buy a ticket to the terrace. From here you can look out over St Mark’s square and view the famous horses close up. No photography is allowed inside, and although many people flaunted that rule, I wanted to respect their wishes – you can’t help but be affected by the sanctity of the place. However we did take pictures out on the terrace, and from up the bell tower where the views were breathtaking.
Famously, everyone will tell you that a coffee at St Mark’s Square is the most expensive in the world, 20 euro plus music tax or something. However, in the corner of the square, just past the astrological clock, is a takeaway bakery and a small restaurant, where both will serve you very reasonably priced and delicious Italian coffee. We had a little sit down here then headed to the Doge’s Palace. Before we went to Venice, we knew nothing about Doge’s. And the Doge’s Palace won’t leave you any better informed. The first 10-15 minutes are just ancient pillars, which although pretty cool, there’s like a million of them, and it does leave you thinking how is this museum such a big deal. Once you’re past the pillars you open up into the central terrace, and from there into the court rooms. We googled what Doges were afterwards – they were the rulers of Venice when it was its own republic for 1100 years, ad they liked art. And gold – on ceilings, on walls, everywhere. The symbol of Venice is the lion of St Mark, typically pictured with scripture – which is why everywhere you go in Venice, you’ll see lions reading books. Attached to the Doge’s Palace is the famous Bridge of Sighs, where prisoners being led to their execution get a final glimpse of the beautiful city – and sigh.
After the Doge’s Palace we wandered and found a restaurant on a small square with really clear allergen information, Conca d’Oro. It claimed to be Venice’s oldest Pizzeria, but we went for a selection of small plates. The focaccia and rosemary croquettes were both particularly amazing.
After lunch we took the Vaporetto out to San Giorgio where there’s an abbey and a clock tower that looks good from a distance. I’d say don’t bother to be honest. I did get this photo though, with the Doge’s Palace & St Mark’s in the background and the vaporetto is fun in itself.
After that we had no real plan, and decided to go to a part of the city we hadn’t been yet. So we took the vaporetto to Zattere, and wandered up the Dorsoduro district. This area had a totally different vibe to it, lots of young people spilling into the street from tiny bars selling prosecco in plastic cups for 2 Euro a go – a million miles away from the Chanel shops around St Mark’s. We headed to Campo Santa Margherita which we’d heard was the lively centre of the area, but with rain drawing in, it was quiet. We sat drinking wine for hours at a bar/restaurant called Fuori Rotta, eventually moving inside when it got too cold. From there we stumbled home in the rain.
Sunday was our last day, and the sun came out again. We wandered across town, this time using the traghetto service (a traditional ferry – like a big gondola that crosses the grand canal where there are no bridges around). We visited the Museo Correr, the basilica di San Giovanni e Paolo, and the basilica Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. All just stunning. The basilica di San Giovanni e Paolo sits next to what must be the most beautiful working hospital in the world, complete with boat ambulances.
We wandered slowly back to the centre of town and came across a restaurant tucked away not far from the Rialto Bridge, proudly advertising a vegan menu – Ristorante Mario alla Fava. It was the most expensive place we’d seen, but with it being the last day and a feeling that we should show support for it, we went. It’s been around since 1960 and claimed to pride itself on service. I have to say, the wine menu was huge, expensive and pretty overwhelming. We didn’t know what we were doing, so we ordered beer. After that decision, we were downgraded to a different waiter who didn’t speak English and I felt a bit less taken care of. The tables around us got a whole show with wine being brought out in a silver basket, heated by tealight, swirled and sniffed and decanted and oxygenated. Pretty pretentious and I’m kind of glad we didn’t have to go through that charade. Both the starts and the main are around the £15 mark, plus cover charge and compulsory service charge, meaning it came to over £100 for a beer each and two courses. One of the starters, the “mopur” was a kind of mock meat which we weren’t expecting – kind of like a herby, chewy quorn slice. Both of the main were great, I love aubergine when it’s been cooked to death and smothered in olive oil. However, having felt a bit sidelined by the waiters and going way over budget, we decided to find some final vegan gelato rather then try the vegan desserts in the restaurant, as great as they sounded. On our way out, I stopped off at the loo, and found the lowest toilet in the world – about the same height as my handbag.
Suso Gelateria was the best we’d had so far – they had one flavour that was like deep berry with a sort of chocolate truffle layer, amazing.
Our express bus back to the airport left at 7, giving us in total about 54 hours from arrival to departure. There are so many more places we could have been in the city – although it’s easy to do the big sights in just a few days, the city is full of museums, art, sculpture… and drinking. We never made it out to the Lido or the Guggeheim museum. We also didn’t manage to do the unofficial city cruise, where you take the Number 1 Vaporetto around the full island. I feel we could easily go back for a second weekend and go to completely different places. So between Ambleside & Venice I think turning 30 hasn’t been so bad. ❤