Question: How do you find more authentic adventures in the most-visited places in the world?
I didn’t want to go to Venice. I had a few reasons: too far away from the other places in Italy I wanted to go, ridiculously expensive, overrun with tourists and few Venetians these days. My time was limited – tough decisions would need to be made.
Too many choruses of “Ohh, it’s soooo beautiful,” convinced me I should at least give it a try. I planned for a Venice arrival, a day’s stay, and then an early departure for my next stop. The more I looked at pictures of sun-dappled canals, the more I thought I should give it a good look, and another day added to my itinerary.
My planning really took a turn for the positive when I found a Venice adventure right up my alley, the Cicchetti of Venice tour with Intrepid Travel’s Urban Adventures. Promises of a local adventure without the crush of tourists sounded irresistible.**
We met late afternoon on another glorious, sunny day. The meeting spot was easy to find, over in the historic, but less-visited, Cannaregio district. We started with a walking tour of the back “roads.” By this time of day, the cruise ship passengers and day trippers have started to dissipate, revealing lots of quiet corners.
Our guide, Iole, provided interesting details about life in the golden days of Venice and what present-day life looks like. After a day of seeing groups of tourists crowd St. Mark’s Square, it was a delight to see locals walking home from work, meeting their friends for drink or just walking their dogs.
Before we headed over to the Rialto market area for our main event, we got to enjoy a piece of authentic Venetian life. Any tourist will confirm that Venice is an incredibly expensive city and the price of transportation is a scandal. There is one sweet deal to be found, though, in the city’s traghetto gondola ferries. The traghetti cross the Grand Canal at strategic points, providing quick connections to busy Venetian commuters for the grand price of €2. For added fun, I showed off my Nova Scotian sea legs and made the trip like a real Venetian – standing. It’s fun, fast, and got me closer to food, an all-around good time.
The main point of the tour, though, is food. Our appetites stoked by the nice walk and traghetto trip, it was time to get down to eating and drinking. Iole introduced us to the finer points of cicchetti, little morsels of food not unlike Spanish tapas.
We visited four bars in all, with two wines and two food samples per stop. Each bar was small, with their own unique character. The staff were fun, and where they spoke enough English, joined in the fun. We crammed into small spaces, or took our drinks on the street to escape the growing crowds.
We learned about the wines of the Veneto region and got to sample some of the culinary specialties from the region: meats, cheese, even some seafood. The cicchetti were plentiful, varied and delicious. The wine flowed and I felt myself falling for Venice (I’m sure those two things aren’t related AT ALL). I also ended up falling for deep fried zucchini flowers, stuffed with cheese. We don’t eat the flower part of the zucchini flower (much) in North America, and I think we’re really missing out on an opportunity to stuff something with cheese and deep fry it.
A word of warning, however. As the night wears on, things can start to look like this:
By the end of the night, I was sold. Venice was not only a beautiful destination, it turned out to be far, far more fun than I expected. Full credit goes to Iole and Venice Urban Adventures for delivering an experience that made me feel like a local for an evening, exactly what I was looking for and never expected to find. I left Venice convinced I would need to return, and there is no way I ever would have said that a few days earlier.
So, to sum up: the cruise ship folks can have their $25 band charges at St. Mark’s Square, I’m keeping this part of Venice for myself.
EXTRA credit goes Iole, who gave me a great suggestion for fried fish on my day trip to Burano the following day. It was absolutely perfect!
** I booked and paid for this tour myself and did not receive a discount or any other consideration in exchange for this post. Any time I receive a discount or complimentary service as a travel blogger, I disclose it within the post.