by Alessandra Ressa
All photographs courtesy of Alessandra Ressa
One of the great advantages of living in Trieste is having Venice within a stone’s throw. Only two hours away by train, Venice is the perfect winter weekend destination if you are looking for a break without going too far.
Autumn and winter are the best times to visit, as the usual crowds of tourists are discouraged by the weather. Prices are also much more reasonable, so let yourself be seduced and spend the night in one of the most beautiful cities in the world! Here is my personal list of things to do in Venice on a 24-hour trip from Trieste, on a foggy day.
The Conservatory. Make sure to arrive in Venice by lunchtime on Saturday as there’s a wide selection of direct trains from Trieste almost every hour. Drop your bags in one of the locandas in the San Marco area. I often go to Art Decò, a b&b conveniently located in Campo Santo Stefano, near La Fenice theater, where prices range between 90 and 140 euro for two people including delicious and abundant breakfast with fresh pastry straight from the bakery.
Have a quick lunch in a bacaro, a typical Venetian osteria, where you can have local tapas-style dishes while sipping wine. A bacaro is the perfect place to exchange a word with real Venetians, a rare sight nowadays.
In Campo Santo Stefano you shouldn’t miss Venice’s Conservatorio at Palazzo Pisani. Make sure you book your tour in advance (write to email@example.com), tours are only held on Saturdays. The building is simply magnificent, with a vast terraced courtyard richly decorated with pillars and arches. While there, you will hear students at work in a cacophony of instruments and voices that will make you feel in heaven.
Scala del Bovolo. This incredible spiral staircase is located just a few minutes from Campo Santo Stefano at the end of a tiny alley. This smaller version of the tower of Pisa was built in 1499 as part of the Contarini palace. Legend goes that Pietro Contarini had the tower and staircase built in order to reach his bedroom, located at the top floor of the mansion, directly on horseback. A sort of an ancient private elevator. In the garden, you will find an ancient stone well. Its well-head dates back to the 11th Century. A visit inside Scala del Bovolo (bovolo means sea snail in Venetian dialect) needs to be booked in advance.
Libreria Acqua Alta. Next, head to Libreria Acqua Alta. This unique bookshop has seen some serious flooding as per the best Venetian tradition. Located in Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa, just off the Santa Maria Formosa square, the shop is a must-see for lovers of new and second-hand books. A fig tree will welcome you at the entrance. Explore the rooms where books are stored in bathtubs, gondolas and canoes, safely protected from the capricious waters of the canals. You can grab a book and sit in the bookshop “garden”, that is a gondola anchored to the canal. Now, that is truly a unique and inexpensive experience.
There is a wide selection of books in foreign languages at Libreria Acqua Alta, as well as a colony of cats sleeping on the piles of books everywhere. Due to the uniqueness and popularity of the place, on a Saturday you may find yourself stuck in an obligatory path when tourists pack the place. You may find yourself having to walk single file in and out (the exit is located at some distance from the entrance) several times before you manage to buy the book you really want.
A performance at Teatro La Fenice. If you are an opera lover or are just curious about it, a show at beautiful La Fenice theater is an experience you shouldn’t miss. Although not as cozy, intimate, comfortable and affordable as Trieste’s Verdi Opera theater, a performance in Venice is another adventure you shouldn’t miss. The first reason is that anything on stage at La Fenice is always a success. Only the most talented artists perform here. Secondly, the international, lively audience will make you feel at home.
La Fenice’s program for 2023-24 is very rich in operas and concerts for every taste and budget. You can find the complete list of performances at www.teatrolafenice.it. If possible, avoid the restaurants around La Fenice theater. They are overpriced and pretentious, and the food will be a disappointment. An inexpensive tramezzino Venice style, stuffed to the limit with tuna fish, hardboiled eggs and onions will be just as chic.
The Tetrarchs in St. Marks square. On Sunday morning, after breakfast and before you leave San Marco to head towards the area of Castello and Cannaregio were you will eventually catch your train back to Trieste, don’t forget to pay a quick visit to San Marco square, walk around the magnificent church and pat the four Tetrarchs for good luck. The porphyry statues date from the 3rd century AD and were stolen by the Venetians from Constantinople at the end of the Fourth Crusade.
The Sack of Constantinople of 1204 went down in history as one of the most barbaric looting and pillaging events of the medieval era. The famous bronze horses of St Mark’s were also looted from Constantinople at the same time and brought back to Venice where they presided over St Mark’s Square, until Napoleon, ironically stole them and took them to Paris.
When the Tetrarchs arrived in Venice they were embedded into the south-west corner of St. Mark’s Basilica – and have remained there ever since.
Fondaco dei Tedeschi. Sunday late morning in Venice is best spent shopping in the luxury department store Fondaco dei Tedeschi. The former German market is an ancient building next to the Rialto Bridge that was founded in the XIII century. Initially, it was used by foreign merchants to store the goods they traded by sea. It owes its name “dei Tedeschi” (of the Germans) to the Nordic origins – not just German to be precise – of the merchants who used to visit it to do their business.
Today, it is still possible to find lots of mercantile symbols and inscriptions engraved by German merchants on the marble balconies at the first floor. After its recent reopening in 2016, it is an unquestionable must-visit for shopping in Venice. Book for free your visit of the Fondaco rooftop, where you can enjoy one of the best views of Venice, even on a foggy day here https://www.dfs.com/it/venice/t-fondaco-rooftop-terrace
Former Teatro Italia. Heading back towarts Santa Lucia Station you can’t miss Teatro Italia in the Cannaregio district. It was first built in 1914 and designed in a neo-gothic architectural style with a nod to Art Nouveau. Since construction, the building has been home to a theatre, a cinema and a conference hall, before going into disuse in the late 1990s. In 2016, a project began to restore the space and its artistic features and it is today a supermarket.
The Jewish ghetto and lunch at Gam Gam Kosher restaurant. Your 24 hours in Venice are now running out but you can’t leave without a stroll in Venice’s 500-year ancient Jewish ghetto, the oldest in the world. Make sure you have at least 45 minutes to visit its main square and the synagogue/museum. The Jews who settled in the Ghetto came from all over Europe: Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal. So it became a very cosmopolitan community.
That mixture, and the interaction with other communities and intellectuals in Venice, made the Ghetto a cultural hub. Nearly one-third of all Hebrew books printed in Europe before 1650 were made in Venice. Today, walking through the streets of the world’s first “ghetto,” one might come across a variety of sights: the impoverished buildings of the quarter; rabbis reciting elegant speeches in the Italian vernacular; crumbling buildings; musicians singing Hebrew psalms. Your visit cannot be complete without lunch at the popular Kosher restaurant Gam Gam.
To be able to eat at Gam Gam on a weekend you need to book days in advance. Saturdays are reserved for Shabbat celebrations, but Sundays are popular both with the Jewish and non-Jewish Venetian and international community. They serve the best dishes from the local Jewish tradition at very affordable prices. Don’t miss the tasty sarde in saor, the number one specialty all over Venice apparently invented in this ghetto, as well as the fried artichokes, next to other popular dishes from the Jewish cuisine such as matzo-ball soup, shawarma, and much more.
If you have managed to do all 8 things in my list, your 24 hours in Venice are probably up and it’s time to head back to sunny and windy Trieste through a short train ride with breathtaking views of the lagoon in the mist.