Coffee first came to Italy through the port of Venice. Thanks to the merchants of Venice in the 17th century. The first caffe opened in 1720. Caffe Florian is still a mainstay in Venice, and boast being host to some of histories top writers, artists and intellectuals. Today you can walk on the floors, and sit in the chairs that Gertrude Stein, Hemmingway and Andy Warhol once walked and sat in. If you’re willing to pay six euro for a cappuccino. Wanting to have a bit more of an authentic experience we elected to skip Caffe Florian. Instead we found ourselves cozied up to the bar of Pasticcerria Dachiusso. My friend Shay had arrived the previous evening from Granada, Spain. She is joining me for the remainder of my journey through Italy.
It’s a quiet Thursday morning as we make our way to the pastry shop. The shop is small and better known for it’s pastries than for it’s coffee. But, we are not disappointed in our sfogliatella and cappuccino. Italian breakfast consist of two things. A cappuccino and a pastry. Generally a cornetto (croissant) but we ask the Barista which one he would choose. He hands us both a sfogliatella ( a thin flakey pastry that is filled with an orange zest ricotta) rather than the traditional sweet croissant. The fates are smiling on us as the day heats up and we make our way to our rowing lesson / gondola tour. Ramiera Casteo is a rowing club that is based in the Castello neighborhood of Venice. They started offering these rowing lesson tours as a way to raise funds for a new boat house for their club. The original boat house was destroyed by a tornado a few years ago. As part of the tour we would be rowing into the Arsanale. Still apart of the Italian Navy, we have to have the permission of the Navy to be in the waters. The Arsanale is where the Venetian merchants would build their boats. A floating factory filled with boat building secrets, this is where Henry Ford got the idea for his assembly line. Each building created a different part of the boat. Now it’s mostly a museum, but some of the buildings still remain secret.
Once inside the Arsanale it’s our turn to row. We’re at the front of the racing gondola so we’ll be setting the pace. Julien our guide and instructor has made this activity look much easier than it actually is. But, he’s a good host and humors us with some pointers on how to improve our rowing.
We had both been warned about how touristy it is in Venice. We were told that we wouldn’t like it. No longer the charming place it used to be. I didn’t want to skip Venice because it’s where coffee came to Italy. So we were pleasantly surprised when Venice exceeded all of our expectations. Yes, there we tourists, including us. But, it seemed if we stayed in the quieter areas of Venice, it was still a very charming place to be. Plus with the beginning of Biennale there was art at every turn.
Leaving the Castello neighborhood we set our sites on finding a small bookshop called Acqua Alta. It’s a skinny little shop that had suffered some flooding a few years ago. Now the water logged books fill up some of the nooks and crannies around the shop.
After attempting to charm the shop cat, we leave with broken hearts in search of some lunch. Shay had done some food research before our trip and we settled on this little hole in the wall place La Bottiglia. We found a shady spot on the sidewalk and tucked in with glasses of Prosecco and veggie panini. The bread was almost like a foccia but almost like a ciabatta.
After lunch we did what anyone would do, we went to find Gelato. Grom is actually a Gelato chain in Italy that Shay had told me about. When we were walking around Venice we saw a few locations. She said she enjoyed it for the consistency. It’s not the best Gelato in the all of Italy but it doesn’t disappoint. There is a Grom in the train station by our apartment. I get a cone with salted caramel, and Shay has a cone with Pistachio. It’s nap time before we decide what we’re going to with our evening.
Electing to make dinner at home, we make Sweet Potato Gnocchi with a rosemary brown butter sauce, and a fresh spaghetti marinara. We both feel like all we’ve been doing is eating. Perhaps, an after dinner walk is in order. We had thought it might be nice to experience San Marco when all the other tourist were at dinner. We were right.
In a way, you could say that by making some smart choices we did skip the Venice that everyone had warned us about. We get to enjoy all the touristy sites, but choose to admire at a distance, like Harry’s Bar. We make our way back to our apartment. The GPS is not that great in Venice, and Google maps keeps leading us into the water. We realize our mistake we have to cross the Rialto bridge to get back to the other side of the island.
It’s late when we get back to the apartment. Looking at the health app on my phone I see that we have walked 20 km in a day. Exhausted we both fall into bed. We have an early morning train to catch the next day.
Falling to sleep that night feeling content with all of our choices. I’m glad that we didn’t skip Venice. There is a reason so many people still come here, and a reason why this sinking city is still an inspiration to writers, artist, and regular travelers like me.