Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 20, 2017
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Channelling Venice

From a gondola ride to lesser known secrets, 48 hours is all you need to test the waters in La Serenissima

As early as the 1490s, a Catholic pilgrim wrote that it was impossible to say anything new about Venice. Centuries later, in the 1880s, American author Henry James, echoed the thought: “Venice has been painted many thousands of times and of all the cities of the world it is the easiest to visit without going there.” And yet, more than a century later, 20 million people go precisely there every year. After all, this is the city of Casanova (adventurer, author, the original Italian stallion), of Napoleon’s “drawing room” and the most elegant taxis in the world.

Friday

2pm: Lunch on the run

Chances are that you dined in the sky, but since airplane food is as good as hospital food, a meal minus the plastic wrap is probably what the doctor ordered. For a late lunch, consider the centrally located Rosticceria San Bartolomeo (Calle della Bissa, 5424 San Marco; tel: 011-39-041-522-3569). It’s a cafeteria-like joint where the affordable pasta, meat and seafood are displayed under glass, so docs starting Italian 101 can just point at what they want. The fast turnover means the food is always fresh. There’s no coperto, or cover, downstairs, but there is at the more expensive resto upstairs.

3pm: Daily mass

After lunch, burn some carbs by exploring nearby shops. Sure, most of them are tourists traps, but there are a couple worth ducking into, if only for the a/c. One such store is the Venetia Studium (Calle Larga XXII Marzo, 2425 San Marco; tel: 011-39-041-523-6953; www.venetiastudium.com), which has accessories for the body (bags, scarves, shawls) and home (bedcovers, cushions, wall hangings) all made of a rainbow of silk and velvet. Their claim to fame, however, are their Fortuny lamps: chandeliers made of pleated silk.

From the shops, onto the sights. The city’s hot spot is the Piazza San Marco. Allow yourself a few hours to tour the Basilica di San Marco, Palazzo Ducale and the Campanile, then take a break from the camera clickers at the Scala Contarini del Bovolo (4299 San Marco; tel: 011-39-041-271-9012; www.scalabovolo.org) in an alley just off Campo Manin. Okay, so it’s just a spiral staircase, but that doesn’t mean it’s not stunning. Built in 1499, along with its adjoining palazzo, the exterior scala is a mix of Gothic and Renaissance styles. The result is romantic. There are 360° views at the top, but access is closed for restoration until 2011.

8pm: Gallivating by gondola

“Did you go on a gondola?” I can guarantee that this will be the one question everyone will ask when they hear you went to Venice. Don’t disappoint them, or yourself, by replying “No.” It costs €80 for a 40-minute ride before 7pm (www.gondolavenezia.it/history_tariffe.asp); an extra €20, however, will get you a tour after 7pm when the kaleidoscope of palazzos are even more picturesque at sunset.

Bear in mind that these “official rates” are, well, unofficial. When demand is up, gondoliers will either increase their rates, or decrease the length of your ride. Agree on both before you board. Also keep in mind that a gondola seats up to six, so if you’re a couple, make fast friends with a pair of twosomes to ease the impact on your wallet.

9pm: Alfresco eating

For a meal to remember, reserve at Ristorante Lineadombra (Ponte de l’Umiltà, 19 Dorsoduro; tel: 011-39-041-241-1881; www.ristorantelineadombra.com) near the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute at the mouth of the Grand Canal. The resto is known for its Venetian specialities with a twist, like strozzapreti (homemade pasta) with scampi, radicchio di Treviso and smoked scamorza cheese (€23) and monk fish sautéed in a red-martini reduction served with polenta, toasted almonds and black grapes (€ 25).

Its interior is simple yet sophisticated — it’s a blend of leather, steel and wood with kisses of red and rose — but the exterior floating terrace is its pièce de résistance. It faces the island of Giudecca, home to the Chiesa del Redentore, which was built in the 16th century to celebrate the city’s liberation from the plague that killed 50,000 people. The church’s light is lovely at night, as is the light of the moon on the water. It’s the kind of setting that defends the island’s nickname, La Serenissima.

Saturday

9:30am: Market watch

Begin your day where hundreds of locals start theirs, at the Mercato di Rialto (near the Ponte di Rialto in San Polo). In business since 1097, this food market is among the hardest working in the world — it feeds 60,000 locals and 20 million tourists a year. All this and it boasts the bloodiest blood oranges, reddest radicchio plus aquatic edibles that are so fresh, they’re launching themselves off the trucks (alright, that last one is embellished, but only slightly). At 6am, barges begin drifting in heavy with produce and by 8am the erberia, or fruits and veggies market (closed Sundays), and pescheria, seafood market (closed Sundays and Mondays), are popping. By lunchtime, it’s all over.

11:30am: A novel souvenir

Muro Vino e Cucina (222 San Polo; tel: 011-39-041-523-7495; www.murovinoecucina.it), in Campo Bella Vienna, is a favourite for lunch on Saturdays. Get there at midday sharp because their easy-on-the-pocket goulash and risotto go quickly — before anyone even enters the resto. How so? Lunch is sold from a stall in the square.

Belly full, shop for souvenirs at Rivoaltus Legatoria (11 San Polo; tel: 011-39-041-523-6195) on the Ponte di Rialto. While I admit that I’m a fool for paper and pen shops, this one’s special. Really.

Managed by Giorgio and Wanda Scarpa for more than 30 years, Rivoaltus was the city’s first to sell handcrafted leather notebooks. Each is said to be modelled after 13th-century works and made with cotton paper and veggie-dyed leather from the Amalfi Coast. Can’t find a journal in that gorgeous shade of violet? Have one made-to-order on the spot.

1pm: The art of shopping

The Gallerie dell’Accademia, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection or the brand-new Tadao Ando-designed Centre for Contemporary Art, which opens in June? Odds are that you only have time to visit one. Choose wisely, then take comfort in the fact that there’s art beyond Dorsoduro’s galleries and museums that you do have time for.

At Marina e Susanna Sent (Campo San Vio, 669 Dorsoduro; tel: 011-39-041-520-8136; www.marinaesusannasent.com), for instance, you can browse, and buy, chunky jewellery and shawls made of glass; an ancient craft with a modern twist if ever there was one. The boutique is owned by sisters who come from generations of glassmakers in Murano: they’ve certainly inherited the skills. Their delicate glass necklaces are even sold at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The handmade housewares at Madera (Campo San Barnaba, 2762 Dorsoduro; tel: 011-39-041-522-4181; www.maderavenezia.it) are made by artisans and designers from around the world. There are carved bottle-stoppers, salad servers and bowls made of exotic wood. There are also jugs, trays and vases made of ceramic, pewter and slate.

Although their purpose is utilitarian, the forcoles (oarposts) used by gondoliers can easily be mistaken for sculptures. Beautiful cherry- or walnut-wood forcoles can be bought at Le Forcole di Saverio Pastor (Fondamenta Soranzo, 341 Dorsoduro; tel: 011-39-041-522-5699; www.forcole.com). Saverio Pastor is one of the few remaining forcole makers in Venice.

3:30pm: Local time

Let life pass you by — just for a moment, anyway — at the Campo Santa Margherita in Dorsoduro. There are more locals than tourists there, including kids on bikes, a handful playing soccer and some having such a Dennis-the-Menace moment, there’s certainly no dessert in their future.

Find a bench far from the latter and people watch; some are here to buy bread and eggs, others are here for an espresso with family or friends — and the gossip that comes with it.

The campo is shaped like a T and is bordered by buildings, some from the 14th century. The ex-church of Santa Margherita is at one end (it’s now an auditorium for the local university), a flea market at the other. In the centre are fishmongers and fruit and veggie stands. Don’t leave without a sweet treat from Gelateria Il Doge (3058/a Dorsoduro; tel: 011-39-041-523-4607), which boasts gelato, granita (in summer) and milk-free sorbet.

4:30pm: Global vision

It began in 1895 and still attracts contemporary painters, sculptures and visitors worldwide, so why not you? The 2009 Venice Biennale’s 53rd International Art Exhibit (tel: 011-39-041-521-8828; www.labiennale.org; adult tickets €18) is June 7 through November 22. As usual, the Giardini Pubblici, the city’s largest park, will host about 30 of the international pavilions.

Countries that don’t have their own pavilion in the park (roughly 45) will set up around town in various other venues. Canada’s chosen rep is filmmaker Mark Lewis, who’ll present his short, silent film, Romance. The Arsenal, generally not open to the public, will highlight pieces by up-and-comers.

7pm: Drink in the view

Before dinner, escape to Giudecca, an island that’s about 10 minutes by vaporetto from Venice. Ironically, the island that was once where exiles (giudicato means judged or sentenced) and plague sufferers were sent is now where locals go for refuge from tourists. It’s also where celebrities like Elton John and Madonna reportedly have property.

Although the crescent-shaped island is largely residential, it’s also home to the Chiesa del Redentore and the Hilton Molino Stucky (810 Giudecca; tel: 011-39-041-272-3311; www.molinostuckyhilton.com), which opened in June 2007. The hotel is housed in a 19th-century flour mill. It boasts the city’s largest spa, an outdoor pool on the roof and six bars and restaurants for your dining and drinking pleasure. Not to be missed is their Skyline Rooftop Bar with views back to the Piazza San Marco. Have a cocktail — you’ll certainly deserve it at this point — and just sit, sip and soak in the sweeping view.

9pm: The last supper

The Agli Alboretti (884 Dorsoduro; tel: 011-39-041-523-0058; www.veneziaristoranti.it) was a favourite of Peggy Guggenheim and no wonder. In addition to its cosy dining room, the Agli Alboretti honours its name meaning “small trees” with a backyard garden blanketed in climbing plants, including a canopy of them overhead. It’s the perfect place for a summer supper of homemade tagliatelle with chef’s ragout (€18), acquerello risotto (aged, organic rice) with scallops and Prosecco wine (€22) or lamb in a lemon liquor and sage (about €24).

Sunday

9:30am: Skycrapers & synagogues

Discovering “the ghetto” isn’t often a priority when vacationing — all right, it’s never a priority — but in Venice it should be. After all, this is the neighbourhood that gave us the term; it was the site of a 14th-century foundry, or geto in Venetian, which the first Jewish immigrants to settle there pronounced “ghetto.”

Il Ghetto (Campo del Ghetto Nuovo, Cannaregio; www.ghetto.it) is an island in the northwestern periphery of town where Jews where forced to live between the 16th and 18th centuries out of fear that Jewish merchants and moneylenders would infiltrate other sectors of trade. Its entrance was gated and when Jews left they had to wear something yellow: badges and later hats for men, scarves for women. They were only allowed to practise a few professions; medicine was one of them.

In the 17th century, the population reached 5000 and housing went up, literally. Some buildings have nine stories — the tallest in Venice. When Napoleon rolled into town in 1797, Jews were free to move, but they weren’t entirely free until the late 19th century with the founding of the Italian state. On the eve of World War II, 247 Jews out of the remaining 1500 were deported by the Nazis. Only eight returned.

Today, the area boasts five synagogues that can be toured through the Museo Ebraico (2902 Cannaregio; tel: 011-39-041-715-359; www.museoebraico.it; € 8.50).

12pm: An appointment with death

End your time in Venice where Venetians end theirs: the cemetery on Isola di San Michele, aka the Island of the Dead, just five minutes by waterbus from the Fondamente Nuove stop. It’s so small that bodies are exhumed after 10 years and either cremated or moved to an ossuary. A pity, really, because the cypresses and gardens on the island are lovely, like none other in Venice, in fact.

Each lavish monument is unique (there’s a photo of its resident on some), almost all are blanketed in carnations, daisies or chrysanthemums, the flower of death in Italy. A lot of the plots in the Orthodox and Protestant sections, however, are camouflaged by grass and moss, and paths are overgrown. Among the cemetery’s famous residents are art critic and ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, composer Igor Stravinsky and poet Ezra Pound. Before your departure from Venice, leave a mum or two for those who have also departed it, and yet will also always remain.

For more info on Venice, go to www.turismovenezia.it . Also check out www.veniceconnected.it , a new online reservation system that allows users to buy passes for public transit as well as museum tickets. Book at least 15 days in advance for the best rates.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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