Dog days in Venice
It can be tricky to enjoy places that are packed full of people – especially when those people are camera crazy, guidebook-wielding tourists moving in herds. And Venice, unfortunately, is afflicted by this phenomenon more than most places. There are actually more tourists in Venice than locals – 60,000 tourists a day compared with 55,000 locals. But the city, with its network of 118 islands threaded by more than 400 bridges over canals bordered by medieval and Renaissance architecture, still has some quiet and spots, as many locals, such as Marco Cersa and Bruce Leimsidor, will tell you.
Marco, from Lodi, Italy, moved to Venice in 1980 to study at the city’s prestigious Ca’Foscari University. He has lived there ever since and today is Chairman of the University’s Department of Asian and Mediterranean Africa Studies. His partner Bruce is an American professor from New York who moved to Europe in the 1980s to work on immigration and refugee issues. While living in Vienna, he fell in love with Venice and bought an apartment here in 1997. The same day he bought the apartment, he met Marco on a local beach where he had gone to celebrate his purchase.
Marco and Bruce share a love of art, history, music, food, wine and the city of Venice itself.
“This is a place where history lives, where our noblest customs are there for you to see,” explains Bruce.
“San Marco has more important cultural offerings in one concentrated area than practically anywhere in Europe.”
Still, he wonders why visitors head for hotspots like the Doge’s Palace and the Basilica di San Marco while ignoring the Accademia, which has hardly any entry lines but houses amazing art.
“It is a major world museum, not merely a good city museum,” insists Bruce.
He also recommends a visit to Ca’Rezzonico, an 18th century palazzo displaying Venetian art of that era.
Despite the allure of these hidden gems, Bruce and Marco do acknowledge that some of the more popular spots are popular for good reasons. They say the mosaics at the Basilica de San Marco, for example, are not to be missed. Their other Venetian highlights include the island of Torcello, a 40-minute boat ride from San Marco, and Chioggia, a fishing port on the southern part of the Venice lagoon.
The professors also gravitate to some of Venice’s most atmospheric bars, especially in the evening when most of the tourists have gone. Two of their favorites are in iconic hotels with gardens and terraces – the Dandolo Bar at the Hotel Danieli and the Oriental Bar at the Hotel Metropole.
“There are very few quiet, romantic places to sit outside in Venice, so a place with a terrace or garden is a big plus,” observes Bruce.
At the intimate Oriental Bar, with its red and gold décor and clubby ambience, the affable barman Barman Bruno recognizes the professors and greets them as old friends. For casual drinks, Bruce and Marco sit at an outside table at Caffe Rosso on Campo Santa Margherita, where locals make up the majority of the clientele. The café’s interior is nondescript; people-watching outside is the reason to come. Bruce and Marco often drift from drinks to dining out. They point out that some of the best restaurants in Venice, while small and intimate with a pleasant ambience, do not focus on atmosphere or outdoor service. Among their favorites are the Taverna della Fenice, near the eponymous opera house, Il Ridotto, also named for a Venetian theater and simple and unpretentious La Bitta, whose menu focuses on meat and Le Testiere, which specializes in seafood.
Fosca Urbani and her husband Paolo Zanetti are Venetian locals. Fosca’s family’s optical store Ottica Urbani flanks San Marco, while Paolo runs Idra Lavori Subacquei, which specializes in underwater research and repair. As she works at the heart of the tourist trade, Fosca likes to escape with her husband after work to Rosa Salva, a little bar behind the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore on Isola San Giorgio.
“It has a breathtaking view of San Marco and the skyline of Venice without the crowds,” she says.
Fosca’s family includes another couple – her rescue dogs Pepita, a pointer mix, and Papaya, a volpino mix.
“Dogs are accepted just about everywhere in Venice, including restaurants, provided they are well behaved,” she says.
She singles out Trattoria da Bepi, a real Venetian trattoria in Dorsoduro. While out for a before or after-dinner stroll, she likes to walk the dogs in the Biennale Gardens on the eastern end of the island of Venice, beyond the frenzy of San Marco. Dogs are welcome here, though they cannot enter the Biennale’s art pavilions. Another favorite walk is lungo le Zattere, along the waterfront of Dorsoduro.
“You can see the architecture of the Giudecca and the Basilica di Palladio. It provides a great excuse to stop for a gelato at da Nico,” Fosca says.
This gelateria is famed for its gianduiotto, a block of gianduia buried in a glass of fresh whipped cream.
You need to do a lot of walking after that. Fosca suggests taking a water taxi to Isola della Certosa. Dogs ride free. Two other uninhabited islands for walking in nature, with or without dogs, are Isola di Campalto and Isola di Poveglia. Intimacy is guaranteed here because these destinations require private transportation.
Published: August 9, 2018
Last edited: August 9, 2018