Venice is a beautiful city, but also overwhelmingly touristy and it became almost an art for me to learn how to escape that and find the few pockets of genuine Italy hidden amongst all the souvenir shops.
Yesterday after singing at San Marco, I wandered around looking for these places. I ended up finding a small grocery store on one of the emptier streets where the locals live. (One of these “locals” happened to be an Indian gondolier who offered me a free gondola ride because I had “beautiful big eyes”... which I politely declined).
I always like going into grocery stores when I’m in foreign countries. It gives me a bit of a sense for what people actually eat every day and while most things are typical, there’s always some different unique “staples”.
Then I came across a small hole-in-the-wall Venetian tapas and wine bar. There were several older Italian men smoking and drinking outside it and blocking the entrance and they looked a little intimidating, so I had to walk by a second time before I got the courage to go through them to get in. There were a lot of interesting finger foods, so I picked out a pumpkin sausage croquette, tiny battered sardines, stockfish with garlic, and a few others. This was accompanied by a glass of wine of course. I enjoyed my small lunch in the corner of the little place while hearing the sounds of Italian around me.
After that, I wandered into an antique book and paper shop and spent a long time looking through a crate of old music scores and opera playbooks, finally selecting a few interesting things to take home. My afternoon ended with a nice stop in an archway by the canal, where I sat and wrote in my journal for a bit and just absorbed the nice weather.
We had a group dinner that evening, and after that I went with a few members of the choir to sit by the Rialto Bridge and have a traditional Venetian drink – aperol. It was a beautiful evening by the water, and a perfect end to our day.
The next day we had most of the day free before our evening concert, so I went for another walk, this time over the Rialto Bridge. Even though there were tourist shops over there too, they were more mixed in with places that locals needed, like bakeries, meat shops, grocery stores, etc. I went into some of these and bought some coffee and other treats. I also ended up buying a handmade Venitian mask that I couldn’t resist even though I initially thought I didn’t want a mask.
|Me wearing my mask... |
and an Italian top that I actually bought in Toronto
|View from the Rialto Bridge|
Then I found the market and felt right at home. It was just like the open air markets in Portugal. So many bright and delicious fruits, vegetables, and other things and locals haggling for prices. I waited patiently near one popular seller where many people were lined up to get their produce weighed and bought a small container of delicious strawberries, which I then sat and ate by the water.
After some more wandering the streets, I found another one of those little hold-in-the-wall ‘tapas’-like places. This one also had a restaurant in the back but I could tell from the menu that it was “westernized” food so I ended up ordering the seafood risotto that was up at the front counter, and taking home a container of those hand-held snacks that seem to be popular with the locals (this time it included things like fried zucchini flowers stuffed with cheese and fish croquettes).
|At Cafe Florian|
After a pit stop back at the hotel (which included a very rare experience for me – a nap – with the hotel room window wide open and the warm air and sounds of Venice as a lulling backdrop), I went over to the historic Cafe Florian, which has been around since 1720 in St. Mark’s Square (and has seen the likes of Goethe and Charles Dickens),had an excellent espresso there before going off to visit the music museum, a tiny exposition of string and other instruments from Vivaldi’s time.
|That's the Venitian Music Conservatory on the left|
I then found another archway by the canal away from the bustle of tourists and sat there to eat the snacks I had procured from my lunch place. As I was eating, the building in front of me seemed to have music coming from all the windows – people were practicing the piano, violin, trumpet, clarinet, and there was even a vocalist warming up. I felt right at home in that cacophony of rehearsing. Intrigued, I tried to find the other side of this building (which is more difficult than it first appears to be, with all the canals and bridges to contend with) and eventually succeeded. It was the Venetian music conservatory! It was not open to the public so I couldn’t go inside but I still thought it was a neat accidental discovery. There was a group of little Italian boys playing a very intense game of soccer in the front courtyard, which I enjoyed watching for a while.
|Poster outside the church advertising our concert|
Finally, it was time for the concert. We were singing a lot more repertoire than the previous day, and went through a lot of it in a dress rehearsal before the concert, while tourists poked their head in, stopped to listen a while, and took photos and videos of our rehearsing.
It was exciting to finally get to perform a full programme, and there were some magical moments performed to a full house. Our rendition of Bach’s “Singet dem Herrn” was probably the best we’ve ever done. It was my favourite part of the concert. When everything just clicks into place near-perfectly like that it’s almost like an out-of-body experience. Bach isn’t the master for no reason. One concert-goer called his experience at our concert a "perfect moment of happiness". That is no small praise.
After our concert, some of us celebrated by having the most delicious Italian pizza as well as the tastiest olive oil in which to dip our bread. The restaurant was recommended to us by our guide (a local) and was a perfect end to our time in Italy.