One of the terrific bonuses of living in Paris is the proximity of other countries... like Italy for instance. It's not a big stretch to leave in the morning and return at night. The downside? I've been checking on line sites for apartment rentals in Venice all morning, thinking that two full weeks might begin to satisfy my need to cook what can be found at the Rialto Market.
The Rialto Market became the principal shopping location for Venitians at the end of the 11th century, though the area you walk through now was built in the 16th century after a huge fire devastated the original structures. You can still plan your marketing route by the street signs as the market was originally divided into four distinct areas: Erberia (herbs, fruits and vegetables) Naranzeria (oranges) Speziali (spices) and Pescaria (fish).
Located in the San Palo neighborhood just north west of the Rialto Bridge, labyrinthine shopping streets link St. Marks Square with the Grand Canal. Here you can find bakeries, bread shops, cheese stores, cookware shops and high design place settings (did I mention mardi gras mask shops?)
By Italian law, all fruits, vegetables and fish for sale must have a sign stating not only the price but place of origin. It is interesting to note that not only were many of the vegetables sold at the 'Erberia' stands grown on the neighboring San'Erasmo island, but there were very few signs indicating much of anything not grown in neighboring regions of Italy.
Making my way into a tiny shop filled with cheese and ham to buy some creamy burrata cheese (which is hard to come by and expensive in Paris) was an adventure all it's own. Local men and women chattering away while they selected from a wide variety of hams and cheeses crowded into the tiny shop. The very nice man in the shop spoke French (which is pretty much the 'second language' of Venice) making my transaction not only easy but friendly and fun.
Walking for kilometers up and down winding streets, over bridges and along tiny canals, barely wide enough for the slimmest of gondolas, works up quite the appetite. Fortunately reservations were waiting at a fabulous place recommended by a friend, right in the heart of the market district.
Here I sat, watching 'la totalita Venito' walk, row, paddle and motor by while eating insalata del polipo and drinking Count Brandolini's 2008 Sauvignon Blanc in the warm Italian sun. Bellisimo!
After lunch it was off toward the Plaza San Marco. But, the closer to the Plaza the more people there were until it was nearly impossible to walk without bumping into someone. It is only the first week of April, so I can only imagine what Venice is like at the height of the season if you can't get a seat at a cafe now! I don't advise a July/August visit.
Escaping the crowds by diverting off onto a side streets which which quickly became more and more residential the further the venturing. Lefts turns, right turns, bridges and squares fell behind as wandered deeper into where Venetians live and work. It didn't take long before I found "IT" It being Gianni's printing shop and one of the most fascinating shops in all Venice.
Now this is no ordinary printing shop. Gianni had, until very recently (he donated it to a museum) a Gutenberg printing press upon which he did his work. And what work!
Gianni hand sets his type and hand prints everything he produces. He has no computer, no fax machine, no cell phone and doesn't accept credit cards. Those skinny little drawers you see in the photo above are what he refers to as his 'floppy discs'. His client list reads like a who's who of international celebrity. Plus, Gianni's a genuinely nice guy, so it seemed quite natural to order calling cards adorned with a mermaid - they should be arriving in the mail any day now.
As the shadows grew longer and the little alleys and byways grew darker, I grew resigned to the sad truth that it was time to leave. I'd long run out of battery power for my camera (note to self: buy a back-up battery) and had eaten a piece of pizza and a pistachio gelato so my day was pretty much complete.
My thoughts on the day? There is so much to see and so much ground to cover so come prepared with a (very flexible) plan and a good map. The next most important suggestions: Wear comfortable shoes, come with an appetite, don't be shy, and bring an extra, fully charged battery for your camera!
If you are interested in a tour guide for a day... please (and I kid you not) write me at Zabie@me.com.