When you think Italy, you probably imagine fresh handmade pasta, pizza oozing with local cheese and tomato sauce, a nice bottle of Chianti and some angry (but passionate) Italians riding mopeds using overly-overt hand gestures. And you're not wrong. When I first went to Rome 4 months ago, I was pleasantly surprised by how much Italy lived up to all of my expectations- for better and for worse. That being said, when you think Italy, you probably don't think craft beer. And when you think Venice, Italy, you most definitely do not. And rightfully so.
Venice is a city unlike any other in the world. Dating back to 421 AD, this seemingly floating metropolis has stood the test of time. Visibly weathered by the sea and the sun, Venice is still very much alive and welcoming nearly 70,000 tourists per day in the peak months. However, you still get a bittersweet sense that the city's glory days have long passed and Venice is dying a very slow, but noble death.
Day 1: My Seafood Is Looking At Me...
Venice is only an hour flight from Prague, Czech Republic, but factor in nearly one-hour of public transport to and from each airport and Venice first looks something like a mirage on the horizon.
After arriving we were desperate to check into our hotel, find our barrings and have something to eat (and drink). If you've never been to Venice before, just imagine Bravoos from Game of Thrones. A series of dark, narrow streets twisting around the canals that run like veins through the city opening up to large squares and the Grand Canal- the main artery.
It was already 9 pm when we finally settled on a small restaurant lit only by candle light. I know this might sound romantic, but just try reading an entirely Italian menu in the dark. When we asked the only server, a charming old Italian man, for the English menu he replied, "I am the English menu." Ok, sir. I ordered a seafood appetizer, Kuba ordered a dish of seafood pasta, and together we split a bottle of Pinot Grigio. Call me a naive American, but I was expecting my seafood to look like something from Red Lobster. Ok, not really, but when the plate arrived it looked as if it had just been happily swimming moments before. Fresh. And Terrifying.
After a little liquid courage, I hesitantly dug into my meal. As expected it was excellent, though by the end my plate resembled a seafood masacre-legs and eyeballs strewn about. Regardless, it was an experience. We finished the evening at Osteria Del Cason, a quiet restaurant along one of the canals, for a class of Prosecco.
Day 2: Pigeons, Pizza & The "Craft Beer Scene"
Refreshed after a nights sleep, we woke up early to explore the rest of the city, beginning with St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marc). Navigating through Venice by phone is nearly impossible and a waste of time. To find some main attractions it is fine, but otherwise, you will just find yourself hot, lost and frustrated. Luckily the main square was rather easy to find. To cross the Grand Canal we walked over Rialto Bridge, the oldest bridge in Venice, connecting the districts of San Palo and San Marco.
Finally, after giving up on GPS and just following the hoards of tourists, we found ourselves in the center of St. Mark's Square. I wish there was more to say about the square. It's big, empty and there are a shit ton of pigeons. St Mark's Basilica is quite beautiful, but compared to the rest of the city it is aesthetically a bit lackluster. And it was HOT-which called for Gelato.
Venice is all about finding the shade. The rest of the morning we wandered through the sleepy neighborhood of Dorsoduro and stopped for lunch back near our hotel at Pier Dickens, a pub and pizzeria. PIZZA, PLEASE!
All morning we watched small boats deliver fresh produce and to canal-side restaurants and vendors. Italy in general just has awesome, fresh, local food. Our pizza was no exception.
After a quick afternoon snooze, we headed to Il Santo Bevitore, essentially the only craft beer pub in Venice. Besides some generic Italian beers, like Peroni, Santo Bevitore is one of the only places where you can get a wide selection of Italian craft beers and imports from all over Europe. I was even surprised to find one of my US favorites, Founder's All Day IPA, on tap. I can't remember the last time I saw this.
I am a personal fan of Belgian beers, so I started with a Chimay Tripel (White). At 8% ABV you know things can only look up. I love its sweet, floral flavor and slight hoppiness. My second round was an Italian Led's Hop APA from No Tomorrow Micro Brewery (formerly Pogue Mahone). It was a hazy, copper colored beer with hints of tropical fruit, caramel, and grassy hops and a nice balanced finish. I was really surprised how much I liked it. And last but not least I went with a Founder's All Day IPA for old times sake.
The quirky little pub also offers a wide selection of gin and bite-sized, open face sandwiches for about 1 EURO each.
A bit of an odd-man-out among the wine bars and pizzerias, Il Santo Bevitore holds its own against many of the best craft beer pubs I've visited in Europe. I highly recommend it if you find yourself in Venice. The staff is extremely friendly and eager to help you make the right selection based on your preferences. Plus you have a beautiful view of a canal. I mean, come on.
After a nice buzz, we meandered back through the city and stopped at Osteria Trefanti for another seafood dinner of Scallops and Seabass. No eyeballs this time. It was a bit pricey, but worth it for the top-notch service and food.
Day 3: Burger King
That's right. After a lazy breakfast and checking out of our hotel, we went on a wild-goose chase to find a restaurant, ANY RESTAURANT, that was serving lunch by noon. I was craving the giant bowl of pasta a regrettably never had, but literally, nothing was open. Oh, those Italians. But thankfully Burger King was open and serving the masses. God Bless America.
After our final "Italian meal" we left Venice via an airport shuttle and made the journey back to Prague.
All in all, Venice is one of those places you should see in your lifetime if you have the chance. It is remarkably beautiful with a unique history that is locked inside the city's crumbling facade.