Of Gondolas, Gelatos and Cicchetti

Where else would you have the three things mentioned above? But in Venice. That wonderful city on the waters, where water permeates every aspect of life. We met a man from Germany during our lost-in-the-city moments. The German from Frankfurt went out of his way to walk us to our destination, and mentioned that he had been to Venice 20 times. Now that is the kind of charm Venice exudes.

Serenading Gondoliers 

First, let me take you to a squero. The word is Venetian for a boatyard, where the traditional boats of the city are hand made. Seven of them are still functioning in the city. We made our way to Squero di San Trovaso where they make gondolas and you can take a look from across the river flowing through the quarter. It is in the Dorsoduro sestiere. You cannot enter unless you have a group of 30 and make a booking ahead of time or you’re part of a walking tour which is eye-poppingly expensive (above 500$). Rest assured, just watching from across the river is a good enough prospect. This photograph was taken on a Sunday when the squero remains shut.

The boatyard, adjacent to the Church of San Trovaso, dates back to the 17th century. Those Tyrolean-style buildings (Tyrolean architecture is typically characterised by houses made of wood with balconies and sloping roofs. You would think they belonged in an alpine locale but these were made by workers from the Dolomites.
Church of San Trovaso in Dorsoduro sestiere of Venice.
From 10,000 gondoliers, the numbers have dwindled to 350.
The traditional, flat-bottomed boat, the gondola that is, required by something called a sumptuary law to be painted black. Because they were growing too gaudy in the old times. “The gondola is painted black because in the zenith of Venetian magnificence the gondolas became too gorgeous altogether, and the Senate decreed that all such display must cease, and a solemn, unembellished black be substituted. If the truth were known, it would doubtless appear that rich plebeians grew too prominent in their affectation of patrician show on the Grand Canal, and required a wholesome snubbing,” Mark Twain had observed in his travel book, Innocents Abroad.
‘I am afraid I study the gondolier’s marvelous skill more than I do the sculptured palaces we glide among. He cuts a corner so closely, now and then, or misses another gondola by such an imperceptible hair-breadth that I feel myself “scrooching,” as the children say, just as one does when a buggy wheel grazes his elbow. But he makes all his calculations with the nicest precision, and goes darting in and out among a Broadway confusion of busy craft with the easy confidence of the educated hackman. He never makes a mistake,’ noted Twain.
Gondoliers and the traveller.
Those two chatty men actually jumped from one side of the bridge to the other to chat with their fellow gondolier who was rowing through the canal, a couple seated behind him. There was plenty of rapid, animated Italian words flying to and fro.
Rows of gondolas bob on the waterfront of San Marco.
Atmospheric gates in the Castello sestiere.
A typical scene from the Castello sestiere.
Victor Emmanuel II statue on the waterfront
A pair of gondoliers have a quick interchange of words before parting ways.
“The gondolier is a picturesque rascal for all he wears no satin harness, no plumed bonnet, no silken tights. His attitude is stately; he is lithe and supple; all his movements are full of grace. When his long canoe, and his fine figure, towering from its high perch on the stern, are cut against the evening sky, they make a picture that is very novel and striking to a foreign eye,” said Mark Twain.
There are so many other modes of transport on the waters. Like this boat.


Othello the moor?
The most popular mode of transport in the city in all its avataars.
The delivery barge is a common sight on the canals. The Italian postal service, for example, has its own. We saw a boat ambulance too.
“In Venice, things not always as they first appear. I contemplate this observation from my post on the aft deck of one of Master Fumagalli’s gondolas, taking in the panorama of bridges, domes, bell towers, and quaysides of my native city. I row into the neck of the Grand Canal, and, one by one, the reflection of each colorful façade appears, only to dissipate into wavering, shimmering shards under my oar.” Laura Morelli
The quietest of alleys reward you with a peek into quaint trattorias.
Modes of transport. Other than a gondola that is.
The gondolier and the golden horses

“The experts are right, he thought. Venice is sinking. The whole city is slowly dying. One day the tourists will travel here by boat to peer down into the waters, and they will see pillars and columns and marble far, far beneath them, slime and mud uncovering for brief moments a lost underworld of stone,” wrote Daphne du Maurier in Echoes from the Macabre: Selected Stories.

I really hope it remains a macabre part of the imagination.

P.S.: Why not take a traghetto for 2 Euros than splurge 80-100 Euros on a gondola? In this off-peak season, gondoliers would deign to lower their price by 20 bucks bringing it down to 60 Euros. Have a think.

Noshing Away

The best meal I have had in Venice lay in two trattorias. Trattoria Ai Cugnai in the Dorsoduro sestiere is one of them. It is run by three Italian women who are sisters-in-law. The food is downright unputdownable. One of my favourite spaghetti dishes, which is basically just pasta cooked with olive oil and pesto, had been given a twist in this trattoria. It came with a dash of saffron. I had never thought of saffron marrying well with pesto.


The trattoria is in this alley off Ponte dell’accademia
Pesto-flavoured spaghetti with saffron.
Grilled vegetables are my go-to dish along with a helping of spaghetti. This plate here came with smoky charred rounds of aubergines, diced aubergines and spinach along with slices of peppers.
That is how easy it is to wipe a plate clean in a trattoria.
In San Marco sestiere
A coffee break in an old cafe is not without its dangers. First, you dig into sinful pastries and then you pay the earth for them. This cafe charged us a hefty 15 Euros for a cup of tea and cappuccino, with a piece of chocolate pastry.
Chocolate yule log, permeated by the intense flavour of rum and dried fruits.
A cuppa a day keeps the tiredness at bay. Then you have the bill to wake you up.
Mouthwatering olive oil, garlic and pepper pasta with piccante thrown in.
“Venice appeared to me as in a recurring dream, a place once visited and now fixed in memory like images on a photographer’s plates so that my return was akin to turning the leaves of a portfolio: a scene of the gondolas moored by the railway station; the Grand Canal in twilight; the Rialto bridge; the Piazza San Marco; the shimmering, rippling wonderland;” Gary Inbinder
Bangladeshis abound in the city, mostly trying to put roses into your arms, or, selling vegetables and fruits. The man here is selling  chestnuts.
Red hot piccante
At a quiet trattoria in Ferrovia
Spicy salami pizza on a freezing noon cut it just right.
Our days were filled with pizza & Prosecco. What is winter for but tucking in.

Masks, Meringues and Gelatos

A highly rated gelateria in Ferrovia 
It is loony but you have got to stand on a bridge with a view like this before you to truly savour your gelato. However freezing it is (as it was that day) and however many incredulous looks you might get.
Those Murano glass balloons had me.
There is something tantalising about roaming the night streets of a beautiful city like Venice when it is so cold that your nose has a life of its own.
The city of masks has enough masks to keep you gaping every time you pass a display window. The tradition of carnivals and hand making masks goes back a 1000 years in time in Venice. Each of those masks are worn for a particular occasion or purpose.
Gelatos off a gelateria near Rialto Bridge. During the walk back across the bridge, we came across the oddest and most heartwarming sight. A fat labrador hugging his drunk master who seated on the stairs of the bridge. Was he cold or just affectionate?
Pretty shop windows
Creamy gelatos in the Cannaregio sestiere
Hmmm coffee and lemon, an odd combination, but delicious. The sweet tangy taste of lemon complemented bitter coffee.
Meringues and all things sweet
Not underestimating the power of sugar.





Bacari, Cicchetti and Frulala

You want to liven up an evening while in Venice? Head to the local bàcaro (bar). Grab a glass of campari or wine and a few snacks. Cicchetti is Venice’s answer to the Spanish tapas and the Milanese aperitivo. It is a pleasurable affair.

Apparently, King Henry III of France in his day had been presented with 1200 dishes and 200 bonbons in Venice. He might have taken to the cicchetti. Less pressure on the stomach acids and more glee at the thought of trying out a medley of dishes.

And, just when we thought that the night could not get better, we got out of the local bars and made turns in various street corners to spot Frulalas. These are fuchsia/red-lit cocktail bars set up in kiosks and pepped up with cheery music and jiving girls who offer you free shots of fruity cocktails. The night turns headier.

A bàcaro


Canopy of lights at Piazza San Marco
A night walk at Piazza San Marco by moonlight is nothing less than magic and romance intertwined.
Venice by night. Piazza San Marco.
Downing shots at a Frulala.
Good grub is easy to come by in the city.
Basilica San Marco on a moonlit night. It is a good idea to return to the piazza when it becomes empty post sunset. It makes you agree with Shelley: “Venice, it’s temples and palaces did seem like fabrics of enchantment piled to heaven”.
After a few tipples that is how my husband glows.
Glittering theatres
Crowds outside the local bàcaro on Rio Terà de la Maddalena. It gets pretty crowded on weekend evenings inside Cantina Vecia Carbonera.
Plenty of nibbles (you buy them individually), red wines and Prosecco for just 3 Euros each at Cantina Vecia Carbonera.
Inside the Cantina with its traditional wooden beamed ceilings and community tables.
Life should be quite about something bubbly and light and a loving husband.
Funghi/truffle pate on bread and shrimp skewer, washed down with Prosecco.
Another Frulala
“I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following, but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you. What news on the Rialto?” Shylock. The Merchant of Venice.
“But at night, especially when the moon is full and the soft illumination reflects off the water and onto the palaces – I don’t know how to describe it so I won’t, but if you died and in your will you asked for your ashes to be spread gently on the Grand Canal at midnight with a full moon, everyone would know this about you – you loved and understood beauty.” William Goldman




Published by

Arundhati Basu

The great affair in my life is to travel. I count myself immensely fortunate that my partner shares this passion. We are a team that likes to spend time planning and plotting out places to go. Destination check, flights check, accommodation check, cheesy grins check. Off we go.

One thought on “Of Gondolas, Gelatos and Cicchetti

  1. […] a follow-up post about more things Venetian. You know, of gondolas, gelatos and cicchetti. Because the city that enchants at every turn and corner cannot be left alone just yet, can […]


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