Venice is one of the most amazing cities in the world. The canals, the bridges, the architecture… Everything comes together to impress the many many millions of visitors the Italian city receives every year. However, it isn’t just the views that can stun: the price at the bottom of a bar or restaurant bill floors a fair few tourists — myself included.
Despite being warned about the cover charges, the music charges, the charges for just sitting down, we still managed to get spectacularly ripped off on both of our visits to Venice. I remember paying €9 for a soft drink despite the fact that a price list behind the door clearly said it cost €4. Another time, we found beer for €5 (a steal!) and assumed the wine would cost the same. It didn’t, and neither did the beer once we were hit with a €5 cover charge per person — and we hadn’t even eaten any of the breadsticks the waiter had put on the table.
I’m a bit bitter about Venice. I’ve spent too much of my money there without meaning to — which is why, when we had the chance to do the Urban Adventures Cicchetti of Venice tour, I was unrealistically enthusiastic. Although I was happy that we were going to be trying some local specialties, the fact that we didn’t have to think about how much it was costing was more of a draw than anything else.
The tour begins
We met our guide, Cecilia, outside a small church just off the main road, Strada Nuova. As with all Urban Adventures tours, this Cicchetti of Venice tours was size-limited, with a maximum of 12 customers per tour. It’s extremely popular and almost always books out well in advance, so we had the full complement, a mix of Aussie, Kiwi, and British travellers of a range of ages. It was great to be in a smallish group, especially in a town like Venice, which is thronged with 35 million visitors per year — many of whom travel in groups of 30-50 people.
After a brief but enthusiastic introduction, Cecilia led us across the square to our first stop. At the back of the building was a small seating area where we sat around two tables; Cecilia brought us glasses of prosecco and put a tray of cicchetti in front of us. The six pieces of bread each had a different topping, and we could only have one each… It was heartbreaking. I drowned my sorrows in prosecco as Cecilia told us about how prosecco is made.
Our next stop was some way away, so we walked alongside the canals and over bridges as the sun set. A traghetto gondola took us the last step of the way, across the Grand Canal, and despite having to stand up for the short journey, no one fell into the dark water. We found ourselves in the market area, where we visited a restaurant that specialises in fish — Cecilia piled our plates high with fishy goodness, from swordfish rolls to anchovy skewers. Accompanied by wine, of course.
The next three stops also featured wine: the red at the oldest bar in town was delicious, as was the second red at a slow-food bar. At our last stop, literally around the corner from Rialto Bridge, we had a choice of red or white. We chose red, and were serenaded by a group of wandering minstrels as we stood outside the small bar to drink the wine and eat the cicchetti Cecilia brought out.
At the end of the evening, we were stuffed and satisfied. Cecilia had worked hard to feed us well and also to educate us about how to repeat the exercise for ourselves. She pointed out other bars we could visit, and lectured us about using the water fountains instead of buying bottled water: quite apart from the financial saving to us, she said that recycling was quite new to Venetians, that the fewer plastic bottles clogging the canals, the better.
She’d brought her own personality to the tour, and seemed to genuinely want us to enjoy our experience of Venice’s bars and restaurants. I certainly did, and I’m looking forward to my next visit to the city, so I can try it all again.