Do the Cicchetti Crawl in Venice

Cicchetti Pub
Cicchetti Pub ~ rub elbows with the locals

Venice has much to be admired for, including St. Marks Basilica, Byzantine art, the rambling Museo Correr, the famed Rialto Bridge crowded with shops, and winding waterways.

Gondola traffic on the Venetian Canals
Gondola traffic on the Venetian Canals

However, the one thing I look forward to the most, without exception, is doing the Cicchetti pub crawl.

Seeking Cicchetti Bars in Venice
Seeking Cicchetti Bars in Venice
Venice alleyway
Looks like Pub possibilities straight ahead

Also known as the Venetian Crawl, it’s intended for the locals who stop by after work to munch on “toothpick uglies” downed with glasses of wine. These uglies range anywhere from crostini with toppings, deep-fried mozzarella cheese, gorgonzola, calamari, artichoke hearts, sliced hard-boiled eggs, marinated seafood, olives and prosciutto with melon. Plates of these tidbits usually line the top of the bar. The ‘bacarri,’ or local pubs, open at 6 pm and generally close early.

Cicchetti pub eats. Not so ugly!
Cicchetti pub eats. Not so ugly!

Cicchetti pubs are found on the back alleys. They are generally small and unpretentious. A popular one will have a spilling out of people holding small plates of bites and a drink. There are no cars in Venice, so no need to concern yourself with driving home safely. Just make sure you can swim!

More Pub Grub
More Pub Grub….Yum…

Ombra, small glasses of wine, are typically offered. However, a whole slew of drinks are available upon request. These include prosecco (local sparkling wine), and spritz (white wine with added bitters and seltzer water). Non-alcoholic drinks include arancietta (small glasses of carbonated orange soda), cochetta (small glasses of Coca-Cola or Pepsi), san bitter (slightly carbonated aperitif, similar to spritz without the alcohol), and gingerino (ginger-based aperitif) with no alcohol. It can be served with a small amount of sparkling or still water, or white wine. Mineral water is also offered as either sparkling of still.

Venice pubs come alive
Venice back roads

I found that the further away from the main tourist attractions I ventured, the better and more original the cicchetti pubs became. It is getting harder to find an authentic pub anymore. One that is not too far from the Rialto bridge and down a little winding alley is called Do Mori (San Polo 429 Calle dei Do Mori) which claims to be the oldest bacaro in Venice, dating back to 1462. With a dark wooden interior and copper pots hanging everywhere, it’s a no miss. This pub is famous for its francobollo, postage-stamp tiny white bread sandwiches filled with sliced meats, roasted vegetables, raddichio or gorgonzola.

I love the social atmosphere, the hubbub of people ending their workdays and relaxing into their evening repasts. The only non-touristy eateries in Venice, they offer insight into the life of the average working class resident. And this, I believe, is what makes the heart and soul of Venice come alive.

Urban Trekking – Get to Know the Real Italy

Grab a Gelato and Go Explore
Grab a Gelato and Go Explore

One of my greatest temptations when visiting a city is to wander off the beaten path. It’s useless to resist. What is this place all about? Who are these people? How does it feel, taste, smell? Nooks and crannies, alleyways and winding cobbled streets that lead to…I must find out! Just what is around that next corner?

“Vagabonding” tourism is free and enriching. Urban Trekking takes you where many feet have never trod and sights that have been overlooked. It means walking through beautiful parts of a city that even the locals aren’t familiar with, up and down hills and stairways, under (or over) arches, along walls, across ramparts, through alleyways, and meeting the unexpected. Urban Trekking is seeking out the interesting and fascinating sides of an area.

Charming Venice
Charming Venice

There is a special excitement that comes from watching the sun set over a medieval turret and then walking the cobbled streets as twilight gives way to the night. I remember the evening I got delightfully (some would say hopelessly) lost in Venice. After visiting some cicchetti bars, we ventured out into the night, padding up and down pathways that wound deep into the heart of the city. We encountered shopkeepers that sold us stuffed eggs and vino for a song. We passed balconies with open shutters and the sound of voices drifting on the air. Smells of the lagoon and the shine of the moon on the inky waters. The gentle lapping of boats tied to their mooring. I became acquainted with the sights, tastes and smells of the real Venice. I had developed a deeper, emotional connection. Away from the crowds. Slow walking.

Siena is great for exploring on foot. One of the first cities to establish a traffic-free zone, practically the entire area within the Renaissance city walls is off-limits to all but residential traffic. Even so, the residents are required to use the beltway if they want to reach a different part of the city. But any city or village in Italy has fascinating things to see on foot. Just set your course and go. Having an itinerary is great, but I have set out to explore a city without one and stumbled upon some memorable places and experiences that otherwise would have been missed.

Medieval Meandering in Siena
Meandering Medieval Siena

Besides the health and heart benefits of walking, Urban Trekking creates an emotional bond between you and the land. The art and architecture, breathtaking panoramas, alleys and gardens, chance meeting with locals, embracing the feel of a place…..this is true vagabonding. I encourage you to bring home the real Italy. The memories will last a lifetime.

Suggested Urban Trekking Routes and Tours (links below)for those who prefer some structure, these are great ideas.

*Rome Walking Tour: Via Veneto

*Jewish Ghetto Walking Tour Map

*Florence City Walking Map

Who Stole St. Marks Body?

A moonless night covered the Egyptian city of Alexandria like a dark cloak. Two figures scurried down through the town and toward the harbor, pushing a cart, where a ship awaited them.  A small envoy of men gathered on deck, ready to help them lift the cargo onboard. Mission accomplished, they quickly set sail for Venice. It was the year 828.

St. Marks body enroute to Venice from Alexandria

Pork and cabbage leaves filled the cart, meat that the Muslim guards refused to touch since they considered it unclean. Little did they know, or even suspect, that they had just lost their city’s most precious relic, the body of St. Mark the Evangelist, buried underneath.

Why all the excitement over St. Mark? Who would go to such lengths as to steal a body from another country? Who exactly is he?

Mark was born in Cyrene, which is in Libya today, to Jewish parents. After migrating to Palestine, he witnessed the ministry of Jesus Christ and became a follower. Mark is the author of the earliest gospel of the New Testament.

In his lifetime, Mark founded the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria in 48 AD. Unfortunately, the citizens began to resent him for attempting to turn them from pagan worship. Finally, in AD 68, a rope was put around his neck and he was drug through the city until dead.

San Marco's Basilica
San Marco’s Basilica from the water side

Ah, to have the relics of a saint, (all but his head, which was left in Alexandria), and a popular one at that. This alone could catapult a city’s status and prestige above that of others. ‘Steal the best saint-build a cathedral around the bones.’ And so the Venetians did.

Once Marks body arrived back in Venice and into the Doge’s (ruler of Venice) lap, construction began on a church next to his palace to house the precious relics. Great excitement embraced the people for having attained the relics of St. Mark, which elevated Venice equal in status to that of Rome. San Marco’s Basilica remained a private church of the Doge, and was not made public until the 1800’s.

San Marco's Basilica next to Doge's Palace
San Marco’s Basilica behind the Doge’s Palace on the right

Sinister happenings occurred in 1063 during the construction of a new basilica. St. Marks body was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t until 1094 that, according to tradition, Marks arm appeared, extended from a pillar in the church and pointing to his relics. Where they were or what happened no one knows for sure.

Domes of San Marco
Domes of San Marco

The Pala d’Oro, meaning “Golden Cloth,” an altarpiece embellished with gold and precious jewels brought back from the sack of Constantinople during the 4th crusade, is part of the High Altar in the basilica which houses the remains of St. Mark. At a later time, some of the relics were given to Cairo’s Cathedral of St. Mark.

Palo d'Oro and St. Marks Relics below
Pala d’Oro and St. Marks relics below the altar
Close-up of Pala d'Oro
Close-up of Pala d’Oro embedded with precious jewels

What begins as sinister seldom ends without suspicion. Recent speculation from a British historian, Andrew Chugg, claims the bones under the High Altar in Venice are not those of St. Mark, but of Alexander the Great. Because of gaps in history regarding body whereabouts of both, without DNA testing there is no way of knowing. Deemed as doubtful by his colleagues, St. Mark continues to keep his basilica securely in Venice.

Related Articles:

*The Bones of St. Mark

*Churches and Basilica’s of Venice-Explore 1,000 years of history!

Casanova’s Intimate Confessions

Casanova2
Giacomo Girolama Casanova’s Memoir, “History of My Life.”

“I will begin with this confession: whatever I have done in the course of my life, whether it be good or evil, has been done freely; I am a free agent.”  

 Giacoma Casanova entered this world practically on-stage. Born to parents of the theatre in 1725 Venice, he lived his theatrical lifestyle with passion. His true occupation has been summed up as quick-witted, with steely nerves, luck, social charms, and the knack for gaining money from the gratitude of some or by trickery of others. He was known by his contemporaries as extraordinary, with a far-reaching intellect and a rare curiosity about life. Known to have hobnobbed with Voltaire, Ben Franklin, Catherine the Great and Mozart, Casanova had no lack of social skills.

G. Casanova

His memoir, penned by his own hand beginning in 1789, exposed him as a man far more intellectual than the playboy figure painted of him on film. Had it not been for his many sexual escapades, he would have been a multi-talented dignitary of some kind. But his lust for the pleasure and presence of the opposite sex was, for him, his undoing.

“I have always loved and done all that I could to be loved. I was born for the opposite sex. All of my life I was the victim of my senses. I have delighted in going astray. Cultivating pleasure was always the chief business of my life…”

His original erotic manuscript, all 3,700 pages, was purchased in 2010 for the modest amount of $9.6 million. Now kept in the Bibliotheque nationale de France in Paris, in two black archival boxes, those who have examined it have described his handwriting as elegant and precise. It had been hidden away in private hands since Casanova’s death in 1798. The French government had every intention of obtaining the original manuscript, and did so by an anonymous benefactor.

Bibliotheque de nationale Paris
Bibliotheque nationale de France

The manuscript, simply titled The Story of My Life, did formerly appear in 1821. Even though it had been heavily censored, it was denounced from the pulpit and put on the Vatican’s Index of Prohibited Books. Since then, society has grown more tolerant of morally explicit material. In 2011, several of the pages-alternately provocative, ribald, boastful, philosophical, tender and somewhat shocking, were put on public display in Paris with plans to show them in Venice as well. Although Casanova was born in Venice, a French government commission has consecrated it a ‘national treasure,’ in France. He spent much of his life in Paris and spoke predominately French, which was the language of intellectuals in the 18th century.

Casanova was clearly one of Europe’s most captivating and misconceived characters. According to writer Tom Vitelli, a leading American Casanovist, “he would have been surprised to discover that he is remembered first as a great lover. Sex was part of his story, but it was incidental to his real literary aims. He only presented his love life because it gave a window onto human nature.”

Already an established writer, Casanova translated ‘The Iliad’ into his Venetian dialect, wrote a science fiction novel along with several mathematical dissertations. He lived the last fourteen years of his life at the hidden Castle Dux in Bohemia, which today is the Czech Republic, as the librarian for Count Waldstein. It was here he wrote his notorious memoir.

castle Dux
Castle Dux

Miraculously, Casanova’s manuscript survived in excellent condition. Entrusted to his descendants, it was kept for twenty-two years, then sold to Friedrich Arnold Brockhaus, a German publisher from Leipzig. The Brockhaus family kept it safely tucked away for almost 140 years. Escaping a direct hit by a bomb in World War II,  a family member pedaled it on a bicycle across Leipzig to be stored in a bank security vault. Winston Churchill inquired after its fate when the U.S. Army occupied the city in 1945. It was finally transferred back to its German owners in Wiesbaden by American truck.

The first French uncensored edition was published in 1960, soon to be followed by an English edition in 1966. Casanova has since been cast as a most engaging luminary, a celebrity of sorts. “It’s a wonderful point of entry into the study of the 18th century. Here we have a Venetian, writing in Italian and French, whose family lives in Dresden and who ends up in Dux, in German-speaking Bohemia. He offers access to a sense of a broad European culture,” says Vitelli. Most of his memoir has been verified by historians as accurate. A fantastic read, his more than 120 notorious love affairs are intermingled with duels, swindles, arrests, escapes, gamblers, meetings with royalty, and generally living on the edge.

“The readers of these Memoirs will discover that I never had any fixed aim before my eyes, and that my system, if it can be called a system, has been to glide away unconcernedly on the stream of life, trusting to the wind wherever it lead.”  

Giacomo Girolama Casanova

Cas in chair

* http://pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/casanova/casanova.htm.

* http://smithsonianmag.com/travel/Who-Was-Casanova.html

* The Complete Works of Jacques Casanovede Seingalt by Giacomo Casanova, http://gutenberg.org/ebooks/2981

Casanova in the Doge’s Prison

Venice Bridge of Signs

Casanova Walked the Bridge of Sighs

“It has always been my opinion that when a man sets himself determinedly to do something and thinks of naught but his design, he must succeed despite all obstacles in his path.”  Casanova

Giacoma Casanova, Latin lover and debaucherer, had gone too far. In 1755 everything caught up with him. Refusing to change his ways, he was sentenced in his hometown of Venice to the Doge’s prison, the dreaded prigioni, for depravity and blasphemy. Crossing the Bridge of Sighs from the Doge’s palace, so named by Lord Byron after the ‘sighs’ of condemned prisoners at their last glimpse of light, Casanova was put into a lead-lined cell inside the infamous Leads prison. No convict had ever escaped the sweltering vaults.

Corridor of the Leads
Corridor of the Leads (Prigioni)

Giacoma Casanova

Casanova had previously traveled extensively throughout Europe, supporting himself as a soldier, violinist, spy, entrepreneur, businessman, Homeric translator, novelist, and librarian. He actually considered becoming a priest at one point which, minus his robust sexual appetite, might have worked. His involvement as a notorious libertine, gamester, disturber of the public peace, and inability to stay out of debt worked against him as his womanizing contrivances, seemingly untamable, spiraled him further downwards.

Casanova's House, Venice
Casanova’s House, Venice

He didn’t spend idle time in his prison cell, however. Finding an iron rod, he managed to dig a tunnel in the corner. Later, after being forced into another cell, he passed the bar to a renegade monk named Balbi, who occupied the cell next to him, with the idea that the monk would dig a tunnel to his cell and another tunnel leading out. Balbi burrowed through the ceiling, freeing them both and using the bar to pry open lead plates on the roof. Breaking into a room through a dormer window, they continued to force open doors and gates until they reached the water. Finally, Casanova having spent fifteen months in prison, they made their escape by gondola to central Venice.

Casanova and Balbi were free…never to return to the Doge’s prison. They parted ways with Casanova fleeing to Paris, where he engaged in the creation of the French state lottery, finding himself wealthy and enjoying the charms of high society once more.

“I then turned and looked at the entire length of the beautiful canal, and, seeing not a single boat, admired the most beautiful day one could hope for, the first rays of the magnificent sun rising above the horizon.”  Casanova

Steeped in myth, what is the truth regarding Casanova? Was he as risque as history describes him? A legendary memoir penned by Casanova, conveniently named Story of My Life, has been kept in private hands until just recently. Stay tuned as I explore the unsuspecting contents that will amaze and surprise you about Giacoma Casanova in my next post.