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Oldest Cafe in Europe and other discoveries in Venice

“So where else are you going,” asked Luca, an Italian settled in New Zealand who can’t stand staying in Italy because “nothing works there” (much like India). “Venice,” said I. “Hmm,” he grinned, “The city of love… who are you going with?” At which I grinned and told him “two boys”. This was in Verona at an entertaining dinner organised by the wine growers’ association in Soave for us visiting buyers and journalists from all over the world who had come to participate in Vinitaly, the world’s largest wine exhibition, that showed no signs of a recession. Entertaining, because it came complete with comedians dressed up as waiters and even a magician who showed us his card tricks at the table between courses.

The next day, as promised, I boarded a train from Verona to Venice along with my two companions– both visiting hoteliers from India and great fun to hang out with– and was in the city of waterways and romance in a little more than an hour. Actually, it is a good idea to stay in Verona, which is less touristy and very pretty with its Roman ruins and an amphitheatre for atmosphere, and makea day trip of Venice where hotels can be frightfully expensive and smelly!

But my Venice trip was a little different from the one that you may imagine– going for Gondola rides under bridges in narrow waterways. The gondoliers were asking for Euros 100 for a tour and as an Indian tourist who was multiplying every euro spent by 70 (the rupee exchange rate), it was just not worth it. So I did the smart thing, bought myself a map and decided to plunge into Venice on foot. And really, if you have to see a city, there is no better way.

As a city Venice has been compared ever so frequently with Varanasi, one of the oldest cities in the world, on the banks of the holy ganges river, the city of shiva, the destroyer, of widows and temples and burning cremation ghats… But apart from the tranquil waters and the ancient structures, there is not much to compare, I’d say.

I have lived in Benares or Varanasi as a child and all I can remember are the crowds. In Venice, there were none. The effect of recession, perhaps. But all the centre piazzas or sqaures were empty as we walked throug the narrow alleys lined with shops selling leather purses, paintings, Murano glass jewellery, masks and more masks. The main piazza, San Marco, our destination, was very crowded however, lined by the Grand Canal at one end and with the imposing basillica with some awe-inspiring murals at the centre.

I chatted with all the artists sitting on the banks of the canal, painting a bright, perfect day in Venice. I even bought a couple of their paintings. But my perfect moment was sitting at Florian’s, the oldest cafe in Europe, we were told, in the open air, listening to some live music and drinking very expensive coffee served by snooty gloved waiters in black suits. The cover charge just to sit there is euros 14 and they don’t announce it any where. The “Venetian” beer is overpriced and not distinctive at all though it does come with some nice potato wafers. But despite all this, this is an experience to be savoured. The marble tables are the same on which the famous Venica bienneal was discussed and founded, and the view is just lovely.

Food finds
My friends and I ordered some pizza and beer at one of the street cafes that are all pervasive in Italy. While the quality of the pizzas is much the same as you now get in India at a lot of places. What was distinctive was a very piccante olive oil that they serve alongside. This is olive oil with red chillies preserved in it. If you like hot food, this is what you must take home from Italy.

Surprise, surprise
At a smart cocktail event that I attended, I found that alongside the canapes and the seafood and sparkling wine was the Indian “pakoras” or fritters served in small paper envelopes, sprinkled with chaat masala. That’s the latest gourmet fad in europe, I am told, this homely snack that we have in India.

The value deal
Instead of taking a gondola or a private taxi (boat), we took the ferry or the water bus as it is called in Venice for something like 8 Euros apiece. It is comfortable and eminently enjoyable. We took a ride from San Marco to the railway station, a good 20 minutes spent in the Grand Canal, taking a view of one entire side of Venice.

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5 Responses to “Oldest Cafe in Europe and other discoveries in Venice”

  1. [...] Anoothi Vishal added an interesting post on Oldest Cafe in Europe and other discoveries in Venice | India …Here’s a small excerptI even bought a couple of their paintings. But my perfect moment was sitting at Florian’s, the oldest cafe in Europe, we were told, in the open air, listening to some live music and drinking very expensive coffee served by snooty gloved … [...]

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  3. [...] Anoothi Vishal put an intriguing blog post on Oldest Cafe in Europe and other discoveries in Venice | India …Here’s a quick excerptSo where else are you going, asked Luca, an Italian settled in New Zealand who can’t stand staying in Italy because nothing works there (much like India). … So I did the smart thing, bought myself a map and decided to plunge into Venice on foot. And really, if you have to see a city, there is no better way. As a city Venice has been compared ever so frequently with Varanasi, one of the oldest cities in the world, on the banks of the holy ganges river, the city of shiva, … [...]

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