venezia – a little wine and sun

27th June 2016

By Helen Parker

This photograph represents my trip to Venice, it is how one of my favourite restaurants ‘Polpo’ decided to decorate the windows of their first Soho restaurant. A restaurant built on the experiences of its owner and creator Russell Norman. He visited the city over twenty times before deciding to re invent the Bacari for the English in London.


A typical Bacari window, starched white panels of embrioded cotton bearing the name.

Visiting museums and churches isn’t really my thing, so I’m very pleased to say the Venice I recently experienced was a calm, quiet and un-touristy place. Venetian people, shopping, eating, drinking, going to work, hopping on and off the Vaporetto (the public transport of the waterways) and living what seemed to me a very nice life. Funny really, Venice is probably one of the most visited places on the planet, so packed with people, really packed, yet walk a few meters off the main roads and attractions, it is a different place altogether. I wondered if the people heading for Piazza San Marco and The Rialto bridge, who probably queued for several hours in the baking heat then probably ate a pizza in one of the many hundreds of mediocre (actually awful) places realized that there was another way to enjoy this city. Travelling means different things to different people I guess, ticking off the famous sights and making sure you leave no stone unturned may be important, but for me the beauty of travelling is just hanging out like a local. I always want to visit the supermarkets and open air markets, the backstreet bars and cafes and stay in a place that makes you feel like you are a local or at least feels authentic. I don’t like blingy and I don’t like generic, I don’t need luxury but I do crave a feeling that I have really got to know a place through the way the local people live. The building in the photograph below was our home while in Venice, just perfect.

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And this was the view from our window…………..

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I first decided I wanted to go to Venice after visiting the Polpo restaurant in Soho and reading the cookbook  ‘Polpo – A culinary journey to the backstreets of Venice and a dazzling tribute to Italy’s greatest hidden cuisine’ by Russel Norman. The night before I was about to go to Venice I was informed this city was in fact an Island, really I said! gosh I didn’t realize that. The truth is I wanted to go to hang out in the Bacari and eat chicetti and drink little glasses of red wine from about 11am in the morning, that was it. Anyway, the Island thing was actually quite exciting and if I had thought for more than a moment I would have realized I had spent over 100 euros to get from the airport to the hotel in a pre-booked private water taxi.

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Now you may think that I am contradicting my earlier lack of need for luxury or bling by demanding a private water taxi to the hotel! but I was assured by my sister, who was my travel companion, that this was the only way to arrive. She was right, it was unforgettable to step into a beautifully polished vintage teak boat with original white leather seats and be taken at speed across the lagoon and head to the Grand Canal and get your first glimpse of the houses that line every possible bit of space along the waters edge and see the lightest of blue water. That was a real surprise, the colour of the water, so blue and turquoise and clear and pale. The Grand canal is two and half miles long, is home to more than a hundred marble palaces, 400 bridges and 177 canals. What can I say that hasn’t already been said about this dream of a place, but really it is like a fantasy, fairy tale of inconceivable beauty. It’s a humble place full of opulence, crumbling beauty around every corner, a historic place with a modern attitude to life and enjoyment.

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So you may have wondered earlier what a Baccari is? Well it’s a little tiny bar or local small restaurant in a Venetian backstreet. They are small humble and simple places where locals meet to drink, eat titbits and just have a gossip, what a wonderful idea. They are renowned for being frequented by everyone from the doctors to the street workers, all eating the same food and enjoying the easy nip in and out style of these tiny places. An Aperol Spritz is so so popular but also small tumblers of really good red wine are very acceptable at any time of the day. The bar is always small often a bit tatty looking but always busy. There is always a glass fronted display area on or around the bar showing an assortment of pretty fresh little crostini, all topped with selections of fish, vegetables or meat. There will also be cooked vegetables and cheeses, fishes and deep fried stuff on offer. You don’t really know what most of it is so you just point at a few in a knowledgeable fashion, they pop them on a plastic plate and you take them outside with your wine, sit on the wall of the canal or a little wooden table and while away 1/2 hour before moving on to the next one. The little morsels are called Chicheti and at 1 euro a piece you can try lots. The Venetians like tuna and salt cod so there are lots of them, perfect little mouthfuls to explore.

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Russell Norman wrote a guide in the back of the Polpo book which helps you to seek out and try the best Bacaris Venice has to offer, there are literally hundreds so having a recommendation is a good idea and a way to narrow down your choices. Luckily I can’t map read so my patient sister found each of Russell’s bars and we enjoyed a bite and drink in each. Venice is split into six districts, all a little different and navigating your way through the maze of streets is both atmospheric and disconcerting. Have I seen this bridge before? have I been down this street? shall I take another perfect photograph, let’s have a sit down and have a glass of wine and decide!


Visit Venice, read Russell Norman’s Polpo book, stay at The Residenzia 818, keep off the tourist trail and enjoy this world of loveliness.

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