How not to eat badly in Venice

There’s a saying that if you eat badly in Italy you must be in Venice. Being something of a foodie myself, on my long weekend in Venice, I was determined to search out the best of Venetian food. I’m afraid to report, however, that my food experiences ranged from the average to the mediocre. Since Venice is such a tourist hotspot, and so many of the visitors are there for such a short time, it is all too easy for many businesses not to try too hard. Still with a little research and planning I think that you can find the best that Venice has to offer, so here are my tips to ensure that you don’t eat too badly in Venice.

Get well away from San Marco

The San Marco district and especially the area around St Mark’s Square is the tourist hub of Venice and is always packed with visitors. Many come for the day from a cruise ship or coach tour and just have time for the tick list sights of the Doge’s palace, San Marco Cathedral, climb the campenile and then a quick gondola tour or foray to the Rialto Bridge. I’m not saying it’s not possible to find a good restaurant in this area, but you are just as likely to stumble into one with a multi-lingual menu designed to service tourists only.

Seafood Pasta in Venice Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Seafood Pasta in Venice

Better to venture into the less touristy districts such as Cannaregio, Arsenale or Dorsoduro where you will find more authentic wine bars and restaurants. The area around the Rialto market is good and has a number of good bacari (wine bars) plus it’s a feast for the eyes. Arrive in the morning when the fish is on sale to see the market in full flow; by lunchtime the market is winding down and stalls are packing up, although the fruit and veg stalls will be there for a little longer.

Linguine alle Vongole in Venice Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Linguine alle Vongole in Venice

What to eat in Venice

If you’re not sure what to order we found that it was difficult to go wrong with a seafood pasta or pizza. It’s not terribly adventurous but tends to be the least expensive things on the menu if you’re on a budget. Local specialities to look out for are linguine alle vongole, the hot antipasti of mussels and clams and a risotto with black squid ink. The meat dishes that we eat at home such as lasagne and ravioli we found were disappointing.

If you are offered fresh fish, it may be priced by weight and you should take care to establish the cost in advance or you may find yourself landed with an unexpectedly large bill. This is a bit of a scam in the San Marco tourist restaurants where a big show is made of a whole fish cooked in salt which you discover later has a hefty price tag.

Pizza in Venice Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Pizza in Venice

Other things to check are the cover charge which may add a few euros per person and a service charge which may be added on to the bill. Of course if you’d like to have that coffee at Florian in St Mark’s Square while listening to the musicians, you should do so knowing that it has a tourist price tag (the prices are clearly shown on the menu outside). Venice is a great place to try local Italian wines by the glass in a side-street wine bar and in the early evening you can join the locals in a bright orange Aperol Spritz, a Bellini or a glass of Prosecco.

Try the cicchetti or bar snacks in Venice Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Try the cicchetti or bar snacks in Venice

Eat standing up

A custom that takes us Brits by surprise, but is quite the done thing, is to stand up or perch on a bar stool while having a drink and a snack with friends. Don’t be put off in the wine bars if there are only a few small tables and you have to rest your drink on a shelf along the wall. This is where you can order cicchetti, or small bar snacks which range from miniature sandwiches to dishes of salad and cold seafood. The ideas is to order a glass of wine and point at whatever dish looks tempting, then stay for another or move on to the next bar.

Artizan gelato in Venice Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Artizan gelato in Venice

The stand up principle also applies to gelateria. Look for those that are artizan, which indicates the gelato is made on the premises, where you will often find a few small tables or stool to sit inside. The same stand-up approach can also apply at the Pasticceria where you can grab a coffee at the bar with a sweet pastry or cake. Generally eating or drinking standing up means that the price is cheaper since table service is not required.

Eat Venice food app

Before I visited Venice I downloaded the Eat Venice app onto my phone in the hope that I could find some more authentic places to eat. The app is by Elizabeth Minchelli whose blog about Italian food is also a great source of information about eating in Venice. I loved reading about all the great places to eat on this app but found that once we were there we invariably couldn’t find them or were too hungry to hunt around.

It’s certainly worth using the app to find out good food places in your neighbourhood, but don’t get too worried if you don’t find them, it’s better to use your eyes to judge whether a place looks authentic. If it’s busy, packed, full of Italians chatting with their friends, then it’s worth waiting for a table.

Rialto market in venice Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Rialto market in venice

Self catering in Venice

While there are plenty of apartments in Venice and indeed we stayed in one of them, although it seems to be a bit sad to always be eating in when you are in the midst of a living postcard. There are a few supermarkets in Venice but not really the convenience stores that you find in other cities. The culture is to eat out in a bar or restaurant and picnics are discouraged, in fact there seems to be a rule that they are not allowed. Still an apartment does mean you have the flexibility to make yourself the breakfast or lunch that you want, while perhaps eating out in the evening.

Food Tours in Venice

Another great way to get the feel of the local food culture is to take a food tour like the Rialto Market and Cicchetti wine bar tour with Walks of Italy. This tour takes you around the Rialto fish market and into the artizan food shops with a stop at three different local bars to taste the cicchetti as well as restaurant recommendations from the local guide. I wish that we had been able to take this tour as I feel sure that our food experience in Venice would have been improved had we been armed with some insider knowledge.

Some more Venice recommendations

The Go with Oh apartment we stayed in was one that I won through Murissa’s blog at The Wanderful Traveller in the Passports with Purpose fundraiser. Murissa knows Venice well and kindly made me some recommendations of where to eat in Venice;

Hilton Molino Stucky Venice
If you don’t mind your kids drinking a bit of prossecco and toasting to what an amazing city you’ve all traveled to then head up to the top of this hotel. There is a bar that has a picturesque pool and overlooks the entire city of Venice. Take the Zattere water bus stop over to Stucky.

Osteria Enoteca ai Artisti
You’ll find this recommendation in your Eat Venice app. Delicious and not too pricey food in a quaint location not far from where we stayed. http://www.enotecaartisti.com

Al Mercà (Rialto market area)
One of my favourite cicchetti bars – cheap and amazing sandwiches (the prosciutto is my favourite!), delicious prossecco, and a view of the hustle of the market/canal. Standing room only.

All’Arco (Rialto market area)
Family run cicchetti bar where you can eat local foods for very cheap. Cicchetti are Venetian snacks for cheap and have been served for hundreds of years. I personally love the deep fried mozzarella with fresh sardines but stuffed zucchinni flowers are divine as well. Good for lunch – mostly standing room only when you visit cicchetti bars.

Do Spade (Rialto Market area)
Where Casanova frequented in the mid 1700s. Delicious cicchetti, wine and beer. Locals and tourists alike. Just go up to the counter order and find a spot. Not far from the Rialto Bridge/Market.

Book a tour of Venice

We highly recommend Walks of Italy who offer a number of different tours in  Venice and other parts of Italy, which are ideal if you are only visiting for a short time. You’ll have an expert local guide to show you around and can often skip the queues at key sites. We took the 2 hour Venice Boat Tour which took us down the Grand Canal and many of the smaller canals with views of the key sites of Venice including a visit to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore where we climbed the bell tower with amazing views of Venice. Read my review of the Walks of Italy Boat Tour here.

Where to stay in Venice

For our 3 day stay in Venice I rented an apartment with Go with Oh and was able to use the €250 voucher that I won with Passports with Purpose blogger fundraiser. We chose this apartment in the San Marco district since it was so well located for all the main sites.

Thanks to Murissa from The Wonderful Traveller who hosted this prize contributed by Go with Oh and and for her tips on what to see in Venice. Passports with Purpose is a really worthwhile organisation which supports a different cause each year and you can win some really fabulous prizes so it’s definitely participating.

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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Istanbul the golden – final stop on our Azamara Greece and Turkey Cruise

I’m slowly sailing past the Golden Horn at sunrise, listening to the Muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. The Blue Mosque of Istanbul emerges from the early morning haze against a back drop of what has, and will always be, one of the most important cities in the world. As Napoleon said, “If the Earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital.”

Passing the Golden Horn Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Passing the Golden Horn

Even at this hour we are not alone. Behind and in front of Azamara Journey are many other cargo ships of various sizes transiting the straits, as we arrive at the cross-roads of Europe by sea. Built on two continents, Europe and Asia, located on the shores of the Bosphorus, Istanbul stands where the waters of the Black Sea meet those of the Sea of Marmara at the Golden Horn. Near the tip of the old-town peninsula is the compact district of Sultanahmet which is home to many of the city’s most famous sites.

Heather and Guy on the Asian side in Istanbul Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Heather and Guy on the Asian side in Istanbul

For first-time visitors the city appears to be an enormous metropolis but we found that the main tourist sites of Istanbul were manageable for our final day’s cruise stop with Azamara Club Cruises. Our ship, Amazara Journey, docked right in the heart of town, close to the Galata bridge and the Golden Horn. As we had only a day we decided to focus on the compact Sultanahemet district taking one of Azamara’s Land Discovery tours.

Ferries in near the Galata bridge in Istanbul Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Ferries in near the Galata bridge in Istanbul

Most people know that Istanbul was originally called Constantinople, named after the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great who chose it as his capital. After the Romans came the Byzantine Empire and from the 15th century the Ottoman Empire took over, ruling through the end of World War I. Given the geography and history it is hardly surprising that modern Istanbul is a melting pot of ideas and cultures; a cosmopolitan and exciting world city.

We boarded our mini-bus for a panoramic tour over one of the major bridges to what the Turks call “the other side”, technically Asia. Despite the traffic and commuting time, this is a popular place to live since it is calmer than the European side where most of the businesses are located. Returning to the European side our first stop was the Spice Market near the Galata Bridge.

The Spice Market in Istanbul Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Spice Market in Istanbul

The Spice Market in Istanbul

The Spice Market was built in the 17th century and houses merchants dealing in spices, herbs, medicinal plants, vegetables, meat and fish. Tourists and locals mingle, with the smell of spices wafting enticingly throughout the area. We were offered samples of Turkish delight and pomegranate tea and whilst the salesmen were smooth tongued we were genuinely welcomed. Of course we bought some Turkish delight and Iranian saffron, then continued to walk around looking at the fresh fish stalls and the fruit and veg market.

For a foodie like me it was a real pleasure and I could have spent many hours tasting anything from walnuts through to caviar, fresh apricots, soft cheeses, spicy sausages. We found the Spice Market less intimidating than the Grand Bazaar, although you need to understand that it is fine to walk away if you find the salesmen too intense.

Fish on sale in the Spice Market Istanbul Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Fish on sale in the Spice Market Istanbul

Lunch at Hamdi restaurant

Somewhat reluctantly we left the Spice Market to walk across the square to Hamdi restaurant where we had a table booked on the top floor. By now it was very hot and humid, so the air-conditioned dining room was a welcome retreat. It also provided a stunning panoramic view towards the Bosporus and the endless river traffic as well as the domes and minarets of the nearby New Mosque.

View of the Spice Market from Hamdi restaurant Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

View of the Spice Market from Hamdi restaurant

Lunch was delicious and we tried kebabs of finely minced lamb and beef with pistachios and spicy chicken served with yoghurt. As mezes we had hummus, pinto beans and vine leaf dolma and a sweet taste of baklava followed by strong, sweet Turkish coffee.

The restaurant was packed with professionals taking lunch, discerning tourists and Turkish families out for a treat. Mr Hamdi started as a street vendor and I can fully understand why he now has a restaurant covering four floors and serving the same simple dishes using local fresh ingredients, both delicious and beautifully presented.

Hamdi restaurant in Istanbul Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Hamdi restaurant in Istanbul

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

After lunch we were back on our air-conditioned coach for our visit to Hagia Sophia, known as the greatest house of worship in the Christian and Muslim worlds. This is the Church of Constantinople built by the Emperor Justinian in A.D. 537 on the grandest scale possible – the dome alone has a span of 56 m! Since the Emperor was in a hurry, the church took just five years to build and if you ask how they did it, the legend is that it was built by angels.

Inside Hagia Sophia in Istanbul Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Inside Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

Hagia Sophia served as a church for nearly a millennium and for 1000 years it was the greatest dome in the world surpassed only by the renaissance cathedral in Florence. The day the Ottomans captured Constantinople in 1453 the building was converted into a mosque. Fortunately, they left much of the fine mosaic work, save plastering over the faces of the icons, since Muslims do not allow pictorial representations of the prophets.

Mosaics inside Hagia Sophie, Istanbul Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Mosaics inside Hagia Sophie, Istanbul

Kemal Attaturk, the founder of modern Turkey had the sense to convert the building into a museum in 1935, since it was such an important site for both Christians and Muslims. Whilst there was much to see, the images that left the greatest impact on me were the colourful mosaics of Mary and the Christ child. Above where the altar once stood were two enormous wooden medallions, one with the Arabic lettering for Allah on the right and the other of the Prophet Mohammed on the left. Given the current conflict between the Muslim and Christian world it is humbling to see three of the most important figures in world religion venerated in one place.

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

Next on our tour was The Grand Bazaar, the “Mall of all Malls” with 4000 stores as opposed to the 150 in the Spice Market. The Bazaar was the centre for trade for the entire Ottoman Empire and remained Turkey’s commercial hub right up until the 1950s. The enormous covered market is bursting with everything you can imagine from jewellery (especially gold), to silks, copperware, spices, ceramics, leather goods and plenty of tourist tat. About 80% of the visitors nowadays are tourists and it is probably not the place to get the best bargains, although certainly an unmissable experience.

Painted bowls in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Painted bowls in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

We were looking for some hand painted Turkish bowls and we expected to have to haggle hard. However I was delighted to meet a lovely gentleman who’d had the shop for 40 years who not only allowed me to taste his tea but also immediately accepted our offer of four for the price of three. Our purchases were quickly bubble wrapped and we left the best of friends. While you have to visit the Grand Bazaar, I preferred the Spice Market for a less intimidating experience.

So what did we learn from our day’s cruise stop in Istanbul? Firstly, you should do your research if you only have a limited amount of time since there is so much to see, more than you could possibly cover in a day. Secondly it is worth taking one of the Land Discoveries with an air conditioned bus and guide since Istanbul is just too busy and you will waste too much time if you don’t. Thirdly you have to have an open mind. For example I enjoyed seeing headscarfed ladies, arms around the waists of their husbands doing their shopping. Everyone I spoke to was incredibly helpful and I didn’t feel intimidated at all. Of course one day in Istanbul is just not enough. Many of the other cruise passengers had decided to stay on after the cruise for three or four days and of that I was very envious.

View of Istanbul near the Galata Bridge Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

View of Istanbul near the Galata Bridge

Listening to the fifth and final call to prayer as the sun sets I observe three young modern Turkish women, smart phones in hand, enjoying a chat in the evening sunshine. I can’t help but think that Napoleon had it right all those years ago. Istanbul could easily be the capital of the world.

Thanks to Guy for sharing his impressions of Istanbul. Guy occasionally writes for the blog, and is always happy to be Heather’s travelling companion, photographer and bag carrier!

About Azamara Club Cruises

Azamara Club Cruises is a small luxury cruise line with two ships; Azamara Journey that Heather and Guy sailed on and Azamara Quest, each with a capacity of 686 guests. The smaller ship size means you often visit destinations that larger ships can’t get into and the ships can dock in more central locations. The emphasis is on destination immersion; enjoying the destination to the full, arriving early and sailing late so that guests can enjoy nights and cool places ashore, with insider access programmes and a unique AzAmazing evening included in each cruise. No itinerary is the repeated and each year the ships visit different destinations around the world. Azamara is part of Royal Caribbean Cruise group. Visit the Azamara Club Cruises website more information about a Mediterranean luxury cruise like the one Heather and Guy enjoyed.

You can also connect with Azamara Club Cruises on Social Media via:
Azamara blog | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | Pinterest | YouTube | Flickr

Joining your Azamara Club Cruise

Heather and Guy flew from London Heathrow to Athens and back from Istanbul using British Airways, although obviously each cruise is different in the best way to get there.

Heather used the Meet and Greet Parking Service booked through Airport Parking and Hotels (APH) who offer airport parking at a range of airports across the UK as well as travel extras such as airport lounge booking and airport hotel stays.

Both flights and transfers from the airport to your cruise ship can be arranged through Azamara Club Cruises.

Thanks to Azamara Club Cruises who hosted Heather and Guy for their 7 day Greek Island Cruise and to Airport Parking and Hotels (APH) who provided their airport parking at Heathrow.

Read More about our Azamara Greece Island Cruise

Sailing into Santorini – Day 1 of our Azamara Greek Island Cruise
Windy Mykonos – Day 2 of our Azamara Greek Island Cruise
Charming Patmos – day 3 of our Azamara Greek Island Cruise
Visiting Kusadasi and Ephesus – Day 4 of our Azamara Greece and Turkey Cruise

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Read about our day in Istanbul with Azamara Club Cruises

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

Exploring Venice with my Maxwell Scott leather backpack + reader offer

When my Maxwell Scott leather backpack arrived in the post, the smell of the leather transported me instantly to Italy, the home of the true leather artisan. Although Maxwell Scott is a British Company, they work in Tuscany with some of the best craftsmen to produce a range of handbags, briefcases and wallets that have a timeless style. These are bags that your friends will admire as the leather mellows to become an old friend. If, like me, you have a daughter with an eye for the good things in life, you may just find her ‘borrowing’ your Maxwell Scott bag and never giving back. Read on to find out how you can get a special 10% reader discount on this and other items in the Maxwell Scott range.

Heather wearing the Sparano leather backpack from Maxwell Scott Bags in Venice - San Georgio Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Heather wearing the Sparano leather backpack from Maxwell Scott Bags in Venice – San Georgio

Since we were off to Venice, I had the opportunity to see how my Sparano leather backpack fared when out sightseeing in the most fashionable surroundings. I like to dress up a little when I travel so I needed a bag that would be elegant enough to compete with all those effortlessly stylish Italian women. But practicality came into it too, since as a blogger I travel with my camera and a fair bit of other gear, and need to have my hands free for photography.

Check out my video below with my Sparano leather backpack in Venice

If you can’t see the video above of my Maxwell Scott leather backpack, see it on my blog here or Youtube here and please do subscribe using the button above

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Sophie- Anne wearing the Sparano leather backpack from Maxwell Scott Bags in Venice Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Sophie- Anne wearing the Sparano leather backpack from Maxwell Scott Bags in Venice

I chose the Sparano because the size was just big enough to carry everything I needed but still quite neat and compact, although there’s a smaller Popolo backpack if you only need to carry a phone and your designer sunglasses. My daughter also had her eye on my bag and soon we were sharing it during our sightseeing excursions around Venice. If you are also tempted, check out my 10% reader discount .

Heather wearing the Sparano leather backpack from Maxwell Scott Bags in Venice Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Heather wearing the Sparano leather backpack from Maxwell Scott Bags in Venice

Here’s what Sophie-Anne had to say about ‘our’ Sparano Leather Backpack;

“The best thing about this bag is the fit as it sits comfortably on your back with no awkward gap between the bag and your spine and the straps do not dig in – areas where other bags have failed. It is clear that this is a high quality product shown by the beautiful leather, lining and overall design. Invaluable when travelling, this bag can go from airport, to day, to night, to activities, to strolling around town. The classic style also makes it easy to pair with any outfit a fashion concious individual might have in mind.”

Sophie- Anne wearing the Sparano leather backpack from Maxwell Scott Bags in Venice - Rialto market Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Sophie- Anne wearing the Sparano leather backpack from Maxwell Scott Bags in Venice – Rialto market

Since Venice is such a tourist hotspot you do need to keep an eye on your valuables, and I liked the fact that there was a neat outside pocket, but also a secure zipped inside packet to tuck away your purse and phone. The bag took me all around town with room for my guidebook, camera, a bottle of water and a few other blogger necessities.

Heather wearing the Sparano leather backpack from Maxwell Scott Bags in Venice - Doge's Palace Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Heather wearing the Sparano leather backpack from Maxwell Scott Bags in Venice – Doge’s Palace

Maxwell Scott is based in York and sells the bags exclusively through their online store. Their understated but stylish designs are crafted in their factory in Tuscany using the finest hides, zips and fittings and the bags have a 25 year guarantee. Orders over £100 have free delivery in the UK but don’t worry, they also ship worldwide.

10% Reader Discount (limited time only!)

I’ve teamed up with Maxwell Scott Bags to offer a 10% reader discount on all their bags and other items. Just click on this special link; http://bit.ly/handbag10 that will take you to the Maxwell Scott Website and the 10% discount will be automatically applied when you add any items to your basket. The reader discount is for a limited time only until 16 August 2015.

St Marks square, Venice Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Sophie-Anne in St Mark’s Square Venice with the Sparano Leather handbag

About the Maxwell Scott Sparano leather backpack

The Sparano leather backpack costs £202 and may be ordered from the Maxwell Scott Bags website here. It features a draw string opening, a large polyamide interior with a rear zipped pocket and a small external zipped compartment and adjustable shoulder straps. The bag comes in 3 colours of vegetable tanned, full grain Italian leather; Night Black, Classic Tan and Dark Chocolate. We also loved the smaller Popolo backpack which is ideal if you are looking for a neater bag to carry just the essentials and don’t have to consider space for cameras like me. Click here for my 10% reader discount before 16 August 2015.

If you are visiting Venice….

We highly recommend Walks of Italy who offer a number of different tours in  Venice and other parts of Italy, which are ideal if you are only visiting for a short time. You’ll have an expert local guide to show you around and can often skip the queues at key sites. We took the 2 hour Venice Boat Tour which took us down the Grand Canal and many of the smaller canals with views of the key sites of Venice including a visit to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore where we climbed the bell tower with amazing views of Venice. Read my review of the tour here.

Looking for somewhere to stay in Venice?

For our 3 day stay in Venice I rented an apartment with Go with Oh and was able to use the €250 voucher that I won with Passports with Purpose blogger fundraiser. We chose this apartment in the San Marco district since it was so well located for all the main sites.

Thanks to Murissa from The Wonderful Traveller who hosted this prize contributed by Go with Oh and and for her tips on what to see in Venice. Passports with Purpose is a really worthwhile organisation which supports a different cause each year and you can win some really fabulous prizes so it’s definitely participating.

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Read about my Sparano Leather backpack from Maxwell Scott Bags

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

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