What do you do when you are visiting Venice, Italy, and you discover that there are three (yes, 3!) cruise ships all docking with the city one day? Our solution to what promised to be a very crowded city was to get away, to take a boat ride out to the islands of Burano and Torcello.
Why not Murano? A couple reasons. Of the three islands, the one that is known to be both the most popular and the most tourist trap is Murano. And we already have some glass from Murano (Therese bought a couple beautiful goblets years ago), and didn’t really want to buy any more, and then have to transport it home and hope that it didn’t break along the way.
Now if you want to go to Murano alone – especially if the museum on Murano is what you want to see – then you would want to take either the number 4.1 or 4.2 Vaporetto from the Fondamente Nove stop. The benefit of these boats is that they also stop at the Isola di San Michele, which is the sight of the city’s cemetery (and the stop is actually called “Cimitero”). However, we wanted to do the opposite – not interested in Murano, but we did want to visit Burano and Torcello – and therefore, we took Vaporetto number 12.
One last point on the logistics of getting to the islands: we took the boat from the Fondamente Nove stop since that was a decent walk (about 10 minutes) from our Cannaregio apartment. If you are staying somewhere else in the city, you may wish to take a boat to either Piazzale Roma for the train station stop (Ferrovia), and then transfer there to either 4.1 or 4.2 (at the moment I am unable to figure out what the difference is between these two boats – maybe they go in different directions?). However, if you wanted to go to Torcello, you would have to transfer to number 12 at Fondamente Nove…
Anyway. So yes, we got away from the crowds, and had a lovely day visiting the islands. On the way to Torcello, we passed by San Michele, Murano and Burano. I decided we should go to Torcello first for two reasons: one, I had heard great things about the ancient church there and have wanted to visit there since the first time I went to Venice in 2011, and two, I got the idea that there are some nice restaurants for lunch there.
Torcello is quite minimalist. As in, there is one road on the entire island. You get off the boat at one end of that road, pass by a brick wall with the name “Torcello” on it, and at the other end of the road are actually two churches, and a museum. Along the way, you pass by some restaurants, and some very rustic buildings, and a couple of very touristy looking shops.
The first church we visited was Santa Fosca, really more of a chapel. The thing I enjoyed most about this church were the series of capitals and other ornamental designs.
The main church on the island is the Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta. The Last Judgment on the inside of the western wall is what it is most famous for, I gather. Signs say it is from the ninth century I believe; however, it has been substantially reconstructed in modern times, so I don’t know how much actually survives from its time of origin. No photography is allowed in the church, and there is even a woman sitting in a little booth in a corner of the church enforcing this rule. However, she looked bored and mostly read a book while we were there, so as long as you weren’t blatant about it, you could take photos and she wouldn’t bother you.
After spending a good deal of time sneaking in photos and generally enjoying the church, we decided it was time for lunch. There was one restaurant we had passed that looked very classy, so we chose that one – Ristorante Villa 600.
Considering that this restaurant is on a pretty touristy spot, the quality of the food and prices was surprisingly high. I was able to communicate with a waiter who spoke English about my allergy, and all was well. I started with a seafood antipasto that was extraordinary – there were a couple kinds of seafood on there I have never seen before. For a main course I ordered a dish that is rather famous for cuisine of the islands, Risotto di Go. There is a fish called Go that is used along with rice and seasonings to make the dish. The dish is sold in a portion for two people, but they nicely made one of the portions non-dairy for me, while adding cheese to Therese’s portion. And let me tell you, this may be a simple dish, but it was full of flavor. I loved it.
Getting from one island to the next can take a bit of time, what with waiting for the next boat and then crawling through the lagoon. But we had enough time when we got to Burano to walk through the town – while much more developed than Torcello, for tourists like us there is again really just one street or path that takes you from the dock to the island’s church and the famous Lace Museum. Again, along the way are many places to get touristy things like lace (of course) and the typical s-shaped cookies.
The Lace Museum was interesting to us, but there isn’t that much to see there. If you go through the many drawers of samples, you might be able to spend an hour, maybe a little more, there. But we left pretty quickly because, sorry to say, the place reeked. I mean, it smelled so bad we thought we were going to be ill. At first we thought it was the plumbing in their rest room; but as we walked back toward the middle of the island, it struck me that it is the island’s canal. It badly needs to be cleaned.
That aside, the best thing for me about Burano was the vegan gelato I had there. About mid-way along the street back to the dock, there is a gelateria called Dai Fradei that has maybe the best vegan gelato in Venice. They certainly have more varieties of vegan gelato than anywhere else we visited – I think they had about 10 flavors. I had Peach Bellini and dark chocolate, and wow, it was incredible. The one thing they didn’t have was vegan cones, but I just took a chance and had it in a regular waffle cone. Therese was keen on getting some of those “Essi” cookies, so we stopped at the main shop, just further along that street, called Panificio Pasticceria Garbo – the one thing they had that was dairy free was meringues, so I got one of those.
And with that, it was time to take the boat home to Cannaregio. But after disembarking at Fondamente Nove, there was one more stop to make. Along our way home was a store called Mea Libera Tutti. While their main focus is gluten-free products (the couple that owns the store has a son with Celiac disease), many of their offerings are also dairy free.
Azzurra, one of the owners, was delightful. With much care, she picked every item off the shelf that was dairy free and told me everything I needed to know about it. She also clarified something for me. When we were in Rome, a waitress had explained to me that all I needed to tell people was that I needed food that was “senza lattose.” However, Azzurra explained, that is really lactose intolerant, which of course is different than being allergic to dairy. What I needed to say was that I am “senza caseina,” i.e., I am allergic to the milk protein, casein.
I bought a variety of snacks and other things – vegan pesto, Antica Dulcinea Amaretto Morbidi cookies, Cuor di Riso al cacao breakfast snacks, Besciamel sauce made from rice, and some amazing chocolate tarts that were made by Italian nuns. With that, I had enough snacks to keep me going through the rest of our time in Venice, and the day ended with me feeling very accomplished.