The travel industry has undergone great changes and today many travellers don't want to be defined nor considered simply as tourists, but rather as wanderers and explorers. These travellers feel the need to understand the place they're in and -rightly- don't want to limit themselves to the most iconic places and things -thus, San Marco, Rialto and the gondolas- but want to experience Venice in a less "superficial" way and get an idea of how people actually live here and what makes it so special. In other words, they want the real thing!
If you ask me, it doesn't take much to get the real feel of the city. It's all a matter of approach and perspective, therefore if what you are looking for is authenticity, you already have the right attitude and, believe me, the city will pay you back. Venice is a place that takes time and sensitivity to be fully appreciated and when Venetians -overwhelmed by mass tourism and silly fake souvenir shops- see this sort of approach, well... we will love you and help you and treat you just right. Anyway, going back to us, a place that exudes real life is Via Garibaldi in lower Castello.
Via Garibaldi begins from Riva dei Sette Martiri and is what we call a rio tera' (thus, a former canal turned into a street). It was built in 1807 unifying the two fondamenta (streets with a canal on one side and buildings on the other) and was named Via Eugenia after Eugène Beauharnais, at the time viceroy of Italy. It was only in 1866, with the arrival of the Italian troops, that the street was named after Giuseppe Garibaldi, to whom Venice also dedicated the big statue at the beginning of the Viale dei Giardini. This street is the highest example of authentic Venetian lifestyle! Full of local life from morning to late evening, it is an unmissable place to visit.
The first building on the right is the house shaped as a cruise dedicated to Giovanni and Sebastiano Caboto, known for having discovered Canada, then while you proceed just keep looking left and right and take the time to notice the narrow calli that lead to mysterious corti and the beautiful gothic buildings. Via Garibaldi really has it all: chemists, supermarkets, grocery stores, bakeries, fruit and veg stalls, two fish stalls, two butchers, coffee bars, wine bars and restaurants. The great thing is that everybody works and that there is reciprocal support, thus every activity tries to do something different from the others. What I call sense of community!
The options for eating and drinking will leave you spoilt by choice, anyway my favourite places for cicheti and drinks are definitely El Refolo, offering yummy sandwiches and cured meats and cheese platters, and the recently opened Salvmeria, where you can actually have a proper meal sampling a variety of traditional and revisited dishes (I recommend their saor, whether veg or fish, and their octopus salad too). The other day Marco, the manager and chef at Salvmeria, made a puntarelle (cicoria asparago) jam that was absolutely mouthwatering... so, don't be afraid to ask them for suggestions! If, instead, you'd like some quality cured meats and cheese to take away, consider shopping at Gabriele Bianchi's grocery shop, everything is excellent!
A little but further down there is the small vegetarian and vegan take-away Le Spighe, ideal if you want to grab something and then head to Sant'Elena for a nice picnic or for an easy going lunch. Don't mind the sign "cedesi attività", it has been on her window for at least two years but the place is still open and, anyway, I'm keeping an eye on the situation and will keep you posted! Just before this eatery there is a lovely artisan ice-cream shop and two coffee bars where you can sit down and relax with a nice cup of tea/coffee or ... a spritz! On the other side of Via Garibaldi there is a really nice -quite new- traditional restaurant called Ai Nevodi, serving yummy fish and meat dishes at a very good value for money.
In the middle of Via Garibaldi there is a newsagent and the huge iron gates that take you to Viale Garibaldi, a wide street with trees on both sides built during the Napoleonic invasion, at the end of which there is one of my favourite coffee bars in town: Caffè La Serra, one of the places I go to when I want to relax, unwind and re-charge my batteries; a lovely place with a greenhouse, a garden where it's also possible to enjoy sweet and savoury snacks. I think I already mentioned in some other post to check their Facebook page to see their events (concerts, live music, etc.).
Staying in Via Garibaldi and proceeding straight on, on the right there is Trattoria alla Rampa, which offers a 13 euro lunch menu, immediately followed by one of the coolest veg stalls in town: La Barca, the boat, and a fish shop where, when I asked them if I could take a couple of pictures, they started showcasing the biggest and nicest fishes they had with great pride! Just look at the size of these!
Via Garibaldi ends just before the veg boat. The canal separates Fondamenta Gioacchino on the left from Fondamenta Sant'Anna on the right. Whichever you will take, you'll end up in San Pietro di Castello (see my post), which I really recommend visiting, with a shipyard used also as exhibition venue during the Biennale (usually for collateral exhibitions) and the incredibly peaceful Campo San Pietro, seat of the Patriarch of Venice until 1807.
In general, if you wish to experience the real life of a Venetian, lower Castello is a great place to go, especially the inner areas. Maybe they are not as elegant as San Marco, but I find them beautiful and, if we consider that Saint Mark's square from 10 am to 5 pm is really overcrowded, I would recommend to go to the Piazza early in the morning or in the afternoon/evening and spend the day wandering around other parts of the city! I know people love Via Garibaldi and I am curious to learn about your favourite memories and experiences.
Bye for now and talk to you soon!