If you cross the bridge just to the left of Santa Lucia station, you enter the quiet bliss that is Santa Croce. Away from the tourists and souvenir shops that are reminiscent of Saturday afternoon on Oxford Street, London, here you will find narrow streets, local Venetians, and some great local osterias!
We ventured into Santa Croce on our first afternoon in Venice. Narrow streets define this part of Venice. Our first discovery was a Venetian mask shop. Colourful masks of different shapes and designs filled every inch of wall space. The shop owner was busy making and painting a new mask. After admiring the many masks from the window, we ventured inside. He was happy to talk with us at leisure, showing us a book on the history of Venetian masks and the meaning behind the designs. Naturally we bought a mask at a price higher than most other souvenir shops. But we were fine with this, after all, it was handmade by the artist himself!
Only a few metres along, we came across a backstreet Osteria (local cafe/ restaurant) where the hot chocolate was advertised at 1.80 euros. Far better than the 4 euros plus in the main tourist areas! The waitress only spoke Italian to us, which just added to the local authenticity of the place, and we sat down to our first Venetian hot chocolate with real cocoa and cream. As a regular drinker of hot chocolate with cream, this Venetian one was one of the best I’ve ever tasted!
On our second visit to the osteria, the waitress recognised us and gives us a knowing smile. She asks in Italian if we would like duo cioccolata calda! Si! I love discovering local venues when I travel, places where the locals gather and English is not well spoken. It is these experiences one remembers!
On a busy Sunday afternoon, Santa Croce is the place to be, away from the weekend day trippers. We wandered the narrow streets, over a canal bridge, and into a large open square (campo). Santa Croce is where the locals gather. Here we found local Venetians. The old men sat and enjoyed the midday sun, while the children played and the women talked. The sun lit up the colourful buildings, and we wandered down passageways between houses, to find hidden canals.
Santa Croce is one of my favourite areas of Venice. It was our preferred route to walk back to the main train station, away from the tourists, and souvenir shops. It is here, one discovers the real Venice.