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Secret Venice

Thomas Jonglez and Paola Zoffoli

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Oct 15, 2012
Category: Travel

Four of the prettiest words I know: Venice in the winter.

But it’s cold. Yes, it is. We were there the week after Christmas, and at evening concerts held in churches, the musicians wore coats and fingerless gloves.

But it floods. True. That’s why they set raised wooden walks in the piazza, so your boots don’t get soaked.

But restaurants close for the holidays. Only the most expensive ones. You weren’t planning to patronize them anyway.

You get the idea. All the things that are “wrong’ about Venice in the winter are really the things that make it an ideal destination. The cruise ships mostly stay away. There are few honeymoon couples. The foodies go elsewhere. So there you are, in the magic city made more magic because you won’t meet yourself coming and going. In the morning, the fog surrounds you. During the day, you’re almost alone in museums and shops. At night, walking deep into the ghetto to a fish restaurant, the only sound is the echo of your heels.

You’ll want a guidebook. And there’s none better than “Secret Venice.” Again, its charm is everything that’s not in its pages: hotel, restaurants, museums, shops. You can get those books anywhere. This is the one that reveals the secrets that are in plain sight as well as the ones locked behind the city’s heavy doors. This is the narrow paperback that won the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards Gold Medal in the Travel Guidebooks category. [To buy “Secret Venice” from Amazon, click here.]

Fascination begins with the first entry, the sculpture of a head of a man at the Rialto Bridge. It’s the sign of an apothecary that dispensed Teriaca, a cure-all that, until the 1940s, contained opium. The primary ingredient: ground-up vipers, said to work wonders for aging skin. Venice took this concoction seriously; each apothecary that made Teriaca had to display all the ingredients — vipers included — outside the shop for three days. Move a floor panel in the entrance of the Casino Venier, and you can look down and see who’s knocking at the door.

Two pink marble columns among the white ones in the upper gallery of the Doge’s Palace. Why? The doges stood between them during official ceremonies — including hangings.

“The Eyes of St. Lucy,” a little-known painting of the eyes of a woman who was blinded before being beheaded.

Footprints set in stone on the Ponte Santa Fosca that commemorate the ritual fighting that took place there.

A fresco showing Marcantonio Bragagin being skinned alive.

The significance of the white stone in the Campo San Pietro.

A restaurant in a boatyard, where you’re not likely to see a single tourist. A market at the women’s prison.

The apartment where Richard Wagner died. Venice’s only underground canal.

The Double Garden of the Scuola Vecchia Della Misericordia, on the site of a former Dominican friary.

The Venetian bowling club in Santa Croce.

And hundreds more. Don’t leave home without it.