Join me for a stroll around my neighborhood !! Imagine you are here with me on a fine, flower-scented day in March or April. We are in Castello, and start our walk farther east towards the Greek quarter in Venice just five minutes from Piazza San Marco, on the bridge overlooking Rio de l’Osmarin.
As it usually happens in early April, this is a slightly wet morning with mist shrouding our town. Now and then, you can see lighter patches on the sky as the sun is trying to get through to us. Yet, it’s warm and the air is full of spring scents. Flowery ones, but you can also smell the deep greens sprouting in the gardens behind the brickstone walls. This is my favorite season and Venice is full of blossoms. The whole city seems a melange of pink and blue. You can see the pink-golden light reflected in the picture below where I’m just crossing Rio dei Greci on my way to Campo della Bragora.
This is a campo with flower beds. They blossom from April to early December. Yellow and purple blossoms abound in particular. I love the mimosa which comes in two varieties in Venice. Now in early spring, it’s the yellow mimosa showing off a wealth of tiny fluffy blossoms. By mid-June, it’s the silk trees – mimosa albizia with their fluffy soft pink blossoms we call albero della seta (used as a remedy in China where it comes from). There’s a fine silk tree blossoming on Campo della Bragora until late September.
Il glicine – wisteria is also coming into bloom during the first days of April. Next to Campo San Lorenzo there’s a particularly beautiful plant which I “visit” as often as I can. I love stopping below its perfumed purple flower cascades on a wooden bench overlooking Rio dei Greci. On these warm but moist spring morning it’s a boon to stop and watch and think. The sky is getting clearer now, the mist is giving way to the blinding sunlight of spring. No breeze, just calm and salty air. More than half the spring days in Venice start out like this.
Around 10:00 am, you can see the first odd sun ray open up a gap in the milky haze. By 11:00 am, it’s getting sunnier by the minute. Time to enter into my favorite pastry store and enjoy the wonderful almond croissant. Or, I might eat one of their fabulous soft almond cakes called torta greca. They produce a special variety just for breakfast.
This is Pasticceria alla Bragora, located just off Campo della Bragora. They have the best almond croissants in the world (in my opinion), while a few steps towards Piazza San Marco, Pasticceria Chiusso is located whose morning specialty is marzipan-apple cream-filled croissants. On sunny spring mornings, I usually sit outside at Pasticceria alla Bragora’s and enjoy an almond cake and cappuccino … have a look at their menu below ! True, Venetians love a sweet breakfast, but you won’t suffer from excess calories because you’ll quickly walk them off in Venice !
As you can see on the menu above, torta greca for breakfast is Tortino alle mandorle if you like a bigger slice, or Dolce alle Mandorle if you’d like to taste a smaller piece. You can also taste a delicious variety over at Pasticceria Chiusso’s.
Taking a break now and thinking a bit about our location … Castello is the name of the sestiere east of Piazza San Marco where the Greek and Levantine communities of Venice lived. It was one big vineyard, herb garden and orchard called el brolo, cultivated by the nuns of San Zaccaria since the year 400 AD. The western part of the brolo became Piazza San Marco in the 7th century. This part of town, la Venezia Levantina, comprises the Scuola dalmatina, Chiesa di Sant’Antonin and Campo della Bragora. Based on archeological traces found in the courtyard of Sant’Antonin, early Venetian history may be re-written. From the year 1453, more than 50,000 inhabitants of Constantinople were invited to settle after the fall of their town. They brought with them their cultural heritage and that of ancient Greece …
We continue our walk towards Riva degli Schiavoni and Torrefazione Girani’s. This is where I buy our coffee ! Via Garibaldi isn’t far away, a best-loved boulevard with lots of street cafes to stop and enjoy a cup of early morning tea and nutella-filled zaleti biscuits :-) And it has quiet corners and campielli just behind, looking so green now as you can see in the picture above !
I usually buy spring vegetables from the barca della verdura, the floating market boat moored on Rio di Sant’Anna at the far end of Via Garibaldi. There are many best-loved breakfast bars on my way, but I do have a favorite which is just round the corner. On we go, to Caffé della Serra, a beautiful plant nursery, hothouse, winter garden cafe and terrace in the midst of lush plants and blossoms. While I’m being tented by the wonderful selection of pot plants, young salad plants and sementi (seeds), I’m looking forward to my real breakfast for today. For it’s around 11 am, and that means that the cafe at the back of the garden center / hothouse will be opened.
I love to sit on the terrace next to the pittosporum hedge with its scented blossoms just opening in April.This part of Venice still holds many secrets. Many homes of doges were located in the neighborhood of the Venetian Arsenal, the backbone of Venetian economic success building the cogs for the flourishing spice business.
I usually order toast and lemon zest – flower tea, and then it’s another cappuccino and a cup of blueberry tea by Tea Forte. The toast also comes in a vegetarian manner, filled with baked cheese and melanzane (eggplants). They also offer a home-made dip made from sour cream, parsley, chives and yellow mustard. Bread and pastries come from the island of Burano, from the Palmisano bakery. At the far back of the garden surrounding the cafe, a basin housing an “exhibition of wild Lagoon plants” is tucked away. If you are interested in Lagoon plants, also edible ones like salicornia, do take a look …
On my way back, I walk towards the Riva which is just a few steps away, crossing a bridge. You get a wonderful view from here back towards Venice …. and in the meantime, you can see, the weather has changed once again, and I can feel a few warm rain drops in my face. You can see the raindrops on the pittorsporum leaves in the picture below. This is a blessed part of Venice, protected and storing all the first warmth of spring. This means wisteria is growing (see the example in the picture at the top!).