GIUDECCA ISLAND OR WHERE TO FIND PEACE IN VENICE
Talking about the Giudecca Island.
As you all know, every now and then I like to ask fellow bloggers to write an article about Venice, from their point of view.
It is a nice way, both for you and me, to find out about parts of Venice which I might not have talked about in my blog or in any case viewed with a different perspective.
This time I asked a fellow young Venetian blogger, Nicoletta Fornaro, who has a fantastic Gourmet Food Blog on Venetian Food called Naturally Epicurean, to give me her opinion of an area of Venice which is often overlooked by the masses (thankfully I would like to add!) but which offer some great walks and panoramas for the few who eventually take a short trip there: The Giudecca island.
Nicoletta is half Venetian and half Irish, totally understands the importance of Venice Food, its history and writes in beautiful English.
Make sure to pay a visit to her Food Blog full of interesting Venetian Recipes, you will not be disappointed.
SAN ZACCARIA – PALANCA – GIUDECCA ISLAND
It’s still early when I get the vaporetto from San Zaccaria to Palanca, a half empty boat with only a few locals going to work. I stand outside, the air is nice and crisp and in front of me the island of Giudecca, where my father was born.
Once a poor area with bad fame, Giudecca today is a sort of Venetian Greenwich, studded with art galleries and fancy hotels and restaurants. The type of tourism is pretty much seasonal, in fact the island is still a largely residential area with a truly authentic Venetian life. You can tell from the harsh dialect you will hear the moment you step off the boat!
Palanca is, let’s say, the vaporetto hub on Giudecca, so it’s the liveliest spot all year round and throughout the day.
Bar Palanca is already crowded with people savouring coffee and croissants, but mostly enjoying a bit of conversation. On my right I can see the Molino Stucky, once a flour-mill, and the chimneys of the ex Dreher brewery, which now hosts artist studios and is one of my favourite places in Venice.
Today, though, I didn’t come all this way to visit a studio or drink a cocktail on the terrace of the Stucky, but to do some food shopping and introduce you to “e fie” (the girls).
Every Thursday, in fact, a very special market takes place, offering the products of the vegetable garden of the female jail located in the ex Convent of the Convertite.
Forget about the word prison for a moment and imagine this as a place of peace.
The ex monastery that hosts the jail was built around the 13th century and in the year 1611 it was put under the protection of the Venetian Senate and became a home for redeemed prostitutes, from which the name “delle convertite”, of the converted/regretful.
It was the Austrian government that in 1859 decided to establish a female prison and assigned the management to the order of nuns called Suore di Carità. From the 90s the administrative roles are State ones, but the function remains the same.
RIO TERA’ DEI PENSIERI: THE PROJECT
Both in the female prison and in Santa Maria Maggiore, the male prison in Santa Croce, convicts are treated with great respect and many are the educational and recreational activities organised.
In the female jail, the rooms and the common spaces look like the ones of a normal house and mothers are allowed to keep their children who, though, go to school and have a normal life outside those walls.
There are also two green areas, one of which is called L’Orto delle Meraviglie (the garden of wonders), focus of the first project of the cooperative Rio Tera’ dei Pensieri, started back in 1994. Six thousand square metres of land cultivated with the organic method, the earnings of which are added to the salary of the workers.
The cooperative Rio Terà dei Pensieri was born from voluntary work, from pensioners and people who had had a satisfying professional career and felt the need to do something positive for society.
The first objective, in those early years, was to think long-term and organise educational and professional activities that would last over time and help convicts find a job once out. Fifteen years later it still continues to provide high quality services and, if you want to contribute, consider buying as souvenirs some of their other products in the shop located in Santa Fosca and in the green kiosk in campo Santo Stefano. The activities of the cooperative, in fact, also include the production of bags and other items with recycled PVC, cosmetics and serigraphies.
For obvious reasons, it is not possible to visit the vegetable garden, but every year in September there is the Festa dell’Orto where the public is welcomed to participate in a guided tour of the garden and the adjacent cosmetic laboratory. The number of participants is limited, so if interested make sure you contact them well in advance (for this year it’s already closed).
THE THURSDAY MARKET – GIUDECCA ISLAND
The market takes place every Thursday from 9 am to 12 pm in Fondamenta Sant’Eufemia and the products are seasonal and more than km zero.
While heading towards my destination, I met the usual group of ducks that lives on the island happily padding away in the canal. Some locals were already waiting, the offer is limited and those who arrive first have more choice. As soon as the girls arrive, they set up a table and bring out a big cart with all the vegetables. What I like about this market is that nobody is allowed to take the entire amount of a product, for example today a lady wanted to buy all the French beans but the girls were worried about the other customers! Here sharing is caring and the shopping itself is a sort of social rite.
Everything was very tempting, there were aubergines, corn peppers, bell peppers, hot chilly, fennels, potatoes, radishes, beans, different types of tomatoes, table grapes, plums, peaches, herbs and more. Unfortunately you can’t smell the marvellous perfume of the basil, but I give you my word it was incredible. They don’t even charge you for the herbs… and, in general, the prices are dirt cheap. For my bag of organic veg I spent 5,40 euros! Amazing!
Two kind ladies where curious about why I was taking pictures and when I told them they were so nice they even waited for me after the shopping to introduce me to a local moecante, (this is a fisherman that catches the renowned moeche, typical soft shell crabs of the lagoon).
Behind him the ducks waiting to be fed! Lucky ducks, consider that moeche can cost up to 44 euros per kilo and I felt truly envious! These delicacies can be eaten only in certain periods of the year and they are normally floured and deep fried. Another way of cooking them is to break an egg, put the crab over and leave it in the fridge overnight until it eats the egg (the final supper?), and then floured and deep fried! So good!
WHAT TO DO IN GIUDECCA ISLAND
With two bags loaded with food I was ready to head back to Venice, but if I were you I would spend the whole day on the island.
Just walk along the main fondamenta and enjoy the view of the Zattere, Punta della Dogana and Saint Mark’s, hop in and out the collateral exhibitions of the biennale, wander through the calli and reach the other side to see the south lagoon.
If you have time I recommend visiting the Redentore Church and Casa dei Tre Oci, whatever the exhibition (right now, David LaChapelle – brilliant).
For food and drinks consider drinking a cocktail at the Hilton, stopping for a more traditional fish meal at Bar Palanca or Ae Botti or a coffee with a piece of cake at Majer. Anyway, from wherever you will be the view is amazing, so enjoy!
Nicoletta shared a recipe about Eggplants aka Aubergines taking inspiration from her visit to Giudecca: Melanzane alla Beccafico!
Thank you Nicoletta for this wonderful post!