I'm going to do another catch up post here because, again, a lot has happened and I want to keep track of everything. Plus, I need to make a little list for when I write these posts and say thinks like, that's a separate story or that's another post, I have a record somewhere so I know where I have to go in and fill in the blanks.
Where last we left off, it was Friday and we had done our passegiatta through Sondrio and I've also written about dinner at Ristorante Gembro, so I'm going to pick up with Saturday. The only problem is almost all of Saturday needs a separate post (The Hunt for Spini).
But for now, I'm going to get some of the basic facts of Saturday out of the way.
I woke early to a noise (well several noises) that I don't think I've heard since spending a night, many years ago, at the Marriot Marquis in NYC (thin walls). Let's just say they left me longing for Chris and leave it at that.
Oh, but I should note, I did wonder if it were Chris and Jen enjoying their "matrimonia" bed a little too much but they swear they were too jet-lagged for those types of antics.
Shannon and I both roused ourselves from bed about eight (though I'd been up since six), and by nine we went downstairs to get breakfast. The night before, Roberto told us breakfast would be between nine and 10 or so. Ristorante Gembro (and the rooms they let) is pretty much a one man operation, so you can't blame the guy for not wanting to get a little sleep.
Problem was, at nine, he had yet to arrive and we were in need of caffeine, so we went to the bar down the street for some cappuccino. Afterward, I went back to the hotel, where Roberto was beginning to get things going for breakfast, and Shannon walked to the train station to purchase our tickets back to Milan for Sunday's departure.
When she returned we both had some fresh rolls, bread, meet, cheese, preserves and butter that Roberto laid out for us as well as another cappuccino each. About 10:30 we decided it was time to rouse our Spini, so Shannon did that while I continued to blog.
After they finished their breakfast, we headed out into Sondrio.
Now, as I mentioned before, the reason we were in Sondrio was because Chris's great-grandfather came from this area. All we pretty much know about him though is when he came over (late 1800s) and that he was from Sondrio (which is not only the town were in but the area). So we started our Spini hunt (but again, I'm going to try to keep that separate).
So after our first Spini sighting, we strolled through Sondrio's Saturday market. Your typical Italian market things, clothing, shoes, housewares, some fruit and meat vendors. Shannon had already purchased some apples and plums early (when she went to the train station) but I picked up some clementines as we walked too.
After, much time was spend looking for a tourist information office, which was never found. By now though, the town was shutting down completely for siesta/lunch, so we went in search of someplace to get some pizza. We found this place in the center of town that was a bar downstairs with seating upstairs for pizza (and some pasta). The first time we had passed it, we wrote it off because we figured a bar would only serve frozen pizzas but when we realized it was pretty much our only option (as even the lunch hours were quickly coming to a close), we ventured in.
Good pizza. We knew it wouldn't be frozen when we opened the menu and there were about 20 - 30 different pizza choices. Chris and I had the Deliziosa (something like that), typical thin, brick-oven crust, topped with grape tomatoes, arugula, capers, olives and anchovies (yumm - could go for one right now), Jen had the margarita and Shannon opted for the pasta special which was with tuna, tomato sauce and peas - also good, along with a side salad that was so big (with mozzarella cheese, tuna, and corn) that we ended up sharing it. That and a litre of white wine as well as some soda for Chris (he's the king of diet coke), and I don't recall exactly the bill but I want to say in the €40 range. It was Pizzeria La Scala, Via Piazzi 38.
After lunch, we decided to try to head up to this castle/fort that sits atop the town and along the way found a music store. Chris is a musician (must get his band's facebook page and link to it), so he went inside and they set up an electric guitar and let him play for a bit. I have some video, hmm... maybe I should upload it. We also made a Spini connection here.
After that, it was back up the hill but eventually, we hit a dead end (aka closed gate) and could go no further. At this point we headed back down and made two more Spini connections (alimentari and wine store), then we headed back to the hotel for a bit of rest before we went out and actually captured some live Spini in their natural habitat. But as I said, all of that will be another post. Oh, and it was about this time, my camera broke! So no more pictures from me - very upset.
After our hunt, three of us returned to the hotel and enjoyed a bottle of wine in their bar area while doing some Spini hunting online, the fourth was captured by some Sondrio Spini but returned to us in time for us all to sit down to dinner together at Ristorante Gembro (second post).
After dinner (and much limoncello and some grappa), we crawled into bed by 12:30am as we had to rise early Sunday to catch a 9:38 train.
Sunday morning brought no strange "nocturnal" noises, and all of us were up, ready to go and out the door by 9:00. Roberto was sleeping in (I fear we kept him rather late the night before), so we left the keys to our rooms in our mailboxes and trekked back to the Sondrio train station.
Once there it was a round of cappuccini for everyone before we lugged our bags over to track 2 (down and up some stairs), to get ready for the arrival of our train.
It was on time, and other than me totally missing the "Out of Service" sign on the door I was trying to open and Shannon yelling, "Go to the next door, the next door!" we had no issues with this train. It was pretty empty until we got to the stop at Varenna (sp), when we heard some decidedly American voices (nee New York voices), and a group of four late 20-somethings got on the train with us lugging huge cases of luggage (one that proceeded to stay in the aisle, blocking it for the remainder of our journey), that made Chris and Jen look as if they packed light.
We made some small talk with some of our new companions and by eavesdropping actually learned quite a bit about their travels but I'll use some decorum and not post all of that here. Anyway, it was an uneventful two hour total ride into Milan.
And lucky us, when we got off the train from Sondrio, our train to Venezia was right across the platform!
We piled on this new, fancy train (in our second class car, four - seats two-and-two - facing each other, with a table in between. After a pit stop in the train bathroom (with some serious mouth only breathing) we were shortly on our way.
I forgot to mention this but Saturday, in Sondrio, we purchased some picnic supplies for this ride, so we broke out our fig and date bread, some cheese-stuff foccaccia, taralucci, clementines, chips and two bottles of wine and the trip felt rapido!
At 2:40, just after hanging up with Mindy, who had arrived safely at the Venice Airport, we rolled into Venice Santa Lucia, got our imob.venezia cards we'd purchased ahead of time through VeniceConnected using the automated machine (just punch in your number), directed Chris and Jen to their vaporetto (a #1 heading for Accademia - Jen was nervous about navigating on their own but Chris felt they could do it, and they did) and marched on to Shannon's apartment.
Man was it crowded.
I mean really crowded.
Really, really crowded.
Okay - enough of that (for the moment), we met Shannon's landlady at the San Marcuola stopped and walked the very short distance to Shannon's place (very large actually for a one bedroom), got the run down on how everything works, and then had to deal with my situation.
You see, a couple of days before departure, my agency rep emailed me to tell me do to personal matters, she wouldn't be able to meet me on Sunday. She wanted to mail the key to me somewhere in Italy but there was no way I was going to deal with that, so I asked if she could leave it somewhere with a store or shop owner. She replied that she would leave it at Trattoria San Toma.
Now I'd imagined that she would leave it with a nearby trattoria or shop owner but nooooo. So all week we were discussing the best way to get my key when we decided I would leave all my gear with Shannon, make my way to the trattoria and back again, get my gear from Shannon (who in the interim was going to go food shopping), and then get settled into my place. And like everything when you travel, what you think will take 20 - 30 - 40 minutes, never does.
So first I called Trattoria San Toma, at Shannon's suggestion, to make sure they were still there and would be there when I arrived. The young woman thought they might close for a couple of hours and suggested coming at six (which totally wouldn't work - we were supposed to be at Kris's place at five, or so I thought, and it was already approaching 3:45), I asked if I could come now and told her I'd be there in 20 minutes. She said okay.
So out to the vaporetto I went (guessing at how to "validate my imob.venezia card - you swipe it in front of the machine until the green OK light comes on), and of course just missed a vaporetto. After waiting for 10 minutes, another arrived and then it was a long, slow, crowded journey down the Grand Canal with me checking my watch every two minutes - as 20 minutes became 30 minutes and I had visions of arriving at the restaurant and them being closed.
But at 4:12 I hopped off the vaporetto, ran straight back into Campo San Toma, found the trattoria, got the key (and map to the apartment), and darted back to the vaporetto ... to wait 20 minutes for another 1 to arrive going in my direction.
And it was crowded.
It was very crowded.
For my Lehigh friends (if any of you actually read this), think Sigs late night. I could lift up my feet and not fall over.
At a little after five, I got back to Shannon's place, got my things, and snagged a roll of toilette paper (sometimes it's a crap shoot as to whether or not your rental will be stocked with this most vital essential), and we did the two minute walk to my apartment. So yes, you know, that was me, walking on the Strada Nuova in Venice yesterday, dragging my suitcase and carrying a single roll of tp.
We get into my apartment and I have to say it's nice. Very cute some minor issues but nothing major. It's not a five star property but definitely comfortable. I'll do a separate post.
I drop my bags, get the WiFi working, Shannon throws in a load of laundry (her place doesn't have a washing machine and mine does), and head back to Shannon's place, to get her and make our way down to Kris's apartment in Dorsoduro.
Now Shannon suggests we stop for a quick spritz along the way (I've never had one), but I'm feeling guilty as it's close to 6:30 and I had that cocktails started at 5. I had visions of everyone being there, enjoying good food, good wine, good company and us walking in, perhaps almost as the party was breaking up. Yeah, well, long story short, we were the second to arrive and I owe Shannon a grappa as she bet me we wouldn't be the last.
Kris put out quite the spread and it was great seeing everyone again and meeting Kris, Anne and Jim finally (though Anne says we met in Savannah but that weekend is such a blur). In addition to all the neat, delicious antipasti that Kris served, Anne cooked us up some pasta with sauteed vegetables and made a tiramisu for dessert!
About 10, the party broke up (I'm impressed Mindy made it as long as she did as she'd just flown in that afternoon). And while Michele, Kendall and Anne decided to take the vaporetto back to their destinations (not far from us in Cannaregio), Shannon and I decided to hoof it with Colleen and Jim who weren't far from the Frari. But of course, along the way, someone decided we should have another drink, so we stopped for some wine and limoncello at a bar Shannon knows near the Rialto (Ruga Rialto maybe?). I think I finally got home and crawled into bed about midnight.
But of course, I was so wound up, I decided to watch the Pilot of Glee (I rented three episodes on my iPhone for the trip), before finally dozing off.
Monday - so far
Yet again, I couldn't sleep in. It's a ground floor apartment and there are people above, so when they stirred, I stirred plus, I can hear people walking/talking as they go by on the calle (though it's a very, very quiet calle, so this happened maybe twice), and I eventually got out of bed about 7:15, showered, finally unpacked, had some oatmeal and plotted a course to the agencies office in Castello (I had to pay for the apartment still).
Yeah, well, plotting a course in Venice is kind of like that saying, Life is what happens when you're busy making plans, needless to say I made many wrong turns, threw the plan away, finally pulled out the map, realized I wasn't that far off course after all, and found the office on via Grimaldi to make my payment. That took all of five minutes then I headed back over to Arsenale to grab the #1 back to Ca d'Oro.
It didn't start out crowded but once you hit those San Marco stops, mio dio! What I did realize though, is that inside there were seats. So though the view was not as good, I went back there to sit down. And strangely enough, though the waters were pretty rough this morning (the boat bobbed dramatically as I went to get on), I have yet to feel even a twinge of motion sickness (is it possible chemo cured that? hmm...).
Got off at Ca d'Oro, walked over to the billa, bought some cafe, milk, diet peach juice (really good), eggs, onions, mushrooms, lunch meat, bread, crackers and red wine (€24), came "home", made a cafe latte, and then a sandwich, and I've been typing here ever since.
Actually, I'm very impressed with all I've covered here, so other than the Spini hunt, I think we're all up to date.