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Report 101: 26 Days in Venice - Winter 2001

By Boleskine from Princeton, NJ, Winter 2001

Trip Description: Twenty-six days in Venice over Christmas and New Years. The report is long and detailed.

Destinations: Countries - Italy; Regions/Cities - Venice

Categories: Vacation Rentals; Art Trip; Foodie Trip; Sightseeing; Independent Travel; 2 People

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Page 1 of 4: First week in Venice

Having our trip moved up by one day courtesy of Delta's changing their JFK/Venice Direct flight has given us one extra day in Venice, but four days of pre-departure insanity, owing to their neglecting to notify us. One day is a chunk of time for someone who is usually ready only about 20 seconds before she needs to be. We also lose most of a day in rescheduling the ride to the airport, the housesitters, the apartment's availability, and last but not least our son's 35th birthday party which had been scheduled for Saturday night. The 35th birthday was the whole reason we were leaving so late in the month to begin with, and now it will have to be a day early and minus a three key guests. The party is a great success despite the early date, the missing people and the extremely late arrival of my brother and his wife who got caught up in the usual Friday evening insanity on Satan's Parkway aka the Belt, and we get to say good-bye in person to pretty much the whole (fam damily).

On Saturday morning as I am merrily romping through the last minute chores that are necessary to me but not anyone else, Martin informs me to drop everything and be ready to leave at once. He has just heard there are major security delays at NY area airports - we learn later it is due to the shoe bomber - and he has called Sharon and asked her to come subito! In the end, we depart only about 29 minutes earlier than planned, but I had about 26 items on my to do list that are not getting done - urgent things such as delivering Christmas gifts from our cats to a neighbor's and getting a peek at another friend's first grandson who is up from Kentucky for Christmas.

Martin feels justified in pushing up our departure from home when there is unusually heavy traffic en route to JFK, but the mileage that gave us business class tickets as well as our early arrival get us through check in and security with no waiting. The metal sensors have definitely been fine tuned - the silver chain bearing an antique stamp carrier - that now holds a bit of my beloved Bowie's hair - and that I have worn on every trip for years - sets them off for the first time. Also something in my socks triggers the alarm which calls for my being patted down by security guard. I do not mind one bit. Contrary to some stories I have heard, the security people could not have been nicer or more polite.

We did have one odd experience with our to be checked luggage. JFK was screening all bags before they were brought into the terminal, and they spotted and semi-confiscated a manicure kit. This was a birthday gift, which was packed in a suitcase that would be checked; nevertheless it was removed and placed in a plastic bag which was sealed and tagged. After checking us in the woman, who was processing us, walked over to the original screening point and picked up the manicure kit and then watched us place it in one of the checked bags.

Everything worked smoothly and it caused no real delay, but the thing that was odd was the same suitcase held a knife for use in our kitchen in Venice, a rather large one too, as well as my husband's pocket knife, and no one questioned the presence of those two items or my husband's electric razor or an ultra sonic tooth brush, or our sound soother CD player. Delta had told me there would be no problem with any of those items going into checked luggage and in truth there wasn't; it was just the preoccupation with the manicure kit which seemed a little odd. They had thanked us for our patience, and I thanked them for being there. Soldiers and National Guardsmen and women were visible through JFK.

It is not unpleasant to wait in the Delta Club, a perk to which business class travelers are automatically entitled. Drinks, munchies, comfy chairs, TV, phones and computers are all available. I try phoning a few of the people to whom I did not have time to say good-bye in person, and actually connect with a couple of them. We board on time, but then learn that an Air France plane has blown a tire on the runway and we have to wait for it to be cleared.

There is a good deal of turbulence, but otherwise the flight is happily uneventful. I pass on the salmon appetizer, and find the salad extremely good, and the chicken edible if not fantastic. I cannot eat the ice-cream sundae offered for dessert, but the kind flight attendant finds me some fresh and dried fruit, which I enjoy. The movie is the Julie Andrews Princess story-good flight fare as you can doze off and pick it up again easily enough. Then I play trivia games, and sleep for about two hours before it is time for halfway decent bagels and fresh fruit for breakfast.

We are through Immigration in five minutes and then wait and wait and wait for the baggage to be unloaded. I go through a major attack of sleepiness; had there been any place at all to sit down, I would have nodded right off, as it is I sort of flop over the handles of the baggage cart. Luggage claimed, we head for the water taxis. I give the dispatcher our destination and list every major building and side canal we will pass along the Grand Canal to reach our apartment-none of this "San Toma? You mean San Marco?" business for me. He seems to find me highly amusing, and tells me I can direct the driver.

The driver is cheerful and pleasant and converts the steps into a seat so I can be outside and still sit. When we arrive, the water door is open, and we are greeted by the maid/cleaning woman. We pay the driver and wave him off with a "Buon Giorno and Buon Natale" and turn around to find the woman already has all our bags in the apartment so we can stroll rather than schlep into our Venetian home.

It has been spruced up since the spring; the furniture has been rearranged, and the upholstery cleaned. There is a new rug, new draperies and a new table cloth, and both bathrooms have new tile floors. There is also a tiny microwave perched on top of the refrigerator.

We opt for coffee over unpacking and are greeted by our friend Gian, who offers us freshly baked Krapfen. Martin has cream filling, and I have apricot. A charming fur draped woman tells me to have the crema - it is the best, she says - but I explain I am allergic to dairy. She tells me she is too but advises splurging once a week. I mind my manners and don't tell her what would happen if I splurged even once a month. Feeling somewhat restored by our first Venetian espresso, we walk over to the old supermercato which had been closed in the spring to see what sort of shop it is now. To our delight, it has reopened as a different supermarket; it no longer has a deli section or fresh bread and rolls, but it has most of what we need and is much closer than the next place which is two bridges away and greatly limits how much we can buy at one go - even pulling one of those little carts.

Martin carries the groceries home, and I go to the butcher. It is lucky we have plenty of lire because our debit cards will not work in the grocery machines, and we always need cash for the meat. Blessedly, there is no one else in the shop so I can ask him about beef for soup. Martin has grown very fond of a dinner of boiled beef and chicken, a sort of Jewish pot au feu, but the butcher has no beef suitable for soup at the moment. At least, he knows or seems to know what I want. I also ask him about the tool he uses for pounding cutlets flat. James had been fascinated by it last spring but could not find anything like it in the States. I learn that to get one as heavy as his professional one I have to go to a special knife store, but I can get a lighter weight one at the hardware store at the top of our calle. I buy turkey cutlets and beef for ragu and eggs. After a visit to the money machine for reinforcements, we stop at the produce store for fruit and veggies.

It is early for lunch, but we are right in front of La Perla di Oriente, and on impulse we go in. Chinese food seems just the thing for lunch when it is actually too early for breakfast on our body clocks. For once our timing is good; the restaurant is empty when we arrive, but it fills up quickly. We have wonton soup-an unusually rich and flavorful broth with delicate dumplings, spicy cabbage, and spinach. It is beefier tasting than what we are used to in New Jersey, but very good. Four shrimp come on a sizzling platter accompanied by some tasty but extremely slippery vegetables. Pork with zai-zai is also good, but even after eating it we cannot figure out exactly what vegetable the zai-zai is. The word is the same on Italian, French, English and German menus. The waiter only knows it is a vegetable. The rice, which must be ordered and paid for, comes in individual bowls which we prefer, and it is properly sticky for eating with chop sticks. The tea, which also must be ordered and paid for, is served in an exquisite pot with cups that are richly decorated and yet are so delicate, they are translucent. It is a lovely meal.

We walk home via the calle next to the restaurant and find it comes out near the mail boxes in Campo San Toma' - a new short cut along a route we take several times every day. We check the hours on the Carlo Goldoni House which is now open for the first time since we starting staying in the apartment. Martin sleeps and I unpack. I see a large red boat a bit like a gondola with a cabin float by the window; the vivid color catches my eye, and I am fascinated to see it is being poled by twin Santas. I rush for my camera so I can get a photo of this curiosity. I watch the traghetto making regular trips back and forth across the canal as a #82 vaporetto begins churning and turning in front of our window. I feel as though we have come home.

We try calling Tom to verify the story that both the maid, who let us in and a customer who had come into the butcher shop as I was leaving, had told me about someone trying to blow up a plane with explosives in his shoe. Both people were vague on the details and were apologetic that they could not give me more details as to the air line, the city to which or from which it was flying, etc. They only know the man was caught and not many if any people were injured; no one died. Tom calls back just as I am surrendering to sleep; he fills us in on the details. We learn the incident had actually occurred just before we left for the airport - the reason for the stepped up security - though I must admit no one looked at our shoes at all. It is better I didn't know; I'd have been needlessly nervous. I did appreciate the increased security - especially the screening bags before they are brought into the airport terminal.

Martin gets to see my first "only in Venice" sight - the red Santa gondola - while I am sleeping. His reaction wakes me. We think it might be fun to find out more about it - a ride in a Santa gondola might be too good to pass up.

Dinner is at Fiaschetteria Toscana. We take the vaporetto to the Rialto and then walk back to the Campo San Bartolomeo. We cross it going left and then cross the <> bridge, pass the small church of San Giovanni Cristomo, and there it is - just as I remembered. We are seated near the front window where we get a slightly different few of the eclectic decor than we had on our previous visit. Murano Glass fixtures, slightly surreal clown prints and a collection of Buon Ricordo plates all in the same small room probably shouldn't work, but they do here. There is one plate from 12 Apostoli in Verona - so famous and yet for us one of the single worst dining experiences we've ever had; another plate from a place in Treviso I have seen mentioned on the board, and a few are from towns with which I am not at all familiar.

On our first visit we found the food good, but the restaurant was noisy, and the meal not at all relaxing. It is crowded again tonight, but we do not feel as harried as we had last winter; it might be having the window as my main view, or it might be because throughout the meal the table next to us remains empty. Martin has pasta e fagioli, which he deems outstanding and rabbit which he finds very good. My dinner is not very good it is fabulous. I open with fresh oysters and Prosecco. The Prosecco is lovely - much better than the free glass many places offer on arrival. My four oysters-you pay by the piece - are incredible - fresh and sweet with just enough brininess to serve as proof they come from the sea. Just before leaving I had oysters in NJ served with a mignonette sauce; that was an amazing dish, but these, dressed with only a squirt of fresh lemon juice, are even more memorable.

I order the Buon Recordo plate. It is a generous tangle of lightly battered and fired sea food and veggies. The vegetables are mainly julienned zucchini - tender but crisp. The sea food consists of several different types of shrimp, cuttle fish, neat little rings of squid, strips of sole and a few items I cannot identify but which are delicious. The fish is crisp and not at all greasy and despite the generous amount I have no trouble polishing it off. A wonderful meal with a pretty plate as a bonus. Our dolce is Chibousta pronounced the French way with a "sh" sound at the start. The pastry chef - the owner's wife - has layered an almond cake topped with zabaglione and fresh raspberries and added a bright red puddle of an incredibly intense raspberry sauce. Good does not begin to describe this dessert. The raspberries might have been picked five minutes ago in a summer garden, the zabaglione is light and sweet without being overpowering, and the almond cake has a well balanced flavor and lovely texture. The Chibousta deserves some sort of award-a blue ribbon or gold medal at the very least.

I am presented with my plate and we walk home-across the Rialto Bridge with its shuttered shops and canopy of fairy lights and then continue through San Polo to our calle. As many times as we have made this walk, I still spot something new - a wall carving of two columns across from San Polo. Even my Blue Guide will offer no explanation for this plaque. We are home by 10:00. Not a bad beginning for our trip; we've mae good use of our Delta gift of an extra day in Venice; a turning #82 works wonderfully well as a lullaby.

24.12.01 Vigili di Natale There is gray daylight filtering in when I awaken at 7:30; by the time I am washed and dressed, sunlight is tentatively caressing the buildings, throwing patches of color onto the surface of the water. The traghetto is making regular crossings, but instead of full boats they are carrying only two or three people, and the vaporettos are nearly empty too. We had noticed how few people were around yesterday too; I was able to take some photographs I could never get before because usually the calles and campos are too crowded.

Last night we had to buy our vaporetto tickets on board because the office at San Toma was already closed; today we had planned to investigate the monthly passes we had read about, but I have a feeling the ACTV office may not be open until Thursday. If the monthly tickets are for a calendar month rather than 4 consecutive weeks, we'll need a weekly pass to see us through to the end of December anyway.

It is mesmerizing just to be able to sit and look out at the gray-green water, and I learn that having poor eyesight can be a plus at times. The man I see carrying a giant Q-tip over one shoulder is actually holding a child in a white hooded snowsuit, and the little gray nun watering the plants on her altana turns into a large sea gull preening itself in a patch of sunshine.

At breakfast, we are greeted with a cheerful Buon Natale and shooting star cookies made from Gian's grandmother's recipe. They are wonderfully buttery and crisp, and we buy several more to take back to the apartment. After breakfast Martin goes for an IHT, and I stop in the mask shop to see Massimo and Rita. He is working alone today so I give him the copies of the photos I took of him and Rita, and Rita and Gerarda last spring, and also one of the gold wolf mask we bought which stands on a tapestry covered chest next a photo of my sweet Bowie of whom it reminds me both in shape and expression.

Massimo tells me his brother, Sergio, is now making Huskie masks; solid heads more than masks, but he could probably make one like a mask for us, if we prefer. Martin who has come in sighs; he knows there is a very strong chance one will be coming home with us.

We go to get bread, but the woman in the little shop in the Campo San Toma' tells us she is sold out. There are bread and rolls all over the counter and shelves, but she is busily putting them in bags so perhaps she means they have all been spoken for. We have stopped in on other occasions, and she has never been very friendly, but I cannot blame her for saving her wares for her regular customers. I walk to the store in Dorsoduro and get two panini rustica and two integrale, and then am seduced by the small fruit filled crostadas, and buy one filled with frutta di bosco and another with apricot. Then we buy two weekly vaporetto tickets. We know from experience that many places, especially businesses, will remain closed on San Stefano, the day after Natale.

After reading the paper and learning more about the plane incident, we walk up the calle to the Casa di Carlo Goldoni. The house in which he was born and lived as a child and in which the museum is now located is right at the end of our calle. Starting some time in 2002, the top floor will be a library, available to anyone who wishes to do research for now only the first floor, our second floor, the museum is open. One room is set up like a small theater, and a second, my favorite, contains a marionette theater. There is a stage with a detailed set and marionettes arranged in place. Glass cabinets hang on the walls and they are filled with more marionettes. The faces of these dolls are incredible - very human and highly individualized. Their arms and legs were cleverly articulated so they could move realistically, and another cases we see marionettes in various stages of construction with notes explaining how they were made and demonstrating the refinements over previous ones.

Unfortunately, all the information is available only in Italian, which I can read but only slowly. I learn Goldoni was born here in 1707; he developed into a prolific writer of comedies which satirized the mores and social customs of his time. Goldoni spent several years in Verona to which he fled to escape an undesirable marriage; he also spent time in debtors' prison. In 1753, he was invited to Paris to stage some of his works. Finding life there to his liking he remained in Paris until his death some forty years later. There are several theaters around Venice with <> connections; one them the former Teatro San Luca is now called the Teatro Goldoni.

The marionettes reflect his best known and most admired trait - his brilliant and witty observations of the lives of ordinary people. Unlike earlier writers who focused on the aristocrats, Goldoni's works represented tradesmen and servants. The faces as well as the costumes of the marionettes reveal both dramatic and subtle differences from those of their richer companions.

Goldoni wrote more than 250 plays, many based on Commedia dell'Arte figures and is considered to have advanced comedic theater to a new level. His house was left to the City of Venice in 1931. The courtyard of the Casa Goldoni has an unusually lovely wellhead which can be glimpsed from the calle. The staircase that you climb to the upper levels is an eye pleasing sweep of pink and white stone rising over a series of arches. The museum is small; besides the marionettes, it has several pictures of 18th century Venice and Venetians, some first editions of Goldoni's works, engravings and other memorabilia, but for me it was the marionettes that made it worth the climb.

At home, while Martin naps, I bread and saute the turkey cutlets and improvise a salad of leeks, fennel, fennel leaves and clementines to the music of Borodin. After lunch we walk to the huge Coin store just past the Rialto. There is a huge crowd around he Christmas stalls in the Campo San Bartolomeo, but we are looking for new bed pillows and they are not among the items on sale. The apartment comes with down pillows which leave us both sneezing and wheezing; we are hoping, since we rent the same place twice a year to be able to buy our own pillows and stash them somewhere so we can stop carrying pillow from home - they take up valuable luggage space.

On the third floor Martin finds a charming clerk who helps us find two pillows which are on sale. With two big pillows and a pair of cases in a monster shopping bag, we take the vaporetto back to San Toma' feeling very Venetian for having bought household goods rather than tourist souvenirs. Passing through the Christmas market in San Bartolomeo on the way back to the Rialto, I see a man carrying a little girl on his shoulders. She is wearing a red and white Santa Claus hat with a band of blinking lights running around its white base. I love it, and she sees me looking at her and smiling; I point to her hat and smile even more. She starts to giggle and gives me a little baby Italian wave. When we get home, we lie down to test the pillows, which must be comfortable since the next thing we know it is two hours later and nearly time to meet Cat for a drink. Cat's apartment is on the way to Poste Vecie where we will be having dinner. Cat and Andrea greet us with chilled pro secco in a set of magnificent glasses designed by Andrea. They are not only strikingly beautiful they are a unique concept. It is a treat to be sipping from them. Cat's place is as lovely and warm as she is, and the hour or so before our dinner reservation flies by. Andrea's Aunt and Uncle arrive for dinner just as we are getting ready to go so we leave in a flurry of Buon Natale and Auguri.

We receive another warm welcome at Poste Vecie and two more glasses of Pro Secco; it is amazing how chilled prosecco makes for such a warm welcome even on a cold night. We order our favorite spaghetti con vongole verace followed by the house Rombo for two. The spaghetti lives up to our very fond memories of it, and the rombo, perfectly boned and lightly clad in a delicate white wine sauce is delicious. We love the tiny potatoes that come with it-crispy outside and tender as mashed potatoes within. Our first sgroppini of the trip don't disappoint us either - rich and light at the same time; tangy with lemon and the slight kick of the vodka.

We window shop our way home through streets that are deserted except for occasional groupers of partyers, who cheerfully include us in their Buon Natales. We switch on TV expecting to find services from San Marco or perhaps St. Peter's. This is what was on: A rerun of one of the 3 tenors' concerts, a movie in which a gondolier and a man dressed as a priest meet two young women at the train station. The tour includes the Ca D'oro and Santa Maria della Salute which in this film is located directly across the canal from the Ca D'oro. There is a fight between two women on a bridge both wearing the same red dress which they have been given by the same gondolieri. One woman loses her dress. The boat tour of Venice lasts about two days during which they are taken to an inexpensive pensione - Pensione D'Amore - whose rooms strongly resemble a suite in the Gritti Palace. On another channel, we see a male angel naked to the waist except for wings; he is wearing a long swirling skirt from which emerge young women wearing mini dresses and high leather boots, and finally we find something called Super Sexy Blob which cannot be adequately described on an AOL Travel Board.

25.12.01 Buon Natale Our new pillows continue to work wonderfully well - no snoring, wheezing or coughing but perhaps a little too much sleeping. Gian greets us with a hearty Buon Natale and suggests the plum cake. He has not made croissants or krapfen this morning. The plum cake is very good, but with a second Buon Natale he surprises us with two large star shaped cookies filled with apricot. They are made from the same wonderful buttery crisp dough as yesterday's shooting stars, and we gobble them down like greedy children. After a short walk we go home to do a wash of the clothes we wore and sort of slept in on the plane. It is a wonderful luxury to have that little washer drier - small and slow though it may be. It turns out that the drier is not working at all so we will get to experience an Italian washing machine repairman in the near future. In the meantime, we have an opportunity to get creative about where we will hang our clothes.

We talk about different excursions - because it is Christmas many places are closed and there is limited vaporetto service, but it so pleasant sitting there, listening to Mozart and watching the light on the water that, in fact, we do nothing at all. This is one of the greatest luxuries of having three weeks in Venice - we can afford to take a morning and do nothing at all.

I start a sauce for the pasta we will eat for lunch while Martin replaces the Mozart clarinet concerto with Venetian lute music. I feel a sense of peace and pleasure that I don't think I have felt since our last visit - and surely not since 11 September.

In the afternoon, we take a vaporetto to San Marco, which is nearly deserted. There is a large presepio next to the Basilica; it is filled with life sized figures from the Nativity story; not only are they life sized, they seemed to be animated. Then I realize what I am seeing; a woman had climbed into the middle of the presepio to pose between two of the magi; the movement I saw was the woman climbing out of the presepio to silent applause from her family. I get the impression that the sly looking Doge on the far side is also looking at her with disapproval.

We walk though the Basilica; the nave is roped off so you cannot get in any position from which you can see the main altar. There is a small service being held in the left side chapel, and it seem impossible to walk at all on the right side. By far the biggest crowd is at the souvenir stand. Apparently Christmas afternoon is not a good day for visiting San Marco. Martin says it is too cold for gelato - something I would not have thought possible - so we decide to go for tea. Then we change our minds again and decide to go home and make our own tea and eat our own goodies.

We walk down the Calle Valleresso; the designer stores are all featuring subdued windows: business attire and warmer clothing instead of the flashy party styles of past years. These actually look like clothes real people might wear, but they are not as much fun to walk past.

The sun is setting and the sky is striped with half a dozen different shades of pink. While waiting for the vaporetto, I take a few photos of La Salute to add to the dozens I have taken on previous trips. The vaporetto arrives, and as we glide by the La Salute stop, the ropeman calls out to those waiting on the platform that the #82 doesn't stop there; he tells them to walk down to Accademia. There are signs posted telling people that the #1 is not running today-only the #82, but we have been guilty of not reading those signs on other occasions, although we did today. I just hope someone on the platform understands Italian.

We sip raspberry tea and munch cookies and then read and listen to Vladimir Feltsman play Profkofiev until it is time to walk to Locanda Montin for dinner. We cross the bridges into Dorsoduro, and head in the right general direction. A woman in a luxurious fur coat confirms that our instincts are right. She speaks a beautiful and precise Italian; I'd love to engage her in conversation just to listen to her voice, but she is clearly on the way to s omeplace for Christmas since she is carrying some gaily wrapped packages.

Dinner is pasta e fagiole which Martin, at the waiter's suggestion, tops with olive oil instead of Parmigiano. It is the first time he has tried this and he loves it. I have the minestra della vedura-a hearty vegetable soup. We both wind up ordering the tacchino al forno - after all it is Christmas, and we are Americans. It comes with whole chestnuts that look like wrinkled macadamias and taste very pleasant. There is also a pile of julienned vegetable strips that adds color and flavor to the plate. There is one very tasty vegetable we don't recognize; the waiter says he thinks it is "cardi", which I know is the Italian for cardoon, a type of thistle. Glasses of the Antinori Vin Santo and a plate of esse da Buranelle warm us up for the walk home.

We take a slightly different route and pass a series of small shops with windows full of wonderful and fascinating creations. In no time we are at the bridge which brings us back into San Polo; we even given directions to several other sets of pedestrians who are headed in the other direction. The sky is dark with a scattering of stars, the air is cold - almost crystalline and it is very quiet. It doesn't really feel like Christmas and then as if by magic the words of an old carol float into my head, "It came Upon a Midnight Clear."

26.12.01 San Stefano On our way for espresso, we notice even more shops are closed today than yesterday. Gian tells us he will be closed the next day - Wednesday is his day off. He tells us he has been making coffee in that spot for 32 years and working for 50. He either started working as a child or he looks fantastic for his age.

We are interested in how he packs the ground coffee into the container as that seems to be a critical step in the preparation. Anything we can do to make our own espresso closer to his is worth trying. He is very patient as we watch and ask questions, but I think he finds us a little weird The newspaper kiosk is closed, which we more or less expected; this is our fourth Christmas in Venice, and we remember the holiday on the 26th. I pick up my first batch of post cards while Martin gets fresh bread and more of those little crostadas. He is intrigued by the woman ahead of him who asks for and is given a half loaf of bread. Since the bread does not keep well because it is preservative free, buying a half loaf makes sense. Usually we buy panini, but this time Martin buys the other half loaf.

It is raining heavily by the time we finish our lunch of turkey cutlets and home made vegetable soup so we decide to stay home until it is time to go the annual concert at the Frari. It is the perfect afternoon to curl up and listen to music, and pretend to be reading a good book while dozing or watching the rain drops tap dance on the surface of the canal. When we reach the church, it is packed and very very cold. There are no space heaters this year, and even before the concert begins, several parents burdened with whining children give up and leave. This puts a sort of perpetual motion into play as people leave-always families with children - their empty seats are filled by those how have been sitting on the stone steps of the side chapels while their seats are taken by members of the standee contingent, whose places are taken by those who were standing further back. The performers consist of a soprano, a trumpet player and an organist. In the first half we hear music by Albione, Morandi and Teleman. The organ is the old Callido organ from 1795, and the trumpet player is on high and out of sight standing with the organist so the sound drifts down on the audience like a gift from the gods.

After a short break during which collection baskets are passed for donations earmarked for Afghanistan, the musicians move down to the main altar where they are joined by the soprano, Silvia Galzavana. She has a lovely voice, pure and clear with an underlying warmth to her tone. The organist is now playing the 1928 Mascione Organ; he opens with Mozart's Fantasia in F Minor. The magnificence of the music makes it possible to forget the frigidity of the temperature. The lyrical Fratello solo, Sorella Luna, is the soprano's first number; she sings swathed in a black shawl. Her pale oval face shimmers within a cloud of black hair leaving an impression not unlike la luna herself. The next number is the haunting theme from La Vita E Bella followed by more movie music: Maria Guarani from Mission, and the themes from Schindler's List and Mose. The trumpet player offers an encore and the concert closes with an enthusiastically received rendition of White Christmas.

At home we with giant mugs of raspberry tea, we warm both our hands and our insides. Later, we walk the short distance to Trattoria Ca Foscari al Canton for dinner. In the two hours since the end of the concert, the rain has stopped and it has turned noticeably warmer. We are seated in a small two table area which is fine with us; no company means no smoke. We both have spaghetti con vongole verace-a satisfying if mild presentation which allows the natural sweetness of the tiny clams to come through. We follow with scampi alla griglia, lightly charred and deliciously smokey, crisp french fries and an assortment of grilled vegetables, A half bottle of Soave goes perfectly with both courses, Martin finishes with profiteroles, and I have a slice of almond cake. It is even warmer by the time we are walking home although the sky is still overcast and full of dramatically ominous clouds. We read until we are sleepy with the churning of the turning 82s and the slapping of the water against the pilings as our mood music.

27.12.01 Giovedi The project for this morning is arranging for our monthly vaporetto passes. After our espresso at Nomboli, accompanied by a cream filled croissant for Martin and a yummy almond flaky thing for me, we stop in to greet Rita who was not in the mask shop the day before Christmas. Then we go off to Dorsoduro to get photocopies of our passports. The man asks for 200 lire for this service, and Martin is astounded; he cannot believe anything costs only 200 lire, but that is apparently the going price. We happily pay up and take the vaporetto down to the Ferrovia for step two - the photomachines and passport sized photos.

It turns out to be a leisurely trip on a #1, since we have just missed the #82 - probably because we spent those extra minutes marveling at the low cost of the photocopies. We both comment on how an annoyance at home-missing an express and getting stuck on the local turns out to be a treat here because we get to spend more time on the lovely ride down the Grand Canal. Of course, in the railroad station, there is a photocopier right next to the camera booth, but we both know that had we not already made copies of our passports the machine would not have been there or would have been out of order.

The machine indicates you can take 6 different poses. I am not sure if we missed a step or did not act quickly enough, but we wind up with 6 copies of the same unattractive pose instead of one each of six different unattractive poses. The ACTV office is exactly where we thought it was, and it is open. The woman ahead of us is having a terrible time getting information about buses to Marco Polo. The information lady is confusing the 1st of January with the first bus of the day and they are going round in circles. I like to be helpful, but don't like to be pushy, and while I hesitate, they sort it out on their own. We pay10,000 lire each, and are given forms to fill out. When we return the completed forms, the lady stamps them emphatically in several places and for another 45,000 lire each we get passes for the month of January attached to a temporary card. In April we will get permanent cards good for 3 years-these will allow us to buy a monthly pass whenever we are in Venice. We leave triumphant at having accomplished this great feat in one go; we were sure we'd have done something wrong or not brought something we needed and would have to make at least one return visit.

After our lunch of pasta and ragu, we decide to visit the Museo Diocesano d'Arte Sacra so off we go. We have visited the area where they hold special exhibits several times, but never seen the basic collection. A French woman asks if she is on the right vaporetto for San Marco. We are on an #82 so we tell her she wants the last stop - "end of journey", and we will be getting off too. Had it been a #1, we would have stayed on to San Zaccheria - could I have resisted the temptation to tell her to watch us and get off one stop before we do? Fortunately I am not put to the test; Actually on a #1, I often advise to people ride to San Zaccheria so they can enjoy the view of the Piazzetta and the Doge's Palace from the water. The woman is wearing a canvas coat lined with fur and a matching canvas and fur hat, and she is carrying a huge fur purse lined with canvas. I feel quite dowdy in my all weather jacket and Martin's knitted cap, and an old black purse bulging at the sides because I have crammed my camera into it, but then I think I'm the one who knew where to get off for San Marco.

We scoot through San Marco, and I pause on the Ponte della Canonica to photograph the Ponte delle Sospiri from its back side; Martin walks ahead to the museum, which is looking very very closed. In fact, the sign on the door offers the information that while it is open from Monday through Saturday, it is only open from 10:30AM-12:30 PM, a fact which we could have learned from any number of guide books, had we bothered to check. We walk down to the Rialto and then home so we can meet with Floriana who is coming at 5:00. In another city, I might have felt we had wasted the afternoon, but this is Venice and just being here is always enough.

Floriana brings us a second set of keys, and we catch up on her vocal studies and her most recent gigs. Last night she sang in Asaigo, which is pretty far from Venice, and meant she got very little sleep. In March she will be singing Broadway show songs in Milano; if she gets a return engagement, maybe we will be able to catch her in April when we will be there for a week.

Tonight - finalmente - we are going to Carampane. They have been closed since our arrival, and we have been looking forward to this meal. We are greeted like old friends; such a reception is truly heartwarming. We open with capesante - scallops - done in a sort of gratine with little matchstick vegetables and a white wine sauce. Whatever they do to scallops here the dish is always delicious-more than delicious downright ambrosial. My salad and Martin's potatoes with onions are served as a second course which makes more sense for the salad than the potatoes, but they are so delicious it doesn't bother Martin a bit. The house white is one of the better house wine around, and the Branzino alla griglia lives up to our memories of Branzini past. The fish here are as good as it gets. Our sgroppini are perfect - tall, cool, tangy, lemony - with little bits of real lemon in the sorbet.

When James and Gerarda found their way to Carampane last spring after we had gone home, it was by chance. They had already eaten their dinner but asked if they could just sit outside and have sgroppini. They were served and then given refills but no bill - they were a treat. James and Gerarda were very still excited and pleased when they told us about it. Everyone there seemed equally excited and pleased to hear how happy James and Gerarda had been by the surprise and how happy and excited we had been to hear about it. It seemed to me to be a quintessentially Italian gesture to please us by treating our children generously.

The Capo'd'anno menu is on the table and we read it over trying not to drool on it. We ask if there are still openings - we get a severe look and a finger waggle - "Solamente due??"

"Si, si" we assure Antonia, "Solamente noi." She nods; she has half a table, "Alle nove," she tells us. She calls to the front room, "Completo adesso per capo d' anno". We feel as though we have won a prize and cross our fingers about there being not too much smoke. Tonight only one person in the room was smoking so we could really enjoy our dinner.

We walking home slowly enjoying glimpses of a painted ceiling here, a magnificent chandelier there, an eye catching shop window, a matched pair of golden retrievers out for an evening stroll with their owner - all the sights that we have time to notice in Venice. Back in our apartment I phone Bistrot de Venise for dinner reservations. Both Cat and Shannon have recommended it highly, and it is never too early to think about tomorrow's dinner.

28.12.01 Colleen calls around 9:00; she has arrived in Venice. We arrange to meet in Campo San Polo at 10:15, but she has forged ahead and intercepts us at the end of the Calle Saoneri as we are going for coffee. She not only joins us; she treats us to breakfast. While we are having our espresso, a beautiful boxer comes in with some people. I love the way dogs are permitted in restaurants and shop of all kinds, and I always impressed with their good behavior. The boxer sniffs my leg, and I offer him a hand so he can check me out further. He licks my hand, and then puts his paws on my shoulders and moves right on up to my face. I adore dogs, and find this delightful, but he is extremely exuberant and affectionate, and I think his owners are a little embarrassed. Sadly, I never encounter him again; I'd love to have a canine buddy in Venice.

We have decided to follow the agenda Cat outlined in her Santa Croce article. We find our own way to Maria Mater Domini because Martin knows it is not too far from Antiche Carampane and that is a route we know very well. We take some time to explore the small campo, which has several interesting buildings, and then move on to the church. This is a very elderly parish having existed since the 11th century with the current structure dating from the early16th century. My favorite piece in the church is the marble bas relief of the Madonna in Prayer, which dates from the 13th century and was in the original church. As in so many churches in Venice, there is a Tintoretto - The Invention of the Cross. Imagine living in a place so full of works by Tintoretto that you can think "But only one Tintoretto".

The Corte del Tiozzi is another delightful spot in which my camera gets a workout. Colleen and I both fancy the many lions that can be spotted on plaques, over doorways or as small statues. We also both love the many small shrines, whose lighted openings were the start of street lights in Venice and the world. It is a great delight walking with someone who completely understands the need to photograph more than just the major landmarks of Venice. Martin is used to my constant stop to focus and snap, but others often grow impatient. We make our way to Ca' Pesaro stopping frequently to record windows, balconies, medallions and bridges. The Oriental part of the museum is closed for the holidays, and the Modern Art wing is still being renovated, but it is such a gorgeous day it would be difficult to spend much of it indoors.

We cross the Ponte Pesaro and continue towards the Grand Canal and San Stae. The adjoining building, La Scuola del Battiloro e Tiraoro is a 1711 confraternity, or guild, of jewelers. The facade of the building has wonderful stone work and carvings which would be spectacular given the same sort of cleaning and face lift the church has had. We have been in the church before, but Colleen has not and we are more than happy to make a return visit. Colleen buys the multi-church pass; we don't - a mistake we will not make on our next visit. I am particularly drawn to the grisly and ghoulish skeletons decorating the grave of Doge Alvise Mocenigo. He lies right in the entrance to the nave - no doubt because it was his money which allowed Giovanni Grassi to rebuild the church in the 18th century.

The next stop is the Palazzo Mocenigo, which we visited last winter; Colleen plans to come back to see the museum at her leisure so we move on to the Calle del Tintor and pass the popular restaurant, Zucca. We cross the Ponte del Megio and walk into the large Campo San Giacomo dell Orio - which I will always think of as San Giacomo of the Cookie. I am excited to be seeing the inside - finally - because we have made repeated visits to this church and always found it closed. There is another delay today - a funeral is ending. The coffin is being blessed by the priest before it is loaded onto a boat for the trip to the cemetery. Mourners are gathered around, and we join a small group of sight seers lurking on the sides trying not to intrude.

Martin offers to take my glasses, the frames of which had broken when they had fallen off my face, happily not while I was looking over a bridge, to an optical shop in Dorsoduro and to buy bread for lunch. Colleen and I wait for the family to be helped into the cabin of the board carrying the coffin, and the other mourners to disperse before entering the church.

The church is huge with a magnificent 14th century wooden keel ceiling. A few days later when we take the Secret Itinerary tour, and we see the roof of the Doge's Palace and learn about how the workers who built these structures all came from the Arsenale - everything comes together neatly. The beams of the ceiling are beautifully and intricately decorated. We spend a long time looking heavenwards in admiration. The whole church is a treasure trove.

In the south transept there is a column of verde antico "liberated" from Constantinople during the 4th Crusade. Behind the pulpit, another column has a spectacularly flowered capital. The Baptismal font is carved from a single huge piece of Greek marble. There are several paintings by Andrea Schiavone, the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes by Palma Il Giovane, and some by Bassano one of which - St. John the Baptist - includes a figure of Titian wearing a red hat as well as members of Bassano's own family. The Madonna and Four Saints by Lorenzo Lotto over the altar is a gem that would make any church worth a visit. There is also a magnificent crucifix by Veneziano hanging in the apse. Another especially charming work is the small statue of the Virgin Annunciate - a Byzantine piece which shows the Virgin holding a spindle. This work was originally over the door of Santa Maria Mater Domini. On the north porch, there is an early 17th century Pieta carved from which looks almost startlingly modern.

Colleen and I walk home, and she joins us for lunch. We eat with sunlight dancing on the walls, and an unending array of gondole, vaporettos and large and small boats bringing the canal to life. I love feeding people, and having company for lunch in Venice an unusual treat. Colleen goes off to visit the Frari and San Rocco while Martin and I try to make arrangements to visit friends near Cesena. The logistics are discouraging - the trip is longer than we remembered, and our friend now own a bar and works long hours - to see her we would have to stay in the smoky bar all day, and since she no longer has a guest room, we would have to stay in a hotel or make the whole trip in one long day. We make tentative plans, but I have a feeling we will never see them through.

We eat dinner at Le Bistrot de Venise; we choose it because not only is it highly recommended by Cat and Shannon but it has a No Smoking room. We spend a while just studying their fascinating two part menu; the first half is composed of classic Venetian Dishes and the second half lists Historic Venetian Dishes. I open with a Tortin de Radicio de Treviso, gamberari e patate in crema de suca Baruca, which is a small potato tart topped with the radicchio and some tiny shrimp. Next to the tart is a golden swirl of some sort of squash or pumpkin puree. It is tasty and light and makes an excellent first course. Martin has decided he wants to try eel so he has Bisato in Rede al Lavarono, al pepe rosa e ciaide di Polenta. The eel is baked in a bay leaf and red pepper sauce. Martin suspects his first try at eating eel will likely be his last. For his entree he chooses mazorin col pien in salsa da angiove - wild duck in an old fashioned anchovy sauce. The anchovy sauce scares me off, but he enjoys it. Martin asks if it comes with any vegetable, and the waiter says no so he orders rice, but there is a huge baked potato on the plate too. All these dishes come from the Classic Venetian section of the menu.

My entree is from the historic Section; it is a 14th century recipe for Fileto de Porca in savira aranzato - filet of port in orange and red wine sauce. It is a smashing success; there are no huge, fat (as in large not fatty) filets of pork - cut like filet mignon would be. It is more than I could ever eat at a single sitting which is convenient because Martin has found his duck tasty but a little skinny. There are some small slices of blood orange that have been transformed by a sorcerer from mere fruit into an amazing delicacy - they are crispy, crunchy, sweet, tangy and intensely orange. They are one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted; I wonder if it would be possible just to have a plateful of those.

In lieu of dolce, we have dessert wines. Martin has a Grappa Storica Domenis - Antica Distilleria Domenus Cividale del Fruili. I have a Sauternes Chateau Guitderdonede Hayot, Tenuta vignobles due Hoyot Francia. Martin has heat in a glass and I have liquefied amber. The grappa is mellow-not the burning overkill of raw alcohol but a subtle gentle warmth that spreads slowly throughout your body. I'd come back even if I had not enjoyed my meal so much just for another glass of that incredible Sauternes. The staff is very friendly although they are not able to be very helpful when asked questions about the food, but the unusual and mostly delicious dishes and that Sauternes will bring us back.

We had approached the restaurant from San Marco and gotten slightly lost; wandered a bit and then found ourselves on the right calle just slightly past it. We go in the other direction to get home, and it is a straight and short walk down to the Rialto. We could easily walk from the Rialto, but a vaporetto is just arriving, and I can't resist that dark and delicious sensation of being on the canal at night so we ride home.

29.12.01 After our espresso we go food shopping. First stop: the butcher for chicken, eggs and veal for scallopine. I love watching this man work; he slices the veal into 4 thin, even slices with a god sharp knife and a steady hand. The chicken is cut into 8 pieces in the time it would take me to separate a single leg and thigh. Martin takes the meat home while I go on to the grocery and the produce store. When the young woman asks me how many mushrooms I want, I go blank on the word for a handful, and show her the amount using my hand. She understand perfectly. I ask her, "Come se dice in Italiano?", and laughing, she makes the same gesture I did. Later my dictionary tells me it is a manciata or a manata. I try two tabacchi for stamps and in both am told they are out of stamps for the US. Finally, I just buy thirty 800 lire stamps; I'll gladly put two on each stamp. It is worth paying the extra just to get the cards in the mail. By the time I have bought bread and some dolce, and put away all the groceries, it is time to start fixing lunch. I begin by getting the chicken soup cooking - that will be for tomorrow, but it can simmer while I bread and saute the veal and mushrooms. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice is all that is needed to finish the dish.

While Martin washes the dishes I talk with Michael Broderick and Colleen about next Friday's walking tour, and I do The New York Times Sunday cross word puzzle in the IHT. Then it is off to the Ca' Rezzonico.

I have been wanting to visit this museum of 18th century Venice for years, but it has been closed for renovations. It is a thrill to be climbing over the wooden humpbacked bridge which I have photographed from the vaporetto, the fondamente and even the bridge in back of it - the one crosses the canal into Campo San Barnaba. We pass under great stone heads that gaze down upon us and then through the enormous and elaborate gates to enter the grand hall way of the palazzo. Begun in 1667 by Baldassare Longhena, who also designed La Salute, the palazzo was not completed until 1758 because the Bon family who had commissioned it ran out of money after finishing only one floor.

By the time the Rezzonico family bought the building in 1750, Longhena had died and it was left to Giorgio Massari to complete the building. Tiepolo, Crosatto and Guarana were among the artists called upon to decorate the interior of the building. In 1810, after the last Rezzonico died, the building had a series of owners including Pen Browning, the son of the poet, Robert Browning, who died here in 1889. Whistler also stayed in the Ca Rezzonico from 1879-80. Since 1934 the palace has belong to the Comune di Venezia. The ground floor includes a cafeteria, coat rooms, a gift shop, rest rooms and information services. The first and second floors house the museum of the 18th century and the third floor is an art gallery.

The Palazzo is large and there are many interesting things to see so allow plenty of time; we were there 2 1/2 hours and could easily have spent longer. In addition to the many paintings and breathtaking Tiepolo frescoes, there is a lot of beautiful furniture - in many case complete suites brought here from other palazzos throughout Venice. From the front rooms there are spectacular views of the Canal, and from other windows, glimpses of gardens and tiled roof tops. Gilt and glass chandeliers hang from almost every ceiling, and cabinets and glass cases hold collections of silver, porcelain and crystal.

One of my favorite rooms was the Longhi room which was filled with his small paintings of everyday Venetian life; they are not only charming; they are insightful and often humorous. The art collection includes works by Canaletto, Longhi, Guardi, Ricci, Palma il GIovane and Il Vecchio, Padovanese and Rosalba Carriera. There is an 18th century apothecary shop which looked as though it would be fascinating to walk through, but the doors were securely locked at the time we were there. One guide book mentioned a puppet theater, which we never saw, but there was a flight of stairs in part of the art gallery leading up to something - unfortunately we were running out of time and never climbed them - a reason to go back.

Sadly, even after the renovations, the lighting in many of the rooms is abysmal. I would suggest visiting Ca Rezzonico early enough in the day that you are assured of full light; I would also allow several hours to appreciate at your leisure all there is to see-perhaps having lunch or taking a tea break in the attractive little cafeteria, and then returning refreshed to savor all the goodies collected under that single imposing roof.

We are so tired we take the vaporetto to San Stae and walk to Zucca from there. We are seated next to three young Australians whom we help with the menu. Martin and I both open with the soup made from leeks and pumpkin, It is flavorful and hearty without being heavy. Martin's secondo is lamb with fennel and pecorino; he orders a side of potatoes au gratin. I have the spiedini di manzo con salsa piccante with a contorno of carrots with almonds and curry. The carrots are spicy and delicious, but the serving is large enough to be an entree, and I cannot finish them. The beef is lovely-juicy and not cooked to death; the sauce is tasty but barely piccante. Martin loves his potatoes and finds the lamb tender and juicy. He is not normally a big fennel fan, but enjoys this version because the flavor is so mild. The house wine is a Frulian red, and it is excellent. Martin's dolce-the chestnut mousse lives up to his memory of it, and my cantucci con vin santo is always a good way to end a full dinner. We walk back down the Calle de Tentor and on to the Salizzada San Stae. As we pass the Palazzo Moncenigo, a baritone voice can be heard. The mellifluous tones follow us down the Salizzada to the vaporetto platform.

At home we find an ancient I Spy on TV; it is set in Venice. Of course, we have to watch it; even though we are setting in a 16th century palazzo on the Grand Canal, how can we pass up a chance to see even more of Venice.

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