Travel slowly, staying in vacation rentals (villas, farms, cottages, apartments)
Report 1016: Venice 12 December 2005 to 17 January 2006
By Boleskine from New Jersey, Spring 2006
Trip Description: Ruth (one of the authors of "Chow!Venice") and her husband Martin spend five weeks living in Venice over Christmas, dining out at restaurants and living amongst the locals.
Destinations: Countries - Italy; Regions/Cities - Venice
Categories: Vacation Rentals; Foodie Trip; Shopping; Sightseeing; Wine Trip; Independent Travel; 2 People; 3-4 people
Page 1 of 25: Lunedi 12 Dicembre - Martedi 13 Dicembre 2005
Gondola on the Grand Canal
Despite once again being sure we will never be ready to leave, I am sitting on the couch rechecking - and possibly messing up - our DVR taping schedule and hugging the cats when Sharon rings the door bell. I did relieve some stress by arranging with some friends to exchange gifts after we, and in some cases they, return from our holiday travels. I also cheated slightly by sending a few e-mail Christmas cards and a few e-mail thank you notes for early birthday gifts.
The drive to JFK is surprisingly quick and easy although the traffic heading in the other direction is bumper to bumper and barely moving. I feel sorry for Sharon who will have a long slow trip home, but she tells us she often stops at a mall for a few hours until the worst of the rush hour traffic is gone.
At JFK we check in quickly by virtue of arriving very early and flying business class - on which we have used all our Delta Frequent Flier miles. Since Delta no longer allows us to use miles to upgrade, we have decided to use up our miles and investigate other routes such as the US Air flight that goes direct from Philadelphia to Venice.
After being checked in, we must schlep our bags over to a security area especially for checked luggage. Then we can move on through the first of the personal security checks. I usually wear a battered old pair of sneakers and sail right through, but this time I am wearing suede moccasins, and they set off the alarm as does a small metal grommet on the waist of my pants when I go through without my shoes. This qualifies me for a wanding which is thorough, careful and very politely done. My shoes are taken away for closer inspection while a woman both wands me and then pats me down. She is very considerate explaining what she is going to do and then demonstrating. If the wand responds to anything on me, I will have to undergo a more intensive pat down, but even if the wand indicates nothing I have to undergo a "light, mid-body search." She asks me if I have any ultrasensitive body parts and I bite back all of the more interesting answers that spring to mind; she also tells me that at any time I can stop the process and ask for a more private screening situation, but I am fine with everything she does.
The inspection is quick and gentle and the sense of security I get from being so carefully checked out more than compensates for any inconvenience. When I am free to go, we walk down to the Delta Club to wait for our flight. At the first Club room we are told there is one closer to the departure gate we will be using so we move on down the concourse. We sit near the large picture windows, sip ginger ale and try some of the assorted munchies they have on hand.
The large room is crowded but still manages to be quiet and restful. It is self service, but workers come around frequently to clear away dirty dishes; the chairs are comfortable, and there are computer hook ups, magazines and really clean bathrooms. There is even a shower room.
At 6:15 we walk down to our gate only to find there is yet another Delta Club right there; that's three within a small area, but Delta code shares with Alitalia, Air France, Northwest and several other airlines and all clubs are now available to all business class flyers.
We sit, sweltering in our clothes, waiting for boarding to start. I don't understand why airports are always so stiflingly hot. Those who work in them could have space heaters to warm their kiosks and counters; the rest of us are usually wearing or carrying coats, lugging suit cases and walking for miles.
Because we are in Business Class we are in Boarding Zone One and are "invited" to board the plane as soon as the gate opens. Even better we will be among the first ones off the plane in Venice! We are offered a complementary glass of champagne, which is always a good start to a trip; the doors close on time. There is a queue of several planes ahead of us for take off, but before too much longer we are airborne.
We have some white wine on the plane and decide what of the several choices we should order for dinner. We both choose the chicken with citrus sauce, asparagus and sliced sweet potatoes. We get a single baby artichoke on a plate with mozzarella, olives, roasted peppers and sun dried tomatoes as an amuse bouche.
The two choices for the first course are a spinach salad with tomatoes and dried cherries and a butternut squash soup with pear and ginger. No one can guarantee me that the soup is dairy free so I opt for the salad which is excellent - not just good for airplane food, but truly excellent. Lovely tender spinach greens with not a single slimy leaf in the bunch. The balsamic vinegar and oil dressing is served in little bottles, which is a good system. Martin downs his butternut squash soup and proclaims it, “Possibly the best dish of any kind I have ever eaten on an air plane.” My one tiny sip confirms that it is extraordinarily good.
The white wine is drinkable; the chicken is edible; the asparagus are the pencil thin variety and better than the usual air plane veggies, and the sweet potato slices are quite nice. If the meal is not as sumptuous as Business Class food used to be it is still miles ahead of what is served in the back of the plane where we usually travel.
I am in trouble with the desserts which are mainly cheeses and ice creams, but I do receive a small plate of fresh fruit. Our flight attendant is very sweet and concerned about my dairy allergy; I give her a copy of Chow! as a thank you.
We opt not to watch any of the movies and try to sleep. The plane enters a patch of turbulence that lasts for a very long time; it is hard to sleep when you are vibrating like crazy, but Martin manages to do it, and eventually either the air currents settle down or I grow accustomed to the movement because I sleep for over two hours which is a lot for me on a plane.
It is a long boring night but because the seats are bigger and better padded with more leg room the night is a more comfortable one than those spent in the back of the plane. The emphasis in Business Class now seems to be more on service than on quality of food and wine. Breakfast is fresh fruit, the portions are generous and the fruit is actually ripe, followed by eggs scrambled with cream cheese or cereal and milk neither of which I can touch. I settle for a mediocre croissant with jelly and coffee that to a mouth, attuned to home roasted espresso, tastes like hot water.
On the ground we stumble through customs and immigration; the airport is not very crowded and even our luggage shows up promptly. Once outside we take a couple of deep breaths and fall into a taxi for the Piazzale Roma.
As we drive from Marco Polo to Venice, there seems to be a plethora of plastic Santas climbing up drain pipes of buildings and hanging from balconies. They are pretty ugly but apparently the newest fad in holiday decor at least in this area.
At the Piazzale Roma, we buy our monthly vaporetto passes, and rush for the #82. The same woman who gave us a hard time last year about paying extra for our bags, which we think are within the limits of what can travel "free," does so this year too. The #82 pulls out without us. We walk down to the #1 where we are allowed to board with no comment about paying extra for our bags by any of the ticket checkers or vaporetto personnel. I wonder if it is a difference between what is allowed on a #1 and a #82 or a kind and not so kind Actv worker.
Martin stands with the bags, and I sit outside and watch Venezia. It is a lovely sunny day, very mild, probably in the middle 40's and I enjoy drinking in great gulps of fresh air after so many hours in the airport and on the plane.
It is a schlep now to walk from the vaporetto to our apartment, dragging our bags, but by the time we go home in January, the walk will seem like nothing at all, but sitting for so long has left both of us stiff and achy; in addition we have not been walking very much lately because we have spent all our free time sitting and admiring our beautiful new grandson. Our first shock comes as we reach our calle; the hardware store right across from the calle's entrance is no more. In its place I see a shop with lots of Frederick of Hollywood type lingerie. That's certainly an eye opener.
We have called Marta from the taxi, but when we reach the gate, it is locked, and the button for the door bell is missing. We try phoning Marta, and she is not there so we find our own way in, and she arrives soon after. The apartment has some surprises for us too.
The white tile floors have been replaced by beautiful natural wood, which is much warmer looking. The stained and tattered blue carpeting has been replaced by a slightly faded and threadbare but still elegant looking red Oriental carpet. The three blue and white Chinese plates that have always hung over the fire place in descending order of size are gone, and there is a huge white framed mirror taking up the space. The top and sides are full of swirls and curlicues; I am not sure if I like it or not; its size makes it a little scary. The table that stood near the window last year is now IN the fireplace with a brass container that used to serve as a waste paper basket sitting on it. It is filled with an arrangement of artificial flowers in pinks, roses and white. At either end of the room there had been a large piece of storage furniture. On one side there had been a set of white open shelves; they held the CD player, the TV and assorted bits and pieces. The other end had had a huge closed cabinet that ran the length of the room. It had always been kept locked, but on top there had been a long row of paper back books left there by different visitors, local phone directories, Venice guide books, a lamp that looked like a candle on a pile of books and other useful things. Now we have a pair of heavy wooden credenzas as storage pieces. One of them has no knobs with which to open the drawers and no keys for the doors. We assume this is for the family's belongings. The piece at the other end is more functional because it opens. There are cabinets with doors at either side; they contain large serving bowls and platters and some of the books and other useful things, while the drawers are mostly empty except for the telephone books and the sewing kit. This give us lot more storage space than we have ever had.
Our bedroom looks exactly the same, but the guest bed room has an ornate gauzy gold fabric arranged over the bed so that it looks like a bed for a fairy tale princess. Someone less romantic than I would call it a dust catcher.
After Marta and Martin go out to read the meters together, she leaves. We tackle the unpacking. Martin drags out the giant left in Venice bag, and we unpack our pillows, bath mats, dish towels, etcetera. We had also left a shopping bag stuffed with extra paper towels, toilet paper, soap and other household items, but this seems to have vanished. Probably someone thought the supplies were meant to be used although they were more or less hidden in an unlocked bag.
Martin showers first because I always shower just before we leave the house; while I am showering, someone comes to repair the sink in the back bathroom. He says he will return at 5:00, but doesn't. We won't really need to use that sink until after Christmas when the first of our scheduled guests arrives.
Around 3:30, having showered and napped, we go over to Ciak's where we have orange juice, espresso and chicken sandwiches. From there, we walk to the supermercato for water, toilet paper, paper towels and a few other essentials. Tomorrow we will do a more complete shopping. We stop at Sabbie e Nebbie to chat with Maria Teresa, who graciously admires my photos of David. Rita and Massimo are not in their mask shop, but Demetri is in Karisma, and he runs out to say "Ben tornato."
Back home, I read and Martin naps; I eventually doze off too, but am awakened by very severe leg cramps. I take two Advil, drink some water and lie down on the bed to go back to sleep. When I am again awakened by leg cramps, I rub my legs with castor oil and that seems to help. I also drink a lot more water since I suspect the cramps are from dehydration.
At 8:00 we go to La Perla d'Oriente for dinner. We have both found that when our bodies are confused as to the time of day, and what meal we should be eating, Chinese food works very well. We order ravioli alla piastra, roasted duck with aromatic herbs, grilled jumbo shrimp and spaghetti con verdura. With our very reasonable 25 Euro check comes a gift of a Chinese calendar. One of the less pleasing changes in the apartment is the removal of the calendar that for years has hung on one of the cucinello doors. It was from a pasta company and showed various shapes of pasta with their names. You could change the month, date and day of the week without ever needing a year. It was something of a ritual to change the date every morning, and now it is gone as is the toy soldier who guarded the mantel. I used to move him along the ledge every few days so he wouldn't get bored by the same view.
We walk home after Martin makes a short detour to see if by chance Mille Voglie is open; it is not. Venetians and other Europeans do not seem to eat ice cream in the winter. Peccato! I content myself with studying the windows of a children's shop across from the Frari looking for possible gifts for David.
Back in our apartment, I find a passage in the Actv guide book that gives the dimensions for luggage that can be taken aboard a vaporetto for no charge with a regular ticket. Our biggest suitcase, expanded as it would be when it is crammed full is about three centimeters over the limit; the suitcase itself is within limits, which are apparently determined by adding all three dimensions together. The smaller case is completely within the size limits. It is hard to believe that the woman who gave us a hard time at Piazzale Roma has such a sharp eye she can discern a difference of a few centimeters, and the suitcase was not crammed full this trip so, if measured, it might have been okay. Martin falls asleep on the couch almost at once while I try to stay awake until something like a normal bedtime.
Although we have done nothing special or unusual on our first day in Venice, we have settled in and after some shopping tomorrow, we should be ready to begin a winter stay in full swing.
Mercoledi 14 Dicembre 2005
We both sleep pretty well considering how much napping we did yesterday. Since we consider our stay five weeks of living in Venice rather than a sight seeing stay, we happily and lazily roll into Ciak around 10:30 for breakfast. Alas there is only one kiefer left, which my friend behind the counter presents to me, “La Signora." I am willing to share, but Martin seems quite happy with a croissant. After breakfast we pick up an IHT and bread for lunch. I do not like to start cooking until we have been here a day or two so we make sandwiches. We have done a shameful American thing and brought along a jar of peanut butter for quick lunches. We both love all the salamis, prosciutto and other Italian cold meats, but they are too salty for us to indulge in on any sort of regular basis - especially if I want to walk around pain free. By Friday or Saturday I will begin serious lunch time cooking.
We walk down to the farmacia in San Polo stopping in to say hello to Rita in the mask shop. She very sweetly and kindly looks at ALL the photos of David I have carted along to Italy.
At the farmacia we refill an Rx, stock up on Rame Oro Argento for me, toothpaste for sensitive teeth for Martin and a body lotion for me. That turns out to be shockingly expensive. I hope it is the sort of lotion that can be used very sparingly.
Martin does some furniture rearranging. I want the little table out of the fire place and near the window so I can write sitting at it, and look out at the canal as I am doing now. I love seeing the red light from the San Angelo vaporetto stop, the glow from the front door of the Hotel Manin and the sparkling Christmas lights as well as the brilliantly lit front of the Hotel San Angelo. Ca' Garzoni, which is part of the University of Venice, is also ablaze with lights as is the new building at the traghetto stand across the street. The vaporettos pass churning the water and causing the lights to ripple in a thousand different ways. The view and sounds of the canal at night are part of what draws us back to this apartment time after time.
Back to our PB&J lunch. We learn after nearly 45 years of marriage that we make our PB&J sandwiches in different ways. I spread peanut butter on both pieces of bread and put the jelly in the middle. Martin uses the peanut butter on one piece and the jelly on the other so the jelly soaks into the bread, and doesn't leak out. His method works especially well on the frutta di bosco preserves we are using since they are more syrupy than most American jams or jellies. With our bodies still in transition, we are physically in Venice, but our body clock keeps insisting it is time for breakfast not lunch. Something like PB&J seems to be a good way to bridge the time and space differential.
In the late afternoon we walk over to Dorsoduro. We stop in at Tonolo's for an espresso and pastry. I have a really yummy apricot square that has two tiny layers of a very light genoise style cake almost entirely saturated in apricot jam or syrup. I am left licking my fingers. Martin has a baba shaped like an éclair; it is so decadently filled with whipped cream that he is given a spoon with which to eat it. The coffee at Tonolo's comes in thin blue and white china cups with gold rims. They are so elegant my pinkie automatically juts out when I lift the cup. Martin finds the espresso at Tonolo's is slightly sweeter than most and uses less sugar than he usually does. As we leave we both comment it is probably a good thing we do not live near Tonolo's 12 months a year or we would be even more rotund than we are now.
We stop in a new gourmet food store next door to Tonolo. We buy tea for our non Tonolo afternoons and a few other goodies. They have a large assortment of cheese, many of which are made with sheep or goat's milk, a good assortment of all those salty cured meats we shouldn't be eating, teas, jams, jellies and even fresh pastas. Martin continues on to the money machine, and I stop in at Il Baule Blu for tear drop beads for my jewelry making neighbor. The beads are arranged by color not shape so I must sort through many to find first the tear drop shape and then look for two that are roughly the same length and thickness. After finding eight pairs I decide to call it a day for now and head home. Martin, of course, has beaten me home. It is chilly, but the canal is so lovely we hate to close the draperies until we leave for dinner. Tonight we will walk back to Dorsoduro to eat in da Silvio. Martin likes a day or two of eating more simple meals before we go all out. Tomorrow is my birthday so I want his stomach in good shape for a birthday feast. And da Silvio has good simple trattoria dishes so I know we will enjoy our dinner.
We enter da Silvio through the rear garden, and notice there is a new raised platform at the Crosera end of the garden - more room for outdoor tables - perhaps for private parties. The pavilion in which we had dined last spring is still set up, and there are some large space heaters placed around the enclosed room; perhaps on mild or very busy nights it is still possible to dine out here.
Inside the restaurant is very crowded; more crowded than we have seen it in several years. We are shown to a table in the second room, which has paintings of Venice on the walls and table cloths on the tables - red with white tops; the bright blue napkins are paper, but at least they are thick and soft.
On our way to the table, we pass a server carrying two plates of scallops baked in their shells; they capture appeal to us both. It takes a few minutes for our glasses, which have steamed up from the contrast of the cooler outside air and the steamy heat of the interior, to clear, but when they do we tackle the menu.
Besides the scallops, we are tempted by schie and polenta and a sauté of mussels and clams, but we both settle on the scallops. We also both want the rombo – turbot, baked in the oven, with potatoes, but the rombo is not available tonight so we switch to the coda di rospo - monk fish. Martin orders French fries and I order grilled radicchio. We have a bottle of Panna, one of my favorite waters, and a half carafe of the house wine since neither of us feels ready to tackle a full bottle of anything yet. The house white is very fruity - there is a strong flavor of pear followed by an undertone of apricot and then perhaps avocado. Martin thinks he tastes orange too, but I cannot find it.
The scallops served in their shells are heavily breaded, but the scallops themselves are succulent and tender. I do wish American restaurants would serve the very delicious coral the way Italian restaurants do. The breads are okay, and the breadsticks, both salted and sesame, are nice to crunch on but nothing to look for in the shops.
There is a long wait for the coda di rospo, but when it comes it is spectacular. Perfectly cooked so that it is firm but still tender, it is bursting with flavor and it needs only a squeeze of lemon juice to make it perfect. We eat every crumb. My grilled radicchio has morphed into a small plate of grilled vegetables, but it looks so good I do not bother to point out the error. There is a generous assortment of zucchini, eggplant and red pepper. Martin's fries are crisp, greaseless and thank goodness not too salty
While we eat we listen to a lecture on Venetian history from a young man at the table behind us. It is a curious mixture of fact and fiction. The group of friends is planning a trip to Murano and trying to decide whether or not to stop at the "mystery" island of "San Michel," which lies between Venice and Murano and about which nothing is known. It takes lot of will power not to butt in, but unsolicited advice and information are never appreciated so I eat another French fry and keep silent.
We pass on dolce; we had enough dolce in our afternoon excursion to Tonolo's, but happily accept the limoncello that is offered. It is excellent; icy cold and the perfect blend of tart and sweet, fire and ice.
The bill gives us the amount in both Euro and in dollars based on today's exchange rate. Of course this may turn out to be slightly more or less by the time the amount is charged to our account, but at least we have a pretty good idea what the dinner is costing us in dollars.
A quick walk home, and we are back inside our apartment having enjoyed a simple and not outrageously expensive dinner in a conveniently local place. Tomorrow, for my birthday, I plan to kick it up a notch.
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