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Report 440: Spring in Venice

By Boleskine from NJ, Spring 2004

Trip Description: Another month's adventures in Venice in the spring.

Destinations: Countries - Italy; Regions/Cities - Venice

Categories: Vacation Rentals; Art Trip; Day Tours; Foodie Trip; Shopping; Independent Travel; 2 People

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Page 1 of 14: Breaking Away 15 and 16 April

We are surprisingly, amazingly organized this year. Maybe it is just in comparison to last spring when we left with only one day between our Seder for 16 people, and our departure, but we spend the last few hours wondering what we must be forgetting. How can we possibly be ready with time to spare? Try as we might we cannot think of anything left undone.

The taxi comes even earlier than we had requested which was a half hour earlier than the time for which we had originally ordered it because there had been so much heavy rain during the week, Martin was afraid that flooding would slow us down or force us to take detours. I usually like to stick to our schedule, but sometimes it pays to be overly cautious because the traffic is about as bad as I have ever seen it. The trip to JFK, which should take about 75-90 minutes, takes nearly 3 hours. The entire length of Satan's Parkway, AKA The Belt, looks like the approach to the Lincoln Tunnel at rush hour on a day when the Holland Tunnel is closed. To say we crawl all the way to the airport would be overstating our speed by about 200%. We are going so slowly we are forming relationships with people in the cars in the adjoining lanes.

Upon our arrival, our driver is considerably less pleasant than he had been when he picked us up; I suspect the thought of the trip home - the traffic in the other direction was, if anything, worse than on our side of the road. He totally ignores Martin's directions to the Delta medallion drop off and dumps us out at the general departure entrance refusing to drive us any further.

The check in lines are horrific which is why we prefer to take advantage of Martin's frequent flier medallion status. Now that Delta seems to refuse to allow the use of mileage for upgrades on low or special fares, this is one of the few frequent flier perks of which we can avail ourselves.

No matter, we join the queue shuffling along at the rate of about a foot every fifteen minutes until one of life's unexpected miracles intervenes. Martin suggests that since the line is so long and so slow, I go off and use the lady's room instead of waiting until we have checked in. After nearly three hours in the car, and my usual preflight jitters, this makes sense so I wander off in search of a facility. I ask directions to the ladies room and am told to use the elevator, but I cannot find an elevator nor any signs directing me to one so I ask again. I approach a pleasant slightly Slavic looking uniformed employee who seems to be steering people at the head of the line to the next available check in spot. She tells me the best way to reach the ladies room from where we are is to go outside, walk down two or three doors, make a left, and another left, go back inside and take the elevator and then follow the signs.

I thank her and tell her that since it sounds pretty far away and I am an extremely slow walker, I think I had better wait because I don't want my husband to find himself at the head of the line without me. I smile and say thanks anyway and march back to the place think Martin should have reached by now.

I hear someone calling ,"Lady," but do not turn around immediately. When the person keeps calling, I look over my shoulder to see her beckoning to me. "Where are you going?" she asks. "Venice," I tell her.

"Go stand over there," she says pointing to the nearest check in booth. There is a group of four people being processed. "Just stand there, don't move and don't talk to anyone," she commands. "What is your husband's name and how far back is he?"

I tell her his name, give her a brief description - thanks to being an avid fan of L&O and NYPD I know how to do this and tell her where he was standing when I left him. A minute or two later she returns with Martin following her and as soon as the group of four is checked through, we are up. In no time our bags are checked through, and we are on our way to the Gate.

I have absolutely no clue why this angel smiled on me. Perhaps I look like her mother or sister; perhaps she too has a demanding bladder, perhaps it was a random kindness. Martin said the looks of the people around him when he was singled out were amazing: everything from jealousy, to anger, to awe to fear-was he a terrorist about to be arrested, a VIP getting his special treatment - who or what. He could not have told them if he wanted to since until he caught up with me he had no clue what was going on.

We watch CNN, read, nibble on a home made PB&J that we made to use up the last of our very good “imported from New Brunswick” bread before leaving for a month, and finally it is time to board.

Delta now boards in Zones; there is no pre-boarding for people who need extra time or help at all. Fortunately we are in Zone Two so we get on fairly early and have plenty of space to store our gear in the overheads. Security is definitely not as intense as it was last spring and last winter. No one asks if we packed our own bags or had them with us, etc. We are screened a second time going through to the gate, and our passports are checked again at boarding, but that is pretty much it.

The flight itself is no better or worse than most. The food is at best edible but certainly not worth writing about. We both find the movie stupid but an awful lot of people seem to find it hilarious. When the movie is over, I try to sleep and so does Martin. The man in front of me has his chair tipped so far back that I cannot read; there is no room to hold an open book. I wish they had separate sections of the plane for those who want to ride reclining and those who prefer to remain upright. The cabin is never really dark; because they run old TV shows and documentaries all night long; in fact they never shut the videos off until a few minutes before landing. This seems to be in lieu of any contact whatsoever between the flight attendants and passengers. I remember when even in economy class you were offered a glass of water, a warm wet towel and once even cookies in the middle of the night if you were awake. Now the meals are sort of parceled out with total indifference and minimal conversation. I feel as though I am flying Fed Ex or some other line that handles packages not people. Still, we arrive safely and even touch down a few minutes early.

There are so few EU passengers that those lines are opened to non-EU visitors as well. As a result of this courtesy we make it the through the immigration lines in record time. One of the disadvantages of checking in early is that our luggage was probably loaded first so it comes off last, but at least the three pieces arrive fairly close together. A family near us gets three of the first four bags to come through and is still waiting for the rest when we leave the area.

Martin decides he does not feel like dealing with our luggage on a vaporetto so we opt for a water taxi. It costs 80 Euro, and we can take the free shuttle to the water; it runs roughly every 5 minutes so we don't have to wait. The bus steps near enough to the curb that I do not have to make a giant step up. Another time I had to step down from the curb to reach the bus, and I was not sure I'd be able to pull myself on board. As on many Italian buses, the seats are raised and are not very convenient for someone with stiff and tired knees.

The bus fills up quickly and surprisingly almost everyone wants water taxis. On other trips, most of the passengers have headed for the Alilaguna. Despite having arranged for the taxi in the terminal, we have to wait a few minutes, but taxis are arriving regularly and we get one fairly soon. The day is gray and mild and it is actually quite pleasant sitting by the water on a comfortable bench. We have a little plastic shelter in back and over us so even if the drizzle starts again it won't be a problem. The pavement is wet, and there are big puddles everywhere.

Our driver is very considerate and helpful. Thanks to his strong arm and hand, I am able to step on board without slipping or feeling I am about to wind up in the lagoon, and he helps with our luggage. He revs his engine and we are off at breakneck speed heading towards Murano. I have never been in a water taxi that went this fast; maybe he is trying for a record, or maybe he is frustrated with the enforcement of slower speeds in Venice so he is letting loose, or maybe he senses our impatience to reach the city. Martin and I are bouncing around on seat, and we are both using our arms and legs to brace ourselves against the seat back and the floor. I keep thinking of the little Japanese couple in that Chevy Chase movie - the ones who are in the back of a taxi in a chase scene - waving tiny American flags and saying, "Kojak" with big smiles. The apartment looks very much the same and after so many visits it feels like coming home. The bed has not been made so Floriana arranges for someone to come and do that. It is always a delight to talk to Floriana; she is so full of personality, and her English is excellent. After she has finished reading the meters, we walk down to Ciak's for an espresso, which becomes an espresso, due panini, due acqua naturelle, and a cookie for later on. Then we walk down to say hello to Rita and Massimo and finally back to the apartment to unpack and shower.

By 3:00, Martin has showered and is snoring away in bed; it is hard to believe that 24 hours ago I was just starting the day in NJ with the entire long journey ahead of us. It has been a long trip but how far we have come! Such a journey would have been unthinkable at the time the building we are in was constructed and for many hundreds of years afterwards.

A shower and a nap later, I have gone from feeling disheveled but energetic to clean and lethargic. I really should avoid napping. We finish the odds and ends of unpacking and have some tea and the two kiefers we bought at Ciak's. Now it seems as though we have never left. We make a quick call to NJ to assure my mother-in-law that we are now safe and sound in Venice, and our first day's agenda is pretty well covered. Tomorrow we will go out and do a big food shopping, but tonight we will settle for dinner at Carampane.

I have been having trouble getting my Quick Pad to recognize the password I usually use - shutting it off and removing the batteries doesn't help so I break down and call Tech Service. They seem really impressed that this idiot is calling from Venice, and the solution they suggest works like magic so I am really impressed too.

Around 8:00, we walk down to Carampane in a light drizzle. It is very mild and the mist feels refreshing on my face and head. Martin carries an umbrella but I'd rather feel the soft sweet rain. We receive a heartwarming welcome and are shown to "our" table - al fondo - in the rear corner. Next to us, at a table for four, a young boy is working his way methodically, quickly and amazingly neatly through a plate of pasta. I doubt many adults could handle spaghetti so deftly. We are brought the complimentary plate of crab balls and frizzled leeks and zucchini. It contains more salt than I normally eat, but it is so crisp and delicious, it is irresistible.

We begin with two different kinds of scallops - one large grilled scallop and a very generous scattering of capestrini - tiny guys grilled on the half shell. They are succulent, sweet and look pretty with the little pink coral still attached. I wonder why American restaurants almost universally discard this. It is delicious, not very strong tasting, and such a pretty color.

We usually skip to the secondo, but we are feeling peckish tonight so we indulge in a primo of zuppa di porre - a rich leek soup served in a small footed white tureen with a scattering of finely chopped green herbs on the surface. We also are brought a plate with crostini covered in butter and a cheese that seems like Roquefort. I cannot eat cheese made from cow's milk, and we are not sure if this is made from sheep’s milk or not so Martin gets them all. I make do - hardly suffering - with some of their wonderfully chewy bread. The soup is incredible; it is so rich and lush it is hard to believe there is no cream in it, but Antonia even goes back to the kitchen to double check for me. The broth tastes of leeks and yet is not too strong but rather a mélange of delicious different flavors with leek being the predominant taste.

Piera brings us a color photo of her one-year-old grandson. He is all boy with a baseball cap cocked over one eye. Antonia has a new grandson, her second, but she forgot to bring us the photos of Nicolo and two year old Lorenzo. Next time she promises. Guess we'll have to come back.

After the soup we are brought a filletto di rombo-turbot - with a salsa agrumi - a light citrus sauce. The sauce is a beautiful pink color with a few bits of orange and pink grapefruit as a garnish. It goes wonderfully well with the delicate turbot being not too sweet or too tart but the perfect balance of the two. Our house white goes so well with all three courses that we ask for a second mezzo - unusual for us.

The fish is perfectly boned and cooked. It is light and yet utterly satisfying; it is also beautifully plate - guaranteed to whet a reluctant appetite - not that we have that particular problem.

We finish with due sgroppini and make a reservation for next Friday our 43rd anniversary; we may not be with family but at Carampane we will be with friends.

The walk home is refreshing; the air is cool but not chilly and the rain is like a gentle caress from above. Tomorrow we will hit the macelleria, the produce shop, the supermercato, the bakery, and check out the neighborhood to see what changes, if any, have taken place. How lovely it is to go to sleep more than 3000 miles away from New Jersey and still feel we are home.

Sabato 17 Aprile 2004

The sky is gray but dry. I wake very early and against my better judgment lie down again for a few minutes. Three hours later, we both get up, dress and walk down to Ciak's. The gentle elderly man in the hardware store was not there last night nor is he there this morning, but it is open and there is one man behind the counter and one man working on rearranging the window. We will have to find out if he retired and sold the store. He was always very friendly when he met us in the calle, and on many occasions we saw him carefully cleaning up after his dog, a courtesy not all Venetians observe.

Braced by an espresso and a kiefer, we buy an IHT, some rolls and two zaeti - the usual, followed by the usual, the usual and more of the usual.

We walk past the Frari to the produce shop and encounter a wedding in progress. The bride, on the arm of her father, has just exited a gondola and is walking towards the church amid applause and cheering from onlookers. They are met at the church entrance by a priest and after a short exchange they enter. Many people follow, but then a short gray-haired woman in what looks like a lab coat comes out of the door and chases most of the onlookers away. We assume the guests were already inside and seated when the bride arrived and this was an attempt to keep the curious crowd out. Peccato! I have never crashed a wedding although once in Siena we did inadvertently crash a funeral.

When we cross the bridge, we find the produce shop is closed. There is a photograph of one of the young women who usually works there with a handsome young man and a sign that says they will be closed on Friday and until 1:00 on Saturday. Martin thinks the bride we saw was that same young woman, but if that is true how can they possibly be planning to reopen at 1:00?

We walk to the supermercato speculating about this. Perhaps she is not the daughter of the owner, but he is going to the wedding; perhaps there was a civil ceremony and reception yesterday and today is the religious ceremony, perhaps friends or other employees will open the shop for them. When we eventually learn the truth it is not any of the above.

We make a few purchases at the market, but do not buy produce there deciding we will walk back at 1:00. Since we did not have breakfast until after 10:00, we can certainly eat a late lunch. Everyone in the market seems new to us. The men behind the cheese and deli meat counter are not the ones I had come to know at Christmas, and the checker is a young man not the last rose of summer woman who has been there for years.

Martin takes the groceries home while I go to the macelleria. It is mobbed, but since I know Gianni closes at 1:00 and won't reopen until Monday I wait. Besides, it is fun to see what other people are ordering and try to follow the conversations. When it is my turn, I buy some veal chops, and on Gianni's suggestion something called “muscoli” which I know means muscle. He says it is usually cooked in the oven - we have no oven I remind him, and he assures me I can make it like a stew on top of the stove. He wishes me a pleasant Domenica and I return the good wishes, and hustle home, pausing only to look in three or four shop windows.

It is still gray but the sky is lighter now, and it might turn into a nice day. I have been worried that since we left NJ on a balmy sunny spring day - the sort that was so bright and so mild all rain seemed to belong to another lifetime - we had both decided not to bother with raincoats, we would be punished by 30 straight days of wet weather.

We hear a loud and rhythmic drumbeat, and a long low boat rowed by a large group of children passes our window; they are all wearing life jackets. It must be a youth rowing club or the children's division of one. A short while later, we hear the drum again and watch as they return. Right in front of our window they pass a wedding gondola carrying a bride and groom. The children burst into cheers and raise their oars in salute. I am kvelling like crazy as I grab my camera and wish just for the moment I had a camcorder.

I unpack the groceries, finish reading Medusa, read the paper and by then it’s time to walk back to the produce place where I discover I have made a small mistake. Blame it on being an idiot who was still not fully alert, but I had reversed the days and times: they were closing at 1:00 yesterday not opening at 1:00 today. Today is the day they are closed all day, which makes much more sense. How did I ever manage to make such a stupid error!

We go back to the supermercato, which is now open all day, and buy some veggies and a few lemons and oranges. Of course once again we appear like idiots - we forget to weigh them. Actually we do not forget, we just do not realize we are supposed to weigh our own as this is only done in one supermarket we use in NJ. Most NJ markets have scales built into their scanners and everything is weighed at the check out. And I had been so proud of myself for remembering to don one of the plastic gloves before handling the produce. We apologize; hurry back to the produce section, weigh our selections and then return to the checkout line.

When we get home, I bread the veal chops - starting by dredging them in flour seasoned with herbs. Then they go into beaten eggs - the yolks are such a deep rich orange, they make our usual yellow yolks look anemic. Finally I coat them with breadcrumbs. I let them stand on a platter to set for a few minutes while I chop veggies. I cut zucchini, red pepper and yellow pepper into matchsticks, onions and tomatoes into curved slices. Martin has put on Sibelius, and I sauté the chops and veggies with the canal sounds and Sibelius accompanying it all. The sun breaks through the clouds and starts to stream into the apartment through the two big windows just as the music reaches the place that always sounds like a sunrise to me. I feel so at home it is incredible to think that 24 hours earlier we had just been starting to unpack.

When the chops are done, I squeeze fresh lemon juice over them and add a splash of Balsamico to the veggies that I have been adding to the pan a few at a time - onions first, followed by zucchini, then peppers and finally the tomatoes. With hard rolls and a zaeti for dessert, luncheon is served.

Eating lunch at almost three o'clock works well if you have a late breakfast and a late dinner. It also means that by the time you start an afternoon outing it is nearly 4:30. We walk towards the Frari heading for Mille Voglia but we make stop at La Baile Bleu to buy some old beads. My friend and neighbor fell in love with some small blue scallop shell beads I had brought her last winter. What can I say - she has great taste. They are from the 1940s and are not inexpensive, but she has offered to give me a watch for my daughter in exchange for my brining her more of them, so I buy several in blue and a few in pink.

At Mille Voglie, we are waiting in line for our turn when Giordano, the life force at al Paradiso greets us. We will be eating there tonight. Since it is Saturday, and the restaurant is small, I had called from New Jersey to make a reservation. It is just by chance that he is passing Mille Voglie while we are there, and we are delighted to see how well he is looking. Then it is our turn. Giordano hurries on his way, and we choose our flavors. They have two soia selections: chocolate and nocciola and I opt for the latter. Martin tries a new chocolate flavor that has small crunchy Rice Krispy type bits in it.

We cross into Dorsoduro, and walk past Ottica Caporin, the shop where we buy our glasses. We get a big hello just for passing by and waving. Tonolo, the fabulous pasty shop, is closed until the 20th so it was a wise choice to have gone for gelato instead of coffee and a pastry. We are sorry to see that da Silvio looks very closed. Not only is the door shut and bolted but the windows are covered with newspaper - not a good sign. An inquiry elicits the news that it is indeed closed and has been sold, but no one seems to know if it will be another restaurant or something else entirely. We are very sorry because the food we had there in two visits last winter had been wonderful, and we had been looking forward to dinners in the garden this spring.

We walk slowly back home checking out old and new shop windows. We read and doze enjoying the cool air and bright sunshine. Around 7:30, a commotion on the canal gains our attention. There is a wedding next door. Earlier we had seen a boat from Do Forni bringing in food supplies, and now the guests are arriving in gondolas. The entire area between our apartment and the other side of the canal is packed with gondolas, each containing six passengers. About half have managed to unload when the wedding gondola comes into view. Immediately, everyone backs off to make room for the grand arrival. Amid cheers from the guests, the wedding gondola with its white, gold and red clad gondolieri pulls up to the dock.

First a slim Afro-American man with a camera around his neck hops out; then a chunky tuxedo clad man steps on to the dock and last but certain not least it is the time for the bride who is wearing a short lace dress. It is an elaborate dress, but the short length makes it relatively easy for her to disembark. We watch the rest of the guests as they wait their turn to leave the gondolas. Wooden planks run from the side of the dock along the front of our building and some guests are dropped off on this while others are taken around to the big floating dock, where two men dressed in 17th century livery wait to escort them into the palazzo.

When all the guests are in, we change for dinner and start walking down towards the Rialto. It is perfect weather - cool but not cold-and it is pleasant to walk. At al Paradiso, they have reserved us one of the tables near the entrance so I do not have to try to fit my walking stick and me through the narrow spaces - such thoughtfulness is much appreciated.

There are Brits on either side of us and a large table of Americans in the back. Giordano glides by and drops the word “asparagi” in my ear. We decide to take his suggestion and open with a platter of asparagus - uno per due. We get 3 white and 3 green - perfectly ripe-perfectly cooked and perfectly delicious. They come accompanied by a lemony sauce-not Hollandaise; not mayonnaise and not avoghlemono - but something, which I am assured is dairy free. It is wonderful, and we scoop up as much as we can with each delectable spear.

The couple next to us is from England by way of New Zealand, and they know the people sitting at the table in back of them. They are Americans from Denver and all are attending the same conference. After the other Americans leave we start to chat with the Brits, who are very friendly; we mainly talk about food - what else!?! They were on dessert when we arrived so they leave before our secondo comes wishing us, as we wish them, a happy stay.

We had planned to go directly to a secondo, but the ladies on our right have ordered scallops and cherry tomatoes, and they look so good we decide to share an order of those too. The plate is set between us and left in place long enough for us not only to savor the scallops and tomatoes but also to have time to sop up the sauce. Very thoughtful! The white house wine is perfect with both courses as well as with our fish, which may be why we drink the entire bottle.

The fish, orata al forno with olives and potatoes for Martin, and my favorite, branzino croccante with endive and fennel braised in pernod, is as good as good can be. There is not a scintilla of bone to be found and the fish is as fresh as any you might find anywhere in Venice, and so good we both clean our plates despite having had an antipasto and a primo.

We ask about the strawberries for our dolce, but are advised they are small whereas the ananas - pineapple - is perfectly ripe. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth we order the ananas and some of the dessert wine. They have a different one this spring - a moscato from Sicily that is just delightful, a perfect end to a perfect meal.

We leave with hugs and the promise to return soon - how could we not-when we have truly been dining al Paradiso.

We window shop our way home and arrive in time to hear the launches collecting the wedding guests. That is a welcome sound; there will be no late night band blasting away when we go to bed. By 11:00 the Pisani Moretta and the Canal are peaceful and quiet and not much later so are we.

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