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Report 616: Venice - Winter 2004/2005

By Boleskine from New Jersey, Winter 2005

Trip Description: Ruth and Martin spend five weeks in Venice every year from mid-December until mid-January.

Destinations: Countries - Italy; Regions/Cities - Venice

Categories: Vacation Rentals; Foodie Trip; Opera; Shopping; Independent Travel; 2 People

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Page 1 of 36: 11 and 12 December 2004

The eleventh of December seems to arrive much sooner after Thanksgiving than it has any right to do. It seems more this year than ever before that I will never be ready for departure, but in, fact, I am - just. I even have time to make and receive some goodbye-buon viaggio calls. Sharon, who drives us to JFK, is prompt as always and before long we are on the familiar heavily traveled route to JFK. Only the Delta Direct flight to Venice could induce us to make this trek when Newark and Philadelphia Airports are so much more convenient, but there is nothing as wonderful as deplaning at Marco Polo and knowing that in less than an hour, we will be "home." Actually it is the Contessa Anna's apartment but after renting it twice a year for about 8 years, it feels like home to us too.

Despite the rainy weather and heavy traffic we reach the airport with more than three hours to spare. There is a new twist to checking in this trip. After presenting our tickets and passports, verifying our seats, etc., we get to schlep our checked luggage to a cordoned off area and pass it under the ropes where it may or may not be inspected. Only then we can proceed through security. Martin has to remove his shoes, but my two thousand year old sneakers allow me to breeze right through, which is the main reason I travel in them. Contrary to the many stories I have read and heard about security checkpoints, everyone is very polite, and more than pleasant; they are down right cheerful. No one seems to be searched in any personal or offensive manner, and no one is asked to removed layers of clothing, while we are there, which is just as well since I usually fly braless because comfort matters more than looks when I am going to be sitting on a plane for 8-10 hours.

Gate 26 is a long walk from the check in and security points, and I am glad we have enough time that I do not have to rush. There are no shops or food kiosks in our immediate vicinity, which might be a good thing; there are certainly plenty of people to watch. We are in a busy little corner with most flights departing for domestic destinations. The only other international flights are a flight to Paris departing shortly before ours, and one to Brussels just after. The airport is busy and flight, arrival and boarding announcements come literally on top of one another. It is hard enough to sort out the different announcements from one another if you speak English; I cannot imagine deciphering the cacophony into anything meaningful if you are less than fluent.

Delta boards by “Zones” now, but Martin asks about early boarding since I walk with a stick, and permission is readily given. We have two seats just behind the emergency exit door seats. One of the men in front of us is very tall - 6'4", and he explains to his seatmate that he requests these seats routinely because you get so much extra legroom. You cannot book them, but at check in you may request them. The flight attendant speaks with them to make sure they understand the routine. If there is an emergency, she, who will be seated across the aisle from them, will take over. If she is not there or is incapacitated, then it falls on them to get the door open and the passengers out. It should probably be reassuring to know that the people who might have to work the door and escape chute are being given at least the rudiments of training, but I find it a bit disconcerting especially when the two men start discussing the length of time we could expect to survive in the North Atlantic in December even assuming we could swim well and had survived the initial impact.

Neither film interests us in the slightest which is just as well as we cannot really seen any screen. The big one is to our left and fractionally behind us. There are two small screens in front of us, but the larger one is blocked by tall guy's head and the smaller one is just too far away. It is a pretty bumpy flight, and we are all urged to keep our seat belts on. There is no drink service except with dinner. In an effort to avoid dairy, we have ordered Kosher meals. We get served first and they ask permission to open our dinners for us. It's nice to see that they really try to respect some people's feelings about the dietary laws. We are given chicken, rice with veggies, and really good, fresh lightly cooked string beans. There is a small salad of marinated cucumbers - fresh enough to be still crunchy, a roll that is nothing to write home about and some of sort chocolate faux cream filled roulade, which I should be able to eat because it has to be dairy free.

Once the trays are collected, I try to sleep. We have given the two women who served us copies of Chow! Venice, and they seem really pleased. They give us free wine with our dinner. They asked if I would sign them when things calm down, but the flight remains bumpy, the seat belt sign is on full time and I never do get to write anything for them. Maybe they will be working the 16 January flight home. One of the women says her friend Domenico, got a copy from me in September and I tell her that would be been my co-writer, Shannon.

I put on the ballet music channel and doze on and off; it is a little disorienting to fall asleep during Bolero and wake up to the Nutcracker, but the ride does pass quickly. Almost before I know it we are swooping down over the Alps and into Marco Polo. Immigration and customs take two seconds, but the luggage takes forever to start coming down. I guess they are going to make you wait sooner or later for something in any and every airport.

Our suitcases are among the last ones down the chute, and even then they arrive several minutes apart. Once through customs, we inquire about a water taxi - 75 Euro; we can walk or take the shuttle bus to the water. I am not walking at what my body insists is 3:45-4:00 AM, and there is a long line waiting for the bus, and there is no bus in sight. On past trips we had to buy the chit for the taxi at the kiosk in the airport, but we are told just to go to the water and hire a taxi when we get there so on the spur of the moment, we change plans and take one of the land taxis waiting at the curb to Piazzale Roma. This costs 34 Euro, and gives us the chance to buy our monthly abbonamento pass immediately. The monthly cards 25 Euro each for all the rides we can manage by midnight on 31 December.

The guard, who is checking tickets, at the entrance to the #82, tells us that even with a monthly ticket we have to pay for our luggage, but now the line at the ticket window is very long, and if we go back, we will miss the vaporetto, which is preparing to pull way. Then we will have to drag our stuff down to the #1, which is a much slower ride, or wait for the next 82. I am not even sure If we are near the time of day when the 82 vaporettos end their run at Rialto, in which case we'd have to walk over a bridge to change to the number one there. I really want to be on this #82.

I ask If we can buy the luggage tickets on board, and she tells us yes, but that it will be more expensive. At this point I don't really care. We are saving money by having taken a land taxi and a vaporetto instead of a water taxi. We have already phoned Maria from the taxi to tell her we would be at the apartment in an hour or less, and I just want to get on that vaporetto. The guard rather grudgingly lets us through, and we pile on just as the ropes are being loosened. I look at the guy who is manning the ropes and show him my monthly ticket and point to our luggage. He shrugs and walks away. If he doesn't care, I certainly don't.

We stand in the center; our view is pretty much blocked by several large men who line the rail. They are enthusiastic about the sights that we are passing, the light on the water, the other watercraft. At Rialto a lot more people pile on, and I can barely see the men at the rail let alone the water. Everyone is happy, smiling, chattering and taking pictures. Of course they are happy. They are in Venice. I figure I have 5 weeks to see the water and buildings, which I carry in my head and heart all year anyway. How can I be anything but happy? I am in Venice.

The same vaporetto man helps me off the vaporetto steadying me with one arm and lifting my suitcase with the other. He certainly knows I have one, and he does not seem to care if I pay him a supplement or not. Maybe I misunderstood the woman at Piazzale Roma or she misunderstood me. I did have some trouble persuading the man at the ticket office that I wanted a monthly ticket. I am not sure if I don't fit the stereotype of the abbonamento buyer or if my Italian has gotten that bad. The taxi driver seemed to understand me and so did Maria on the phone.

We trundle our bags up the calle, cut across the Campo San Toma' with the Frari campanile framed by the bluest of skies, and make a beeline for Ciak's. We are greeted with “Benvenuto” and handed two espressos before we catch our breaths enough to order. We explain we have just arrived and need the espresso to get us through unpacking. Then we continue on to our calle.

The children's store in Campiello San Toma still has drop dead gorgeous clothing and well it should be gorgeous because sweaters cost 85 Euro, a knitted jumper 185 Euro and the fur trimmed jackets filled with goose down do not even show a price.

A young man, who just happens to be passing, helps me get my suitcase down the steps of the bridge. In NYC, if a man offered to take my suitcase, my reaction would probably be, "Right!! I'm really going to let you put your mitts on my bags-fergedaboutdit." Here I smile sweetly and tell him he is "molto gentile" and offer him "grazie mille." Down the calle and through the gate and into the building; it really does seem we are coming home. Maria, who turns out to be not Maria but her daughter, has opened the gate and front door for us. She helps us bring our things into the apartment and asks us if we want her to come in one week to clean. I tell her I do not think so but if I do I will call her. She does not look pleased.

We take a few minutes to admire the apartment. Gone are the two rickety blue chairs and the small sofa. Now there are two teal green sofas - one love seat size and one full sized; the green fabric has a diamond pattern etched in thin lines of a pale yellow green highlighted by a peach colored dot. The draperies are new too. They are a rich teal with vertical stripes in varying tones of teal and different widths of gold. The sun shining through them makes a pattern that looks like stained glass. In the left corner, near the window there is a sweet little round table and chair. It is perfect for my Quick Pad and me to use for writing. On top of it there is a book on "Oriental Venice," some magazines and a copy of Chow! Venice. I am no sure if I am elated or disappointed it has not been stolen.

We tackle the tedious and tiring but necessary task of unpacking - still much better than packing. When everything is out of the suitcases - if not all put away - we walk back to Ciak's for sandwiches and orange juice. We have chicken with lettuce and tomato - and cheese on Martin's - toasted to a delicious warm crunchiness and big glasses of fresh squeezed orange juice. Martin finishes with a chocolate croissant, but I am too full for another bite.

We walk back and finish up the undone odds and ends in the apartment and shower and nap. I wake up once with severe cramp in my left leg-so much for Dr. Gott's soap under the sheets solution to leg cramps. I had taken pains to make sure the soap was properly placed between the bottom sheet and mattress before slipping myself between the sheets

I have a very weird dream, all about waking up and finding I am not in Venice but in New Jersey; it is with some relief that I eventually wake up for real and find I am actually in Venice. The apartment is very chilly. It had been so warm when we arrived we had pushed the heat way down but now it is only around 60 degrees-not exactly conducive to sliding out of a warm bed.

Martin turns up the thermostat, and I call his mother to let her know we have arrived safely. I cannot seem to make the call on the house phone. We decide maybe there is no more international service so we use the cell phone. But later when we try to make other calls, we learn that we cannot make calls at all and cannot receive them either. We try Floriana on our cell phone since she had been one of the local calls we had been trying to make.

Floriana no longer works for Housedeal, but she has become a friend and we promised to call her when we arrived n Venice. We learn she is in her new apartment with only a cell phone, no land line and no computer, but she is able to tell us that not only have been there no changes in the dialing prefixes in Venice so it is not that we are doing something wrong. She suggests that it is possible the landlady has not paid the phone bill. We will call Marta, Floriana's replacement at Housedeal in the morning; there is no point even trying today because it is a Sunday. We also have received a warning that we must buy a new card for the telefonino within 48 hours because there are barely 10 Euro left. For a tiny phone, it sure is bossy, but we really need it now.

I do the Acrostic in the NY Sunday Times. The magazine section is delivered on Saturday and I had done the puzzle on the plane, but there was not enough light to see the tinier numbers used in the acrostic. By now it is evening so we walk to da Sandro for dinner.

Just as we reach Rio Ter dei Nomboli, we run into Giordano, our friend from al Paradiso. He greets us with hugs and kisses, always a little disconcerting to Martin when it is from another man, and tells us he has just closed al Paradiso until the 27th. I am so glad we know this; if we had tried to call or walked by the restaurant and found it closed we would have been worried.

Da Sandro is more crowded than we expected it to be on a Sunday evening in mid-December, but they find us a table. We order foccacia with rosemarino, spaghetti with porcini mushrooms for me, and the steak for both of us. Martin has his with balsamico which I also love, but the Balsamico version also comes with shavings of Parmigiano, way too tempting for me, since cow's milk cheeses are not something my body can digest. I have the filetto with aromatic herbs and veggies - very good indeed. At da Sandro's they definitely understand the concept of "al sangue".

We watch the pizza guy who had been in training last spring; how many pizzas must he have made in 7 months! At any rate his movements are now smooth and fluid, and he is utterly at home in his workspace. The orders are coming in thick and fast; we are in the minority with our pasta and steak order. The pasta is delicious, the porcini mushrooms are earthy and woodsy; it is like eating autumn. The foccacia is crisp and redolent with rosemary. When the steak comes it is a juicy and flavorful and perfectly cooked as we remember.

Finally sated, we pay and start walking home. I pause outside of Vivaldi's to read a notice posted on their front window. Roughly translated, it states: "We would like to thank those people who are so empathetic and civic minded that they do not pick up the piles of excrement deposited by their animals, leaving them in front of our door in a narrow calle." A touch of Venetian sarcasm, for sure. Americans do seem to be a bit better about pooper scooping-probably because from time to time the fines on the books are actually enforced, but I bet I could sell copies of that notice by the stack in almost any city.

On our way down the calle, my friend, the little white cat is sitting outside his window. We chat for a while and I try to snap a photo using a flash even though it is so dark I cannot really see him through the lens.

Back inside, we turn on television, but there is nothing we want to watch. Our entertainment tonight is the sound of the water, and the occasional churning from an #82, which is turning outside our window. It is good to be back.

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