The London to Venice flight on BA is always a treat. Once you clear the cloud cover of England, you have the beautiful Alps to greet you. No matter how many times I cross the snow capped peaks, it never ceases to amaze. This year has seen tons of snow. Still, the beauty was way up high. Below it was cloud and rain and down into another gray day. But it was Venice!
I love the slow descent into the airport here. The shape of the island, the clock tower, the canals clearly visible…It’s such a strange place. Such a trip. It’s the only place where everyone on the plane looks out of the window. It’s a wow. You want it to last forever.
Venice Upon Arrival
And then the bubble burst. Immigration was a mess. There were two people for hundreds of arrivals so it took a while. It was pure Italian theater. Nobody had a clue. The immigration officers looked in no rush at all. People were getting frustrated. It was one hour before we got to our bags!
Then there was the slightly complicated journey to the motor boats. The Venice Marco Polo Airport has recently had renovations so getting to the motor boats that bring you to the center of Venice is a new experience. It’s quite complex and not obvious to the newly arrived passengers. You have to go up the escalator to departures. Ugh. What?! And then you lose the sign. It just disappears. So, use your instincts, look for a sign, do anything. But then it pops back into view! There is a long walk along a moving escalator and down into the speedboat taxi area.
There is the usual confusion here (something’s never change!) but it is worth the wait because now it’s the greatest ride in the world. Across the lagoon and through a narrow canal and then it hits you. The grand canal. The Santa Maria della Salute, the Doges Palace, and the Piazza San Marco.
Venice in Winter
There is plenty of rain in the winter and the boards are stacked high for the Acqua Alta. In the distance the Alps beckon with snow painted across the horizon. San Marco is busy with tourists and umbrellas which always reminds me of a Prendergast painting.
I wandered back to the hotel across a couple of delightful bridges. Watched the gondola guys organizing their business and took a moment to study their technique. I tried being a gondolier once. It’s impossible! The oar, the movement, the control. It amazes and mesmerizes. Dinner later would add the final touch. Black ink squid with spaghetti.
Wireless Connections on the Frecciargento
It’s not that it’s frustrating; connecting to wireless in most countries can be time consuming, complicated, expensive and unpredictable. But on the high-speed trains in Italy they have developed a system at the very highest level of incompetency. Essentially, Italian law mandates that they must charge you for Wi-Fi which means you must give them a credit card so that they can charge you an obligatory amount that will last for 24 hours. The completion of the form is complicated, and on a cell phone practically impossible to figure out. The charge for this wireless connection is 1ct of €1 Euro, an obligatory charge, mandated by Italian law, so that at least 3000 people sitting in an office somewhere can attend to the paperwork required to administrate its operation.
Once you have completed the application, a username and a password are generated. Both the username and password are so long, with uppercase, lowercase, etc…that there’s a fairly good chance you’ll get it wrong at least twenty times. But not to worry, at some point you’ll get it – but then the ugly truth kicks in. Fast trains move fast because they use tunnels to cut through the central spine of Italy’s Apennines Mountains. Wireless connections, of course, do not work in tunnels. When the connection drops you have to re-enter the password that you’ve probably forgotten, unless you were smart enough to write it down. Don’t feel bad, it will not remember you either – that would be too easy! In addition there are five station stops between Rome and Venice; wireless does not work at station stops either and the same rules apply to stations as to tunnels. The bottom line is that if you were planning to do a lot of work on the train, you better have data roaming as your backup. But the trains do run on time!
On the Fast Train From Venice to Rome
Imagine this, the water taxi picks you up from the palazzo, you jump into this elegant motor launch which wanders through the tiny canals until at last it breaks out into the open lagoon, and there’s the Salute church in the center of San Giorgio on the Giudecca, and across the towering column with the symbol of Venice perched atop and Doge’s Palace, the Clocktower, the Basilica, the Cathedral – and you imagine you’re in a movie.
Under the Accademia bridge, past the Peggy Guggenheim museum and then a shortcut that brings you around to the Piazzale Roma; in the distance you can make out the freneticism of the mainland as you turn the corner of the canal and see the railway station, essentially abutting the canal and the boat docks. You roll your bags off, walk to the station and sitting there is the fast train to Rome, the Frecciargento.
In spite of all of the chaos of Italy, all of the confusion, the fast trains are a shining example of efficiency that you’ll find nowhere else in the world. The train rolls out within the second, on time, everytime – traveling at speeds close to 200 miles an hour. You arrive in Rome’s Termini station, 3 hours and 40 minutes later having traveled a distance of over 300 miles. Welcome to Rome.
The Rialto Fish Market Five Course Dinner
I needed to prepare a five course dinner for New Year’s Eve. As luck would have it, I was in Venice and a friend of mine knew a fish guy. My friend had arranged to meet with me earlier in a bar for a cappuccino and we walked fast-paced across the maze of streets of La Rialto, where he introduced me to another guy who knew the fish guys that sold the good stuff. I felt a little like Jason Bourne. Abutting the Erberia, the vegetable market, is the Pescheria, one of the highlights of any visit to Venice. You will see fish you’ve never seen: eels in the winter time, scallops in their shells, swordfish with their beaks on and razor clams called cape onghe.
I had decided that I would wait to prepare the menu until I saw what I had. I was introduced to the Fish Guy; I looked around. I would start with 10 large scallops. I would grill them in their shell with some oil and garlic. Then I was going to follow this with grilled razor clams. I would follow the razor clams with two pastas, one with small shrimp and zucchini and the other using artichoke that were in season that I planned to grab from the Erberia, and then finish off with a zuppa di pesce, which sounds decidedly better than its name in English – Fish Soup.
He asked me how I would do it. I felt the answer had to be good or he might turn me away. I would start with a fennel and onion base (he nodded slowly), add some tomatoes (ok)…then I told him I needed a good fish head or two for the broth (I’ve piqued his curiosity!), and then I would create a broth that I could empty the raw fish into for the last 10 minutes of preparation! He looked at me and said come back in 15 minutes. I returned and he’d neatly prepared bags for every course. In the fish soup there were scallops and langostina, a little monkfish, and all placed in at the very end, topped with tiny toasted pieces of bread with a dollop of aioli on them. We served the soup at 1am in the morning, having celebrated the fireworks in St. Marks at midnight. It wouldn’t have been possible without “my guy. “
Top 5 Things You Shouldn’t Miss in Venice
Not many things in the world can beat the buzz of the water taxi from Marco Polo to the center of town. We had arranged to stay in an apartment near the Ponte dei Greci, a delightful neighborhood set 10 minutes back from St. Mark’s Square and a ten-minute cut through to the Rialto.
We ended up in a fabulous palazzo built around 1550 by the Cubli family. It’s run by Roberta, a charming woman who in between managing the Palazzo was also a local Venetian guide. Venice is a great city to get lost in but if you’ve only got a short while, Roberta will get you to all the right spots.
I adore Venice in the winter; we took the Vaporetto, It’s expensive at €7 for 60 minutes, so if you can skip it, it’s more fun to walk, get lost and discover. Even if you take my advice and get lost, these are 5 destinations in Venice that you should make a point to find:
- Bacari. Venice does wine well; spending your entire trip with a wine glass permanently attached to your lips is an idea worth considering. That’s Venice provides a good guide to Bacari, Venice wine bars.
- Rialto Fish Market. The Pescheria has been THE place to get fish since the 1000s. Even if you’re not in the market for fish, you should head to the Rialto Fish Market for the people watching.
- Jewish Ghetto in Cannaregio. Next year is the 500th Anniversary of the Jewish ghetto and it was just announced that the historical area will be revitalized in a $12 Million dollar project.
- Marco Polo Airport Water bus (vaporetto) €15 will get you from the terminals to Venice. Need at least two people! If you’re traveling solo (does anyone travel to Venice solo?) it’s the perfect excuse to make friends on the plane!
- Santa Maria della Salute. Completed in 1687 – you can just call it the “Salute” or health. It was built after the plague took out a third of Venice’s population.
I had never been to Venice during the sildenafil citrate 100mg viagra generika Festa del Redentore. It is quite a spectacle. Historically, the Redentore Festival is a celebration of the end of the 16th century plague when 50,000 Venetians died. The Santissimo Redentore Church, on the Giudecca Island, was designed by Andrea Palladio as a mark of thanks by the survivors of the plague. It is a remarkable sight from across the bay. The celebration takes place on the third Sunday in July. As with all ceremonies in Italy, it has taken on a festive air in spite of its melancholy origins. It is basically a party. On the day that I was there, the weather was beautiful and warm and Venice already was bustling with its fair share of tourists. Add all of the locals to this mix as well, along with colored garlands, balloons, and makeshift restaurants around the waterfront, and you have a fun atmosphere. There literally are hundreds and hundreds of boats that come into the water that separates Santa Maria della Salute from the Redentore Church. A pontoon bridge is created to connect one island to another as it has been the way for hundreds of pharmacy online viagra years. At the magic hour of 7:00 pm on the Saturday evening, the bridge is opened. The bridge remains open until the fireworks at 11:00 pm which incidentally last a full hour and are shot into the night air from a string of pontoon boats which sit equidistant from San Marco and the Giudecca. It is semi-casual. People probably get too close to the firework pontoons and goodness knows where the rockets end up landing but no one gets hurt and everyone has fun. There is an absolute festival atmosphere both on sildenafil 20 mg tablet the water and in the restaurants and bars that dot the perimeter of the Giudecca and the boardwalk beyond San Marco and down towards the Arsenal. At the end of the fireworks, a siren blows, the boats all free cialis coupon head back to their homes (probably at the Lido or beyond), and the bridge is open again until sunset of the following day. The Lido becomes party-central and restaurants and bars stay open until the sildenafil 100mg chile dawn. The magical 24 hour bridge that connects the Giudecca for a single day in the year is taken down and on Monday the steady stream of traffic flows along the canal once more. It is ironic that the Santa Maria della Salute, a beautiful Baroque church that sits facing Piazza San Marco, was also built to celebrate the end of another plague in nearby Mantova. A ceremony celebrating this church takes place in November and is also symbolized by the joining of the Campo Santa Maria del Giglio to La Salute by a pontoon bridge. Sometimes there is nothing like a plague to inspire great architecture and a fantastic party.
Our wine and truffle day was something that could have stretched into two days. After lunch washed down by Barolo, the last thing I was thinking was more food but I had it on my agenda to visit a truffle producing factory. So, off we went in the hunt for the elusive truffles.
Urging my Italian friend to slow his driving down, we reached Alba, the land of truffles, in one piece. It is always a miracle to me that quite intelligent people (like my friend) drive like maniacs, are fairly abusive to any driver that competes with them on the road, and seems to want to take his and my life in his hands more frequently than is helpful for my well being.
We came upon Tartuf Langhe in Piobesi d’Alba for a tour and explanation of the art of truffle hunting. We had to dress up in ridiculous outfits because of factory hygiene rules but we got to learn about truffle hunting, the differences between white truffles and black truffles, and the various applications for using truffles.
I love truffles, especially white truffles, and honestly there is nothing as delicious as a white truffle being slowly grated over tagliatelle with some butter. It is one of the moments of life that you look back upon and hold dear like your first born child. It is something that never leaves you and here, walking around this truffle farm, the smells hung in the air and I kept on thinking of that bowl of pasta that I had had in Harry’s Bar in Venice many years before.
Truffle hunting is a whole mystery really. The truffle hunters are a group of locals with specially trained dogs. Their work starts when everyone else is fast asleep. They work in the dark because it is a highly secretive and competitive business. Truffle spores tend to reappear each year in the same place so when they discover truffles, there’s a good chance they will bounce back in the same location each year. Truffles are found under the ground, sometimes two feet, often by tree roots, which is why you need a trained dog or a trained pig. The Italians use dogs – any kind really, and because of their keen sense of smell, and the pungent smell of truffles, they can sniff out treasures that we can’t get to.
The black summer truffles and the black winter truffles are more common and are found in greater quantities. They look a lot like the chocolate truffles you would buy in a chocolate store. They are not as pungent as the white truffle which is why most truffle oils are based around white truffles. However, black truffles are much less expensive and therefore you can actually afford to buy them. If you are cooking, the trick is to use black truffles and white truffle oil with white truffle pasta. That would be nearly as good as having a fresh white truffle grated on egg pasta. Nearly as good but not really as good!
I bought the oil, the cream, some pasta, and I would have also bought soap if they had made it! Instead, we left with chocolates – a new diversion for them. Now with some fresh knowledge of the midnight truffle hunters and their dogs, my truffle world was nearly complete. Maybe I will train to be a truffle hunter. Yes, it is a competitive business, the stakes are high, and it helps to be a local. But, if I discover a good white truffle with my trusted dog, Alice, I could trade it for a condo in Boston. Back to reality and Turin and another spectacular dinner somewhere. I am getting to like this place.
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After a minor hassle at the car rental counter in Venice’s Marco Polo Airport, I drove with my Stradale d’Italia Atlas away from the busy tourist town and up through the northern lakes of Italy; making a stop in Sirmione on Lake Garda for a lunch.
My aim was to go on a scenic route to the Dolomites to look at some possible itinerary ideas for our groups while taking in some cool mountain air and maybe escaping the heat that had engulfed all of Europe.
I have been to the Dolomites to ski a couple of times in the past few years. It has the largest connected network of ski trails in the world. However, I had never visited in the summertime before.
It’s quite something.
The first thing that is clear as you climb north beyond the lakes and across the spectacular vineyards that hang on the lower slopes of the mountains is that the signage shifts language. Entering the Südtirol, or in Italian “Alto Adige,” named after the river, you have the distinct feeling that you are not in Italy anymore. The shape of the churches, the colors of the buildings, dare I say it — the overall cleanliness of the towns, and the lack of chaos indicate that you may be in Austria or Germany. Guess what? You really are!
After Austria was defeated in the First World War, the Italians grabbed the Südtirol and renamed it the “Alto Adige.” Every German name was given an Italian name –- Bozen became Bolzano, St. Ulrich became Ortisei, Kastelruth became Castelrotto, and so on.
The government wooed the German-speaking population and their politicians with vast amounts of money and economic incentives. Thus, the Südtirol is the richest area in all of Italy. Needless to say, they do not exactly embrace the Italian side of their heritage. Mainly, because there is none! Political parties often talk of secession but given their relative amount of independence and the money that goes into keeping them happy, these German speakers have a pretty good deal.
The area is absolutely spectacular.
The Dolomites with their pinkish hue are not as foreboding as the neighboring Alps in Switzerland and France. You can stay in towns such as Ortisei or Castelrotto (or as I did in Fiè allo Sciliar) and from there you can take advantage of the highly efficient lift system which connects the various resorts together. Once atop the plateau, there are fabulous walks, mountain bikes for hire, and even lakes to swim in. In the distance, the higher mountains still have snow on them.
However, I focused on the Alpe di Siusi, which is Europe’s largest high-alpine meadow and separates two of the most famous valleys in the Dolomites, the Val de Fassa and Val Gardena. The altitude is not even 7,000 feet, but you are up there in the mountains with phenomenal views that seem to stretch to the horizon.
While I was there, the farmers were busy haying, the cows were grazing with their bells on, and there was a steady flow of serious hikers with backpacks and poles heading to the higher terrain. The colors are beautiful and wildflowers of blues, yellows, and reds are everywhere. From a distance, it appears that the mountains have been carpeted with a gorgeous tapestry.
Alpine huts dot the landscape and are for rent in both the summer and winter seasons. The sun holds along the flat plains for most of the day. There are restaurants discreetly tucked in between the trails and using the system of gondolas and simple ski lifts, you can traverse up to around 10,000 feet.
The walks are incredible, the views are amazing, and at the end of the day, the food is extraordinary, not to mention the glorious wines from the vineyards below. They are some of the best in the world.
This is a fabulous place to wander off the beaten path. Everything works and remarkably we are still in Italy. If you have never been to the Dolomites in the summer, it is a well worthwhile two-day deviation from Venice.
Watch out for itineraries to follow. This is a great winter and summer break excursion.
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