Advertisements
Tag Archives: Trenitalia

We have time…

13 Oct
…so we went to Paestum. 
The good things:
Temple of Ceres.
Temple of Ceres.
  • Very old Greek temples, still standing. One is from 550 B.C! Amazing!
  • Inexpensive lodging at a rather delightful little place. Euro 73.00 per night including an Italian-style breakfast.
  • An excellent — who’d have guessed it?– restaurant right next door to our hotel. Truly a fine meal, nice people, very raffinato (refined, elegant). In fact, we will return this evening. And they give a discount for people staying at our hotel. 
  • There is a nice museum with well-preserved artifacts.
  • It was not crowded and the weather was darn-near perfect.
The drawbacks:
  • It takes a long time to get here. From Roma, door-to-door took us 7 hours including 2 buses, 1 Metro, a Frecciarossa,  Regionale and a 20-minute walk. There was a fair amount of waiting time, partly due to guasto (malfunction) on the rail line. We also got to had to stand up all the way on the Regionale. 
  • There’s the archeological site, the museum, and that’s about it in Paestum.
  • There’s the mare, but the seaside here made the town of Seaside, Oregon (not my favorite place) look like a high-class resort.
  • We stayed one night too long, it seems.
A few hearty souls at the beach. In summer no doubt it is crowded.
A few hearty souls at the beach. In summer no doubt it is crowded.
Sad little seaside Paestum. I am sure it is lively in the summer, but I suspect it still feels sad.
Sad little seaside Paestum. I am sure it is lively in the summer, but I suspect it still feels sad.
We seldom go anywhere for one night. In fact, the only place I can think of that we did that was in Tivoli for the summer lights one August. And Tivoli is a hell-of-a-lot easier to get to than Paestum.
We have also seen the impressive Greek temple and ruins in Segesta. Perhaps if one has not seen those, this would knock your socks off. My socks are still on. We did get to be the first people in the archeological site, which was pretty fun. The tour groups showed up about 10:00 as we were exiting looking for an espresso. 
A tour group passes through the archeological site.
A tour group passes through the archeological site.
Maybe I am also jaded by the dead kitten I saw along one road and the dead rat along another. I have not had the misfortune to see roadkill in all of our travels. This in contrast to meticulous care to remove trash in the ruins.
Temples are lighted at night.
Temples are lighted at night.
If one were to want to see Paestum (and I understand why it would still be a draw despite my commentary), I would recommend a day trip from the Amalfi Coast or a one-night stay. The nice thing about staying a night is getting to see the temples lighted, and also seeing the site in both morning and afternoon light. We are not people who read every display in a museum or poke into every corner of a site. (Three hours at Pompeii was plenty for us.) If one does like to explore a bit more, perhaps Paestum would warrant more attention. We are happy we came, but a little bored as I write this. I am very happy we did not divert a vacation day-or-two when we were working. But we have time now.  
Surveying work in progress. Only about 30% of the site has been excavated.
Surveying work in progress. Only about 30% of the site has been excavated.
Temple of Nettuno.
Temple of Nettuno.
Of course there were ferals around.
Of course, there were ferals around.
A bright spot in the Roman ruins. Only the temples are Greek. The surrounding ruins date "only" to Roman times.
A bright spot in the Roman ruins. Only the temples are Greek. The surrounding ruins date “only” to Roman times.
Ric at Temple of Ceres.
Ric at Temple of Ceres.
Old Roman road to the sea, which was once much closer.
Old Roman road to the sea, which was once much closer. It’s now about a 20-minute walk via modern road.
Advertisements

Castel Gandolfo: Vatican by train

13 Sep
One of the goals we have in staying in Italy for some time to come is to continue exploring our own backyard, i.e., Roma and environs. We’ve enjoyed some less-visited sights over the past three years, and continue to look for new ones. Afterall, una vita non basta!
St. Peteràa from the inside. A view from the garden, where the Pope takes his daily walk.

St. Peter’s from the inside. A view from the garden, where the Pope takes his daily walk.

Early last week a new tour was announced in the Italian press: Vatican by Train. That got Ric’s interest pretty fast. According to the press, the tour, called “Vatican by Train Full Day” would run only on Saturdays and the first run was September 12. We could be on-board for the maiden voyage!
Here’s what the Vatican website had to say
With the exceptional opening of the Barberini Gardens and of the Museum of the Apostolic Palace, the Pontifical Residence of Castel Gandolfo welcome the public at large.
Visitors who book the Vatican by Train will have access to the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Gardens and to the botanical and architectural wonders of the Pontifical Residence, known by as the “second Vatican”.
Further exploration revealed an ambitious schedule and the likelihood of a 13 hour day away from home, but we have time…. The schedule for the day broke down like this (wording from the Vatican website)
8.00 am: Avoid the queue at the entrance. Tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel with an audio guide;
10.00 am: Walking tour of the Vatican Gardens with an audio guide;
11.00 am: Departure from Train Station of the Vatican City State to Albano Laziale and transfer to the Pontifical Villas by shuttle;
12.30 pm: Tour of the Pontifical Villas (Villa Barberini) by tourist train with an audio guide;
1.30 pm: End of the tour and exit from the Pontifical Villas.
Free time
4.45 pm: Transfer from the Pontifical Villas to the train station of Albano Laziale by shuttle;
5.18pm: Departure from the Train Station of Albano Laziale to the Roma San Pietro Station
Beautiful lawns fall away toward teh train station. Hard to imagine all of this is inside Vatican City.

Beautiful lawns fall away toward the train station. Hard to imagine all of this is inside Vatican City.

Leaving home about 06:30, we arrived at the museum entrance a few minutes before 8:00, fortified by cappucino e cornetto at a nearby bar. It was clear lunch would be a long way off and we had miles to go before we ate. We were admitted quickly, as promised with our voucher. Exchanging it for tickets and an audio guide took a few minutes, but by 8:25 we were outside the Pinacoteca, which we had decided would be our focus.
There is no way one can “do” the Vatican Museums in less-then-two hours. A few people we spoke to later in the tour tried a mad dash to the highlights such as the Sistine Chapel and Hall of Maps, but everyone eventually realized this was not a best-of-the-Vatican tour.
Fountain in the Vatican Gardens, reminiscent of Villa d'Este.

Fountain in the Vatican Gardens, reminiscent of Villa d’Este.

Our decision to focus on the Pinocateca was fortuitous: We were completely alone for at least 20 minutes. Just Ric and me, fabulous works of art, and a dozen guards hunched over their smartphones. (Whatever did museum guards do before they had smartphones?) Some tour groups arrived, stopped at major works then moved quickly on. We took our time, saw the entire gallery, then had a brief rest before the garden tour. If you ever want to be alone in the Vatican Museums, head for the Pinocateca at opening.
Under clear blue skies and warm-not-hot sun we were escorted through the Vatican Gardens by a group of uniformed guides and a number of “suits” and journalists. The museum officials were shepherding the inauguration carefully, ensuring it went smoothly. And it mostly did.
Bougainvilla still in bloom, the Vatican Gardens.

Bougainvilla still in bloom, the Vatican Gardens.

Our garden tour was also audio-guided, and we had a wee map with audio points described, but it was difficult to know where our group of about 100 people was and when we should punch up each number. Still it was beautiful, not at all what I expected, and while not encompassing the entire tour (which according to the website is 2 hours long) it was a good overview.
We ended at the Vatican train station, a seldom-used and closed-to-the-public relic of a prior era. Thanks to Papa Francesco, more of the Vatican properties are being opened to mere mortals and the chance to take the train out of this station was a strong motivator for us.
Not the steam train the media portrayed....

Not the steam train the media portrayed….

We expected a steam train. All the news media featured a vintage train, but on arrival we found a modern Trenitalia train of the type used on the FR lines. It was fine, comfortable and air-conditioned, but not the historic experience expected. I have to wonder if there was another train that day, but all of the articles I’ve found were written before the 12th and so I think the pictures are “file photos” and certainly not from the event we attended.
We had a nice ride to the station at Albano Laziale, where buses met us and ferried us through narrow streets and up the hill to the entrance to the gardens. There, we boarded a trenino to tour the estate, again with audio guide. Absolutely stunning is all I can say. I had no idea Domitian had a summer palace here, but then why wouldn’t he? The history is, as with almost any grand villa in Italy, long and complex. What remains is a place of beauty comparable to Versailles. Some is wooded, some planted in formal gardens, and there is a farm. Did you know the Pope has a farm? Chickens, white goats, cows, bees: everything one needs in a self-sustaining estate.
Click on any photo to enlarge it or for a slideshow.
Wrapping up about 14:40, we had three hours of free time. We set off to find a restaurant along the lake, where we had lunched a couple of years ago. But wait, where the hell was the lake? Pulling up Googlemaps we found we were in Albano Laziale, not Castel Gandolfo. Duh! Not close to the lake, we started wandering the town, which was mostly closed for la pausa. Not a lot of restaurant options we could see, but peeking down a little alley Ric spotted a trattoria. From where we stood it looked closed, although someone was inside sweeping up. “Siete aperti?” I asked. “Sí! Accommodatevi!” We took a cute table on the patio just as a group of Americans we knew trooped in. They, too, had been surprised by ending in Albano Laziale. They had a reservation for lunch 3 km away in Castle Gandolfo! Feeling slightly less stupid for misunderstanding, we relaxed and prepared to enjoy lunch. We were fortunate to have a little family from the U.K. join us at a neighboring table and engaging in conversation we discovered they had expected to end the tour at the Apostolic Palace in Castel Gandolfo. Surprise!  Perhaps all of the English-speakers misunderstood? Maybe the Vatican website was less-than-clear? Nonetheless, I can highly recommend Trattoria Rosmarino should you make the trip to Albano.
Cin cin! At Trattoria Rosmarino. Highly recommend!

Cin cin! At Trattoria Rosmarino. Highly recommend!

A long lunch ate up the free time (pun intended). There are a number of ruins and sites in Albano for the more industrious tourist, but we had been on-the-go since dawn with not much energy left, so a luxurious lunch was perfect. Back on the shuttle bus before 16:30, we arrived at San Pietro Station just in time to get a train to the tram to go back home, another adventure in public transportation for us.
Isaac, our dining partner at Rosmarino.

Isaac, our dining partner at Rosmarino.

We were very confused about the relationship between the estate we toured in Albano and the Apostolic Palace at Castel Gandolfo. A little map-based research showed they are on the same property, but the gardens are accessed by the public through Albano, and the Apostolic Palace is at the other end, the north end, closer to the lake. One can visit the Apostolic Palace, any day but Sunday, and only in the morning, and apparently only through the month of October, presumably to be revived in the spring.
I suspect another day trip to the area is in our near future.
For more information on all of the tours, go to the Vatican’s Online Ticket Office. 

Day 4: Trains & Etruscans

17 Feb

I am a day late posting this update. Just too tired last night, and today I had to do my Italian grammar homework or suffer the consequences when my tutor shows up tomorrow. Every day here is a test, but I am bound-and-determined that I will speak more-or-less grammatically correct one day. 

Classic Italian piazza": City Hall, a fountain, people enjoying a stroll.

Classic Italian piazza: City Hall, a fountain, people enjoying a stroll.

After an exhausting but interesting tour by car on Saturday, on Sunday we took a train north along the coast to Tarquinia, another ancient Etruscan city. The Etruscans are very mysterious as there is no literature, no historical record nor religious texts. We have only the knowledge derived from their tombs, which contained “grave goods” and art.

The old wall surrounding Tarquinia.

The old wall surrounding Tarquinia.

The train was a Regionale Veloce meaning it runs a bit faster than the serviceable Regionale found along many rural lines. On the train, one passes the port of Civitavecchia with enormous cruise ships docked to disperse passengers for a day in Rome, as well as other more charming seaside towns that perhaps serve as retreats for city-weary Romans. Tarquinia is more than 2500 years old, but today it may serve as a bedroom community to Rome as one can commute by train in a little over an hour. (We know people at the Embassy that make an hour-and-a-half trip to work, living various places on the coast or in the hills and commuting by train.)

Etruscan sarcophagus.  Note the detail in the carving. About 2500 years old.

Etruscan sarcophagus. Note the detail in the carving. About 2500 years old.

With its remoteness from Rome, few tourists venture to Tarquinia, especially in February. It was serene and uncrowded this sunny Sunday. We enjoyed the National Museum and its treasures without interference, then meandered up the street, through a classic piazza in search of Sunday lunch. We stumbled – luckily – into Ristorante Ambaradam and were soon followed by group after group seeking lunch. What a find! We feasted on insalata di polpo & cicoria ripassata (salad of warm octopus and greens) served on a bed of creamed chickpeas, followed by cacio e pepe (think Italian mac & cheese, but classy and “zippy”) for me, and pasta with a ragu of octopus, tomato, and guanciale with flakes of pecorino for Ric. Alongside was THE BEST puntarelle ever.    Puntarelle is a seasonal favorite, and while I like it the “normal” way (see link), the one at Ambaradam was extra nice featuring olives and little bits of sweet orange, with the anchovy taste played down. Yum! Washed down with a Chardonnay from Lazio, this lunch demanded exercise. As the walk to visit the necropolis was ahead, we were able to shake off the postprandial doziness in the cool fresh air.

The necropolis of Tarquinia features more than 6,000 tombs. Once at ground level, after 2,500 years they are subterranean. One climbs down

Another beautiful fresco from 2500 years ago.

Another beautiful fresco from 2500 years ago.

steep stairs to view the chambers, decorated with sometimes lively frescoes. The dioramas and renderings reminded me of the Indian burial mounds found in Minnesota. Although I am unaware of any place you can actually enter one in America, the concept seems similar: bury the person with “grave goods” to take them into the next life. We almost missed the entrance to the park (signage is not terrific), but a tour group of French students attracted our attention and we made for the gate ahead of them.

This Etruscan fresco depicts a false door designed to keep the Devil away from the tomb of the departed.

This Etruscan fresco depicts a false door designed to keep the Devil away from the tomb of the departed.

The treasures found in the National Museum came from these tombs: elaborate tombstones and sarcophagi, as well as jewelry, weapons, urns, and other household goods one might need in the afterlife.

We walked a lot in part because the bus service on a Sunday is limited. Here’s a conundrum for you to consider:

  • The museum and necropolis are closed on Monday (very common in Italy) and open Tuesday-Sunday. The two sites are 1.5 km apart.
  • The Tourist Information office is closed on Sunday but open Monday-Saturday
  • The shuttle bus to the tombs does not run on Sunday but does Monday-Saturday

    Fabulous detail of a tombstone.

    Fabulous detail of a tombstone.

Why does the shuttle bus run on Monday when the tombs are closed? Why is the TI closed on Sunday when the museum and tombs are open, but open Monday when the necropolis and museum are closed? Like so many things here, it makes no sense from a service and commerce point-of-view.

Chiesa di San Francesco Bell Tower, Tarquinia.

Chiesa di San Francesco Bell Tower, Tarquinia.

If you go to Tarquinia on Sunday, be prepared to walk…or take a car. But if you eat cacio e pepe or other Italian specialties, you may want to walk anyway. The train back to Rome offered a chance to nap a bit, far better than driving in my book. 

Up one side and down the other

15 Oct

Saturday it was supposed to rain, a rather large disappointment when one is in the Cinque Terre as the major activities here are out-of-doors.  Luckily the day dawned partly cloudy and we refused to believe the forecast pushed out to our cell phones.

The path begins climbing gently from Monterosso al Mare, but the climbing continues for 2 km.

The path begins climbing gently from Monterosso al Mare, but the climbing continues for 2 km.

The Sentiero Azzuro or “Trail No. 2” is still closed in some sections, plus it is the trail most tourists gravitate to, so we headed in another direction, north out of Monterosso al Mare to the town of Levanto.  As we were staying in Manarola, we had to take a train to Monterosso, about an 11 minute ride. Any adventure that begins with a train ride scores extra points with Ric.

Train station with a view, and Ric.

Train station with a view, and Ric.

The fact that we also started the day with freshly-baked, flaky pastries filled with chocolate,  still warm from the oven… well, need I say more? Yes, I must say more, because we topped off with a torta di noci e marmelada di albicocchi (pie-like pastry with walnuts and apricot jam) before leaving Monterosso. SIGH, I love vacation.

Tower above Monterosso, along the path. A residence? A hotel? Non lo so....

Tower above Monterosso, along the path. A residence? A hotel? Non lo so….

We enjoyed almost complete solitude for the first 2 kilometers of the hike, only encountering three people.  This was a tough trail with steep and unending stairs placed into the hill.  Some scrambling was required where hard rock refused to yield to trail building.

Unending stairs.

Unending stairs.

By now the path is steeper. Ric says try not to show how much he is sweating.

By now the path is steeper. Ric says try not to show how much he is sweating.

Monterosso from above.

Monterosso from above.

After an hour of constant uphill trekking we reached the ruins of the Eremo di Sant’Antonio, a 13th century monastic hermitage at Punto MescoStupendissimo!

Eremo di Sant'Antonio. Imagine buidlng this in the middle ages?

Eremo di Sant’Antonio. Imagine building this in the middle ages?

Ruins of Sant'Antonio

Ruins of Sant’Antonio (Not me! The rock walls!)

Three years ago, in October 2010, we first traveled to Italy and were in the Cinque Terre about this time. We were daunted by the 60-or-so stairs we had to climb to our room in Vernazza! We hiked a portion of the Sentiero Azzuro that trip but nothing nearly so ambitious as this 10 km hike-and-scramble. Now, with a level of fitness we never thought we could achieve, it was a challenge but one we knew we could accomplish.

On the way down, different surfaces through a piney and then deciduous wood.

On the way down, different surfaces through a piney and then deciduous wood.

This is not an environment of “groomed” trails and sometimes it was difficult to tell where the trail was.

At a junction we couldn't decide if this was a stream bed or a path.... The path was in fact hidden to the right and then merged into he stream bed.

At a junction we couldn’t decide if this was a stream bed or a path…. The path was in fact hidden to the right and then merged into he stream bed.

Where's the path? This rock formation presented right in the middle of the path. Where to go? Upon scrutiny, there was a "path" to the right...sort of.

Where’s the path? This rock formation presented right in the middle of the path. Where to go? Upon scrutiny, there was a “path” to the right…sort of.

From Punto Mesco most of the 2.5 hours was in descent, but the extent of trail maintenance seemed to be clearing off fallen trees. Not that it was a bad trail, but in some places it required some creativity in finding the best path. We encountered a number of people hiking up from Levanto, intent on reaching Monterosso.  Looking back at our route, we were happy we hiked Monterosso to Levanto, and equally happy we started quite early as we hit Levanto at just the right time for lunch, allowing us to call this hike yet another Path to Lunch.  And how nice is it to start with pastry and end with wine?

How cute is this? On the outskirts of Levanto, a little cat-feeding station protected by an umbrella.

How cute is this? On the outskirts of Levanto, a little cat-feeding station protected by an umbrella.

Boardwalk in Levanto

Boardwalk in Levanto

It was windy that day.

It was windy that day.

Winter Break: Venice

8 Dec
Embrace winter weather and fewer crowds in Venice.

Embrace winter weather and fewer crowds in Venice.

Going north in the winter or late fall may seem counter-intuitive, unless you are heading for i dolomiti and some skiing. However, for our third trip to Venice – we never tire of her – we chose early December, knowing it would be un-crowded if cool. If you are from a cold climate (I grew up in Minnesota), 7-10⁰ C isn’t all that bad, especially if the sun is out. So we packed some layers and explored Venice in winter once again. Usually we take Trenitalia, but shopping around I found better fares with the new ItaloTreno. These sleek red trains now serve Rome to Venice via Florence, Bologna and Padua, in about 3 1/2 hours. So new and shiny with clean bathrooms and functioning WIFI, they are also incredibly quiet. The Italian State train system, Trenitalia, needs to take note and up its game.

The Grand Canal Apartment, our home in Venice.

The Grand Canal Apartment, our home in Venice.

We like to rent an apartment so there’s a little space to spread out, a refrig-erator, a place to make our morning caffè. Our choice is a one-bedroom apartment in Sestiere San Polo, only a 5 minute walk from the Rialto Bridge and mercato.  Fabbio and Monica offer a cute apartment in a quiet neighborhood where one quickly feels more like a local than a tourist.One of the fun things about returning to a place you’ve been before is re-visiting favorite spots while still discovering new ones. Everyone goes to Piazza San Marco, the Basilica, and the bell tower, the Doge’s Palace, and perhaps the Accademia. People have asked me time and again, how we can spend so much time there. What more can we do in Venice? There’s always something we haven’t seen.

Things to do in Venice when it’s raining

  • Visit the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. In our two prior visits, we had near-perfect weather and eschewed some of the standard art museums in favor of outdoor-oriented activities. On this arrival day it was raining, the perfect excuse for a visit to the renowned Peggy Guggenheim Collection. We were amazed at the accessibility of the art (Picasso, Calder, Mondrian, Modigliani, Pollock) and the lovely palazzo that houses it quite intimately.
  • Walk with the Dinosaurs. We treated ourselves to the Museo di Storia Naturale, (Museum of Natural History),
    Venice's only dinosaur. Picture courtesy of www.msn.ve.it

    Venice’s only dinosaur. Picture courtesy of http://www.msn.ve.it

    housing Venice’s only dinosaur.  This is a wonderfully well-done and captivating museum! I would put it on par with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., in terms of quality. There was a 10 year restoration project that just ended in 2010, so the exhibits are well-lighted, well-signed, and interesting. One warning, though, little is in English. But since so much scientific language is Latin-based, with a smattering of Italian you can work through much of the information. We practically had the place to ourselves, marveling at an incredible fossil collection, the dinosaur, a fin whale skeleton, and more. There is a rather alarming room of preserved (through taxidermy) animals from the era of Big Game Hunters, which made me sad. But today’s emphasis is clearly on housing the collection and education, not condoning this practice. Children will love this museum, so when you ask yourself what to do with children in Venice, this should be at the top of the list. A great place to escape heat in summer or inclement winter temps.

  • See the Basilica illuminated. We visit the Basilica of San Marco every trip, but usually in the mid-to-late afternoon when the crowds thin. This trip we timed our arrival for the midday illumination. From 11:30-12:30 each day, the church is lighted, bringing the magnificent Byzantine mosaics out of the shadows to all of their glittering glory, which is particularly impressive on a dark day with little available natural light. This is now on my do-not-miss list. (Note to self: Time visit for illumination.) On a December Tuesday the crowds were non-existent and we were enthralled at seeing this museum-piece being used for a simple daily mass in one of the chapels. Nice to know that a church can still be a church. Another great reason to visit in winter.
  • See art in situ at Chiesa Dei Frari or the adjacent Scuola di Grande San Rocco. Dei Frari is one of our favorite churches anywhere for the in situ art, but this trip we opted to visit the adjacent scuola with its amazing Tintoretto paintings.  We were totally alone in the scuola for most of an hour. Incredibile!
  • Other ideas: Explore Venice’s seafaring past at the Museo Storico Navale, offering a peek into Venice as a Mediterranean superpower, trader, ship builder; See the world famous Galleria dell’Accademia (next trip for us). There are also the Correr Museum, Ca’Rezzonico, La Salute Church, the Doge’s Palace. The list goes on.

When the sun shines

  • Take a Lagoon Tour. A bright clear day dictates a lagoon tour for us. We walked from our apartment to Piazza San
    Handcrafted on Murano.

    Handcrafted on Murano.

    Marco so we could justify a delicious breakfast pastry at Pasticceria Rosa Salva, a Venetian institution (Two caffè doppi, two incredible cornetti with almonds, €6.20).  Then we took to the waves and headed to the islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello. The snow-covered mountains loomed in the distance as we made our way across the lagoon.  Murano was just coming alive when we arrived at 10:00.  We have a favorite glass shop on Murano where I like to buy a few pieces of jewelry, Vetreria Venier Giorgio Bruno. To find it, head over the Ponte Longo and turn left, away from the main drag, where you will find Giorgio and Michela Bruno and their little dog Cindy, who likes to hug.

View of Torcello Island and the distant snow-covered mountains. Bellissima!

View of Torcello Island and the distant snow-covered mountains. Bellissima!

From Murano, we headed to Torcello, birthplace of Venice nearly 1500 years ago. The Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, was first built in 639, and is the object of the visit. Torcello is virtually deserted these days, and on a sunny December day, one can meander along the paved brick path, past tiny houses built for the island’s feral cats (some for humans, too, but not many), to the central piazza and basilica complex, and enjoy a crowd-free experience that seems a million miles from Piazza San Marco. Contemplating the mosaics in the basilica, which date from the 11th & 12th centuries, I can’t help but be amazed, especially out here in what was eventually abandoned as a malaria-infested swamp.

While there are a couple of dining options on Torcello, we headed to Burano, famous for lace and for the beautifully colored houses.  We find Burano enchanting, except for the “barkers” in front of the restaurants on the main piazza. Avoiding these, we chose Ristorante al Vecio Pipa, where the owner oversees everything personally and does not resort to waving people in. He doesn’t have to. We had a decidedly unhealthy but delicious lunch of fried seafood (fritto misto di pesce) and grilled polenta. Unlike in the U.S., there is a light hand with the batter, if you can even call it that, and there are no French fries, thank God. Luckily we walked for hours that day.

The colorful houses of Burano, relfected in a canal.  Everyone has a boat.

The colorful houses of Burano, reflected in a canal. Everyone has a boat.

  • Take a walk. Venice herself is the object of our enchantment. We don’t really need much of an itinerary when the sun shines. We like to discover new-to-us areas of the city and get away from the day trippers, so this trip we took this jaunt. The “Zattere to Piazzale Roma” walk is probably not for a first visit to Venice; it’s more of a second-time-around itinerary, but it is interesting to see some of the neighborhoods where there is more living than touring, and far more Italian spoken than English.  Luckily along this route are several favorites of ours: A gondola repair/construction site, Campo S. Margherita, Pasticceria Tonolo, Chiesa dei Frari, and Scuola di Grande San Rocco. At Tonolo, where the espresso is bold and smooth, divine tiny pastries are only €1.00.
Me consulting the map. Crisp, clear day on the Venetian Lagoon. This view is from Santa Elena, back toward Venice.

Me consulting the map. Crisp, clear day on the Venetian Lagoon. This view is from Santa Elena, back toward Venice.

We like to walk and escape the crowds at Santa Elena and take the vaporetto back with the locals and their dogs. We also take a pre-dinner passeggiata (stroll) along the Strada Nova, one of the straightest streets in Venice. Here there are many places to grab a quick aperitivo, or pick up coffee for morning while enjoying a less-touristy neighborhood. We like to grab a glass of wine and a polpetto (meatball) at Osteria Ca’D’Oro (see below).

We have also used the book “24 Great Walks of Venice” as a guide. I highly recommended it as a way to work off the meals while guiding one’s sightseeing. (Can you tell our trips are meals strung together by miles of walking?) One afternoon, still not worn out completely by the morning’s activities, we hiked over to the Ghetto Nuovo. Venice is where the word “ghetto” first came to mean a Jewish segregated neighborhood. (Originally geto, the word for foundry, the area where Venice’s Jews were isolated in the 1500s.) Again, maybe not the place you go if you are on a two-day time-boxed tour, but when you have time, when you return, when you crave seeing where Venetians live, work and go to school…. You can continue from here through Sestiere Cannareggio and the northern reaches of Venice.

5 minutes from San Marco on a vaporetto, ascend the bell tower at San Giorgio Maggiore and take in this view.

5 minutes from San Marco on a vaporetto, ascend the bell tower at San Giorgio Maggiore and take in this view.

  •  Ascend a bell tower. Many people choose the campanile in Piazza San Marco. We prefer the tower at San Giorgio Maggiore, just across the basin from San Marco. Here is yet another magnificent church: designed by Palladio, with paintings by Tintoretto, capped by a tower that offers a spectacular view of the lagoon. It’s like a 3-D Venice geography lesson to go up in the tower on a clear day, and a 5 minute vaporetto ride from San Marco.

Eating in Venice

When one thinks of dining in Venice, euro signs flash before your eyes. It can be expensive, but there are places the Venetians dine – real people do live here – and these local places are easier on the budget. In “our” neighborhood, we always dine one night at the convivial and unpretentious Pizzeria NoNo Risorto.  Venice is more traditionally fish than pizza, but NoNo does some creative pies, and with i ragazzi (the guys) hanging out, the atmosphere was lively. Ric chose an extraordinary pizza frutti di mare, which was a crust with sauce, no cheese, piled high with baked seafood, some still in their shells: clams, mussels, shrimp and calamari.  The seafood was delicious, baked right on the pizza, but it left him with what amounted to tomato sauce on bread as a base. My choice was the “Maurwulf,” with salami piccante and gorgonzola. I gave Ric a share, but my goodness, it was difficult to part with those pieces. Yum! House wine is a bargain, a good way to save some euros.

We have enjoyed La Zucca in the past, and returned there again for dinner. For me, the return was driven by a taste-memory of their fantastic flan di zucca (pumpkin flan). It is creamy and rich served with ricotta stagionata and toasted pumpkin seeds. Good to share as an antipasto.  The strength here is in the vegetarian dishes, especially the vast selection of creative contorni. I had broccolo romano con uvetta e pinoli.  It was a little “zippy” with some pepperoncini, balanced by the sweet raisins and tender romanesco. The entrees are not classic Italian, IMHO, but more influenced by French and Indian cuisine: roast pork with a dijon sauce, chicken tandoori with lentils, both served with rice, unusual in Italy.  But the food is absolutely delicious and reservations are recommended at least two days in advance because it is a very tiny venue (35 seats).

This is "our" neighborhood in Venice. A greengrocer and a few pubs & cafes make it convenient with a residential feel.

This is “our” neighborhood in Venice. A greengrocer and a few pubs & cafes make it convenient with a residential feel.

We get tired of having to make restaurant choices every now and then on a trip. (And God knows I am not cooking more than espresso!)  In Venice one can take advantage of the pub crawl and join the locals for their cicchetti, sampling several places along the way. We like to start with a spritz (con aperol, for me) at Caffè al Ponte del Lovo. It’s a bright and lively coffee house in the center, close to the Goldoni Theatre. We’ve seen superb-looking hot chocolate here, too, but always opt for a spritz during the passaggiata. Of course a cocktail is served with some light snacks, just enough to carry us to the next stop, Osteria Ca’ D’Oro. Here a plate of cicchetti might involve their famous polpette (meatballs), insalata al polpo (tender octopus salad), tiny swordfish steaks, or the most succulent grilled calamari you have ever tasted. There are vegetarian options, too. Washed down with tiny glasses of house wine at the bar, it will cost less than a couple of panini.  Other classic places for cicchetti are right in “our” neighborhood, too: Cantina do’ Mori, Osteria Bancogiro, and Cantina do’ Spade. For a bit of a splurge, we went to Trattoria di Remigio on the recommendation of i signori Bruno (the Muranesi glass artist). We walked in without a reservation at 19:45, and by 20:15 the place was full and they were turning away walk-ins. This in stark contrast to a vast array of more tourist-path places we passed with few-to-no customers. Fresh seafood is the specialty, featuring Venetian dishes such as sarde in saor, as well as steamed mussels, branzino, and much much more. This is not a softly lighted romantic spot, but rather a bistro-type establishment with good food, well-prepared, where service is efficient as the owners bustle about ensuring everyone is cared for. We will return to this new-to-us spot, only a few minutes’ walk from San Marco.

Lights in Piazza Venezia, Roma, 2011.

Lights in Piazza Venezia, Roma, 2011.

So now we are back in Rome for the holiday season. The Immaculate Conception (Immacolata Concezione) is celebrated on December 8, serving much as Thanksgiving does in the U.S. to define the start of the holiday season, which runs through Epiphany on January 6. Returning to Rome we see Christmas light displays and nativity scenes (presepi) popping up everywhere. Last year we were tourists in Rome for Christmas. This year we are residents. What an amazing year! Still having “pinch me” moments!

%d bloggers like this: