22 April 2014

Basking in the sublime beauty of Venice

One of the top items on my list of things to do in retirement is travel. After 9 months of being retired, we finally took a major trip. We spent two weeks in Italy in late March and early April. That wasn’t literally the first travel since retiring. We took a trip to New York in October and to Los Angeles in January. But both of those trips were related to Mazon board meetings, and so felt more or less like when Linda would travel with me on business trips for Land O’Lakes.

But our Italy trip was a real vacation. We could plan it any way we wanted with no worries about working around work schedules and no worries about missing e-mails. We could go for as long as we wanted, and that’s what we did.

So to begin the vacation, we flew into Venice. We had never been to Venice before. We both wanted to see the city. But we really didn’t know what to expect. As we did our planning, we consulted many friends and family members. We found that people either loved Venice or hated it. We didn’t know which category we’d fall into. So we planned Venice for the beginning of our trip. That way, if it was a disappointment, we could just spend our three days getting over jet lag and then go on to other destinations.IMG_0017

But it turns out, we loved it. We got off to a good start. The sun was dipping low in the sky as our plane circled the city. The golden hues of the late afternoon sun gave the city a warm, welcoming glow. After we landed and retrieved our luggage, we scurried to catch the waterbus (vaporetto) for an hour-long ride to the dock closest to our hotel. The sun slipped below the horizon as the boat neared the dock, and I took a photo that captured the moment.

We did actually have a little confusion finding our way from the bustling waterfront through the winding passages to our hotel. But we found it, and it was fabulous. Casa Nicolo Priuli is scarcely three blocks from the waterfront. But it could have been miles away in terms of quiet peacefulness. That’s actually something that we experienced a lot in Venice. There are locales with throngs of people. Yet in just a few minutes, you cross a bridge and find yourself virtually alone on a quiet walkway.

Our hotel was great. The location was fantastic, very close to the major sites of Venice. But once evening fell, the neighborhood became very quiet and subdued. I keep thinking in terms of the streets becoming empty. But of course, in Venice, there are no streets. Just canals and bridges and porticos and walkways that wind through the city, promising the visitor an endless variety of things to discover.

The weather was fabulous while we were there. In the morning, we’d open the windows and listen to the sounds of the city waking up – shop keepers opening their stores, gondoliers preparing their boats, and people scurrying by to find a cup of coffee and a bite of breakfast. And always the sounds of church bells echoing through the city.

Restaurants in Venice

Trattoria da Nino: After a day of travel, we were tired and just wanted to find a restaurant nearby to have a quick dinner and then go to bed. We checked out a few places and settled on Trattoria da Nino. It offered a ‘menu del giorno’ that looked good, and we could eat on a covered patio outside. (This was a significant thing for us after the long, brutal winter we experienced in Minnesota.) The restaurant was ok … average really. We both liked our first course best. I had gnocchi and Linda had a lemony vegetable soup. The rest of the meal, roast chicken and greens, was pretty ordinary.

Agli Artisti da Piero: During our first full day in Venice, as we wandered through the city, we checked out the restaurants we passed with an eye toward where we would return for dinner. Most of the restaurants that were geared to serving tourists had someone standing outside engaging people who walked by, trying to lure you in. It’s really kind of annoying. But as we walked by Agli Artisti, there was something about it that was appealing to us. We wanted a fish/seafood restaurant – a specialty of Agli Artisti. The menu looked good, and we liked the d├ęcor. So later that evening, we found our way back and enjoyed one of the best meals we had in Italy. IMG_0088

Luna Sentada: On our last night in Venice, I really wanted to find someplace that was not a tourist restaurant. Luna Sentada was very close by. We walked by it often going to and from the hotel. We liked the ambiance. But what intrigued me was its food concept. It was Asian Italian fusion, with the chef trying to imagine and prepare the combinations of flavors that Marco Polo might have experienced during his world travels centuries ago. It was a very creative and delicious meal and a great way to end our stay in Venice.

Every night after dinner, we strolled to St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) and mingled with the crowds, enjoyed the mild spring weather, and listened to music. There always were bands performing on outdoor stages in the square. They’d quit playing around 11 p.m., and we’d be back in our hotel by 11:10. Otherwise, we didn’t find much nightlife in Venice. But no matter. We were still recovering from jet lag.

Departure

We left Venice the way we arrived, on a vaporetto. After breakfast, we packed our luggage, checked out, and made our way to the waterfront where we caught a waterbus to the train station. The boat was jammed full as it made its way past the stately buildings of Venice. We watched wistfully and vowed that we would return someday.

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