Friday, September 10, 2010

Bella Venezia

Once down on the plains below the Alps in the train, the temperature steadily rose, so that by the time we arrived in Verona before traveling on to Venice, we were decidedly warm in 3 layers of clothing. It felt good to hear all the Italian being spoken around us as opposed to largely unintelligible (to us at least) German. We were back in the land of red and yellow trousers! It felt like being home again. I felt great agreeing to an unintelligible request from a stranger to guard his bags at the station with a deferential "si, prego". Ahhh.

Sitting in the train opposite a skinny woman with a miniature dog on her lap, looking like someone directly off the cover of "Vogue". Yep, yep, yep, here we are again. It was a long train ride from Innsbruck (5 hours including the stop over in Verona) but the best I have ever done. When we were greeted by the Grand Canal in Venice, hot, but contented, The first vessel to pass by was not a gondola this time but a boat referring to a very long journey! Va bene.

We were so happy to be back in Venice, for some reason we decided to walk from the St Marks stop on the vaporetto. Lovely romantic notion, but our rose colored memories were of gentle strolls in the evening WITHOUT LUGGAGE! There are SO MANY bridges, each one with steps. Venice is designed for walking, not people negotiating the milling tourist crowds with multiple bags on wheels. What were we thinking!

Once we reached our street, soon the familiar "ciaouww" was ringing out around us in a typical Venetian dialect.

After settling back into our favorite apartment in Venice, we set off in search of one of the back-street restaurants we found on our last trip - "Trattoria Tosi". It was just the same chaotic little spot, overflowing with local Italians, where you had to watch you did not trip over the dog sitting below the counter! However, tonight was "tavola chiusa" and any menu option was available as long as it was pizza. We didn't feel like pizza, so we strolled around the back streets some more and found another place called "Ai Tosi Grandi". We enjoyed pleasant classical Italian fare in a small out door courtyard in just shirt sleeves, soaking up the 'vero italiano' atmosphere again.

Italy is not the quietest place to sleep in. In Venice, at least you don't get the"motorini" zooming around all night, but in the distant background haze of sleep it seems this town never stops! Firstly, some don't leave to go out to dinner until well after 10pm and then return in very good heart, chatting loudly over the complete stillness of the night. We live next door to a fish shop and they seem to start preparing for the day's trade at not long after 3am, followed not long after by the fruiterer with his boat based shop on the canal outside our apartment at about 4am. I later discovered this was because we had left our windows open. Va bene. However, I've got to say I love this place and it's people (you might have guessed this!).

Next morning we went back to our favorite morning coffee haunt, carefully remembering the exact wording to get the cafe latte we love. Dang, the coffee arrives too strong and just not right. We had got one word wrong in the order. Oh well, tomorrow is another coffee day!

Our main event for the day was to visit one of our mask suppliers. It was interesting to see how these people are struggling to maintain viable businesses with the onslaught of cheap copies of their art work from China. Evidence of this is everywhere in the market stalls and our supplier mentioned how he had even discovered his own images on another web site. When an enquiry was made, the response was that "one just like this was available". Our supplier is working with the Italian government to put in place a better framework to manage copyright infringement in the art industry. We really enjoyed catching up in person. Dealing remotely is facilitated immensely by some face time. We returned to our apartment confirmed that this is the best way to manage the relationships with our Italian suppliers.

That evening we sought out our favorite Venetian restaurant (Ai Tosi) and were not disappointed. All the outside tables were taken and the place was bustling with life. Our scallop pasta was the best meal we had enjoyed in Venice.

The next morning we set off for Murano, wondering what the day would bring. After re-engaging with a lovely young small Murano glass seller / manufacturer we decided it was time for a panino. After enjoying a lovely version and being served by a most genial young waiter it was time to leave. The Italian custom is only to pay when you leave and this is always Kathy's department. Her dismayed face said it all.... All our money and vaporetto tickets were safely resting in our apartment. This is where being female and fluent in Italian really helps! After a profusion of apologies the genial waiter agreed to waive the bill on our promise of returning to pay 2 days later. Such a nice young man.

As we boarded the vaporetto, some other passengers bought a ticket from the guy who ties the boat up at each stop. Kathy and I exchanged looks, just waiting to be asked for proof of our tickets, but phew, after a brief enquiring glance at us, he leaves. Heart rate slowly drops. It would have been a tricky one to explain.

The next day, we decided to venture on to Burano. We were blown away by this lovely little island and surprised by it's beauty and charm. The people there seemed less "tourist over-dosed", friendly and helpful. The bright colours of the houses are what it is famous for, but seeing them was even better than I expected. The lace was everywhere and of course now mostly made elsewhere, but a part of the charm.

Gondolier navigating back canal Venice!
We cut our time on Burano short so we could return to Venice for a special annual festival involving gondola racing. This has tradition lasting back centuries and based on another one we chanced upon last visit we were looking forward to it. As we returned, we knew from experience that all vaporetto traffic in the Grand Canal is cancelled during this period from about 3pm until 7:30pm. We could get to within one stop of our apartment, so not much inconvenience for us. However, as we walked along the hot, exasperated, stressed expressions on the faces of those who had trudged over all the bridges and still had ages to go told a story of some people whose memories of their trip to Venice will be somewhat tarnished!

As I walked down to the canal, I did relish the lifestyle of the locals. There was not one person in a hurry. People calling out greetings to one another, smiling, everyone was relaxed, even the dogs! Some sitting in bars having a social drink, others just sitting on park benches. Meanwhile I wandered down to the canal to catch the action. Hmmm. We found out later that we had missed the good bit and what remained was just the racing. The ceremony with the lavishly decorated floats, orchestra and gondoliers in full period costume..... Ah well. I did take some video of one race and the best part of that is the running commentary by a few old men behind me. Rather annoyingly, a Guarda di Finaza police boat was hovering just in front of us on the water, guarding something.

Six man gondola crew warming up for a race
Kathy joined me to watch the distant and somewhat boring spectacle, when all of a sudden there was a loud splash followed by some very excited shouting. One of the old men had fallen in to the canal! He was not flailing around or panicking but he clearly could not swim. The Guarda di Finaza boat drew closer and one the guys threw a bolster to him, but he was not able to use it. So after a moments hesitation, the Guarda di Finaza chap jumped off the boat fully clothed including his Gucci sun glasses. He shepherded the old chap to nearby steps from the canal and they both emerged from the canal with seaweed appropriately draped on their shoes to a full round of applause and shouts of appreciation and adulation for the Guarda di Finanza. The young policeman shrugged off the hero worship and got back to official process of getting on the phone to the base and starting the Italian beauraucratic documentation.

Our next supplier visit was a delight. We have found that with each in person visit, the depth of our relationship extends a further notch. They did not have time to take us for lunch and were very apologetic about this, so instead hosted us at their local bar for a drink. Campari "spritzers" all round, plus some amazing Venetian style bruscetta. We saw the Campari being prepared and had not realized that they prepare it here with sparkling wine, not sparkling water! Then they wanted to go outside so they could smoke. This is normally lovely by the canal, but today there was a strong wind blowing and Kathy was not dressed for it. I positioned myself up wind to provide some shelter. We thoroughly enjoyed this time of informal interaction though. With each sip of the Campari though I could feel it going to my head on an empty stomach. By the time we left, we were very happy and slightly unsteady on our feet before boarding a vaporetto for the ride to Murano. The first stop was to repay our debt and thank the waiter warmly and get some strong coffee into us before another supplier meeting!

Many of our suppliers in Venice are also small family businesses like ours and it was lovely to meet more of the family members and hear more of how they are doing against the fierce tide of copied products saturating the local tourist market.

Campari at Florian Bar, St Marks - fantastic!
For our final night in Venice, Kathy needed to fulfill a "bucket list" item - an evening aperitif at the Florian in St Marks Square. It is such a magical place and we spent some time just drinking in the atmosphere. It seems to draw out the romance and good will in all the tourists there. Everyone seemed in such good spirits, couples holding hands, sharing a romantic kiss and just smiling. The Florian is a very famous bar in the Square and one of three who boast a small instrumental group playing live music. Lord Byron used to come here regularly. We have stood back in the square before and just listened to the orchestras, but this time we needed to move from passive participants to full immersion in this experience! So, we took our seats at a table and when our traditional Campari arrived on a silver tray with a white suited waiter, he carefully laid out the table and added the soda in front of us. Bellissimo! Cost a small fortune, but well worth it!

Sadly, it was now time to head off on the next stage of our trip and as we boarded our vaporetto for the last time this trip, I was not sad it was the "long way" up the Grand Canal stopping everywhere. I managed to get some great shots of the Rialto Bridge.
Location:Venice, Italy

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