It was time to cash in my Christmas gift from M before the offer expired. The gift, a weekend in the European city of my choice. My pick was Venice.
A doctor friend recommended the Albergo Quattro Fontane on the Lido and I will thank her effusively for the counsel. A short trip on a vaporetto from the heart of Venice, the Lido with its beautiful 12 mile beach, is ideal for relaxing after a day of 'touristing' among the throngs that swell Venice's population from 60,000 to several hundred thousand.
The entrance to the Albergo resembles a Tyrolean ski village. Several buildings combine to offer sixty rooms. No room is alike. They are filled with antiques and collectibles accumulated by the two sisters who inherited the property from their Danish mother and Italian father.
Our second floor home for four days looked out at a 300 year old tree and the brick fireplace where meat and fish are grilled, to be served in the large patio, or inside when there is a chill in the air.
Before dinner we walked back to the pier and settled in at the Villa Laguna for a sunset Spritz (Aperol, prosecco and sparkling water.) I couldn't resist singing a Scottish ballad to the three Scots ladies to my left and that elicited a comment from Heino, a German artist and his frau, Christel, who offers art walks in Berlin. A perfect opporunity for Schatzi (M) to sprech ein bissen Deutch. After another round we were pals and made plans to meet again in Berlin or Paris. A spirited start to our Venetian weekend.
The first pleasant surprises at dinner at the Albergo were Kaiser Wasser and a cabernet sauvignon from the nearby southern Tyrol. From the a la carte menu we selected a platter that included three whole fish grilled outside in the firelace and fileted tableside by sweet Sonia, giant scampi, potatoes and other vegetables. Benevenuto a Venezia.
To prepare for a charged day of touring we wolfed down eggs, bacon (good news, unlike the French, the Italians know how to make crisp bacon) sausage and two cappucini prepared and served by Sonia.
The Doges Palace was exhibiting 500 Years of the Venice Ghetto 1516-2016, so we checked out the original Nuovo Ghetto (like the Pont Neuf the name doesn't make much sense.) On the way we jumped off the vaporetto to visit the Accademia. The 72 hour vaporetto pass makes it easy and cheap to pop off and on.
The heart of the ghetto is the Jewish Museum and its 4 synagogues that served both the Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities. Venice was and still is a mercantile culture and Jews were recruited as merchants, moneylenders and doctors. At one time Venice proper was home to 5,000 Jews; today 450 remain and they crowd into two synagogues for High Holiday services.
It's easy to get lost in Venice's narrow streets but it is also easy to find your way out, and after a gelato we eventually reached our destination, Piazza San Marco and a visit to the Doges for the permanent exhibit.
We had felt very much at home at La Villa Laguna so we went there for dinner. Lucca greeted us with complimentary Bellinis to prepare us for dinner. A word of caution. Service charges in Venice are about as consistent as Italian government. For example, many restaurants have a coperto (cover charge per person that can be as little as two euros per person or...) Others have a 12% service charge noted in small print at the bottom of the page, some have both, or in the elegant Dandolo Bar at the Hotel Danieli neither, just a net bill, as in France.
Back to dinner, pasta neri per M e linguini frutti di mare per me. A very good cabernet from the Veneto was an excellent recommendation. We lingered over expresso and walked home, leisurely.
In preparation for this visit I read DEATH AT LA FENICE, the first in Donna Leon's series featuring Commissario Brunetti, so a visit to La Fenice was imperative, and it was magnifico. Once inside I belted out fragments of a Puccini aria to the applause of the assembled ten persons. My tombstone can now read: Sang at La Fenice, September 30, 2016.
M checked out the GEO guide to Venice at her local bibliotheque and inside we discovered a receipt from the Osteria Al Mascaron. It was in the cool sistere (quartier) Castello, however, as I explained earlier it is easy to get lost in Venice by day, and nearly impossible to find a destination at night, even with my now burgeoning Italian. Par hasard we found a convivial spot around the corner from the Basilica San Marco.
Saturday morning, our last day in Venice, we rode to the top of the campanile, and discoverd "the most beautiful bookshop in the world, "Libreria "Acqua Alta" di Frizzo Luigi, conveniently located a few doors from al Mascarpon.
From the moment I entered I was at home. At my left were Rosie, Attila, Franco, Gilda and Stefano who greeted me with gusto, offered recommendations-pasta si, risotto no, and from Rosie a hug-molto simpatico!
This hole (two) in the wall has been in the family since 1900 and Bepi runs it like his home.
A carafe of white from the Veneto,
pasta al frutti di mare, panna cotta and tiramasu. A perefct ending to our Venetian visit.
I am developing a 2017 Venice Visit and will be back with details shortly
In the meantime if you'd like to book a stay at the Albergo Quattro Fontane let me know and I'll see that you are well taken care of.