Untours Cafe

I just realized I had not shared my trip report from Venice in March. Here it is for the Venice lovers to enjoy. Unfortunately this time it was not with Untours but my apartment was in the same neighborhood as the Casino apartment so I was right at home. Note: this is copied and pasted from TripAdvisor.com

Here is my trip report from my visit in March. It is the ramblings of a 61 year old woman hopelessly in love with a city. No museums, no real restaurant recommendations. Just me in the place I love more than any other in the world. Warning, it is eight printed pages long.

Venice 2010...the dream continues: March 23-28, 2010

March 23

After uneventful but very long flights from Seattle, WA to Amsterdam to Venice on which no sleep was to be had thanks to what seemed to be spring break crowds and the five year old kicking the back of my seat and squirming a lot (she was really 20 something but acted like she was five), I finally landed in Venice to the welcoming arms of my Australian friend Yvonne. We had gotten to know each other in emails over the past year and it was like walking into the arms of a true sister. Yes, there we were, women of a certain age squealing like teenagers as we hugged, kissed and greeted each other.

The first order of business was to present my PNR at the Venice Connected desk to pick up my vaporetto pass which was really easy and no line at all…let alone a long one. We made our way after a small false start to the water taxi I had booked where the driver was holding a sign with my name on it and we were soon acting like movie stars waving to a tour boat of young people as we zipped across the lagoon to our meeting point with Paolo, the property manager from Truly Venice (www.trulyvenice.com). I had booked the Calla apartment in Cannaregio for my five nights here in the most beautiful city in the world…my beloved Venezia.

As we were walking I explained to Paolo that it was like coming home because I had stayed nearby in 2008. As we approached Calle dei Ormesini there was a familiar face; Atilla the cat and his cat friend were lounging in the window of the Dingo adoption center. I called “Ciao Atilla” and he trotted over, purring madly as he was stroked by my welcoming hands. Paolo was amazed and said “you really have stayed in this neighborhood before.” I know it wasn’t just me and that Atilla sucks up to everyone but it was nice to think that he remembered me after nearly a year and a half.

We walked a little ways down the Calle Dei Ormesini which was directly out the front door of the Casino apartment where I stayed in 2008 and Paolo said you know when you are home because you look for the head. By this he meant the sculpture over the doorway. The first door leads to an enchanting private garden, IL Giardino Segreto. My apartment, the Calla was on the ground floor and as we entered there was a bouquet of Calla lilies on the table to welcome me.

The apartment was perfect. Everything the website pictures showed and more. We settled the charges (most apartments in Europe require that you make final payment in cash when you get the keys) and Paolo showed me where to put the garbage and recycling and answered any other questions that I had and he was off. I forgot to ask how to operate the dishwasher. Ah, well.

I freshened up a bit and Yvonne and I strolled to Yvonne’s favorite restaurant, Café Diana for lunch. I had gnocchi with scallops e fungi (mushrooms) and it was lovely. The waiter brought two spritz (the seeming national drink of Venice) that we didn’t order as a welcome gift for me. When he discovered that I don’t drink; he brought me Gingerino which Yvonne tasted and said, “how grown up, it tastes almost like a spritz”. For those of you keeping track of these things…my lunch was 10E (euros). A lot of locals were eating there including workmen on their lunch break. We dallied there for a while then we walked back to my secret garden and it was time for me to have a nap; after all I had been up for more than 24 hours. I set the clock for 4pm but was up by 3:30 and texted Yvonne that I was ready any time. Before the trip I invested in a quad band unlocked cell phone with an Italian SIM so that I can make reduced cost calls in Italy. My personal cell phone would not work out of the US. We discovered that I do have a door bell and it has exactly the same system as at home. Plus there is a cat sculpture in the bedroom and a cat mask in the display cabinet. Guess this cat lady was meant to be here what with being greeted by my old friend Atilla and all the cat things in the apartment. Now if one would just come visit through my open bedroom window. And yes, the apartment is perfect. Did I say that already?

We strolled to the San Marcuola vaporetto stop and I validated my pass by waving it in front of the dial and we were off for a cruise of the Grand Canal. You could probably hear my big sighs all the way to Seattle. We (should I say “I”?) decided to stay on the vaporetto and go to the Lido and come back and watch the sunset over Venice. We got outside seats eventually and I got some wonderful pictures. I hope you can hear the church bells in my mini movie.

We stopped at Billa (grocery store) where I picked up some breakfast things and soup and bread and cheese for dinner tonight.

I did call Connie my cat sitter (and mistress of all trades and really super friend) to let her know I’d arrived safely. Since I had the cell phone with the good rate it was easy to do. And Connie said she was thrilled with her phone call from Italy.

Now if I could just get the WiFi to work…it did for a minute then changed its mind.

Yvonne walked back to her apartment which is just almost around the corner…down the calle, over a bridge and turn right down the fondamenta for a very little while.

Off to bed. Tomorrow Burano and the potluck dinner.

March 24

A beautiful morning began as I sat sipping my café latte made in the “moka” in my apartment in Venice. The birds were playing in the fountain and singing.

This place is so quiet at night that you wouldn’t believe you were in a major European city.

I was meeting Yvonne at 9am and we were walking to the Orto vaporetto stop and taking the boat to Fondamenta Nuove to get the boat to Burano which used to be the home of lace makers. Some women there still make the lace but most of what they have in the shops comes from China. The “real” thing is very, very expensive.

When we got to the boat there was a crowd of French high school students on spring break. No outside seats were to be had as the young were fleeter of foot.

We made sure that we went in a different direction when we got off. That was not because the students were either French or high school students but had everything to do with the noisy crowd.

Burano’s houses are each painted a different color, as legend has it, so that the fishermen could see their homes from the sea as they were coming in. Every corner and calle has a photo op; with houses in shades of blue, orchid, yellow, ochre and red that would appear garish anywhere else but they work so perfectly here. I mentioned in email to a friend later that it was almost like strolling through a box of crayons.

The shops are geared to the tourists of course (and of course we like to think we aren’t tourists but we are). I found some nice jewelry from the neighboring Murano at a reasonable price. I’m buying for me this time; not an emphasis on gifts like last trip and things need to be small. I did pick up some postcards that will probably be mailed from home…my friends will most likely get them faster that way.

Ah, time for a cappuccino break. We were obviously in a less touristed area of this tiny island for we hadn’t seen anywhere to get coffee in a little while. Yvonne asked a lady in Italian and she actually tried to take us by the hand and lead us to a place. Perhaps she was trying to take us to her house. We didn’t find out but allowed her to point us in the right direction. It was one of the many delightful encounters with locals that morning.

We stopped for a café in a bar where I had to take a picture of the large sign in both Italian and English which clearly stated that it was illegal to sell alcohol to anyone under 16. Since I come from where the legal drinking age is 21 I found that quite amusing.

More dandering as our friend Kathleen is wont to say and then it was time for lunch. We found a trattoria where the prices looked reasonable and Yvonne had fish soup and red wine and I chose langoustines, broiled and some pattitine fritte (that’s shrimp and French fries). Wait till you see the pictures…they had their claws and tails…so glad the heads were gone. And actually for anyone who hasn’t had these…they are more like little lobster and that is the taste. Lunch for two including a liter of aqua “frizzante” and the half liter of red wine was only 34.40 euros. It was my most expensive meal of the trip and worth every Euro.

We strolled around a little more and I bought plum tomatoes and yellow and red bell peppers for the sauce for dinner tonight. I’ll get the onion, garlic and pasta closer to home.

It was a perfect day and I will always remember being wrapped in the warm reflection of the colors of the magical island of Burano.

Ah, outside seats on the way home and we enjoyed the ride and watching a darling little red haired girl playing with the other passengers.

We got off at Fondamente Nuove and I suggested we take the vaporetto around to the Gulie stop and walk home from there because there are some lovely vegetable stands and shops where I could get the rest of the things I needed to make my Puttanesca sauce for dinner. Yes, me! Cooking! Can you believe it? Actually I love to cook and find I do it more in Italy where things are fresher. Those little tomatoes were probably picked this morning and I’ll bet the peppers were grown by the man I got them from. I did find my onion and garlic and Yvonne said she had most of the other things I needed. Stopped in Rizzo on the Rio Terra San Leonardo and got fresh pasta. We would have gotten the olives there but the deli section was closed till 4pm for the reposo.

Yvonne left me at my corner with arrangements to come back later. I engaged in my own reposo for an hour or so then got to slicing and dicing the vegetables. I had everything just about ready when Yvonne arrived with the other needed items…basil, oregano, hot pepper flakes and the olives along with some paper napkins. I would have preferred cloth napkins but hadn’t had time to shop for them and there were none in the apartment. Several days later I did find a package of paper napkins there.

At the appointed hour Maxine and her husband Tom arrived. Maxine is another member of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Scarves and although we often corresponded we had never met. They brought wine and a bottle of limoncello for dessert. Now we only needed Karen and Mike and then my phone rang…they were at my gate and didn’t know which doorbell. I pranced out to let them in. Mike had cooked too and provided us with eggplant and cheese with a red sauce…quite tasty. They also brought wine. Yvonne brought dolce …little pastries.

The conversation flowed, the wine flowed and you would have thought we had known each other for years. Karen and Mike are Americans living in Venice. I took a photography tour (www.theveniceexperience.com) with him when I was here in 2008. And it was his birthday and he chose to spend it with us. Yvonne lives in Atherton, Queensland, Australia and is originally from Canada and Maxine and Tom live in Westchester County in New York state.

It was nearly 11pm by the time everyone wandered away. Oh, just so you’ll know…no one was driving after all that wine. There are no cars in Venice. They just had to walk home….or ride a vaporetto.

March 25

Kathleen arrives today from Ireland…another Traveling Scarf Sister and a cat lover like me. She will be here around noon. Yvonne and I have plans to meet here about 9am and off to check out some shops I read about. Sorry to Rick Steves but sometimes it is about the shopping. So we rode the vaporetto to the Academia stop and followed the directions.

But first a glance at the news kiosk which has newspapers, magazines and the all important souvenirs. He stocked the Roman Priest calendars (my reaction to seeing the pictures of the handsome men was “bless me Father for I have sinned”) and the one I was looking for…the Venetian Gondoliers…2011. I made a note that I would come back and get one later. It was one of the few gifts I bought for someone at work who is always helpful to me. We found the shop with the hand painted silk scarves…starting at 300E and I had already set my top limit at 50E. Then the slipper shop and I didn’t see anything I liked or that looked like it would fit my extra wide feet. Ah, well. But the paper shop was wonderful. Handmade marbled and block printed papers made into all kinds of books, address books, books to keep your wine notes in (like I have wine notes…my friends drank the wine last night…not me), and one lovely one with cats for travel notes. And the silver haired man behind the counter was beautiful too. He graciously let me take his picture working.

From this shop we wandered where our feet and my camera took us. Finally reaching the Zattere when we decided it was time for coffee and sat in the sun enjoying the view. By now it was a little after 11am and Kathleen was due to land any time. We took the vaporetto from the Zattere stop and enjoyed a relaxing ride, got off by the train station and walked to the San Marcuola stop where I checked and had a text from Kathleen that she had landed and would soon be on the bus to P. Roma and then the vaporetto to meet us.

Yvonne met Kathleen in Rome last year for the first adventure with the Traveling Scarves and although Kathleen and I had corresponded by email we had never met. It was delightful to see her waving to us as the vaporetto approached the dock and big hugs all around when she got off.

We walked the 10 minutes to the apartment and as luck would have it Atilla was out to welcome her to Venice. She had searched for him during a couple of other visits after I told her about him but had never met him before. He gave her his usual purring welcome.

Kathleen was pleasantly surprised by our garden and seemed to like her room. She changed into clothes for relaxing and Yvonne left us to get acquainted and have lunch with plans to meet up later.

It was such a pleasant day that we shared our pasta (left over from the night before) on the patio in front of the apartment and watched little lizards play in one of the bushes. We were also visited by a lovely tabby cat on our garden wall.

We both had a bit of a nap and then about 5pm Yvonne joined us and we took the vaporetto to Piazza San Marco where we window shopped and enjoyed the views until our planned “wave” to our friends at 6pm. For those who don’t know there is a webcam in the piazza, unfortunately still and not a close up but I had told friends approximately where we would be standing and that I would be wearing my red coat. Yvonne also had a red coat. We stood at the spot for about 10 minutes, enjoyed the 6pm bells from the basilica and then proceeded to just wander where our feet took us for several hours.

As usual my feet, knees and back complained a lot but it was worth it being with these friends in our favorite city in the world. Eventually we found a restaurant that Kathleen was familiar with and had dinner. Casa Mia was filled with mostly Italians. My mushroom pizza and a bottle of aqua frizzante cost 10E. There was no rush to leave but it was getting late and we were all tired. We walked as far as the Ca d’Oro vaporetto stop where Yvonne left us to walk back to her own apartment and we took the vaporetto back to ours.

It had been another perfect day.

March 26

Friday dawns foggy. I guess I should be grateful for the other sunny days and we are lucky that although the sky is gray there is no rain.

We had breakfast and Yvonne met us and the three of us took the vaporetto all the way to the Lido where Kathleen showed us how to get the bus to Malamoco. Yes, for those who don’t know there are cars and land busses on the Lido and your vaporetto pass is good for the bus. I’m so glad we had her for this adventure because I would never have found this place on my own. We visited the Dingo cat sanctuary where many homeless and feral cats are housed, fed and generally cared for by loving volunteers. I had read that at one time Venice was swarming with stray cats but a campaign to deal with them caused them to be moved first to the Island of San Clemente and then here to Malamoco. You will notice a series of a lot (tons actually) of cat pictures. They were all taken at Malamoco. There are both nursery cats, that can’t be left outside due to illness or injury, and outside cats. I’m not sure how many enclosures there are but the cats have high fenced yards with old beach umbrellas cut off and put into the ground to give them shade and protection from the elements. In many of my pictures the cats are using them as perches to survey their surroundings. There are also buildings for them to go into when the weather turns bad. The cats are cared for by Gattare (cat women) who are volunteers who come and clean the areas and feed the cats. Many had pans of spaghetti for the cats. Interesting to watch a cat eat spaghetti. They seem to love it. No stray cat is euthanized but has a home for as long as he/she needs it and they do spay and neuter all of their cats. We had a lovely visit with Bruno and Maria Grazzia who remember Kathleen from previous visits. And then it was time to go, stopping first at the cemetery at the end of the road, another kind of sanctuary.

We took the bus back to the vaporetto stopping first for some shopping at Billa which was nearby. Is there ever a time when Billa is not crowded? I haven’t found it if there is.

Back at the San Marcuola stop we went our separate ways to our own apartments and a brief reposo. Yvonne was coming to our apartment this evening and cooking us dinner.

Kathleen went out to do some shopping and was just back when Yvonne arrived with her goodies for dinner. She cooked a pasta dish with fish and tomatoes. The ladies enjoyed some wine and of course the conversation flowed as if we were old friends. Kathleen had gotten some lemon gelato and brought along some vodka and prosecco and proceeded to make Sgroppino for dessert. Another perfect ending to a lovely evening.

March 27, 2010

Sadly my last full day in Venice. A beautiful morning and a day to enjoy the city I loved. Yvonne was meeting her sister-in-law at the airport this morning and Kathleen and I set out in different directions to do some shopping with plans to meet Yvonne and Lynda at Café Dianna for lunch.

I took the vaporetto to the Academia stop where I purchased the calendars I need for a few gifts and some postcards and then just wandered around, taking photos and ending up where Yvonne and I had had coffee Thursday morning. Yes, time for another cappuccino and a rest from my wandering. While I was sitting there watching the traffic on the Giudecca Canal a gigantic cruise ship came through. I couldn’t believe how close they come to the fondamenta! The look of disgust on the face of my waitress probably matched my own. A short time later a huge Greek ferry also came in. Well, at least maybe I can combine a trip to Greece to visit my friends with my next trip to Venice and take the ferry from there. I’ll have to investigate that.

I wandered up the Rio di San Travaso and saw another woman taking pictures of the gondola workshop on the other side of the canal. She was trying to take a picture of herself with the workshop in the background and I offered to take the picture for her. She did the same for me. We chatted for a few minutes; she was an Italian tourist from Padua in Venice visiting for a few days. She complimented me on my Italian pronunciation. I think she was being kind. On to the vaporetto stop and back to the apartment to deposit my purchases. Kathleen and I had met in the street on the way back and it was now time to be off to meet Yvonne and Lynda.

At Café Dianna Kathleen was also greeted like an old friend and we were seated at a canal side table. It was a perfect afternoon for dining al fresco. We weren’t there for long when we were joined by Yvonne and Linda. For some reason we had walked right by them and didn’t see them. More spritz (not sure what the plural of that is) with a Gingerino for me were brought to the table. The introductions were made. Lynda had just arrived from Montreal, Canada and had never been to Venice before.

We all placed our orders and I decided to try their Spaghetti ala Carbonara. It is something I do make at home but will sometimes order out because I love it. Again, my lunch was about 10 Euros. Of course it would have been more but I don’t drink any alcohol and the Gingerino was a gift. While we were enjoying our meal an accordionist came along and entertained the diners. Ah, just the icing on the cake.

Since we had previously discussed in email about taking a gondola ride together and since it was such a perfect day we decided we would do that this afternoon. They went back to Yvonne’s apartment to freshen up and met Kathleen and I at ours. From there we walked to a gondola station near Santa Maria Maddalena and negotiated an hour long ride through quiet back canals for 120 euros for the four of us. I had checked the website for the official rate some time ago and for an hour at that time of day that is the official rate. Sandro, our gondolier, promised quiet canals and very little time on the Grand Canal, only to cross to the other side, as we requested. This was my first time in a gondola. I don’t know why I didn’t do it last time as it was everything I had dreamed and beyond. Something to be experienced at least once and worth every Euro.

It is totally different being so close to the water. You notice things that you normally wouldn’t see. Even our bit of time crossing the Grand Canal was different. Luckily we avoided the wake caused by motor boats and even that was calmer than anticipated. Sandro pointed out fading frescoes on the side of a building that we would not have noticed from the vaporetto.

For anyone like me with mobility issues (my knees balk at climbing up or down steps and I hang on tightly to handrails), the gondoliers are very experienced at helping old ladies in and out of gondolas. He even repositioned the boat to make the step up and out shorter for me and my dear friends grabbed my hands to help pull me up. I think I was more afraid of falling and pulling them into the canal than anything else. But I made it out without a mishap or a misstep. We settled our payments and with promises to meet each other for dinner at a local Trattoria we went our separate ways. It had been a busy day for all of us although a beautiful one.

Back to the apartment for a read and a rest before the evening and the packing for our departure in the morning. Several hours later our doorbell rang and it was Yvonne and Lynda asking if we could do dinner earlier as Lynda was fading from her jetlag. That Yvonne had kept her out the rest of the afternoon walking around Venice and she was really, really tired.

We walked down the Calle to Trattoria Vesuvio and although it was early for Venetian dinner we were welcomed and the four of us enjoyed our meal and conversation. I had grilled salmon steak and patina fritte and a bottle of aqua frizzante (fizzy water) for a total of about 12 euros.

Ah, back to the apartment and packing. About 9pm I decided to take one last vaporetto ride along the Grand Canal. Night on the Grand Canal with the chandeliers lit in the palazzos and the twinkling lights of canal side eateries is even more magical. If that is possible. A perfect night to sit outside and breathe in Venice. I disembarked at Piazza San Marco and wandered around, looking in the windows of closed shops. It was too cool and the wrong time of year so there were no dueling orchestras in the Piazza. Hardly anyone about. A perfect time to be there. In my wanderings I came across a poster of Johnny Depp in a shop window. Yvonne and I knew he was there filming a movie and had kept an eye out for him but he was elusive and usually one step ahead or behind us. He is such a chameleon that we probably wouldn’t have recognized him if he had been sitting at the next table. Around 10pm I was back on the vaporetto and home to the apartment to bed before our morning train departure for Rome. Arrivederci, my beloved Venezia.

Now...the link to the pictures. There are around 500 so best to not try to post them here.


Ciao, ciao


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