Tales of a wandering lesbian

Men in white coats

It rained my last night in Venice.  Hard.  I seriously contemplated eating in the hotel again.  But it was my last night in Venice.  Earlier in the day, I’d stopped by Trattoria alla Madonna, a restaurant in the Rialto neighborhood that my Friend Frank had recommended.  I talked with a waiter about the menu as he shouldered an armful of plates bound for a table.  Yes, they had pastas I could eat, and a whole table of vegetables that he waved at like a spokes model on the Price is Right.  They opened at 7PM, and didn’t take reservations.  That was good.  I don’t really like making reservations.

I left the hotel at about 8PM, after a quick shower and an incredibly long day.  The 20 minute walk to the restaurant took me past some now familiar sights, dramatically lit as the rain started to fall.

Firehouse at night

Venice is a strange place.  Beautiful, but strange – as if it’s another world.  This night, I saw two or three different men in different parts of town – wearing capes – like it was totally normal.


I honestly think they were probably meeting to raise a glass to “the boy who lived”.

Finding anything in Venice is a challenge, and finding something after dark in Venice is a special treat.  Fortunately, the Trattoria had a big sign, and huge, green lanterns placed at the entrance to the little street it inhabited.

Sign and Lantern

While the sign is enormous, the door to the restaurant is totally understated.  The sign actually hangs over the kitchen door, confusing tourists.  The actual door to the establishment was identifiable by the occasional man in a white coat that would dart out to somewhere across the little street, and then dart back in, laughing and talking with passersby (mostly confused tourists looking at the sign).

I spent a moment in the street practicing the Italian phrase that would help get me a seat.  But, when I stepped in, I was virtually swept into the restaurant by one waiter who was on his way to deliver plates of food to diners.  I’m not sure I even got a word out before I was seated.

The dining room was a bright, tall room with chestnut-beamed ceilings, filled with families, couples, and the ultra-efficient wait staff.  There was an army of guys in white coats bustling around:  delivering food to tables, taking orders, deboning fish on a side table.

Coat flash

My waiter looked at me and asked a one word question:  “Italiana?”  Unfortunately, I answered with “hum?”  And that triggered “Inglese?”  Too late to recover.  He reached into the drawer of a nearby hutch and pulled out an English-language menu.  One glance around the dining room and It looked like there were at least three, color-coded menus.  Mine was pink.  It served as a big pink flag to the waiters that I was an English speaker.  And, though I thought that at least I wouldn’t have to translate the menu, I was wrong.  I still had to ask.

My waiter and I got through the usuals – dining solo, don’t speak Italian well, vegetarian, etc. – and we found something for me to eat.  I’d been looking for gnocchi, but it was listed on the English menu as “potato dumplings”.  Of course.  So I ordered a plate of gnocchi with pomodoro sauce and a plate of mixed vegetables.

I swear to you, I sat no more than 5-7 minutes before the gnocchi arrived.


They were good.  And they were big.  I’m pretty sure that what I’ve had since I’ve been in Italy are gnochetti.  Little gnocchi.  These were the real deal, bigger than my thumb and with a substantial mush to them.  The almost melted in my mouth.

While my waiter prepared the vegetable plate, I did a little people watching.  Venice seems a good place for that.  There were no men in capes, but plenty of swooning lovers and English-speaking children.  I think the people next to me might have been speaking Russian.  I wonder which menu they used.

And then the veggies arrived.

Veggies alla Madonna

Unlike almost all the other places I’d eaten in Venice, these were cooked in butter.  Mmmm.  Butter.  And there was nothing on the plate even remotely related to ham.  Bonus for me and my curly-tailed friends.  I would like to take this opportunity to disagree with anyone who thinks that vegetables aren’t comfort food.  The carrots were perfectly done and sweet.  The spinach was simple and tasty.  The peas were meat-free, the zucchinis entertaining, and the tomatoes were as sweet as the carrots.  It was perfect food for the stormy night.

I powered through the plate, enjoying every morsel and wondering if I’d have dessert here, or at a gelato shop on the way back to the hotel.

My waiter ran through the list of dolce.  I had only one question, “che fatti en casa?”  I’m pretty sure the sentence structure is incorrect, but the question almost always gets good results.  He smiled.  “Tiramisu e buono.”  He didn’t even wait for a response.  He virtually jogged to the dessert table, scooped  out some tiramisu and presented it proudly to me.


It looked good.

It was good.

I waited for the alcoholic punch that I’ve experienced with other tiramisus.  It didn’t come.  This was pure, unadulterated yum.    Excellent.

Leaving the restaurant, I took my last nighttime stroll through Venice.  I noticed that there were a lot more of the water-blocking panels that are placed in shop doors at night.


And I got just a little worried when I saw shops that had removed EVERYTHING from the floors.

High water shoes

But I didn’t think much further about what that might mean for me.  I just continued through the city, noticing the beautiful scenes, and (with a bit of annoyance) the way I felt.  Somewhere along the way the old fears and twinges of doubt had crept back in.  That pissed me off a bit.  Here I am on this great adventure, and nothing has changed.  Nothing has changed…

And then I saw my shadow.

The Shadow knows

On the glittering streets of Venice.  And it made me laugh.  Okay, maybe things have changed just a little.

Bookmark and Share

December 5, 2009   8 Comments

Venice, day 1, part 2

Venice is known as a safe city to walk around at night.  As a solo traveler, that’s exciting news.  Sure, there are folks who are up to no good, but the island, relatively speaking, is safe.  So, as the grey skies turned to black, I ventured out again.  My earlier wanderings had taken me through neighborhoods, past churches, and across countless canals.  I had stayed away from the Grand Canal and the other big attractions.  There would be plenty of time for those.

As I headed to dinner I planned my return route.  The restaurant was a couple hundred yards from the hotel, but I wanted to see the Grand Canal at night.  When I left the restaurant, it was raining again.  For me this meant a couple of things.  First, I might get a little wet.  Second, there would be beautiful, shimmering streets to add to the magic of the city.  It was a fair trade.

Venice wet

I headed first to the Rialto bridge.  There were enough people walking the streets that I could follow them, along with the yellow signs affixed to buildings that point the way to major landmarks.  Even so, I almost missed the bridge.  The arcade lining the street leading to it caught my eye.  The shops, of course, were all closed, but the sweeping arches and strings of Christmas lights gave a feel of grandeur – and seedy commercialism.  I’ll go back and have a look a little earlier in the evening for the full effect.

On the other side of the bridge I found myself in a seriously polished commercial district.  I think I passed three Gucci stores, along with every manor of upscale retailer.  This well traveled district between the Rialto and Saint Mark’s must be one of the busiest during the day, full of the tourists that keep the town alive.  The rain and the number of tourists picked up as I headed into Saint Mark’s square at about 10PM.  It was dark, and mostly deserted.  The young pub-crawlers that were everywhere on the other side of the bridge remained there, giving way to vast seas of little tables and chairs – empty outdoor dining areas, all closed for the night.  The whole place had a ghostly feel, the four horses on the front of the church galloping onto a dark, empty piazza.

S. Marco at night

I wandered over to the water that borders the square and found a fleet of gondolas, their sterns bobbing up and down in the water, and another eerie view of the La Salute Church floating in the distance.

La Salute at night

My next destination was the Academia, and its bridge, which would put me back in my hotel’s neighborhood, and on familiar ground.  I consulted a map.  The canals of Venice make it challenging to navigate by dead reckoning.  I’m a poor navigator at the best of times, but for some reason, Venice is proving a bit intuitive for me.  I hit dead ends every so often, but am able to wind around and through to my destinations with little trouble.  Even at night I only took the map out a couple of times, preferring to pick my way along, enjoying the fantastic scenes that unfolded.

Night canal

The huge academia bridge popped up out of nowhere, obscured by construction surrounding the academia itself.  Atop it, I was treated to shimmering views and the low rumble of boats passing under.

Rialto night view

Once across the bridge I wound my way back through the neighborhoods, popping out in the same piazza where I’d had dinner.  I congratulated myself and then promptly found that I was momentarily paralyzed,  unable to pick the correct street leading back to the hotel’s lantern and my waiting bed.  Too funny.  Sleepy from the long day, even the map left me befuddled.  I took a breath, laughed at myself and picked a path.  It’s an island.  How lost can you get?  And the hotel materialized before me, a welcome sight.

Bookmark and Share

November 29, 2009   1 Comment