Tales of a wandering lesbian

You gonna eat that?

Despite the fit that Venice threw while we were there, we managed to find some serious food.

Even in the storm, I was able to find my favorite restaurants.  Whether it was Grom for incredible, fresh gelato,

or Pizza al Volo for the best veggie pizza ever,

my old haunts materialized before us.  I was even able to find the most remote of my previous dinner places on the first try.

Trattoria della Madonna is marked by a big, green lantern.  As I went to tell the Ant this, I found myself looking at it.

Like last time, I found the Madonna an elegantly simple restaurant.

Serving seafood specialties and seasonal vegetables, I find it a delight to point my waiter in a direction – vegetarian, meat, fish – and let him bring something good.

Tonight, we had a great dinner of Bolognese and pasta e fagioli

And snapper (it came whole and was boned for the Ant) and veggies.

The Ant loved her snapper, and I was unable to finish the huge plate of vegetables.  Though I stuffed as many of the carrots, peas and veiny beans down my throat as I could.

And then I ordered dessert.

Not because I was hungry, but because you can’t really go to the alleged birthplace of tiramisu and not have it.  Can you?

I think I cannot.

Regardless, it was a good first night of food.  But we had another.  After considering the menus of both Casi nobili, and Ristoteca Oniga, we decided to go with Oniga for our second night of food.

Oniga is a really warm place.

It glows with hospitality.  I sat next to the owner’s Staffordshire terrier, asleep in her bed.

And we were soon in conversation with the two couples on either side of us.  Of course, it helped that we were crammed in like sardines, but still.  While we considered the menu, we shared travel tips and recommendations for food.  The Ant and I found ourselves the resident experts on Venice, Rome and Siena, and we were glad to share what knowledge we had with our dining companions.

Tonight, I settled on a giant gnocchi and the Ant on a spaghetti with clams.

The gnocchi were the exact right firmness, even though they were twice the size of any gnocchi I’d ever had.  And the sauce was a lovely, delicate blend of tomato, basil and bufala mozzarella – three of my favorite things.

The Ant raved about her spaghetti, and we passed along the recommendations to our friends around us, who were asking how it was.

Next came another whole fish for the Ant, and something the waiter had thrown together for me.

It was cheese.  More bufala mozzarella.  And the most absolutely astounding tomatoes I think I’ve ever had.  I’d guess they were plum.  Maybe Roma.  But they were sweet and dressed with balsamic.  Really good balsamic vinegar.  And there was a dollop of fresh pesto.  I made little stacks of cheese, pesto and tomatoes piled on bread.

And then I ordered dessert again.

A meek bus girl came over to take our plates, and asked if we wanted something sweet.

“What do you recommend?”  I asked in some kind of Italian that she recognized.

“Ciocolata,” she smiled enthusiastically.  I nodded and settled in, eager to see what she would bring.

Yeah, it was chocolate.  Cake.  With some kind of maybe creamy-nut filling.  And fudgy frosting.  And a drizzle of chocolate sauce.

This, my friends, is why I ask for recommendations.

The Ant leaned over to one of the couples, and I leaned over to the other.

“You have to order this.  No, I don’t know what it is.  She just said, ‘ciocolata’.”  They all nodded and thanked us for the recommendation.

We finished up our little espressos, paid the bill, said goodnight to the dog and our new friends, and headed out into the night, to our little room a couple of blocks away, jacked up on caffeine and sugar, and blissfully exhausted.

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July 7, 2010   3 Comments

Venice is a drama queen

Venice is a drama queen.  Oh, please she is too.

You see?  There she is queening out.  Again.

Listen, last time I was there, she threw a big old fit and flooded me out.  Perhaps you remember.

Okay, maybe you don’t, but she totally did.  Big.  Old.  Queen.

I thought we’d be cool this time, but no.  The bitch was all worked up when we got there.  Sure, she’s fierce and magical and beautiful and all of that, but she can storm.

The first night we tried to embrace it.  It was all exotic and passionate

And Venice was good to us.  She gave us some spectacular views.

Which was nice.  But I didn’t really need the attitude.  Venice is gorgeous without trying.  I wish she’d just stop for a minute.

I don’t think she realizes how overwhelming she can be.

Like the second day.  We thought we’d go see the Doge’s Palace and maybe Saint Marks, but NO!  She pitched a damn fit.

Look at that water she threw at us from all directions.  Just look at it.  Ridiculous.

So we waited it out as much as we could, but by that time we were totally soaked.  Totally.  It’s not like cheap-ass umbrellas from the street vendors actually last.  Oh no.  Venice had that thing turned inside out in about no time at all.

She did stop to pose for a picture now and again.

But the second we stopped paying attention to her, she got all bent out of shape.

And she kept threatening us.  With huge mood swings.  First she was way up.

Then way lower.

Then up again, and over the banks.

She even flooded Saint Mark’s at one point.  Just to show she could.  It wasn’t like she flooded anything else.  Just the main square.  Enough to make us worry.

At one point we just went home.  Venice seriously needed a nap.  So we took a little break and let her sleep it off.

Maybe it was her time of the month.  I don’t even know, but when we all woke up, she was calm.

I’m sure she regretted some of the things she’d done.  We listened to one boat owner as he bailed his boat for a couple of hours.  I’m sure he’ll forgive her eventually.  And then there was this guy.

Yeah, that’s hard to take back.

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July 5, 2010   2 Comments


My recommendation is that, when visiting a new place, read what you can about it.  If you have a guidebook, especially read the highlighted sections.  The ones the author has gone to the trouble of putting in a box.  They might have helpful information.  For example:  Rick Steves’ chapter on Venice has a section on “Floods.”  Most likely every guidebook has a section on Venetian floods.  There’s a reason for that.

Walking through Venice the night before I left, in the rain and wind, I saw a couple of warning signs that the water was coming.  I did not, however, realize what the platforms that were set up running through the middle of the streets and piazzas were.  I thought they were vendor tables for a street fair or something.  If I’d read the section on floods, I would have known that they were elevated walkways, placed out by the city the night before an imminent flood.  As it was, I went to bed blissfully unaware of what I would find the next morning.

Flooded Canal

When I opened the shutters the morning of my departure, I smiled at the quiet day.  The night had been rough.  It was really windy.  So much so that I had to close and secure the shutters that had been banging on the stone walls.  I pulled out my camera to take a last pic of the view from my window.  And then I realized that something was different.  The sidewalks were part of the canal.

Flooded sidewalk

Where was that damn guidebook…

Evidently, this is rather common for Venice.  Not surprising, now that I considered it.  However, there was nothing in the guidebook about how to get yourself from your hotel to the train station.  So, I consulted my wardrobe, chose thermal underwear and quick-dry travel pants for the journey and rolled them up to my knees.  Wondering if the Montin had a flood-blocking door plate, I headed downstairs for some breakfast and to check out the scene.

Flooded montin

Yes, that’s water at the bottom of the stairs.  The dining room was totally flooded.  In fact, the front door stood open, and several people were sitting at partially submerged tables.  They were all wearing high rubber boots.  (The guidebook said nothing about boots.)  I stepped into the water and watched the eyes of the locals widen.  “Coragea.”  No, I wasn’t brave, just hungry, and wondering what else I was supposed to do.  The frigid sea water rushed into my waterproof shoes and up over my ankles.  I walked to the front door and looked out.

“Just wait.  This will be gone in about 5 minutes.”  “Really?”  This guy was a local, but I couldn’t see how this was going to clear that quickly.  “Maybe 10.”

There was no breakfast this morning, and I was beginning to think it might take a little while to get to the station.  I turned to the man behind the desk and asked if the trains would be running alright.  He assured me they would, but warned that the boats might not, because the height of the water made it such that they could run aground – and into houses.  Okay, well that ruled out a vaporetto ride.  I’d be walking it.  I sloshed back upstairs (waterproof shoes work both ways.  Water can’t get out so much, and I’m pretty sure the “ventilation system” wasn’t designed for Venetian floods) to pack and get underway.

When I hit the streets, it was clear it would take longer to walk across town this time.  The water was deeper on the street than in the hotel.  The locals were walking slowly, making sure the water didn’t splash up over the tops of their knee-high boots.  I had no such concerns.

Ankle water

I trudged along, smiling at the folks in the streets as I went.  As if Venice needed anything else to make it seem any more strange.  The streets had become canals.  I was no longer able to tell which was which.


The water seemed to be getting deeper.  People were walking seriously slowly now as the water was about an inch below the top of their boots.  Men in hip waders were starting to appear.

Calf water

After about 20 or 30 minutes of walking in really cold water, I came across a little bridge to a point where I could actually see the ground.  I think I thanked the saints a little.  It didn’t last long though.  A couple of blocks later I was back to mid-calf water.  It seems that Dorsoduro is one of the lowest parts of the city.

When I crossed a big bridge from the neighborhood, I hit dry ground.  And found lots of people wearing ridiculous fluorescent plastic boots.

Flood boots

For some reason, these were being sold in the one area of town that was dry.  And that’s where people were wearing them.  Insanity.  I really could have used some of those boots about an hour earlier.  It was alright, though.  The water in my shoes had finally warmed to the temperature of my feet, and I was having a grand adventure.  I found one of the very few shops that was open (I’d had to abandon my hopes of shopping on the way to the station), bought some breakfast, took a last look at the city as I walked the span of the newest bridge over the Grand Canal (that I had read about in the guidebook) and found a place to empty my shoes.

New Venice bridge Wet spot Last view of Venice

I’d made it out.  No boots.  Just me and my awesome shoes.  Which now smelled like the Mediterranean Sea.  Only 6 more hours on the train.  I smiled as I took my seat and pulled out dry socks.

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December 6, 2009   Comments Off on Scappo

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.

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December 5, 2009   8 Comments

Venice Day 4

Warning:  This was a very long day.  You might want to take a nap before reading.

The day started on a good note.  At breakfast I discovered “delichoc,” little containers of a nutella-like substance.  They were hiding among the little containers of jelly.  Suddenly, the nice rolls on the breakfast table became fantastic!  I found myself wondering if I could smuggle some of them, along with the delichoc, out in my shirtsleeves.  Trying to remember how I’d done just that in the college cafeteria, I had to abandon the plan as other guests walked in for breakfast.

I walked out of the hotel into my first sunny day in Venice, and found the sun doing lovely things to the city.

Venice sunny door

This was my last full day here, and I had a lot left on my list of things to see.  I had planned my day carefully, and hoped that I could use everything I’d learned to keep myself on track.  I tried first for a traghetto ride, but found the stop closed because it was Sunday.  No problem, I knew how to walk where I wanted to go, so I struck out on foot.  They city had a nice surprise for me.  It took me right past the firehouse.

Venice Firehouse

I found the municipal boats of Venice an amusing novelty.  Seeing the firemen scooting around on a little boat was totally entertaining.

When I reached the Rialto bridge, I saw a sign that read “Rialto, the heart of the city.”  “It’s a sinking heart” I thought to myself.  Little did I know…

Floodwaters at Rialto

The first site on my list was the island of Murano, famous for its glass furnaces.  I’d have to take a vaporetto ride out and back.  So, I walked up to the top of Venice, bought a ticket and hopped on a boat.  The ride itself was beautiful, taking me past the dramatic island cemetery.

Venice cemetary

Murano was a sleepy island with wide canals, interesting public art, and glass everywhere.

Murano canal Glass public art Glass Madona

I followed the other tourists down the row of formal glass furnaces and shops, across several bridges and to the glass museum.  I spent an hour or so moving through floor after floor of glass exhibits.  From seriously ancient pieces to really old ones, they were all exquisite and fascinating.  But, I had at least three other major sites on my list, and needed probably 30 minutes to get back to the city.  Plus, I had only consumed one coffee, and it was pushing noon.

After a hasty macchiato and a vaporetto ride, I was back in Venice proper, and headed over the Rialto again.  My plan was to visit the Ca’ Pesaro to see its Modern and Asian art museums, before visiting the huge collections at the Correr Museum and then, hopefully, the Accademia.

The bar where I’d grabbed my coffee was so insane that I abandoned hope of trying to get something to eat.  Now I was seriously hungry and beginning to panic.  (Honestly, the only times I panicked in Venice were when I couldn’t find food immediately.  I was in full-on panic.)  I found Ca’ Pesaro – which was in another damn foodless part of town – and went in search of pizza.  There was no pizza.  I walked for at least 20 minutes before settling for a fancyish-looking bar, where I picked up something that looked like a twisted piece of pizza (sfizzaforno, I think it’s called).


For some reason, it took like a zillion years to heat it up.  I stood at the bar the entire time thinking it would come out of the little oven at any moment, and dodging the stares of the barista who was probably wondering why I was standing there with a panicky look.  When it finally emerged from the oven, it was hot – I mean hot.  Still, I shoved half of it in my mouth before I thought to take a picture.  It was tasty, I think.  One caffe later, I felt human enough to try another museum.  I relocated Ca’ Pesaro.

I don’t know if I saw everything in the museum.  I tried.  I think I saw all the great modern art, but the Asian art went on forever.  (And I love Asian art.)  According to the signage, it was originally the personal collection of a guy who became an enemy of the state or a war criminal or something.  The 30,000 items were seized, some were sold, and the rest became the museum.  It was overwhelming.  The swords, armor, guns, saddles, scrolls, lacquered bowls, pots, jade and ivory seemed never-ending.  Unlike other Asian collections I’ve seen, this one was a collection of a single person, and reflected his tastes, as opposed to featuring “culturally significant” works.  The experience was very interesting, but exhausting.  This is where I think I might have missed a couple of rooms, given my state of exhaustion and hunger, and the poorly-marked walking route.  Even so, I saw a lot.  A LOT.  And I had two huge museums left.

Now, I know that it’s best to visit cities like Venice with the thought that you will return.  And it’s not a good idea to pack so many exhibits into a short time, but I really wanted to see the archeological museum at the Correr (which was free to me with the museum pass I bought earlier in the week), and the Leonardo exhibit that was advertised all over town.

So it was back to St. Mark’s piazza where the Correr museum is.  I saw important rooms of a library (I don’t remember which one) and the archeological museum.  This was great.  Lots of ancient sculpture, ancient coins and the machinery to make them, and several galleries of antiquities housed in vacuum-sealed rooms.  And beautiful views of Venice from the gallery windows.

Accademia view

I might have missed some of the rooms (I was still hungry and the routes were confusing to me in my stupor), but I didn’t really care.  I closed down the museum and staggered out to continue my search for pizza.

This time I stepped into the first bar I saw with pizza in the window.  It was thick-crusted, and very different from the other pizza I’ve had in Italy.  It was good, though.  And kept me from having a full on melt-down on my way to the Accademia.

Thick pizza

When I bought my ticket at the Accademia museum, I was super-excited to find that it was discounted.  I didn’t ask why, but the 1.50 would buy another piece of pizza, so I was happy.  Inside, there were galleries of great collections.  Series after series of paintings commissioned regarding specific topics.  They were enormous works filled with religious scenes.  The most interesting to me was a room filled with huge paintings of scenes depicting the miracles of the relic of the true cross.  Strange scenes of exorcisms and priests swimming in the canals of Venice were even more interesting as my head started swimming from everything I’d seen that day.  Helpfully, the exhibits had excellent English-language explanations, which was nice.  I was able to give my brain a break from the non-stop translating that it undertakes each day, and just lean back on the padded benches to enjoy the paintings.

About halfway through the museum, I found the reason for the discounted entry.  A couple of the major galleries were closed.  Frankly, I was relieved.  I was tired.  But there was one last thing I wanted to see before I ventured out into the city in search of dinner.  Leonardo.

Leonardo poster

I’d seen posters for the exhibit all over the city, and wondered what, exactly, the exhibit would be.  When I first stepped into the tiny room housing the special exhibit, I was a little disappointed.  There was just one piece in the darkened room.  One little sketch.  This is what all the fuss was about?  And then I stepped in front of it.  The posters weren’t just using the “Vitruvian Man” sketch as an advertisement for Leonardo, they were advertising the exhibition of the piece itself.  (I learned later that the sketch is actually housed at the Accademia, but is rarely exhibited.)

It was remarkably powerful.  And beautiful.  The rust-colored ink on the camel colored paper was bold and clear.  Everyone in the room was silent.  Absolutely absorbed.  This was a nice surprise to end a long day of art, much of which will run together when I look back on the day.  Of the thousands of objects I saw, this one will stand out.

I knew that with certainty.  And I knew something else, as well – I was hungry again.

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December 4, 2009   1 Comment