On a rather dreary Monday morning in early October I packed up the car, stopped for a coffee with a friend and then took my leave from Bologna. The Fiat 500 handled well in the rain along the highway and I arrived in a more pleasant Venice around 3pm. I turned in the car, sadly giving up the freedom of four wheels, and allowed myself to be enveloped in the beauty of riding along the canals of Venice.
I was met at Piazzale Roma by our agents Paolo and Henrique and they showed me to my last home away from home on this European adventure. It was a new apartment for me to test out, the Elena, just in the heart of the city, overlooking the Frari Church. It’s set up like a townhouse – living, dining and kitchen on one floor and the bedrooms and bath on the second floor. What a homey place to stay and what a location! I was pretty much set for my four days in Venice, being in the heart of the city, with everything at my finger tips and staying in a well-equipped apartment. Next move, spend time with staff, get caught up on apartments and the on-site event.
Monday evening, I walked back over to Piazzale Roma, the transportation hub of the city. It’s the first island of Venice and connected by causeway to the mainland. It’s where all the buses and taxis are located, as well as the car rental offices, tourist office, and bus and vaporetto offices. I had a 7pm appointment to meet Denny, our Venice on site-staff person, to be picked up and taken out to the mainland to have dinner and spend time with her and her family. So, I stood outside of our usual meeting place, Pullman Bar, and waited for her to pull up with the car.
We decided to dine at her son and daughter-in-law’s pub on the mainland, and it was a family affair. Both of her sons and daughters-in-law were there, her granddaughter, husband and sister-in-law to boot. It was so much fun sitting back and enjoying each other’s company all in a pub on the Venetian mainland. I know, odd, but you need to remember, Denny is British so her children have a love of all things Italian and British, including pubs. After our meal and chatter, it was time to head back to Venice for a good night’s sleep before venturing back onto the mainland in the morning with Denny, Paolo and Henrique for our pilgrimage to Padova.
Every time I go to Italy I make at least a quick visit to the Basilica del Santo in Padova. Saint Anthony, one of the patron saints of Italy and doctor of the Church, is a huge influence both in and around the Veneto and to a lot of Italian Americans and Catholics worldwide. He is the saint of lost articles and has been credited with many miracles involving lost people and things. I won’t get into personal reasons, but I am a firm believer in his miracles so I go to pay homage every chance I get.
And over my last four or five visits to Padova I’ve made it a tradition to visit with Denny, Paolo and Henrique who are also believers in Il Santo. Last year was no different. We met in Piazzale Roma and hopped in Paolo’s car and made the drive to Padova catching up along the way. Our visit, as usual is one of reflection and contemplation, and gratitude, all of us for different reasons, asking for different favors or thanking the Saint for personal favors. However, the spirit of the visit is the same for the four of us, and to be able to do it together, a Brit, a Venetian, a Brazilian and an American, is part of what makes it so special.
After our visit to the Basilica and a walk around town, we headed back to Venice for some lunch, another of our traditions. It seems all I do is eat when I go to Italy, but particularly in Venice, as my colleagues cum friends are all big fans of food.
Now, don’t think that all I did in Venice was eat and visit Basilicas. Those were just the highlights of my stay there, the work involved touching base with our various apartment suppliers, adding a few apartments to our roster and removing, unfortunately, a few tired apartments. I also got to visit the site of our Venetian outing, though, sadly, I didn’t get to participate. We bring our guests to a squero, or gondola workshop. All the work is done by hand by masters and apprentices and is very detailed and involved, using different types of wood, etc.
When I visited I got to meet the owner and watch as one of the apprentices, a young engineer who has a passion for gondolas, was painting, stroke by stroke, one of the new gondolas in the workshop. I only wish I had gotten the full nine yards by visiting with a group and getting to hear all of the history behind that particular squero as it was passed down from father to son for several generations. There’s a giant portrait of one of the great grandfathers hanging right in the workshop. But even such a short visit was fascinating.
The next day was chock full of apartment visits. Of everything I saw, I signed only two new places. You do have to kiss a lot of frogs in this business. There are another one or two possibilities on the horizon that Denny will be following up with at the beginning of our season. So, maybe a few of those frogs will turn into princes after all.
Now, back to the food.
I still have two evenings of dinners to go on about. On Wednesday night, I convinced Denny to stay in Venice and sleep over in the spare bedroom. What fun! So, after a day of visiting apartments (and kissing all those frogs), we made our way to the restaurant where she hosts lunch after the gondola workshop visit. I had never been there, so she thought it important that I dine where the clients do. And there I had my last pizza of my trip.
The restaurant was full of locals, always a good sign. The menu is extensive, from pastas and risottos to second courses of fish and meat and of course pizza. I had a margherita con rucola e scaglie di parmigiano, one of my favorites. It’s a simple cheese pizza topped with arugula and shaved parmesan once it comes out of the oven. It really hit the spot. I can see why Denny chose this spot to bring our guests. The food is genuine, the service good and the price fair.
On Thursday, my last day in Italy, we had some more apartment visits and good byes with Paolo and Henrique. Denny and I then headed out to the mainland, picked up her car and went for a ride along the Brenta canal and a stop in a couple of the little towns just to sit at a café and finish up business. It was a perfect fall afternoon, nice enough to be sitting outside to take our coffee. Then it was back to Ristorante alla Fornace, the restaurant she and her husband own in Malcontenta.
Luigi, Denny’s husband, is a giver, and when food is involved, believe me, he gives a lot. Now, as I’ve been on this dieter’s journey for several years, I asked Denny to remind him not to go overboard, because, if it’s there, I’ll eat it. I hate to waste things, especially food. So, when we got there, I made a few phone calls giving my regards to various friends, family and staff and Denny went in to check on what Luigi was up to. She came back out saying he hasn’t done too much, just antipasti, primi and secondi, appetizers, first and second courses. Hahahaa!
So, I was in for a night of big and good eats before heading home the next day. He also said that there was a surprise, and indeed there were two. One was the half of lobster with fresh lime that he prepared for each of us and for dessert he had gone to Denny’s favorite pastry shop and got us a plateful of miniature desserts.
Oh my, what a way to end my trip! After completely stuffing myself on the bounty of the sea (the antipasto was a shrimp cocktail and the first course was spaghetti ai frutti di mare) and fruit of the vine (prosecco was my drink of choice), Denny drove me back into Venice. She hates good-byes, as do I, so we always practice the Italian custom of “arrivederci”, until we meet again, with double kisses and warm embraces.
I then walked back to the Elena apartment, in the evening mist, sad that I was leaving Europe the next morning, but excited to go back to my homeland and all the people I love.
Previous posts of the series: