St. Mark’s Square and colorful buildings line Venice’s Grand Canal

GONDOLIERS DON’T SING BUT VENICE STILL EVOKES ROMANCE

In Part 5 – The Classical Beauty Of Tuscany, The Elegance Of Florence And San Gimignano’s Tall Towers

VENICE

Where we stayed:

The Carnival Palace Hotel, opened in 2012, overlooks the Cannaregio Canal in the heart of historic downtown Venice. The modern 67 room hotel is not in the midst of tourist traffic, so if you want to venture to St Marks, museums and art galleries, you either have a very long walk or you can easily take a water bus from a station just a short distance away. The hotel buffet was diverse, with a vegan brioche I mistakenly took for a wheat croissant until I bit down into its soft, buttery texture. These were so amazing I ate them every morning for four days. Russ and I and several

View from Old post office that’s now a mall

couples stayed in Venice for a two-day extension of the tour. Our tour company, Odyssey’s Unlimited, had arranged for our continued stay at the Carnival Palace Hotel, as well as our transportation to the airport and flights home. There was so much more to see in Venice than what we already had crammed in.

Where we dined and what we drank:

The final dinner for our tour group of 24 was at Tre Archi (3 Arches), just across the canal from our hotel. We had a choice of fish of meat-based dishes. The fish appetizer was a selection of fresh seafood, followed by house-made gnocchi with diced scallops. Grilled fish fillets were next. A plateful of ham slices and fresh Buffalo mozzarella began the meat selection, followed by pasta with a coating of meat sauce. A tender seasoned filet steak came next. Both dinners included salad, tiramisu, and coffee, as well as a continuous pour of wine. This will be a dinner most of us will never forget as the evening’s entertainment was an accordionist who sang a mixture of modern tunes and Italian classics before handing his accordion to tour member Don, who used to play one for a band. Our Tour Director Elizabeth Cirio, who had arranged for the accordionist to let Don play, jumped up to dance, with others joining her.

seafood appetizer at Tre Archi. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Elizabeth has told us that in Rome and other Italian cities, it would be difficult to find a restaurant with bad food. In Venice, she said, it’s difficult to find restaurants with good food. That caution caused us to be more judicious in picking where to eat. Many of the restaurants serve overpriced, inauthentic cuisines, especially around St. Mark’s Square where a single coffee can run 15E. Now, with that in mind, the Square is inundated with sidewalk café seating. Quite a few restaurants have tuxedoed orchestras who rotate playing a variety of contemporary and classical tunes, many from the big band era. You’re paying for the music and the people-watching, not the coffee or meal.

St Mark’s Square & the Doge’s Palace on Venice’s Grand Canal

Staying apart from the heaviest foot traffic in Venice may be as easy as sitting on the opposite side of the canal that leads towards St. Mark’s Square. Such was the case for Riva del Vin Ristorante Pizzeria, one of many canal-side restaurants with fake flower boxes adorning the railing. Can’t say the food was remarkable, but the views of docked boats and the people-watching on the other side were worth eating mediocre Margarita pizza, salad and lasagna.

Le Campane restaurant’s inside garden murals. photo by Karen Kuzsel

We stopped at Le Campane, when the outside “barker” promoted their garden-like setting. The weather was muggy and they offered a 14E prix fixe meal, so five of us decided to check it out. We walked past many smaller dining rooms until emerging into a final larger, brick-walled room that indeed simulates an outdoor garden with murals and plants. We chose different options, all of which were good. I had a hefty portion of spaghetti mixed with bacon and tomato pieces. Russ had spaghetti bolognaise and schnitzel. Not expecting schnitzel, right? We shared a platter of lightly breaded calamari and a mixed salad. The wine was fine. Nothing memorable.

Veal dish at Ristorante Lineadombra. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Our final main meal in Venice was also in one of the most beautiful settings. The Michelin Guide-rated Ristorante Lineadombra has an indoor contemporary-designed restaurant, but six of us elegantly dined on a large covered terrace that extended over the canal on the far side of Dorsoduro. Most of the classically-prepared dishes were seafood, but our two meat-eating husbands did manage to find dishes to their liking. The three women, Cherryl, Cindy and I shared a grilled and baked whole mild white fish that was plated with fresh vegetables. We were all served a complimentary piece of grilled octopus and an amuse bouche with an avocado puree and tiny shrimp.  Lucky for me, Russ can’t eat shellfish.

plated fish and vegebrables at Ristorante Lineadombra. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Market Square

What we saw:

Venice is the capital of the Veneto region. It lies in a shallow lagoon, the widest in Europe, and sits among a group of 118 small islands separated by canals and linked by bridges, of which there are 400. The Grand Canal divides the city into two parts, with three districts in each part.

Rialto Bridge

Residences and personal craft crowd inner canals

We didn’t make it to Burano, the island known for lace, but we did have a quick journey to Murano Island for a glass blowing demonstration at Ferro & Lazzarini. Our group boat trip over was subsidized by the City of Venice as a marketing tool to combat the misconception that Chinese and Korean reproductions sold in Venetian shops and labeled as genuine Murano glass, are not. We all visibly gasped when Ferro & Lazzarini’s Sebastian Tasses took two gold-gilded ornate drinking glasses and bounced them off a table, neither cracking. He said that is the strength of real Murano glass., adding that only Murano can do true colors because they aren’t composed of lead crystal, as are imitations. Real Murano glass should come with a logo and a certificate of authenticity.

Ceiling in the Doge’s Palace

During our extended stay, Russ and I visited the Doge’s Palace, not realizing we would only have an hour before they closed.  The Doge was the most powerful official in the Republic. Two tall columns in the piazza of the palace is where executions took place. The prisoners would walk across the Bridge of Sighs to reach the prison once condemned. The original bridge was built of wood. This one, made of stone, was erected in the 16th century. The walkway is narrow. Window slits looking out towards the canal would have been their last vision of freedom. Because we had so little time, we scurried through the palace ballrooms, some of the largest and most ornate we’ve seen on this trip. The ceilings are painted much like the Sistine Chapel, elaborate in religious depictions. We wished we had had more time to fully appreciate the beauty of the palace, even while understanding the harsh judgements the Doge and judges dealt.

The Bridge of Sighs’ windows gave prisoners their last look of Venice

What we learned:

If you plan to be in Venice for more than a day or even multiple trips in one day, I’d suggest you buy a waterbus pass. Apparently, where you buy them changes as frequently as some women switch purses, but we got ours at a newsstand shop. Two full days of waterbus access was 20E each; three days, 30E. The transportation is prompt and generally packed with locals and tourists. There are many seats in the back of each. We only had to show our pass once to board, but be aware that if caught during a random inspection, there is a hefty fine for not having a valid ticket.

Forget all the romantic movies you’ve ever seen where the always handsome gondolier croons ballads as he carefully guides you through the moonlit canals. Gondoliers do not sing. Most do wear the striped shirt and flat, wide-brimmed hat with ribbons, but honestly, they are more intent upon keeping the gondola balanced when water busses, water taxis and motorboats slide by. The last thing anyone would want is to be dumped overboard into Venice’s muddy brown polluted canals. That said, we did take a gondola ride and our stocky gondolier was both handsome and deft at navigating the canals. As he said, “It’s not about muscle strength. It’s all about technique.”

The lion is the symbol of Venice

We learned a lot about gondolas that I find fascinating. Each boat contains 290 pieces of wood. They are always black because the original ones were covered in pitch to hold them together, but each is decorated individually. The gondolier has to wait about three months for his order to be produced and when finished, the arrival is celebrated with a blowout party as if someone just had their first child A gondola can be anywhere from a two to six-seater, with rides averaging about 80E.

As much as I have seen photos or movies about Venice, I had never really thought through the realities of life there. Every single items must be brought in by boat. Deliveries are mostly hand-wheeled through the narrow alleyways and piazzas on carts. All garbage, sewage and goods to be recycled must leave by boats as well.

Just one of many shops featuring hand-crafted masks

Walking in Venice is often like maneuvering around a maze. Tiny alleyways are hardly wide enough for two-way way walking, so etiquette demands you walk single file. Even with the density of residential and storefront buildings, the alleyways and piazzas are kept pretty clean.

Before embarking on our Portrait of Italy tour with Odysseys Unlimited, we realized most of our travel-oriented friends have all been there. Many quite often. We know what we saw is a tiny portion not only of the country, but even of what we saw in the areas we visited.

But hey. We threw coins in Trevi Fountain. Guess we’ll be back.

www.carnivalpalace.com

www.aitrearchivenezia.it

www.paginegialle.it/rivadelvin

www.in-venice.com/restaurant/la-campana

www.ristorantelineadombra.com

www.ferrolazzarini.it/en

www.palazzoducale.visitmuve.it/en

Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries.  She is an active member of ILEA and MPI and is now serving on the 2017 – 2018 MPI Global Advisory Board for The Meeting Professional Magazine for the third consecutive year. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. Karen writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, she has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events. karenkuzsel@earthlink.net; www.ThePsychicLady.com; @karenkuzsel; @thepsychiclady.

Photos by Russ Wagner, a retired government planner/builder who has a passion for trains, travel and taking photographs.