Italy, Part 3 – Lost in Venice
The first UT Alumni Choir tour has sadly come to a close, and in the absolutely stunning city of Venice. We were up bright and early in Florence on Monday morning, which was tricky for those of us that found ourselves up until 4AM at a local block party (guess who?), but the bus ride allowed a few hours of shuteye––although I am so tall I couldn't sit facing forward on this bus, making sleep a bit tricky!
Our stopover en route to Venice was Verona, a city at the base of the Pre-Alpine foothills in northern Italy that is perhaps most famous for its well-preserved Roman arena dating to the 600s CE and its magnificent Amarone wine. My independent streak (and stomach) took over right away and Dawson and Iain joined me for a little exploration of the city on foot rather than following the crowds and group tour of the Arena and "Juliet's Balcony" (which just cracks me up and is so STUPID; though the percentage of tourists who think Juliet was a real person is probably alarmingly high).
The spot I had most wanted to visit, a wine bar that is one of the best in Italy and the go-to spot for oenophiles when visiting the annual Verona celebration of wine, was closed for renovations until the end of the week, so we found our way through Verona's charming streets to Trattoria Tre Marchetti, strongly recommended by various reviews and blogs. We sat on their street-side patio with some cheese and meats alongside a bottle of Prosecco, finishing off with the local specialty white, Soave, and a couple of pasta dishes. My dish, tagliatelle with mushrooms and truffles, was dripping with umami and the best thing I ate in Italy. We were brought a plate of little dessert treats afterwards "with love," which was a nice touch.
Gli Penci (aka Suzanne and Rusty) sauntered down our little street and joined us for some rooftop cocktails at the Hotel Milano, with a beautiful view overlooking the Arena and the heart of Verona, and my first Aperol spritz of the trip (and Suzanne's first ever––I think she's hooked)!
Arrival in Venice (shore-side and not the island) included a mediocre dinner at a local pizza restaurant, which was notable only insofar as it marked the point where the Bad Boys exceeded a total of SIXTY bottles of wine on the trip, and for a particularly dope Boomerang on my Instagram story, and drinks with friends new and old at the hotel bar. I was glad I got to chat with some folks with whom I hadn't much interacted, but I was exhausted and managed to get myself to bed before midnight for the first time since my arrival in Italy.
We took the bus to the boat terminal to board a leisurely cruise to St. Mark's Square in Venice proper. Cars aren't allowed on the island, so all buses and cars have to park in a designated lot on the west side and send their passengers in via maritime vessel. Bruno spent some time telling us about how Venice got started, from its roots as an island settlement to protect people from invading warrior tribes from Central Asia in the wake of the decline of the Roman Empire to its status as one of the wealthiest and most important maritime city-states in the world. The views atop the boat were wonderful and the breeze even better, though deceptive!
The walk to the city center was already a grotesque schlep in the Venice heat and humidity, but adding my suitcase/backpack and the need to navigate through the some 60–80k tourists who visit Venice daily (nearly daily exceeding the number of residents of the island) made it especially dreadful, and I had to change my shirt when I found the luggage storage location. Turns out that changing the shirt would not be that helpful, because the next shirt suffered the same fate within minutes; I mean, it was HOT.
Independent spirit striking again, Dawson and Jane joined my decision to skip the group tour and try to escape the crowds and the heat by taking a stroll through some of Venice's less-trafficked neighborhoods. This was the coolest part of the day––literally and figuratively––meandering through the narrow (and shady!) streets and alleys bisecting the city's canals. Every corner is a new color, style, building, or collection thereof. The alleys are so narrow and tangled that it's nearly impossible to NOT get lost, both for humans and for Google-Siri. And indeed, we got lost many a time, but were glad of it, because we had the freedom to keep moving in the general direction of our chose lunch spot, backtracking when we had to, and kept ourselves occupied with marvel at the magnificence and serenity of these maze-like Venetian neighborhoods.
It was jarring, then, to find ourselves very suddenly back in the mass mess that is Venice tourist hordes. This place is PACKED, y'all. A quick pass over the unnecessarily famous Rialto Bridge, however, followed by a sharp left turn, put us back on a slightly less tourist-heavy throughway, and before long we had located (after several tries) our lunch spot.
Bar All'Arco had long been at the top of my list while researching Venice, and is touted as one of the very best places to dine on daytime cicchetti, a Venetian specialty of small toasts and other snacks to be consumed standing up at a bar, so we made our way in to the surprisingly uncrowded little joint for lunch. We dined on various little toasts, each just 2 Euro: ricotta with truffle, a funky blue cheese with honey, shrimp with tomato and pesto, sopressa with roasted red peppers and gorgonzola, etc. We kept going back to the counter to acquire more, and of course washed them down with cheap and delicious Aperol spritzes.
When it came time to wander back out, it was apparent that we needed to chill and cool off for a bit, and I figured the very swanky Bar Longhi at the Gritti Palace would be guaranteed to be well air-conditioned and suited for our refreshing drink needs. The path was straightforward across the Rialto Bridge, but we weren't really interested in revisiting that mob, so we took the Vaporetto ferry across the Grand Canal, but only one stop. Upon learning the fare from the ticket agent on board (8 Euro per person, just to go one stop!), when he turned away to deal with other guests the boat had already stopped on the other side of the canal, so we darted off with the crowd and moved quickly toward the Gritti Palace. Wheeeeee!
Bar Longhi is possibly the most beautiful bar I have seen. It drips with old-world, old-school elegance, with patina-ed mirrors, decorated chandeliers, plush mint-green sofas and armchairs, and flowers. The waiters brought Dawson a whiskey sour, Jane a limoncello, and myself a vesper martini, and we spent the next hour cooling (and drying) off while munching on the chips, olives, and hazelnuts they provided (which made the 20+ Euro per drink cost sting a little less). Next time I'm here, if I'm wealthy enough, I'll definitely stay at this amazing hotel, and have two drinks instead of just one.
Our efforts to get across the water to the Hilton for the lauded panoramic views at their Skyline Bar were again thwarted by an unjustifiably expensive ferry ticket, which we figured we couldn't escape twice, so we made our way back toward Piazza San Marco to meet briefly with Suzanne and crew before I grabbed my bags and set off determined to find a rooftop view. Jane and Dawson wanted to shop, so bid my new friends "adieu" and motored off on my own to the Hotel Danieli's terrace to enjoy my first Bellini of the trip (invented just down the street) and sweeping views of the south end of Venice before boarding excruciatingly loud and bumpy 75-minute Vaporetto ferry ride to the airport.
I am sad I got to only spend a short 6 hours in this incredible city, and am looking forward exploring further to my next visit. It is unbearably crowded in the most touristy of areas, but once you are out of the crowds, it's one of the most magical cities in which to get lost.
My flight out to Zürich was an exciting one, as it was my first on SWISS, which was the airline of my very first die-cast airplane model as a kid, and also my first on the incredible Bombardier C-Series aircraft (aka the "Airbus A220," which I will never call it :D ). Bombardier calls this a "narrow-body aircraft with a wide-body feel." While I am pretty certain SWISS choose to make the pitch in Economy about 29" (about the same as Spirit and Frontier and essentially every other economy class in Europe), which is WAY tight for my knees, being seated on the 2-side, I can definitely say that in terms of the width of the seat and the feel of shoulder room, this is easily the most comfortable narrow-body aircraft in the sky. This could have been due to the tiny Italian woman next to me, however, who had to endure my man-spreading so my knees would fit!
On our way out, I was treated to a view of Bella Venezia out the left side of the aircraft, where I waved goodbye to all my new friends from the UT Alumni Choir as they dined on their farewell dinner. Was sad to have to miss the mass performance at St. Mark's and final night of dinner (and the partying with the Bad Boys that I am absolutely certain took place), but was thrilled to get going on the next leg of my trip: a short swing through Switzerland!
Next up: I've retooled my approach to the WestJet biz class review and will compare my experience on that flight to my upcoming experience on Emirates from Milan to JFK; I think you'll enjoy it! Stay tuned also for a look at Lugano, Switzerland, including some magnificent views flying over the Swiss Alps and a review of Lugano's only Michelin-Starred restaurant. Here's a sneak peek ;).