Thursday, December 1, 2011

Our Introduction to the Spritz

Our European Vacation: Part II

Ah Venice, what a magical place!  We arrived around 10am, absolutely exhausted, and with no real plans.  First step, finding a water taxi and then our hotel.  This was the beginning of numerous wrong turns and many miles of hauling luggage, but we loved every minute of it!  With our Rick Steves Italy book in hand, we rather easily bought tickets for the water taxi and were on our way.  Venice was more beautiful than I had even imagined!  It was a wonderfully sunny day and we were ready to explore...after a brief nap of course.  Luckily, Conor's blackberry worked in all of Europe so we could use GPS and not have to rely solely on maps.  This made finding our hotel much easier.  Although I thought we had packed "rather" light, considering our three week trip in three different countries, I was very wrong.  Venice is full of steps!  We had plenty of canals to walk over to get to our hotel and my bag was a little too big & heavy for all that lifting!  (Just for a mental picture, we each had a shoulder bag and piece of rolling luggage, and then there was an extra duffel bag.)  But just so you know, I hauled my monster of a bag all over Europe with no complaints!
We stayed at a small bed & breakfast which was just perfect for us!  The owner was so nice and helpful which made our entire Venice experience wonderful.  After touring through Europe, I now have a definite preference for small, boutique hotels.  They are just so much more personal!  We took a nice long nap, and then finally began exploring the many streets and canals of Venice!  First things first, we found the nearest campo to get a glass of vino and make some plans for the day.  Refreshed, we made our way to San Marco Square to take in all the action.  Wow, there were tons of people...or I should say tourists! 

Venice was such an incredible place, the pictures don't even do it justice.  Sometimes, I even think it looks like we're standing in front of a green just can't believe it's real!  After walking around and getting our bearings, we got ready for dinner with Claire and Alberto who soon became great friends!  Claire is (get ready for this): Conor's, sister's, study-abroad-roommate-in-Spain, who visited Conor's family in Montana once years ago...  She is from France but currently lives on the mainland near Venice with her boyfriend Alberto who grew up there in the town of Maestra.  Conor had met her once we quickly got past introductions and into one of our favorite nights of the entire trip!  It was such a fun evening!  Claire and her boyfriend, Alberto, picked us up and took us to the mainland for aperitifs and dinner.

This entire night was quite the experience!  First, we went to a bar where Alberto ordered everyone a Spritz...I was a little skeptical of whatever this "Spritz" was going to be, so I opted for a glass of processco instead.  However, I really missed out!  The Spritz was delicious!  Alberto told us it was processco, Aperol (or Campari), and a little bit of club soda.  Add an orange slice and an olive, cin cin (cheers)!  We have since made many of these at home!  Mmm, so delicious and refreshing.

We had originally decided to have pizza for dinner, but after they got two drinks in me they pursuaded me into switching to "crudo" (raw) seafood, eek!  I had been warned about seafood in Venice, and how everything would come with their heads still on, scary!  Conor was super excited. I, of course, did not want to be a downer that evening, so I figured I would give it a try.  I had no idea what I was in for.  Alberto took us to a restaurant owned by their neighbor.  We were greated right away by this neighbor, his mother, and brother the chef.  We smiled and waved since no one was speaking English.  In fact, they were speaking an Italian dialect that even Claire had a hard time understanding.  No menus; Alberto chatted with the mother about what was currently fresh and made selections for the table based on that.  I had no idea what I was gonna get and was very nervous about it.  Not to mention the fact that I was starving!  The Italians eat late, and I was not prepared for this! 

Course 1: Polenta with fried baby shrimp...interesting.  Conor finished the last third of mine. :-)  Course 2: Various unidentifyable pieces of seafood, except for some shrimp (thank the lord ;0) ).  Conor's was raw, but I had my plate cooked.  I thought this was the main course and only plate of food I would at this point I was a little nervous that I would leave a little hungry... boy was I mistaken!  This picture shows my, "I'm not so sure about what I'm about to eat, face!"

I have to say, I really opened my mind to this meal and ate most of what was put on my plate...but no heads :-). I let Conor have those.  And lots of it was actually quite delicious.  I was pleasantly surprised!  Conor loved everything and was in complete heaven.  However, he was a little worried about me and not sure how I was handling the food.  I think I even surprised him a little.  After the first massive plate of seafood was finished they brought another!  Course 3: More seafood.  This time mostly shellfish.  There was lots of razor clams that I had never had before, but I loved them!  I finally starting thinking that just maybe, this meal would fill me up.

Course 4 (the best course): Porchini mushroom risotto.  Oh my goodness, this was the best thing ever!  I was already feeling full, but then they brought out a massive seashell of risotto.  And then filled an entire dinner plate with it!  Talk about a big dinner!  I thoroughly enjoyed this portion of the meal as we dove into our second bottle of wine.  By this point, you'd think the four of us were old friends!

Next, we were brought sorbetto al limone to cleanse our palates before dessert.  The sorbetto was a dessert all on its own.  After this dinner, no meal on our trip was complete without sorbetto.  And I like how you drink it out of a champagne glass, so fun!  Lastly, we had a wonderful chocolate dessert and after dinner drinks.  Conor was introduced to grappa, which he loved!  The grappa was way to strong for me, so I had some liquor similar to Sambucca.  The whole meal lasted about three hours, but felt like it just flew by.  We didn't want the night to end.  Sadly, we left Claire & Alberto at the train station and began the long walk through Venice, over the Realto Bridge, and back to our hotel. They were both such incredible hosts and we hope they will come visit us in Seattle so we can return the hospitality!

Our second (and last day) in Venice was a Sunday, so not much was open.  However, we did go to mass at Saint Mark's Basilica.  This was one of my favorite experiences in Italy.  Obviously, the mass was in we didn't understand a word, but it gave us an opportunity to pay closer attention and not just go through the motions.  It also gave us plenty of time to really take in the inside of the church.  It was incredible and unlike any other church I've been too.  I was so happy we took the time to do this.

Afterwards, we sampled our first bit of gelato.  I was in love!  I wanted gelato at all times of the day, and it was hard to limit myself during our tour through Italy.  First flavors sampled: hazelnut & pear.  Hazelnut was the best!

The rest of the day we ate & explored.  What could be better than that?!  We never took a gondola ride...they are so expensive, besides we enjoyed walking around just fine.

If you're a fan on seafood, Venice is for you. If you're looking for pizza and pasta, Florence & Rome probalby have it beat but it was still delicious. In Venice, many of the restaurants really cater to the tourists and you can definitely get ripped off so you have to do a little research and find the good spots.  We used recommendations as much as possible to tried and avoid this problem.  The vino rosso della casa was never a disppointment however!

Monday morning came, we packed our things, and headed to the train station for our trip to Florence!  Another great sunny day in Italy....whoever said it was the rainy season was sorely mistaken this week!

We had some time to kill before our train left, so we bought a few bottles of processco & red wine to enjoy as we sat outside the train station watching people and killing time.  Thank you for no open container laws!  There's nothing like sitting in the sunshine and enjoying some wine at 10am. :)  The train ride sure flew by!

Next up: Four days in Florence!

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