Friday, June 1, 2012

Last Full Day in Italy - Venice

Piazza San Marco
The Leaning Tower of Burano
Breakfast in Venice

The Columns of San Marco and San Teodoro
For my concluding post of our trip to Italy, thought I'd start out with a few photos. The captions pretty much tell it all. (This doesn't mean that the occasional Italian anecdote won't pop up from time to time in the future, this is just the final "official" post dedicated to our sojourn in Italia.)

Now the one titled "Breakfast in Venice"? Our tour group stayed in two hotels, both mere yards from the Piazza San Marco and the waterfront. Of course, everything in Venice is kinda "on the waterfront", perhaps I should say that the two hotels were close to the "main" waterfront, as in where our water taxis dropped us off upon our arrival in this magnificent city.

When we arrived our tour guide Carmine (that's CAR-ME-NAY for those just joining us, not CAR-MINE as we say here in these United States), announced that, "unfortunately" the main hotel for our group was too full and that two couples would have to stay in this "other" hotel.

The main hotel was the Palazzo Selvadego, which apparently had started life as a tavern and inn a number of centuries prior to our arrival. The "other" hotel was the Hotel Monaco, smack dab on the Grand Canal itself. 'Twas there that the picture "Breakfast in Venice" was taken.

I do believe our man Carmine had his tongue firmly planted in his cheek when he said that "unfortunately" two couples would have to stay at the Hotel Monaco. This place was pretty ritzy-looking in the Old Sarge's eyes. Turns out that these two couples were visiting Italy on their wedding anniversaries. One of the two couples were our tour-buddies Dwayne and Karen, from down Atlanta way. More on them later.

The two hotels are somehow related, I didn't really catch the relationship but the main point is that they're really close to the hot spots in Venice. Our hotel, the Palace as I referred to it (palace being palazzo in Italian) was very comfy, the Missus and I had an excellent room. But the Hotel Monaco was where our group would receive our complimentary breakfast while in Venice.

Now we're not talking "Continental Breakfast" which Wikipedia says "consists of a slice of cheese and cold meat, often with a croissant or bread roll". You could get that, but they also had scrambled eggs, sausages, orange juice, coffee, pastries plus that other stuff that Wikipedia mentions. Needless to say, the Old Sarge did not starve in Italy. I tend to be a big hearty breakfast kind of guy when it's available. Oh, you could have multiple cold cuts and slices of cheese, were you so inclined, and I was.

TANGENT ALERT:
For those of you who follow this blog, you already know that I like to go on the occasional tangent. Just thought I'd warn you ahead of time, that this is one of those.

After I returned from Italy, I had a doctor's appointment. Seems the Old Sarge has a wee problem with his weight and his blood pressure. The former is probably too high for his own good, the latter is heading that way. At any rate, this was a check-up for the blood pressure thing. Turns out that while in Italy, I lost eight pounds and a few points off the old BP. Seems that Italy was good for me. Even though I ate like a pig twice a day. Breakfast, where I ate a lot for the energy needed to do a lot of walking, and dinner, because I was a bit peckish after all that walking. Also I drank a bit of chianti with dinner. Perhaps describing it as "a bit" is rather an understatement. Let's just say the Old Sarge often went to bed a bit buzzed. And leave it at that.

So when I return to Italy someday, well let's just say I can claim it's for my health. Hhhmm, wonder if my medical insurance would cover that? Prolly not, sigh.
End of Tangent

Now where was I? Oh yeah, breakfast. Nope, breakfast is over. Time to gear up and head out on the town.

Now the first day in Venice we did the Piazza San Marco, the Doge's Palace, St. Mark's Basilica and the obligatory (and highly recommended by me) gondola ride. All very educational and impressive let me assure you. But on Saturday, our last full day in Italy was kind of the highlight of the trip. A trip loaded with lots of highlights but this Saturday was a lot of fun.

The O-Plan was a boat excursion on the lagoon with a stop on the island of Burano for shopping and lunch. (Wait a minute Sarge, you indicated that you had two meals a day, breakfast and dinner. What's this lunch nonsense? Okay, you got me. On this day, the plan was for a late lunch, no dinner would be necessary according to Carmine. Lunch would be around 1:30-ish and it would be very filling. So cut me some slack here. Call it a late lunch or an early dinner. Still falls into the two meals a day category. 'Nuff said.)

The boat trip on the lagoon was great. The weather was beautiful and the water was sort of an aquamarine blue. And I like boats, a lot. Burano itself was very pretty. Lunch was very good. The specialty there was, as you might expect, seafood. I even surprised the Missus when I ordered the fish. Now I'm not a big fish-eater. Shellfish yes, I can eat that all day, but then I'm a New Englander, no big surprise. And tuna fish? Love it. In sandwiches and big chunks of tuna cooked on the grill. Regular fish, not so much.

But on this occasion, there were two main courses, both, of course, involved what I call "regular fish". The scaly ones with gills and fins and such. Now I found myself in something of a quandary. (Witty aside: A quandary? I thought you said you were in a restaurant? Well, I thought it was witty.)

Fish or fish? What to do? What to do? Now one of my table mates was asking the same question apparently, so I paid careful attention to her exchange with our waiter. (Well, as much attention as can be paid when you've already had a glass or three of white wine.)

He explained that one type of fish was of the filleted, white, flaky flesh variety. Oh, and if you didn't want fish, they could also serve you chicken tenders and French fries. Hhhmm, chicken tenders and fries I can get back home, when in Rome... (or in Venice)

So I ordered the fish fillet. It wasn't bad at all. Of course with a snoot full of wine on board, I can eat damn near anything. Nevertheless it did stun the Missus. One of the first calls she made to the WSO upon our return home I could hear her telling our youngest, "You won't believe this, but your father ate fish in Italy!" So yes, me eating fish (of the finned variety) is rather noteworthy amongst our tribe.

So late lunch/early dinner was most satisfying. Now our little sub-group (Steve and Theresa, Dwayne and Karen, the Missus and I) were pondering what to do that night. As there were no scheduled events for that evening other than a farewell toast in a cafe on the Piazza San Marco, we needed a plan. The farewell toast included a single, complimentary drink. We could stay longer if we liked but, if the espresso at this cafe went for 15 Euro a pop, we really didn't want to think about what a glass of wine would cost.

Now the night before, at dinner, we had all been a bit stunned to learn that each table of ten would get four bottles of wine. Period. Full stop. Raised eyebrows all around. Why our little group of six could easily make short work of four bottles of wine and start howling for more. And there were four others at our table. We couldn't possibly prevent them from having some of the wine from those four bottles. Could we? The Missus informed me that do so would be a major social faux pas. Though she's somewhat used to me committing those, in Italy it just would not do. So no, four bottles it was.

After dinner we all retired to the bar at the Hotel Monaco. Where two glasses of wine cost yours truly 19 freaking Euro. Damn, can't drink very long at those prices. My Scottish ancestors would be spinning in their graves at spending so much money. A second glass was quite out of the question!

So while on Burano, we spotted a little shop which sold wine. Our plan was that we would buy some wine to take back to Venice that night. A definite cost-savings over the hotel bar. I bought two bottles, a dessert wine for the Missus and a bottle of chianti for myself (for about 11 Euro). I also knew full well that the Missus would maybe have two drinks from her dessert wine. So I felt well-supplied for the evening. Each couple (three total) had two bottles apiece. Proved to be more than enough.

But when we returned to Venice, we needed a place to drink the wine. We assumed the local constabulary probably frowned upon tourists in the street consuming alcoholic beverages. Carmine assured us that it was frowned upon. But, we could go to this park near the hotel and drink there. Apparently that is an okay thing to do in Venice. So we checked out the park. No good, park closes at 8:00 PM.

So we had to settle on heading for Dwayne and Karen's room at the Monaco. (Noteworthy to mention that the rooms at the Monaco were slightly bigger than those at the Palace.)

So we had a plan and the means and logistics to accomplish the mission. Then Steve (I think) mentioned that we would need something to drink the wine from. I started to mention that the wine came in bottles which one could drink from, but the Missus dissuaded me from pursuing that line of thought. (The bruise on my shin is just now starting to fade from that dissuasion.)

Dwayne (I think) said, "Our hotel room has water glasses, doesn't yours?" Of course, they do. Not exactly very refined, but more refined than drinking directly from the bottle. I suppose.

So to our respective lodgings we returned and we would regroup in the tiny lobby of the Palace to head over to the Monaco. Water glasses and wine in hand (discretely stowed in Burano shopping bags), Steve, Theresa, the Missus and I set forth on the 75-yard trek from the Palace to the Monaco.

At this point the Missus was bemoaning the fact that she didn't get a chance to say goodbye to the Canadian ladies and Theresa was lamenting the lost opportunity to buy a counterfeit purse from a street vendor.

Fortunately yours truly, in a marvelous demonstration of piss-poor navigation, took a wrong turn. Coming up to a dead end, and not the Monaco, I realized that I had led the group in the wrong direction. I stopped and said, "Nope, this isn't it. We need to backtrack." Steve, being helpful, mentioned that he thought we were going the wrong way, but perhaps I knew a shortcut, so he didn't say anything. I told Steve that no, I knew of no shortcut, I was just being an idiot.

Now at this time Dwayne and Karen were somewhat patiently waiting outside of the Monaco, for to escort us up to their room. We'd kind of lost track of time. Especially when we ran into the Canadian ladies and the Missus had her opportunity to bid farewell to that happy bunch from Vancouver. Whilst I kept impatiently scanning my timepiece, realizing that by now Dwayne and Karen would be waiting and worrying, the Missus said her farewells. Trust me, it takes a while. It's not a simple guy-type of "hey, see you, it's been fun" farewell. No, usually the Missus must recap the entire experience, many hugs are exchanged, etc. etc.

Finally as the "goodbye tour" is winding down, we begin to march on. And lo and behold, it's a street vendor, selling cheap knock-offs of purses and such. Theresa of course was ecstatic. Until of course the vendor asked for what one would pay in New York for the real thing, for a cheap knock-off.

I must say that Theresa's bargaining skills are very good. She eye-balled the vendor, pronounced him insane and began to walk away. The price immediately dropped ten Euros. Shaking her head, Theresa moved on. The price dropped yet again. Finally she bought the purse for something like 20 Euros.

At that point the vendor tried to sell her a second bag. This time Theresa just kept walking.

So after about 30 minutes we finally completed the five minute walk to the Monaco. And yes, Dwayne and Theresa were waiting for us, worried that some evil had befallen us. Nope, just got lost, did a farewell thing and bought a purse.

To their accommodations we retired and broke out the booze. Now Theresa had a stint in the past as a bartender, so she volunteered to uncork the wine. Hhhmm, all Dwayne and Karen had was the old-fashioned corkscrew, not the new-fangled type with wings which Theresa was used to. Of course, we had a bit of fun at her expense. She took it well.

Finally the first red was uncorked and poured into our respective glasses.

Now in Italy, dessert wine comes with a cork as one normally sees on a champagne bottle. After a glass or two, the ladies decided that the dessert wine should be served. We boys had already started in on the second bottle of chianti, so we weren't exactly in full possession of our faculties at that point.

Now I was sitting on a chair near the desk, Theresa was sitting on the foot of the bed across from me. After finishing my glass of wine, I decided to have another. As my glass left my lips, Theresa was holding the dessert wine out to me. The wire holding down the cork had already been removed. A key point. Everything  slowed down in time at this point. We were all moving in slow motion it seemed to me.

Not thinking, I reached for the "locked and loaded" dessert wine. Did I mention that the cork restraining wire had already been removed? It was then that a very loud "pop" occurred. In the corner of my eye, I saw Steve dive for the floor, I still swear that he yelled "INCOMING". Though he denies it. At the same point, I saw the cork depart the neck of the bottle, at a rather high velocity, on a trajectory that would surely take off my right ear. Like I said, everything was in slow motion.

The cork whistled by my right ear as I managed to duck just enough to avoid impact. I swear that sucker went supersonic. I heard the cork ricochet off the wall behind me, saw it rise up over my head, hit the ceiling and then finally burrow into the curtains to my right. Expended.

Time returned to its normal speed. Steve was lying on the floor, waiting to see who Theresa was going to try and assassinate next. Dwayne was collapsing in his chair, laughing his a$$ off. Karen, Theresa and the Missus were all sitting there, slack-jawed with that "what just happened?" look on their faces.

Calm and collected, I turned to my right poured myself another glass of chianti. Taking a sip, I turned to Theresa (who was still holding that dessert wine, now safely pointed down range) and said something to the effect of, "So, what was up with that?"

Steve now collapsed with laughter (he had been returning to his chair), Dwayne was laughing even harder and Karen began laughing as well. The Missus, seeing that I had not had my head blown off by the supersonic cork, began to see the humor in the situation and began laughing.

Now I was beginning to laugh (as the adrenalin wore off) and Theresa was laughing as well.

Needless to say, the second bottle of dessert wine, when it required opening, was NOT handed to Theresa. And I made sure that I was behind cover.

We had a great time. Much vino was consumed. Much laughter was shared. The cork story contributed a great deal to the laughter. By the time the night ended one would have thought that Theresa had discharged a howitzer in my face. The story was embellished quite a bit.

So that was my last night in Italy. Too much wine. Almost had my head blown off by a supersonic cork. And spent some time with a great bunch of people. It was marvelous.

I can hardly wait to go back.

For health reasons.

Sure.

2 comments:

  1. Some friends mentioned that the Italians aren't much for breakfast, at least as we know it. I'd be interested in knowing if your breakfasts were special for your tour, for tourists, or if I got bad gouge.

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    Replies
    1. I'd heard the same. I have an inkling that the big breakfasts laid out at all three of our hotels were special for the tourists. At the hotel in Florence there were two tour groups staying there. There were two rooms set aside for breakfast and both seemed to have the same menu. As I have no real evidence to support this supposition, need to take it with a grain of salt.

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