Italy Day 1 – Venice

The flight to Venice was pretty uneventful. Slept through most of it. But a smooth ride most of the way, with the exception of the landing at Venice’s Marco Polo airport. Apparently, the way it works is the Pilot closes his eyes and shouts “Marco!” and the traffic control tower shouts “Polo!” and the pilot has to try to figure out where the runway is. After several back-and-forths, we finally touched down. On someone’s roof.

I was actually embarrassed by my first impression of Venice. Because the first thought that popped into my head was “this feels like we’re in Epcot Center.”

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Everything is so picturesque and so clean and so, well, perfect looking, it almost seems like it’s not a real place. Which is weird, because it’s more real than most of the world. There’s more history in a Venice doorknob than there is in most of the US.

While I’m on the topic, yes, they have a McDonalds and yes people were eating there.

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But don’t worry. I went up to each and every one of them, grabbed them by the shoulders and shook them violently. Then, I slapped them across the face and shouted “for the love of god, man! You’re in Italy! Don’t eat McDonalds!”

Moments later, I was dragged off by the men in white coats, while cackling and muttering something about risotto.

You know how when you’re riding in a boat, you always wave at people in other boats? It’s always struck me as kind of weird. Because all of the sudden you acknowledge strangers who you’d usually glare at if they so much as smiled at you. But those rules go out the door when you’re in a boat. Suddenly, you’re part of a club. The “we’re in a boat” club.

Anyway, point being that in Venice, people in boats don’t wave to other people in boats . Maybe it’s because there are no roads and everyone is in boats. You’d end up with tennis elbow from all the waving.

Everyone in Venice hangs their laundry out to dry. It’s charming. And kind of funny. Because we traveled 4 thousand miles to spend most of the day walking around taking pictures of people’s underpants.
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We took a ton of pictures today. I went through about 2 gigs worth of memory cards. At this rate, my camera lens is going to go limp by Thursday.

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Here’s a bunch of random pictures from the day:

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FOOD UPDATE: Lunch at Trattoria al Mariner, a few blocks from our Hotel. 1/2 carafe of vino rossa della casa. I had the prosciutto e melone (prosciutto topped cantaloupe).

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So simple. Two ingredients. But absolutely sublime. I also had baccala, a salt cod dish made with cream, butter and parsley.

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It was ok. I’m usually not a huge fan of heavy cream sauces and this one was fairly heavy. Also, I’ve never had salt cod before. Wasn’t crazy about the texture – it was a tad bit on the chewy side. Not as chewy as, say, a shrimp, but chewier than I expected. But again, having never tried it, I don’t know what it normally tastes like. It was served with a side of sliced polenta. My Dad had insalata misto, a mixed vegetable antipasti. It had fried zucchini blossoms, eggplant, artichoke, and asparagus. It was all terrific, except for the asparagus, (overcooked and kind of stringy. ) He also had calamari alla griglia (grilled calamari) which was also so simple and so terrific.

After a nap, we had an espresso, which I illegally put a little bit of cream in. Apparently that’s a no-no. Because the barista jumped out from behind the espresso machine and said “No! No!”

Also had a gelato. Half Café, half Stracciatella on a sugar cone.

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I can say with certainty that it blew every ice cream back home out of the water. Incredible.

Dinner was at Al Nono Risorto, a pizzaria in, what I think was Campo S. Giacomo Dell Orio. Although it could have been Campo S. Polo. I’m not sure how far we walked. Had a bottle of vino bianco della casa. Started with Antipasto fruitti di mare misto.

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It had shrimp, anchovies, a sardine wrapped in some sort of pickled onion mixture, a calamari, a mystery fish that I’m gonna have to try to identify in my cookbooks when I get back home, and a white corn polenta square topped with some sort of fish spread (which may or may not have been baccala). That was my favorite on the plate, though I have no idea what was in it. Main course was pizza paradiso – topped with pomodoro sauce, mozzarella, arugula, lemon juice, and some sort of ham that started with a B.*

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It’s a crime that the stuff they sell at Pizza Hut can even have the same name as what they serve here. The crust was perfectly crisped around the edges. And the fresh arugula gave it this great peppery taste. Dessert was Tartufo al café – coffee gelato wrapped in vanilla gelato served in a dish with cold espresso.

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It was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, period. I’m adding that to my Calvin Trillin “register of frustration and deprivation.” (Foods that you long for desperately, but can’t get where you live). And to top it all off, the food was lovingly prepared by executive pizza chef, Robert DeNiro.

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* Post script – lifeinitaly.com says it was Bresaola. “It is made from beef in the Valtellina area but shares a similar production method to pork salumi. Beef fillets are mixed with salt, pepper, laurel and cloves before being allowed to age. The meat is then encased and allowed to mature for about three months. Bresaola is dark red and should have almost no fat at all, it is sliced very thin and served as an antipasto with olive oil and lemon”

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