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We are sitting on the train to Venice, which is just about to depart from Termini station in Rome. I have the iPad plugged in to a power point on the train, so it can charge while I type.
Our train left just a couple of minutes late at 11:47 and I've spent the first part of the trip finishing off yesterday's diary and eating some cheese and bread rolls for lunch. I sliced up the cheese we had at home and packed it to bring with us, with bread rolls bought from our favourite bakery early this morning. We slept in until almost 08:00 this morning, then got up and had a makeshift breakfast with what milk was left, a cannoli I'd bought from the bakery last night on our way home, and the leftover pair of cherry tomatoes we'd bought for the salad we'd made for dinner with Tony. It had rained heavily during the night, as I'd heard when I got up briefly for a drink of water. And now it was sprinkling from a patchy sky with grey cloud and little hints of blue.
We went for a quick walk to the supermarket to get some apples for our trip today, and then to the bakery to get more tozzetti, chocolate and lemon. The women serving us commented, in Italian, to a friend of hers who was standing in the shop chatting to her, that we were getting flavours "contrari", obviously meaning we were mixing flavours that didn't go together. We're not sure if she was simply saying that, or perhaps implying that we had different tastes, and perhaps our marriage was therefore destined not to last! It was amusing fun speculating anyway. We also got three large, plain bread rolls, rather than the bite sized ones with nuts or chocolate in them. Again, despite the changing order, the total came to a bit over €5, and the cashier rounded it down for us.
Back at the apartment, we cleaned up and packed our bags, making a trip down to drop off all the rubbish and fill up our water bottles at the fountain on the corner. Then we went upstairs, completed our packing, and prepared to leave. We rang the bell of Signora Cardelli's apartment and she answered. We wished her farewell, leaving her the keys and thanking her for letting us stay at her place. I confirmed we'd left the right amount of money with her maid, and we bade farewell. Next time we come to Rome, we'll definitely think about staying in the same apartment again if we can.
The rain had fortunately stopped, so we had a dry walk with our luggage up Via della Fontanella di Borghese and then Via dei Condotti to Piazza di Spagna and the Metro station. We bought tickets and bustled on to the Metro train to Termini. It was full, but not packed, and we managed okay, then hauled our bags up about four escalators to emerge on the concourse at Termini. Our train to Venice wasn't yet on the departure board and we had plenty of time, so we stopped to look in a book shop that we passed. I was keen to find Italian editions of Harry Potter books for Italian reading practice at home. It took some time to find them, since I didn't know how the shelves were organised. Eventually I found them in a separate display, but alas they were mixed editions and some were only available in hardback. So I delayed buying any until we reach Venice. Then we walked across the station to the northern side to find a bar on the street outside for M.'s morning cappuccino. We figured that would be better than anything in the station, which was full of fast foody type places. She says the coffee was very good, and it only cost €1.15.
With time to spare, we browsed the shops a bit. At the Nivea shop, a woman was handing out free samples of some sort. After initially reflexively saying no, M. went back and asked for one. It turned out to be a "skin energy" lotion for men, which I tried on my hands as M. checked another shop, as they were dry and could use moisturising. I think the lotion was more to refresh the face after shaving, and it had a manly scent which I found quite strong since I never normally use anything scented.
At about 11:30, only fifteen minutes before our train was due to depart, the platform was finally assigned on the departure board and we walked over to platform 3 to see our train waiting and people already getting on. We boarded car 1, the closest one to the terminal, and found our seats, 55 and 56, already contained an older American couple. We discussed the situation ad discovered they had actually missed an earlier train and been reassigned to this one. The ticket guy had scribbled some stuff on their ticket, but not given them new seat numbers, so they had our seat numbers, only for a previous train. I told them that in my experience this sort of thing happened all the time in Italy. They graciously gave up their seats and went in search of others, allowing us to settle into window seats facing each other across a table.
We've just left Florence, the first stop on this trip, after about a ten minute stop there. We saw the dome of the great Duomo as we pulled into the main station there, but on this trip that's all the view we'll get of the city. The train has reversed direction now and is heading to Bologna, which we think will be another stop before we reach Venice. The couple who vacated our seats for us have got seats further up the carriage, which is good.
Italian countryside, somewhere near Florence, I think
We've just pulled out of Padova, our last stop before Venice. The guy who'd been sitting next to me got off there. He spent most of the trip from Florence making and answering calls on his phone in Russian.
M. is having a shower and I'm about to have one next, as we freshen up for dinner.
There's something about returning to a foreign city that you've been to before, as the memories come rushing back and instead of feeling new and foreign, it starts to feel familiar, like seeing an old friend again. And Venice is one of my favourites, for the atmosphere, the buzz, the vibrancy, the beautiful views at almost every street corner, and the way it feels both alien with the canals and yet strangely homely and comfortable. That's the feeling we got as we wandered around the calle and fondamente near our hotel for the past hour after we arrived here at the Hotel Gardena and checked in for the next five nights.
Canal Grande, view from Ponte degli Scalzi
Our train arrived just five minutes late and as we emerged from Stazione Santa Lucia and saw the Canal Grande for the first time again, it was like a sort of homecoming. We walked across the Ponte degli Scalzi and west along the canal to Fondamenta dei Tolentini, at the first small canal on the left, where our hotel is located. The man at the reception desk gave us the key to room 21 and we took the lift up to the second floor, finding our room near the lift and stairs. The room feels tiny compared to our Rome accommodation, but it's a decent sized hotel room for Europe in our experience, and the bathroom is quite generous, with a full sized bath tub and plenty of space to move around. Actually, they could have cut a couple of square metres off the bathroom to make the main room larger, and the whole deal would have been a bit more appealing.
We've just returned from dinner with Tony, but more on that later.
After settling into our room, we headed out for a quick walk around the neighbourhood of our hotel for orientation and to get a first quick taste of Venice. The hotel receptionist gave us directions when we asked to a shop selling food and drinks very close by, as well as a supermarket over near Piazzale Roma. We wanted to see if I could buy a highlighter pen to mark our already well-used map of Venice with the paths we cover on this trip. We walked around the garden across the canal from our hotel and then down to Ponte degli Scalzi, crossing to the well-worn tourist trail of Rio Terra Lista di Spagna. We walked down this a bit, checking the cheap souvenir stalls along the way, as well as windows full of delicious looking pastries. M. spotted a pastry shop here that will feature interestingly in a later day's events.
Delicious looking pastries
On the way back to our hotel, we decided to scope out the supermarket. So we headed that way past Stazione Santa Lucia, popping our noses into a couple of tabacchi on the way to see if they had highlighters, but all they had were cheap souvenir ballpoints. We crossed Ponte della Costituzione, the new metal and glass bridge over the Grand Canal, to the area near Piazzale Roma and found the supermarket where the hotel guy said it would be. The supermarket was loaded with food and toiletries, but didn't have a stationery section at all, as I discovered after asking a couple of guys who were stacking shelves in there. So we headed back home to have time for showers before meeting Tony for dinner.
Gondolier having a break
We'd arranged to meet at 19:00 and we went down to the lobby a minute or two after, but Tony wasn't there, and didn't appear. We waited until 19:30, in case he'd remembered the time wrong, then we waited a bit more. We guessed maybe he'd travelled out to Padova for the day and might have been delayed getting the train back. About 19:45, we went to check at reception the he'd actually checked into the hotel, but just as we were asking, he walked in the door. He had indeed been to Padova, and got lost finding his way back to the station to catch the return train, thus making him late. He vanished to his room for a minute to drop off some stuff, then we discussed where to go for dinner and chose to try La Zucca, a vegetable-heavy place recommended by the Lonely Planet.
Navigating the streets and canals at dusk
Navigating there was interesting, through the maze of twisty calle and sottopassagi leading through the back ways of Santa Croce. After a little I pulled out my iPad and used the GPS mapping app to track our route, which worked marvellously, guiding us through an incredibly tortuous route without once getting lost or dumping us at a dead end. At La Zucca, we asked for a table but they were full for the evening. So we booked a table in one of the two available slots for dinner tomorrow night, at 19:00 (the other slot was for 21:30). Then we had to decide where to try next. There was a place right across the nearby bridge over the canal, called Al Ponte Del Megio, but Tony first suggested, "How about that place we walked past with the cat on the window outside it? Can we find our way back there?" This question raised a laugh, although I was reasonably sure I could find it again. But we elected to try and see if we could get a table in Al Ponte Del Megio first, since it looked reasonably nice and not very touristy.
They had a table free in the back corner and we took that, then perused the menu. They had some interesting dishes and we ordered the sardines fried with onions and vinegar for me and Tony to share as a starter, while M. had the vegetable soup. For mains, M. chose the gnocchi with butter and sage, Tony got cuttlefish in ink with semolina, and I chose the frittura mista, mixed fried seafood, which I'd been wanting to try while in Italy, and Venice seems a better place for seafood than Rome. We also got two serves of mixed vegetables. The sardines and onions were interesting, with a sweet flavour from the mix of onions and vinegar. Tony really liked it.
Frittura mista at Al Ponte Del Megio
The frittura mista was a mix of small calamari rings, baby octopus, prawns, and sardines, fried in a crunchy batter. The vegetables included peas, carrots, artichoke, and spinach. It was all pleasant, though not spectacular, including the taste I got of M.'s gnocchi. The dessert however, was to die for, with both Tony and me opting for the chocolate option, which was a pair of thin slices of what must have been a salami-like log made of a dense, dark chocolate substance with crunchy biscuit pieces in it. It came on a plate with dollops of whipped cream, decorated with chocolate sauce in the shape of musical notes. The serve was not large, but it didn't need to be with the richness of the chocolate. Tony commented that the Venetians seem to have a thing for chocolate, with it featuring heavily on dessert menus and in shop windows. He'd had a chocolate fondant cake here the other day and said it was one of the best desserts he's ever had.
Chocolate dessert at Al Ponte Del Megio
Dinner done, we wended our way through the labyrinth of the back calle to our hotel and turned in, quite late.
Heading back to the hotel
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