Venezia - Venice, capital of the Veneto region.
Venice is known as 'The City of Bridges" with over 100 of them crossing the famous canals. The main transport is by boat or by foot because cars are banned and parked outside the city. The trains cross the lagoon and terminate at the station at the end of the Grand Canal. Outside the station I bought a one-way €7.50 ticket for the public boat (they leave every 15 minutes) that took me to San Marco Piazzo, St. Mark's Square, 40 minutes away through the twisting waterway. Near the train station a light rail people mover takes travelers to the cruise port and bus depot.
The Castello District is the oldest in Venice.
There are six districts or neighborhoods in the old city of Venice, called 'sestieri' (i.e. one-sixth); Cannaregio, Castello, San Marco, Dorsoduro, San Polo, and Santa Croce. There are also islands farther away in the lagoon that are still part of Venice. The islands are in the estuary of the Po and Piave Rivers. The Rialto bridge (built in 1172) is the largest and oldest bridge in Venice, originally constructed of wood, later from stone, and today it displays a billboard for modern fashion houses. In 1800 Lord Byron coined another bridge "The Bridge of Sighs", built in 1611, so called because prisoners were secretly transported from the Doge's Palace to Nuovi Prigioni. The locals give directions by how many bridges that must be crossed to a destination.
Once I got my orientation skills in order I found it easy to navigate by foot the streets, tunnels, and alleyways of the inner city. Everything eventually leads back to a piazzo landmark, the Grand Canal, or St. Mark's Square, where the Campanile towered above the gothic Doge's Palace, which was the government headquarters during the Venetian Republic that governed lands around the Mediterranean. The Square is comprised of architecture from many time periods. Doge's Palace includes many chapels with exquisite paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and religious relics. Saint Mark's mausoleum is in the Basilica. There are many delightful cafes within the Square, so when it rained I ducked in for the jazz ensemble over a cuppa cappuccino. You can stand at the bar for free, it costs to sit.
Castello is one of the most preserved neighborhoods depicting architecture from the 5th and 6th Centuries, one of the earliest areas settled in Venice. The Cathedral of San Pietro di Castello was a church until it was changed into a Cathedral in 1451. Also in this district is the Old Arsenal dating from the 13th Century, with terracotta walls and square towers. The Historical Naval Museum is close by the Arsenal as is the Church of San Zacaria, a former Benedictine nunnery, with a bell tower built in the 9th century. St. Mark's Square is in the Castello district.
Floating market in San Polo District.
The District of San Polo is the smallest and most authentic Venetian neighborhood, just over the Rialto Bridge. I shopped in the extensive open air farmer's market for fruits and nuts. Bakeries and butcher shops lined the streets. A boat was a floating mini-market of vegetables and fruits. The Po River valley is one of the largest and flattest in Italy, producing not only grapes, but grains, fruit trees, nuts, and even rice. There are numerous litle shops in Venice that sell sandwiches with a Italian Peroni beer for under 5 Euros. I avoided the bland appearing pizzas that the tourists devoured.
Gondola on the Grand Canal.
Of course everyone visits Venice for the gondola rides, about 80 Euros per person for an hour on the canals. You may pass by Casanova's or Marco Polo's home. Venice is noted for its manufacturing of masks for its masquerade festivals, and also for its glass works. Visit the Venetian Arts Center; Palace Durale has an outstanding art collection, or tour the Academy Gallery for works from the 13th to 18th Centuries. The famous Murano glass is created in small shops on Murano Island.
The famous Hotel Londra Palace in Venice.
Luxury hotels in Italy tend to be called either a Palazzo or a Palace, and the Relais & Chateaux city-style Londra Palace on the Riva degli Schiavoni — Grand Canal waterfront promenade (Altana) — is a veritable palace, built with real marble. A city-style hotel translates as a non-resort hotel, meaning there is no pool, or sporting activities, because you are in the heart of a grand city where there was plenty of things to see and do. But the Londra Palace concierge can set up secret Venice tours, golf tee times, concert tickets, and other city happenings. Take a moonlight tour of the city once a month.
Fresh seafood from the Adriatic.
The do Leoni's Saveurs de Venise or Flavors of Venice menu was startling original and sophisticated. The sauté of clams and mussels came with homemade croutons. The black squid ink risotto was paired with roasted cuttlefish. The mixed fish grill included portions of gilthead (sea bream or sea bass), monk fish, sole, scampi, cuttlefish, sardines, and scallops. There was also the mixed fried scampi and squids with crunchy vegetables. I was getting the picture that Venice was a fisherman and fish lover's paradise, so I gazed to the top of the menu and chose the Brandade of cod, Venetian-style, with Polenta waffles. My taste buds were on hyper drive on the Tiramisu with homemade ice cream dessert.
The elegant Ristorante do Leoni.
For late night owls the do Leoni has a gustation menu for ensuite diners, and in fact, it is more extensive than the menu in do Leoni. Salads, sandwiches, anti-pasta, soups, fish and meat, and sweets can all be ordered from room service. The meats are farmhouse cured from Venice and Toscano (Tuscany). Basil seems to be the herb of choice by these Italian cuisine artistes, used in soups and salads. The black olives are the best in the Med. The masters created the hotel's own do Leoni sauce for the turkey club sandwich and the Daniele ham sandwich. And it wouldn't be Italy without the homemade lasagna Bolognese.
After the non-English speaking houseman showed me how to operate the channels of touch screen SKY TV, I settled back in my Biedermeier-style furnished junior suite; elegant curtain brocades decorated the lagoon view balcony window. Each of the 53 rooms and suites in the 5-story hotel differs in color and atmosphere; some of the rooms overlook the city, but the lagoon facing rooms have wonderful sunset views of Georgia Island and the Grand Canal. All rooms have free wifi.
The mini-bar was stocked with the usual beers and sodas, but also quality spirits and wines such as vodkas, Champagne, Prosecco, Chianti Classico, and patatine (Italian potato chips). A basket filled with delicious Venetian specialties made the experience even more unforgettable.
Awesome Londra Palace breakfast buffet.
The marble bathroom had combined shower/bath, make-up mirrors, hairdryer, bathrobes, slippers ,and smooth Ortigia lotions and soaps. Other Londra Palace amenities included: babysitting or childcare (surcharge), free newspapers in the lobby, dry cleaning/laundry service, luggage storage, and safe-deposit boxes at the 24-hour front desk. A computer kiosk was near reception where business types conducted a sales meeting. A piano stood beneath a frosted pane of glass etched with sheet music.
The Londra Palace's bountiful breakfast buffet included smoked salmon, which I mixed in with my plate of scrambled farm fresh eggs. There was citrus of every description, cereals, fresh artisan breads and rolls and cheeses, sausage and bacon, juices and much more.
Let the tourists eat pizza.
I am off to a fantastic dinner cruise on the Venetian Galleon, priced at €100 per person. Reservations are required and the Galleon doesn't pull up to the public dock every night for the cruise along St. Marks Basin and islands in the lagoon.
All aspects of the dining experience on the Galleon were included, so I began my evening with a bottle of Acoua Gassala, or better known as mineral water with gas, but everything sounds more chic in Italian. Kristin, my Galleon scalawag (waitress) brought by a champagne bucket with a bottle of red Veneto regional wine; white was also served. The Galleon rocked a bit and the dinner swabbies had no sea legs. Hmmm . . . I better steady the main brace for this evening of wine and dine and fish from the brine. More Veneto vino should do it. There are over 80,000 wineries in Italy, each perfecting an individuality; 2015 saw the largest grape crop in history for Italy, so that corkage should be awesome.
The Prosecco Aperitif came with assorted canapés, stacked up on little plates at the galley stern. Hors d'oeuvres included raw scampi in lemon dressing with avocado sauce. The petite plate of sliced sea bass fillet was flavored with capers and olives "laggiascca”. What could top the pickled anchovies with peppercorns except for the following Octopus salad? Then arrived the scallops au gratin with ginger and carrot sauce. And those were just the starters. I noticed my new found French friends across the rustic wooden deck slugging back the wine so I did the same. We were just short of singing sea chantys.
The Galleon features special events.
Kristin was a seasoned matie with good sea legs — nothing slid off the plate when she served the First Course: Prosecco scented risotto with scampi and pumpkin. The crepe was filled with delicious cep mushrooms, which I never had before. The Second Course was the Gilthead from the local waters, a sort of flat fish related to sea bass, but smaller, and it arrived with vegetables ratatouille and small rosemary roasted potatoes, my favorite. After more wine the Galleon made a tactical maneuver — or maybe that was the wine; the landlubbers were getting ubriaco. The evening was topped off with the tiramisu and fresh fruit plate dessert; of course wonderful Italian cheeses were witnessed throughout.
The Galleon was truly an emotion to be lived. Check their website for when you can get Shanghaied for a delightful romantic evening. There are other cruises past the islands of Santa Elena, San Michele, and the fisherman's island of Burano.
— Feature and photos by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.