Venice was veiled by darkness as my plane landed- and yet the minute the plane door opened, I was transported to a different world.
The beauty of the Italian language, the slower pace of this mysterious city and sleek dressed locals all greeted me as I descended the stairs off the plane. A two hour direct flight, and my surroundings were about to make me feel as if I’d traveled back in time hundreds of years.
Boarding the Vaporetto (public water bus) for my hotel, the facades of 15th century buildings came into view. Glowing from the pink lamp shades the buildings looked more like a movie set than a modern city. It was after 9pm, and the sleepy city had settled into its nighttime routine.
After checking in to the hotel, we accepted advice from the friendly receptionist, and headed for a trattoria nearby. To our surprise, the wooden tables were still full of families and groups of young people with carafes of red wine. There was one table left in the corner, and it was ours.
I had spent the morning finishing up a few assignments, hurriedly packing, waiting for a bus that never came, and ultimately jumping in a taxi and fighting traffic to arrive at the airport on time for my late afternoon flight. And yet, that entire frantic world seemed light years away from a table in the corner.
In this casual restaurant, the waiters still wore waistcoats and ties. Our playful waiter jumped back and forth between Italian and English, providing me with just enough clues to decipher the menu and take a suggestion for wine. Like actors in a play, the waiters each executed their roles: bringing wine glasses, the pop of the cork, pouring San Pellegrino and quickly placing steaming plates of al dente pasta in front of us for appetizers.
The host stood at a nearby table; laughing and gesticulating to regular clients. In the corner by the bar, the espresso machine roared to life and someone’s meal was made complete. I was only eating my appetizer, and already couldn’t wait for the frosted glasses of limoncello that would conclude the meal.
The ritual of a meal is something I learned from my family, of Italian descent. The atmosphere I was recognizing in this trattoria has spread all over the world, I’ve realized — but in Italy it is still in its purest form.
Next came my fish course. One of the older waiters carried out my plate, an entire sole that he de-boned at the table. First off came the head, then the tail, then with carefree precision, he removed the bones leaving me with two fresh filets, a couple wedges of lemon, and some grilled vegetables. He looked down at his work and with a perfecto left me to enjoy the daily catch.
A trip to Italy can be about art, architecture, and attractions – or it can be about Italian life. Already having spent some time in Venice, I wasn’t planning on going near the Accademia Gallery, or the Peggy Guggenheim Museum (although I strongly recommend that). I wanted to take the traghetto across the grand canal for 50 cents with a gondola driver who was smoking a cigarette and sipping on a beer. I wanted to search out a gelato shop that had the best reputation in town. I wanted to dine al fresco, and find the nightlife that Venice keeps hidden away.
I had three more days to explore Venice – to revisit old haunts and discover new ones. As I finished my first frosty glass of sour-sweet limoncello, I was glad I had put everything else aside, and taken this long weekend to return to the romance of Italy.
Check back for more anecdotes from my recent trip to Venice over the coming weeks – expect pizza, an explanation of the daily passeggiata, what the locals are drinking other than prosecco, a trip to the church featured in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and what sites you shouldn’t miss when you find yourself in Venezia.