Venice & Veneto, Italy

We’ve been to Venice twice and neither was under optimal conditions. The first was during our first whirlwind trip to Europe, the year after we were married. It was August and Venice was scorching hot and crammed with tourists. Our second visit was in the rain of March, with Alison’s parents. It was cold, wet, dreary, and still rather crammed with tourists. Alison hopes to return to Venice (in better weather) to explore the less touristy sites and outer islands. She may have to drag Andrew kicking and screaming.

On the other hand, just outside Venice, near Treviso, we had one of the best meals of our lives (and believe us, we’ve had many amazing meals) at an unassuming little trattoria, called Al Sile. In fact, we convinced Alison’s parent’s to return the next evening. (In truth, little convincing was needed.) With a promise of a return visit to Al Sile, Alison may just be able to convince Andrew to revist Veneto after all.

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If you haven’t already done so, read Part 1 and Part 2 of our European Adventure first.

Our Hotel for the next two nights would be the Claudia Augusta. It wasn’t in Treviso exactly – actually, it wasn’t really in anyplace unless you consider a field someplace. It was however the best hotel experience of the trip.

Fireplace at the Claudia Augusta

If you are going to Venice (and you have a car) I highly recommend the Claudia. It is affordable, very nice, quiet and the staff is fantastic. Then there is the supper option… but I’ll get to that in a bit.

We arrived at the hotel a bit early so we did some much needed laundry and then decided to check out Treviso. The lady who worked the desk at the hotel (she could be the owner because she was there all the time) gave us a few places to eat in Treviso and one in the town neighbouring the hotel.

Treviso was nice enough – canals, pretty architecture, lots of shops. But it was inexplicably, ridiculously crowded. We thought perhaps it was some sort of holiday (it was Sunday night after all) but hotel lady had no idea either. Regardless the streets were packed.

We wandered around trying to find any of the restaurants that hotel lady recommended. We had no luck. Or, depending how you look at it, we had great luck.

We had great luck because we gave up and decided to go to the restaurant near the hotel, Al Sile Trattoria. We were told to ask for Nicola, the owner, and he would take care of us. Boy did he.

Produce Boat (my favorite of my Mom’s Venice Shots)

Al Sile has no written menu – whatever is fresh that day and the chef feels like cooking is what you have. That’s not to say you don’t have a choice – it’s nearly impossible to choose because everything sounds so damn good. Let me try to recall exactly what we had:

• Andrew and I started with Tuna Carpaccio • Mom and Dad started with zucchini blossoms stuffed with cheese (I think they were a little concerned about this but they ended up really liking it) • We then had Tuna Steaks in Balsamic Dressing (delish) • There was a lemon sorbet that Dad wanted a gallon of • Dessert for Mom and Andrew was Tiramisu • I had a raspberry mousse and Dad had lemon mouse • Nicola also brought us a Polenta dessert that was out of this world.

We left stuffed and happy and assured Nicola we would be back the following night.

The requisite gondola shot

The next morning we set out for Venice via train. Taking the train in a new place can always be a little daunting, especially if you don’t speak the language. Andrew managed to figure out the ticket machines and we caught the correct train. It was crowded but a pretty short trip to the Venice station.

I guess I have to preface this part by explaining how I feel about Venice. In theory I like it. It is beautiful and unique, there is some stunning architecture and seeing life conducted entirely on the canals is really amazing. I don’t love Venice though; I’m not drawn to it as I am other cities.

I think this mostly has to do with the two occasions I’ve been there: the first time was August and it was bloody hot; this time it was cold and raining most of the day. Both times (and I would imagine all of the time) it’s been crowded – very crowded.

Venetian Canal Scene

None the less, I enjoyed Venice, especially when we first arrived. We wandered rather aimlessly (read: kinda lost) through the alleyways, far from the touristy areas. As I mentioned, it is fascinating to see everything conducted on boats; construction, emergency patrols, shopping, everything.

We finally found our way to Piazza San Marco and decided we had to eat before hitting the sights. In typical ‘you win some, you lose some’ fashion, we managed to find the worst pizza place I have ever been. Our first clue should have been the staff – they were entirely Asian – servers, cooks, everyone. Now I’m not saying that Asian’s can’t make pizza, I’m sure there are some fine Asian pizza chefs – they just didn’t work here. I would have rather eaten frozen microwave pizza (scratch that – I would have rather eaten the pizza box).

After ‘lunch’ we visited the Doge’s Palace and walked across the bridge of sighs (so called because it was the last view of the outside world that prisoners saw before being jailed or executed.) The Palace is ornate in the extreme and is well worth a visit.

Piazza San Marco from the tower

Then we popped into St. Mark’s Cathedral for a quick look before closing. This is truly a magnificent church. We then crossed the street and headed up into the tower for a view of the Grand Canal. By this time it was raining hard and we were wet and chilly so it was time to head back to the train.

As promised we went back to see Nicola about supper. This time we decided on pasta which was a fantastic choice (mine had shrimp and a spicy sauce). We started with a polenta and cheese appetizer. Dad and I had the lemon mousse and Mom and Andrew had the polenta dessert. We had fantastic local wines both nights and Nicola presented us with a print of the Sile River that his Trattoria was named for. If you are ever in the area, go and tell me all about what you ate.

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If you haven’t done so already, read Part 1 of our European Adventure.

To give credit where it is due, the photos (other than those of Mom and Dad obviously) were taken by my Mom and Dad (my 27 rolls of Velvia sit patiently in the fridge waiting to be developed)

The folks on Le Chateau overlooking Nice.

My original plan was to drive the costal road along the Mediterranean to Nice. It was a good idea in theory but it didn’t work out in practice. We spent a bit too long puttering about in the morning, were tied up in traffic trying to get through Marseille and I grossly underestimated how far Nice actually was. In the end we were forced to jump on the highway and just get there. As it was, we were there well after dark and finding the hotel based on vague directions was frustrating to say the least.

Nice’s accommodations were a Holiday Inn Select Resort. Perhaps it was because it was late and I was tired, or perhaps it was because the bathroom garbage wasn’t emptied, or maybe it was the unremarkable Italian food we had for supper – whatever the case I was glad we hadn’t actually paid to stay at the ‘resort.’ It was probably my least favorite hotel of the trip.

Nice from Le Chateau

There wasn’t any real reason I chose Nice as a stopping point other than the fact that Andrew and I had stayed there on our Contiki tour of Europe and it was the only place we had time to rest and relax. For me the long crescent beach symbolizes the Mediterranean. I make no illusions about the quality of the beach or the city itself for that matter. I’m sure some of the smaller spots are much nicer. I just remembered the view of the harbour fondly and wanted to see it again – and we did.

The next morning was probably one of the warmest of the trip. (Andrew and I received constant ribbing at the fact that it wasn’t as warm in Europe as we had promised. How were we to know that it was going to be one of the coldest Marches on record right across the continent and that spring would be delayed this year… Yeash, I’m just the tour guide.)

We climbed (ok, mostly drove but climbed the last bit) to the top of Le Chateau, a hill named for the castle that was once at its peak. There is now a lovely park and gorgeous views of the beach and Promenade des Anglais on one side and the harbour on the other. If you don’t feel like you’re in the Mediterranean here, I don’t know where you will.

On the way to Monaco (Mom probably missed this.)

After our trek to the top we zipped up the coast to Monaco. When I say zipped, I should qualify that we zipped in a very swervey way. The coast road is very twisty as it winds through all of the coastal towns. So much so that Mom had to take a Gravol to settle her stomach. This was to be her undoing. She ended up missing most of the Mediterranean as she dozed in drug induced slumber in the back seat. (Sorry Mom, you didn’t think I was really going to let you off the hook for that one, did you?)

Monaco harbour – yacht anyone?

Monaco truly is a beautiful city/state/country. It is immaculate – although being only the size of Central Park, I guess it doesn’t take that long to clean it. The citizens don’t pay taxes and have the highest per capita income in the world. (I wonder if they could use more photographers…)

We spent the rest of the morning exploring and saw the palace, harbour, site of the grand prix, Monte Carlo Casino and admired the cars and yachts. We had lunch and then hopped back in the car and continued to follow the coast to Italy.

The coastal drive is stunning. The road dips and curves with mountains and cliffs on one side and the Mediterranean and villages on the other. There are some truly breathtaking views (most of which Mom slept through).

We crossed into Italy and then started to climb again. Our route took us through the mountains to Parma – famous for Parmesan cheese and Parma Ham.

Verona, Italy

We stayed at yet another Holiday Inn Express, this one quite possibly in the most remote location ever, but it was brand new and the restaurant was good. Andrew nearly was attacked by an over-zealous receptionist but other than that it was a nice place to stay.

Walled Soave.

The next day saw us climbing through more mountains until we reached Verona. Our stop there was quick. An hour for strolling and photographing and then we were on our way to our next unplanned stop – the fortress village of Soave that we spotted from the highway. After another wander and photo stop we headed for our hotel, outside of Treviso.

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