Sunday, October 21, 2007

Day 20: Venice

Today is a beautiful sunny day. Our first destination this morning is the church of San Raffaele which is in the far southwest corner of Venice. The vaporetto goes right past the area where the cruise ships dock and we are amazed at the size of the four or five ships docked there. We get off the vaparetto one stop beyond the closest stop (the different vaparetto lines alternate stops) but the walk back along the Zattere–the broad south-facing promenade along the Giudecca Canal–is delightfully sunny and bright on this Sunday morning. We pass the large supermarket on the Zattere–it is open today and it is very crowded.
We have actually stayed in the piazza where the church is located but had never made it inside. The church of San Raffaele has a couple of Last Suppers that flank the 18th century paintings–described as “pre-impressionistic” by one guide book–that are on the front of the organ loft. The five paintings tell the story of Tobias and the angel Raffaele and are very distinctive in their soft coloring.
The “pay lighting” in the church is also distinctive…for 1 Euro, the whole church is illuminated for a pretty long time. There is also a very nice pulpit with intricate carvings.
We go back into the sacristy to see a ceiling fresco but are more impressed with the old priestly tunics that are on display.
Next, we are off to the opera house–La Fenice–that reopened a couple of years ago after a disastrous fire (which was featured in John Berendt’s City of Falling Angels). It has been restored “where it was, as it was” and we plan to take the tour of the building. We decide to have lunch before going in and we start walking around in the area looking for a likely place. We sit down at one of the restaurants with outdoor tables right in the same piazza but I am put off by the waiters in formal white jackets so we move on.

The area around La Fenice is deserted on this Sunday afternoon, even though just a few minutes away, the San Marco-Rialto corridor is jammed. However, there are not many restaurants open either so we walk quite a way before reaching the Enoteca al Volto, a crowded wine bar. The people are very nice and we have a good time watching the boss train his “staff”, a young boy of 15 (his nephew maybe) and a new waiter. We share a vegetable antipasto and have a couple of pasta dishes…mine is with mussels that are very good but Diana’s “amatriciana” is bland. We also have a nice, very dry pinot grigio from Friuli. We are little surprised at how much lunch ends up costing–each of the pastas are 12 euros and they charge us 15 euros for the 3/4 bottle of wine we drink–but Venice is definitely expensive.
The tour of La Fenice is with an audioguide and you get to see the public areas and the amazingly overdecorated auditorium as well as getting to sit in the Royal Box. You learn a lot about the history of the building and the various rebuilding projects but unfortunately you don’t get to see the backstage area. It is interesting but not necessarily a “must-do”.
(not my picture)
After the tour, we wend our way back to the Grand Canal and as we approach San Marco, the crowds appear and the shops are all open. We take the vaporetto back up the Grand Canal to our “Venetian” neighborhood. We rest in the apartment, do some work and I head out for a short walk in the neighborhood.

We are meeting Nan and her friend Giovanni and two other Venetian friends at one of their favorite Cannaregio restaurants, Ai Pescatori di Fontego. The place has been written up in a number of food and travel magazines as a place where fish is creatively prepared. The owner is also the president of the fish market at the Rialto. The restaurant is very attractive with well spaced tables. One of Nan’s friends is an artist, the other works for an apartment rental company.

The menu is presented by the owner and he has special “instructions” on how to eat the appetizers to experience the best effect. Everything is beautifully arranged and prepared–appetizers include an assortment of raw fish, a plate of cooked Venetian seafood antipasti, tuna tartare and some treatments of fish and shellfish with fruits. The best primi is the seafood risotto which most of us have. My gnocchetti with scallops and zucchine is less impressive. The wines are excellent, especially the Soave classico.

It is a long and lively evening…talking about Venetian food and wine, the art scene and Italian travel…and it gives us a peek into Venetian life. We break away after 11 and get lost–easy to do in Venice’s back streets–on the way home.


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