Thursday, June 21, 2018

Venice in 36 hours :)

Train to Venezia

We arrived at the Venezia Mestre train station from Firenze (Florence) on a wet afternoon. It was a 5-hour charming train ride which took us through the beautiful countryside of Italy and arrived in Venice at 1 pm. Mestre is the penultimate train stop before the last Santa Lucia station in Venice. We had booked an Airbnb in Mestre to save on accommodation costs. Also the fact that Venice is just a 10-min tram ride from Mestre with a couple of Indian restaurants in and around, made it a good place for us to rent.

Tip: It is advisable to book train tickets to Venice in advance during busy seasons on www.trenitalia.com or www.italiarail.com


Day 1


A typical Venetian balcony



Getting around Venice on foot...

Taking the tram from Molmenti station at around 3 pm, we reached Piazzale Roma and officially entered Venice - the city on canals! Venice is made up of 117 islands which are linked together by water canals, and numerous big and small bridges. We crossed one such bridge and slowly started taking in the sights of the canals, water taxis, gondolas and vaporettis (water buses) all around us. Yes, you read it right. Water buses and water taxis! The way we have buses and taxis on land, Venice has them on its ancient waterways.

Tip: One can buy tram tickets from newspaper vendors, tobacco shops or vending machines for ACTV's T1 Line which runs from Mestre to Venice (Piazzale Roma)


The Waterfront

Water buses are a prominent mode of transport but Venice, still, is a pedestrian's paradise. It is not a very big city and can be covered in a short time from one end to the other. From a tourist's point of view, it is ideal to explore it walking and stopping at nooks and corners to enjoy it. There are hundreds of shops lined along the canals. Cafes, gelatos, delicious baked tidbits and beautiful souvenirs of Venetian masks, Murano glass wares and many others, all make this walk ever so fascinating.  So, armed with google maps of Venice on our smart phones, we started unraveling this labyrinthine maze towards Rialto bridge. All the paths are conveniently marked with directions for the major touristy places, so getting a bit lost here and there is not a big deal. ;)

Our marked walking path - Day 1

Tip:
 The distance and time for walking depicted on maps here is just for reference. We took many more hours and walked more than double the distance mentioned here while exploring the various nooks and corners of Venice.


A typical bridge across the canals


Venetian masks for sale

Murano handblown glasswares

Soon enough, we leisurely sat at a pasticceria (bakery) near a canal, sipping  on hot latte and munching on an cloyingly sweet chocolate cannelloni. The combination of the slightly bitter coffee with the sweet chocolate was not that bad!  To add to the breezy experience,  numerous gondolas rode past us carrying with them happy families with a big smile on their faces. These gondolas glided past us at just an arm's length from where we sat, brushing on their happy excitement to us.

Cafe near the canal

Rialto bridge

Again, we were off walking towards Rialto bridge. Rialto bridge is one of the oldest bridges of Venice across the Grand Canal. It is a crazily crowded bridge on any day of the year. (See the pics to witness the crowds) Lined with shops in the centre, the bridge is always full of tourists clicking away merrily to capture the best vistas of the Grand Canal, this romantic city offers.

Rialto Bridge, spanning across the Grand Canal


The view of the Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge with water taxis and gondolas on it. Picturesque, isn't it?

We spent some time on the bridge admiring the beauty of the vistas and decided to head back to Mestre through Ponte'dell Accademia, another of the bridges spanning the Grand Canal. It was late evening and we decided to call it a day after a nice Indian dinner in Mestre. Our half a day in Venice had ended beautifully with plans being made for the next day :)


Tip:

1) I would recommend Ristorante Indiano Bombay Spice and Maharani Ristorante Indiano in Mestre if you are craving for some Indian food. The former is located two stops prior to Molmenti station and is just next to the tram station. 

2) Unlike India, drinking water is charged steeply at all places in Italy, including restaurants. Hence, it is advisable to buy bottled water from supermarkets which are rightly priced. However, not all restaurants allow you to bring in bottled water for consumption.




Day 2


Our marked walking path - Day 2

The Boat Ride...

We started early at around 8 am by taking the tram from Molmenti to Piazzale Roma. In 10 minutes, we were in Venice. Acquainted with the place by now, we decided to take a water taxi to Piazza San Marco. I must admit that riding a water taxi was a beautiful experience. Water buses were overcrowded; gondolas were nowhere in sight and on an impulse, we jumped into a water taxi and were happy with our decision. Cruising at high speeds on the waterways of Venice was thrilling and with the just the two of us, it was romantic too ;) It was a 15- minute fast ride to the Piazza with the winds blowing through our hair and our faces . Soon, we touched the San Marco square and were standing in front of the huge palace.

Piazza San Marco

@ Piazza San Marco

The piazza or the square is huge and the first magnificent building that we noticed from the waterfront was the Doge's palace. The palace was the residence of the Doge of Venice, the supreme authority of the Republic of Venice and is built in the Gothic Venetian style.
St. Mark's basilica is another marvellous work of art situated in the piazza. The facade of the cathedral from outside was splendidly opulent. It reminded us of the power and wealth this unique city wielded in ancient times. Wide-eyed, we took in the beauty of the square with sheer awe, getting mingled in the increasing crowds there.

After a leisurely Italian lunch of pizza, pasta and tiramisu nearby, we wandered back to the square and decided to tour the Doge's palace. Luckily for us, the queue for the entry to the palace wasn't too big and we could get instant tickets to enter the premises. We opted for the audio guides as we did not want to be in huge tour groups and wanted our own time and space to marvel at the palace and its history. It took us more than 2 hours to tour the palace...the Courtyard, the Opera, the Doge's apartments, the Golden Stairs, its Senate room, Secret chamber, Bridge of Sighs, Prisons, Armoury and other chambers. We slipped back into the olden times imagining how things would have been then in Venice.

Ornate ceiling @ Doge's Palace

The Senate Room in Doge's Palace


Tip: Food and coffee prices are comparatively cheaper in the restaurants located in nearby lanes rather than at the shops located right in the popular piazzas


Strada Nuova - a shopper's paradise

It was still early in the afternoon after touring the palace, and having lots of time on our hands we decided to walk down the cobbled paths of the city admiring a lot many cathedrals and residences along the way.

After a seemingly long walk interspersed with stops for coffee and gelato, we reached Strada Nuova, a street which was bustling with all the positive vibes a shopaholic could ask for! It is a walkway lined with all kinds of shops for both the keen shopper and also for tourists in need for a food or drink. A few impulse purchases here and there and on we kept walking till we reached Santa Lucia station. We had done a lot of walking in our one and a half days in Venice and could cover most of the touristy areas of this wonderful city. There are other attractions and places of interest nearby like Murano and Burano islands, if one has the time and inclination to explore :)

However for us, our trip to Venice had concluded that evening. With a smile in our hearts and memories to treasure, we again took the short tram ride back to Mestre, bidding adieu to Venice. 













Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Foods of Italy


I just came back from Italy after a 2-week long trip. It was a fabulous experience unraveling a new country and its fantastic cuisine.

A Vegetarian on the Prowl...

Being a vegetarian, did not deter me from trying out the local cuisine for one can get vegetarian and vegan food everywhere in that part of the world. The choices are limited unlike India but vegetarians can happily manage with the food, especially in big cities like Rome and Florence. Pizzas and pastas with pomodoro (tomato) sauce and cheeses were my staple food there. I missed the veggies but got it compensated through dishes like eggplant parmigiana, veggie sandwiches, antipasti with artichokes and its likes. Did not find much risottos in the restaurants we had been too; so missed my favorite rice many times ;) We frequented Indian restaurants in places like Florence, Rome and Venice but Amalfi coast is totally devoid of Indian or for that matter, any other cuisine restaurants, except of course, Italian.

Italy, a country holding on to its traditions

Another thing that impressed me was the emphasis, the locals placed on their traditions and culture including their cuisine. After all, Italy is considered a cultural superpower and the birthplace of western civilisation! Most Italians talk in their mother tongue and English is hardly used in the everyday life. Contrast this with India, where parents prefer their kids to know English rather than their mother tongue! Italians do take pride in their heritage.

In line with the above sentiment, the local food which has a great variety, has been given its due importance. Food chains like McDonald's, Starbucks and global pizza chains are hardly found even in the most touristy cities. The local food is way healthier than the fast food options and yummy too. Varieties of local pizzas, pastas, gelatos and coffees dominate the food scene, which definitely provides the necessary impetus to the local businesses. Coming on to gelatos, the pistachio gelato is a must try in popular places :) I will write about it in my upcoming blogs on Italy.

Usually, Italian meals consists of an antipasti (starter), followed by il primo (first course of carbohydrates like pasta, rice, etc), then il secondo (second course of proteins like fish and meat) served together with il contorno (side dish like vegetables and salads) and fruit/dessert. Wine is often had with food and is quite common. With the Chianti region next door, does one need any further excuse to try out the mind boggling wine variants! I personally prefer red dessert wines and got back bottles of Brachetto and Camposcagno  from Florence for my occasional indulgence.

Well, all that said and done, I am attaching a few food pics from our travels there. Hope you enjoy going through them and head straight to Italy and if not there, then to the nearest Italian joint soon. ;) Oops, forgot to add that after binging on Italian food, I can safely vouch that Bangalore does dish out very authentic Italian dishes sitting in India...Bon appetite!

Huge lemons to make limonis and limoncellos!
Cheese spread with marmalades

The bread aisle in the supermarket - awesome varieties out there!


Mixed lentils soup, spinach soup and bread pomodoro (tomato) soup

Cheese spread with marmalades

Crumb-coated mozzarella

Barley zuppa (soup)

Zuppa verdure (Green veggie soup)
Stuffed artichokes topped with blue cheese


Complimentary pizza bread with our order...which alone filled our tummies ;)

Bianca pizza bread - a cracker like bread popular in Italy

Bianca pizzas topped with pesto and lip-smackingly sweet sundried tomatoes 

A typical thin pizza (like rotis) with thick crusts layered with a tomato sauce. Roma tomatoes and buffalo cheese were added to the baked pizza - no other topping but just tasted super delicious

Our typical pasta options on a given day :) Veggies are usually not added to the pastas

Local cafes serving freshly brewed cafe lattes, which provided the needed refreshment during our walking interludes


Panna cotta desert - was a bit sweet for my taste

Chocolate mousse with cake

The ubiquitous tiramisu 

Our very own slice of chocolate cake