Our Trip to Venice

January 25th 2017 came around very quickly. Cagliari is at the opposite end of Sardinia to where we are in Olbia, it seems stupid to take a 3 – 4 hour train ride when we have Olbia airport literally within walking distance of our marina but the flights were a lot cheaper from there, more frequent and direct to Bologna. Graeme and Jayne dropped us off at the station which was nice of them as it was quite early and we don’t do ‘early’ anymore!!


The train journey only cost 16€ each, we were a bit tight for time as the first bit of the train ride was by bus due to track maintenance but we got there just in time. The flight was great as it was quite clear and we could see places that we had sailed to in RR like Corsica, Elba and Livorno. Brilliant. 


Neil met us at Bologna airport. It was great to see him again and he drove for about an hour to his family home just outside of Padova. The lovely Erica was there to meet us as was ‘Molly’ the dog and ‘Miou’ the cat. His parents were away in Oman visiting Neil’s brother but we were pleased to hear that they would return before we left. 


After a quick bite to eat we went out for a walk around Padova. I don’t know about you but I have never heard of the place but the old town was beautiful with a university dating back to 1222 where Galilieo was one of the lecturers. Padova is also the setting for most of the action in Shakespeare’s ‘Taming of the shrew’. It was nice to be in the company of Neil and Erica as we wandered around this beautiful place. We stopped for a spritzer, it’s a typical drink that Italians choose for a bit of refreshment on their way home from work. Ours was made up of Prosecco and Campari, was orange in colour and tasted like WD40 to me. I didn’t like it at all. I asked Neil why Padova wasn’t high on the list of ‘things you must see’ when you visit Northern Italy and he replied that it was because of all of the other fantastic historical towns and cities in the area. For instance Venice was only 40 minutes away!!


The plan for tomorrow was to visit three medieval towns, Cittadella, Bassano and Marostica. After a nice breakfast Claire and Erica took ‘Molly’ for a walk before we left stopping at the beautiful Villa Contarini for a quick look then on to Cittadella. There was snow on the ground where we parked next to the fortified walls that completely surround the town. We walked through one of the main gates to the museum entrance which also allowed you access onto the battlements. 


The museum was very interesting but climbing up the narrow staircase onto the battlements was brilliant. The brick battlements are so well preserved and a great place to visit. After walking around the walls for a while we dropped back down into the town. It was very nice there, we stopped for a coffee and a sandwich after visiting another part of the museum before jumping back into the car and heading for Bassano.


Bassano Del Grappa is a fabulous place that sits on the flat Venetian Plains at the foot of the Alp’s. It takes its name from Monte Grappa the mountain that sits up high behind the town. It has a very interesting covered wooden bridge over the fast flowing river Brenta. There is a lot of history here with the first and second world wars featuring heavily. Walking across the bridge you can see the pock marks in the masonry from bullets fired in WW2. Furious battles were fought in both wars with huge losses on both sides as the Alp’s are the only barrier between Austria/Germany and Italy.


The other thing about Bassano is the Grappa. Grappa is distilled from the leftovers, the skins, pulp etc. from the wine making industry. It is an acquired taste and I can’t drink it in it's pure state but when it's mixed with something, we tried Blueberry I think it was OK ish. We bought a bottle for Neil’s father from the famous Poli Distillery. 


On then to our last village Marostica. It was a beautiful drive through the foothills to the village. We parked up and walked through the narrow streets to the town square. Claire and I really liked all of the places we had visited so far and this was no exception. Neil and Erica told us that Marostica holds a medieval themed chess competition every two years although it's not just an ordinary chess match as they use real people and real horses for the Knights! How about that. 


As we wandered around the square you could see the chess board painted on the stone floor and looking up you could see the remains of the castle built up either side of the hill. It was getting cold and dark now so we retired to a beautiful café where we had hot chocolate and whipped cream.      

 

What a day, what a day. We were so lucky to be shown around these beautiful places by Neil and Erica. We returned to the house and had a lovely Pizza that Neil made from scratch!! It was lovely honest. After a few drinks we hit the sack as believe it or not we were off to Venice in the morning!!!

Neil had to pick his parents up from the airport and couldn’t come with us to Venice so after giving us detailed instructions about the trains he and Erica dropped us off at the local station. There was a bit of a queue at the ticket machine so Erica rushed across the road and bought ours from a tobacconist which seemed a bit odd but we would have missed the train if not for her quick thinking. We waved them goodbye and boarded the clean, cheap and on time train to Venice. I must admit to being quite excited and as we crossed the water to stop at Santa Lucia, Venice. I couldn’t wait to see those famous buildings, canals, and gondolas. 


As it was mid-week and a rather cold day in January there was not very many people around. Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t empty but I have heard stories about it being so busy you couldn’t walk around at your own pace. Neil had told us the best thing to do on your first visit was to just wander around, get lost and slowly make your way to the Piazza San Marco as there was a lot of pleasure to be had by just discovering small corners, bridges and passageways in this amazing city. This we did and we had a great time. We did end up in San Marco Piazza a few hours later. After a coffee and a toasted sandwich we paid to go into the Doge’s Palace. The history and artwork in this one building is amazing. First built in 810 (no I haven’t missed a 1 out) it has had many reincarnations due in the main to damage by fire.


When we had seen all we could see we made our way out and walked slowly back to the station going back a completely different way. We stopped to by Neil’s mum a little Murano glass owl, she likes owls apparently. We were lucky in that we knew we were going to return in a couple of days’ time so we didn’t need to try and cram everything in on our first visit.


We caught the train without any problems and Neil met us at the station. It was nice to meet Neil’s parents Jill and Stefano. Both Claire and I think Neil is very lucky in that his parents, Jill from England and Stefano from Italy met and married in Germany staying there until Neil was 6. Both were language teachers. From birth Jill spoke English to Neil whilst his father spoke Italian to him and he learnt German from both of them and of course when he attended school there. Now he can speak these three languages fluently as well as Spanish and Portuguese. 


Erica cooked us a lovely meal and it was nice sitting around the dinner table talking to Jill and Stefano about their trip to Oman as well as our experiences so far. We had a nightcap sampling the Grappa we bought for Stefano which wasn’t too bad at all and went up to bed. We were knackered and we had a full day ahead of us as Neil and Erica are going to take us on a tour of the Prosecco wine region. 

The following morning, after breakfast we were in the car and on our way by 10.30 we were heading first to Asolo which turned out to be a very pretty village with the nickname of ‘The city with 100 horizons’ it was beautiful and we had our first glass of Prosecco in the Terrazza bar Castello. It was very nice but we were on a tour of the region so we couldn’t dilly dally. We stopped for a few minutes at Villa Masere a world heritage site. It was beautiful but we were looking for more Prosecco so we headed for Valdobbiadene.  The town was OK but nothing too special although the Prosecco was very good indeed. We had a large glass in the café overlooking the town square. 


We asked Neil what the D.O.C.G meant on the label of the prosecco bottle. This apparently is the seal of approval, the proof that the grapes only come from the Prosecco wine region. It was very nice here but we were all feeling a little peckish and it seemed that Neil new just the place to eat. We were back in the car climbing up into the hills where it seemed that every inch of available land was covered in vines. We stopped at Ristoro Fos De Maria just outside of St Stefano. It was perched on the side on a steep hill and from the outside it didn’t look like anything special but inside it had a wonderful feel to the place a bit Swiss chalet ish maybe. Large pine tables running along next to big windows that allowed a spectacular view of the prosecco wine region. Neil and Erica ordered for us and we had a couple of bottles of…………Prosecco to wash it down. The food was delicious with the meat being cooked on an open wood fire whilst Claire had beautiful vegetable baked pancake things. We also had Polenta which is a kind of semolina, dessert and coffee. What a brilliant meal. 


After we recovered we were back in the car heading for Combie another town wedged in the hills surrounded by grape vines. After a wander around Neil took us to a restaurant that cooked meat on 4ft long skewers that rotated in front of an open wood fire. We had more Prosecco and sat watching the meat slowly cook. It took about 4 hours!! We didn’t have any honest I was just saying……


It was time to head back home but Neil and Erica suggested dropping in to see some of their friends that lived close by. It was starting to get dark now as we slowly drove out of the hills onto the plain. We hadn’t been going long when Neil pointed back up into the hills and said ‘that’s where we are going’ there were three or four tiny pricks of light high up in the hills. We turned off of the main road and started winding our way up and up round a series of hairpin bends until the road came to an end outside a long low building perched on the very edge of this very steep hill. We got out and walked around to the front of this beautiful place called Locanda ‘La Candola’ just out of Solige. Neil didn’t knock but just opened the front door and walked straight in which I thought was very strange. Once inside I realised that it wasn’t a large family home but a very, very nice boutique hotel. We walked through into the restaurant where Neil’s friend Loris was obviously very pleased to see Neil and Erica again. After a bit of rapid Italian I heard our names mentioned and we shook hands. We sat down at a nice table in front of an open fire. Loris disappeared but returned almost immediately with glasses and a bottle of prosecco!!! Then a pretty woman emerged from the kitchen hugged Neil and Erica and after more rapid Italian she spoke to Claire and I in very broken English introducing herself as Serena the wife of Loris. We all sat down to enjoy the Prosecco. It was nonstop Italian conversation as the two couples caught up with each other’s news. Claire and I didn’t understand a word that was being said but oddly enough we didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. We heard our names mentioned every now and then also Erica said the numbers 60 and 40 so our age difference must have come up in conversation. After a few more minutes of rapid talk Neil took me on a quick tour explaining that he and Erica had stayed here for a few months and that he was god father to Loris and Serena’s Son Matteo. The place was very impressive with 7 en-suite rooms a swimming pool, BBQ area with a separate bar and a very popular restaurant. The family lived in separate accommodation about 50 meters away from the main building.

Catering for weddings was an important part of the business and the setting was perfect. Neil explained that on a clear day you could easily see Venice from the balcony. 


When we got back Matteo had arrived, he was a very nice lad about 16 – 17 tall and skinny. He reminded me of my son at that age. Also Giulia the very pretty 14 year old daughter came in a few minutes later, they were a very nice family and they invited us to stay and eat at the restaurant, they were fully booked but Loris said we could stay at the table by the fire. I thought that it was too much of an imposition on them but I kept quiet. Looking at Claire I could see that she felt the same. Neil spoke up and said that we couldn’t stay as we had dinner arranged with his parents which wasn’t strictly true but it sort of was if you know what I mean. We said our goodbyes and soon we were back in the car heading back down the steep hill with Matteo squashed in the back as we were dropping him off in town. 


The trip back to the house was fine and we did indeed have supper with Neil’s family enjoying a lovely meaty bean soup type thing made by Erica. We were tired out. I was longing for my bed but we were going back to Venice in the morning, I know!! And Stefano offered to provide us with a route around the city that took in a few of the best church’s, views and interesting spots. We got out the maps and marked each spot with care. We then said goodnight and made our way slowly upstairs.

We had got into the habit of taking the lovely ‘Molly’ for a quick walk in the morning up the very steep path behind the house and into the wooded countryside behind. It was a good way to start the day as ‘Molly’ was a lovely dog. She gets so excited, quivering with pent up energy running and running as if every walk was going to be her last. 


Neil and Erica dropped us off at the station, they couldn’t come as they had been invited to a Sunday lunch/get together with some old friends of theirs. The train was on time and soon we were crossing the Grand Canal using the Ponte Degli Scalzi which is the bridge almost outside of the station. We unfolded our map and started to zig zag along canals and over bridges towards our first church which was San Pantalon. The ceiling was spectacular, painted by Giovanni Antonio Fumiani and it is claimed to be the largest painting on canvas in the world.


We zigged and zagged making our way to Stefano’s next suggestion which was one of the largest churches in Venice. It was the basilica di san Giovanni e Paolo. After the 15th century all of the funeral services of the Venetian Doges were carried out in this very impressive church known locally as San Zanipolo. Inside it was very spacious but unfortunately there was a service being held so we couldn’t see all of the works of art.


On then but the next of Stefano’s suggestions was closed so instead we took a trip on a gondola. It’s hard not to do this when you’re in Venice but at €80 for half an hour it’s easy to find some excuses not to. It was enjoyable and I felt a little better as I asked the gondolier if he would take €60 which he did without hesitation. I should have offered €50!!!


When we resumed our tour we headed for a spot where Stefano said we would have a good view out across the lagoon towards the Island of Murano where the beautiful glass is made also of Isola di san Michele which has been the cemetery for Venetians since the early 19th century.  


Before we got there we found a nice place to have a coffee and a sandwich. We were both cold but it was warm inside.


After looking at the view for a while we moved on to our last spot on Stefano’s map which was the Jewish ghetto which sounds bad but in fact is very nice. There are about 500 Jewish people that still live in this area which was allotted to them back in the 1500’s. The story goes that this area was chosen because there are only 2 or 3 bridges into the ghetto which could easily be blocked off or policed should the need arise. Interestingly there was a manned guard hut in the middle of the main square to deter any protests or unrest.


This bought us nicely back to the station and finished off a very enjoyable day. Thank you Stefano. Claire checked her new ‘fitbit’ exercise watch thing and it told us that we had walked just under 8 miles!! A coffee before we got back on the train? Don’t mind if I do.


We boarded a train going to Castelfranco Veneto which was close to where Neil and Erica were to make it easier for them to pick us up also Erica was going to spend a few days with her mother before they returned to their boat and she was travelling by train and was leaving from this station so it all made sense. It was sad saying goodbye to Erica as we are not sure when we will see her again as we were off in the morning too.


We travelled back to Neil’s house to be greeted by his parents. We had a nice meal with them and discussed all that we had seen that day. I helped with the washing up although Jill had everything under control. We had a nightcap and planned to say our goodbyes as we were leaving for the airport at 08.00 the next morning but both Jill and Stefano said they would get up to see us off so we went up and packed before falling into bed.


We slept like logs, (we woke up in the fireplace…haha) no we slept very well but by 08.00 we were ready to leave. We thanked Jill and Stefano for their wonderful hospitality promising to return for a visit when we sailed RR in to the marina in Venice hopefully later in the year. We had to take it easy on the trip to Bologna as there was a lot of fog about but we arrived in plenty of time Neil stopped at the 'Kiss and Fly’ area we got our stuff out of the car, said our thanks and goodbye’s hugs all round and made our way into the airport. The plane was a little late but not too bad. We caught the train ok too without the need to change onto a bus this time. Graeme and Jayne were there to meet us at Olbia and in no time at all we were back home on RR. What a trip, what a trip! Thank you Neil and Erica, Jill and Stefano. Thank you.

It was great to be home, we love our boat. Soon we were back into our routine of doing nothing slowly….

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