Tuesday, September 5—Los Angeles
Our fall trip to this beautiful part of Europe started with a drive from our apartment in San Francisco to southern California to visit with family and to leave our car in the driveway of friends with whom we would be traveling. We park on the street in San Francisco and have to move the car every few days because of city rules and street-cleaning requirements. Storing our car in the city while we away are on a long trip costs far more than it does to drive it south where we can park it for free. Thank goodness for friends with driveways.
Our flight from LAX was on Swiss Air to Zurich and left almost on schedule. The meals were bad, the seats were tiny, but the entertainment system was good and we each watched 3-4 movies. Managed to get a few hours of sleep as well.
We arrived in Zurich a little late but had plenty of time to make our transfer to the onward flight to Venice on a Helvetia (Swiss Air Express?) flight across the Alps that arrived in Venice around 7 pm. We retrieved our bags, bought Alilaguna tickets at a kiosk, and marched quickly to the dock for the 7:30 boat to town, which we caught with just minutes to spare. We couldn’t see much—the windows were small and darkness had fallen--but it was exciting to be back in one of our favorite cities in the world.
It took about 70 minutes to reach the Arsenale stop, where we disembarked and were greeted by the excitable Denisa. We walked with her over two small bridges to broad Garibaldi Street (which becomes a canal a few hundred meters on) and onward to our lovely upstairs apartment, which we had reserved on VRBO for Є700 for three nights. It had 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, an eat-in kitchen, a comfortable living room, and a small balcony overlooking the street. The place was charming, artsy, and comfortably furnished, and we loved the neighborhood. Only about a ten-minute walk from Piazza San Marco, Arsenale is one of those parts of Venice where many Venetians seem to still reside. Just outside the zone visited by most tourists, via Garibaldi boasts many small shops, bars, and restaurants. Denisa recommended Restaurante Il Giorgio, about 100 m up the street. There we shared a delicious late-evening spaghetti alla aglio, olio, e pepperoncini (pepper), simple, yet perfect, and very lightly breaded delicious fried calamari and langostines. Washed down by ½ liter of Friulano house wine and aqua frizzante, this meal under the umbrellas outside the restaurant was a great way to celebrate our 48th wedding anniversary, which we remembered just in time, before the clock struck midnight.
We were sleep deprived but not ready for bed. Besides, our friends, who had flown a different route, through London, were due to arrive soon, so we decided to meet them at the Arsenale boat stop. Very romantic, waiting by the dock, almost alone, looking out on the lights sparkling around the lagoon! As soon as our friends were settled in the house, we all headed back out for drinks and (for them) a little food. We found a nearby bar that was still open and enjoyed Є3 glasses of prosecco while our friends snacked on sandwiches, beer, and wine. It was 1:30 am before we all turned in for the night, exhausted, but so excited to be in Venice again.
Not surprisingly, we slept in until 11:00 am. Hated to miss one of our two mornings in Venice, but we needed the sleep. Well rested, we headed out to the nearby Coop grocery to buy some supplies. Four people, each with different desires to fulfill, leads to a fair quantity of food! Back at the apartment, flooded intermittently with welcome sunshine, we had an indoor picnic of olive bread, baguettes, 3 kinds of cheese, red onion, tomato, fruit, and a local cabernet of the Veneto.
Thus fueled, we walked up Garibaldi past the Giardini to where it became a canal with a walkway on the side; when the walkway ended, we turned north toward the Arsenale, where the Biennale art festival was showing a huge number of international works. In the garden part of the Biennale (free entrance) the works ranged from mundane to provocative installation art. J (my husband) walked unknowingly through an exit of the Biennale gift shop and found himself inside the part of the exhibit that required a stiff entrance fee and proof of purchase. Perhaps he should have stayed a while, but we beckoned him back out. It turned out that to purchase an entrance ticket would have required us to go back to a side street very near where we were staying. Perhaps unwisely, we decided we just didn’t have time for that. Instead, we enjoyed wandering around the free section and its interesting artworks. In retrospect, I regret not spending the $$ and the time to take in more exhibits of the Bienniale.
Eventually we wandered back to the apartment for a little down time, as the weather turned threatening. Soon an intense rain storm was pelting passersby on Garibaldi, and handheld umbrellas popped up here and there. After dark the rain stopped, so we decided to walk over to Piazza San Marco, about fifteen minutes away. We were in luck, as the weather (and maybe the dinner hour) had left the square, and the usually busy streets that lead to it, much less busy than usual. The bands played to a scattering of paying customers and we got to immerse ourselves in this iconic square without having to dodge pigeons and people—just puddles. Eventually we headed for one of the San Marco vaparetto stops where we purchased a 2-day pass, knowing that we would be back on the boats several times during the next two days, and hopped a boat back to Arsenale.
Back in our neighborhood we returned to Il Giorgio for dinner. The restaurant was filled by a large party enjoying a celebration of some kind, but the waiter indicated that there was seating in the back room (none outside due to the rain). With a background of loud singing from the next room, we enjoyed another excellent meal, if not quite to the standard of our first one.
We headed out a little before 8 the next morning to catch a vaparetto to the nearby island of Certosa, where we would meet up with a guide from Kayak Venice for a morning of kayaking on the lagoon and among the canals. We landed at a long pier on Certosa, across the shipping channel from the Arsenale. The island seemed very quiet and largely deserted as we walked, on a perfect day, to the small hotel where we were meet our guide and other kayakers on the trip. Our guide was a young man from Denmark, and our fellow boaters were three young American women who were married to US Air Force personnel stationed in the Veneto. Together we walked out to the marina, listened to the safety talk, and got into our kayaks. We are experienced kayakers and strongly prefer single kayaks to doubles, but we knew the others had reserved the three available singles so we ended up in a double.
We started off in the quiet waters of the marina but quickly entered the hustle and bustle of the main shipping channel, which had some waves as a result of both the recent storm and the boat wakes. The idea was to cluster the boats together, wait until the coast was reasonably clear, and paddle quickly to the other side. Being in a double helped here--it gave us more power on the channel crossing. Once at the gates of the Arsenale, we entered the canals, passing several of the places we had visited the previous day, hugging the left side of the canal as instructed. We zigged and zagged and practiced our right-angle turns as we went from one canal to another. It was a great perspective to be on the water and under the laundry hanging over the canal between the buildings.
Eventually we entered the open water again and then abruptly reentered the canal system by passing under the first of a series of bridges. This brought us out of the Arsenale district and into the central part of Venice around San Marco. Here the canals were narrower and the water traffic began to increase, with many water taxis and small commercial boats at first and then an increasing number of gondolas. These other boats always had the right-of-way, so at canal intersections we spent a good deal of time waiting for them to pass. Very near San Marco, we had to wait for some 15 gondolas to pass by in succession before we could continue our paddle. It felt extra special to be seeing this area in our own kayak under our own control. Eventually we reached a small channel opposite the cemetery island of San Michele (Cemetario). We crossed over and hugged the shoreline for a while before striking out across the main shipping channel (we had been in it when we took the Alilaguna from the airport) to the shoreline of Certosa and then proceeded to the entrance to the marina and the end of a perfect trip. What a special morning! If you like kayaking at all, I highly recommend spending some time in Venice with Kayak Venice. It was one of the most memorable paddles we have ever experienced.
We had some well-deserved downtime back at the apartment and then, around 6 pm,, took a vaparetto from San Marco Zaccheria to Zattere on the Guidecca canal. We were looking for a place to eat and eventually ended up at the floating restaurant in front of Hotel La Calcina, where we had stayed, not too expensively, on our first trip to Venice. We had enjoyed a lovely lunch here on our second trip to Venice and thought it might be worth a try for dinner. And it was--we had an excellent meal in really enjoyable surroundings as the sun set over the canal. The four of us dined on braised veal liver with vegetables, perfect branzino with potatoes, gnocchi with scallops, and a Mediterranean-style Caprese (with olives, capers), which was delicious.
We eventually took a vaparetto back to the apartment. Great day!
September 9—Venice to Rovinj, Croatia
In the morning we sadly had to pack up for our departure later in the day. Around 10 am we crossed by vaparetto to the nearby island of San Giorgio to visit the eponymous church with a 360-degree view of crowded San Marco and the rest of Venice. The views required a climb up to the top of the church. From here we were able to get a clear sense of our kayak route through the canal system and of how long we actually spent in open water, especially on our return to Certosa. Down in the church proper there was an interesting art exhibit and impromptu singing by a talented soprano, which was an unexpected treat.
We returned to Arsenale and met up at the apartment with Denisa, who refunded our security deposit despite not looking at anything in the apartment—I guess she just assumed we didn’t abscond with any of the pottery. (She was right.) We then gathered our gear and walked to Giardini to take a very crowded vaparetto to San Basilio on the extension of the Giudecca canal, where we were to catch a ferry to Porec, Croatia, later in the afternoon. We left our luggage at the terminal for Croatia Ferries and then walked across a small canal where we found a place for lunch--pizza, salad, and wine at an outside table in a small square. We took a stroll around the quiet neighborhood and then returned to the terminal to board the mid-size Viking Prince.
The ship’s route took us out of the Guidecca to San Marco and around the Arsenale into the main shipping channel that we had crossed in our kayaks, and eventually out of the lagoon and into the Adriatic proper. The views of Venice were spectacular! Once in open waters, it became apparent that there were some stiff winds generating rough waves. Partway across there was an announcement that we would “reach port before the storm arrived.” Nice to know that the bumps weren't part of the storm. We soon disembarked, having totally forgotten our luggage, which we had stored on the boat upon embarking. Mental lapse! Fortunately our friends had been reminded about their luggage at the immigration desk and spotted ours as well.
Porec looked lovely, but we were heading south to Rovinj, where we had reservations. A driver we had arranged online a couple days before was waiting for us with a nice van, and he drove us 40 minutes to Rovinj to a spot near the Airbnb apartment we had reserved—the lodging was in a pedestrian-only zone, but the driver had called our hostess for us and she was waiting for us at the drop-off point and led us the short distance to our apartment. She claimed to speak many languages but couldn’t really understand any of the ones we tried. She showed us around the apartment: Ikea modern, with 2 bedrooms, a small eat-in kitchen/lounge, and an tiny bathroom. She also recommended a restaurant or two and gave us complimentary glasses of a homemade wine made from malvasia grapes. The reaction to the wine was uniformly negative, ranging from undrinkable to I’ll drink it only as a courtesy.
Thus fortified (or not) we headed down to the port area for an outdoor dinner at Sidro. Our waiter was fluent in English and very helpful. We shared the famous local spicy pork stew and some grape leaves and potatoes, along with steamed cabbage. Our kind waiter talked us out of ordering a large fish appetizer because what we had ordered already was more than enough. He was correct! We washed our meal down with a half liter each of red and white wine. The threatening weather held, and we enjoyed a nice walk home through the quiet streets.
Next: A couple days on the Istrian Peninsula
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Tuesday, September 5—Los Angeles