The daily diary of a wandering restaurateur In Italy
July 17 - Venice

OK, siesta is a civilized concept . . . but we woke up at 3am and weren't able to get back to sleep! Is it possible to get too much sleep? Well, it didn't hurt to get an early start to our last day in Venice, particularly with the tourist crowds. An early start meant that we were able to get into the Doge's Palace without waiting in line for three hours . . . but we agreed that no matter how spectacular, it paled in comparison to Versailles. It was a good history lesson about the days of the city states and what it was like for the 400 years or so that Venice ruled the western world. By the time we got out, the line to St. Mark's Basilica was four days long, so forget that. We still have the Sistine Chapel ahead of us, so I suspect we will survive.

We spend most of the rest of the day on the water, a very Venetian thing to do. Everything in Venice happens on the water and the boat traffic is occasionally comical, with vaporetto and gondolas jockeying for position with postal boats, police boats, work boats, UPS boats, water taxis, private boats and everything else that floats! We took the vaporetto to the Lido (Venice's beach - but don't swim there!), Murano (the island where the glass-blowing industry is centered) and around the industrial exterior. It is easy to think of Venice as only the Grand Canal, but in fact there are many islands around the area that have quite a different feel to them. Venice itself is still the most picturesque area but the perspective of seeing the rest was interesting.

We took a break for lunch on the Campo de San Stefano, one of the larger squares in Venice, at a little place called Le Café. It was tourist-y and the food adequate, if uninspiring, but got me thinking about why we chose it over the many other outdoor dining options in the area. I think it had to do with the umbrellas. The restaurant next door had an outdoor covered patio, but it seemed dark and unconnected with the scene in the piazza itself. I really liked the feeling of the mass of market umbrellas. It gave the place the sense of being shady but light and I found it reminiscent of a homemade "tent" I might have made as a child. In the US, we tend to put out tables with an umbrella over each and the effect is not the same. In any event, it might be a good way for a restaurant to create a sense of place outside in an otherwise flat, uninteresting area.

Once again we had dinner at Trattoria alla Fontanella. In one sense I felt like I should have tried a few other spots but at the same time, found that I was drawn by good food, reasonable prices and a connection with the owner who had made himself available from the first night I dined there. Personal connection is powerful but particularly when you are a stranger in a strange land -- a lesson that applies equally at home.

Allesandro, the proprietor, has owned the restaurant for 20 years. He is in the same position as most independent operators in the US, that of being there every night the place is open. His market is primarily locals with a few more tourists in the summer. He says the hardest part of operating in Venice is when the place floods! Primarily in the winter, a southern wind will raise the water level and Venice goes underwater. He will get about a foot of water in the restaurant. It typically lasts for only a few hours, but it happens 5-6 times a year! How about that for an operating issue? Of course, when the restaurant has a foot of water in it, so do the streets.

Tonight we catch the overnight train to Naples with a connection to Sorrento. I thought it would be more interesting to sleep on the train than to lose a day sitting there watching the countryside go by. Somewhere along the way I hope to find a way to connect to the Internet and finally download all this for you!

Le Café and Allesandro

The day's travelogue

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