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Archive for July, 2010

Ahhh, Venice:. City of romance, waterways, and mystique. It really is a beautiful town, but other than the tourists during the day, it feels a little like a ghost town.

Venice is full of small side streets and alleyways. Whatever is printed on your map only qualifies as the larger streets. We tried locating the hotel using the map but we ended up taking the long way because we didn’t realize that the map makers didn’t bother adding the small side streets into the map. So we get lost and squabble a bit about who has the better sense of direction, then realize that the hotel is within sight of the train station.Duh.

So, we  throw out the map after we’ve checked in and decide the best way to see Venice is just to get lost. The one thing we learn quickly is never to be hungry while hunting for a restaurant AND avoid menus with more than 3 languages. After our long ordeal of finding our hotel, we set out to find food. Since we are so hungry, we just picked a place. After we sat down, we realized that it had 5 languages on the menu. Ugh. It was a mediocre meal that was extremely expensive.

We decide after we head back to the hotel that we will spend each part of the night before plotting out the location to meals for the next day.  Here are the two that were the most spectacular for us in Venice:

Oh by the way: good luck finding these places…. it took us 5 hrs to find the diavolo one and another 2 to find the al mascaron place. but both should be worth it when you get there.

Osteria al diavolo e l’aquasanta
3 blocks west of rialto, rue vecchia s.giovanni on calle della madonna. Anhony Bourdain featured this restaurant in his Tuscany episode and Rick Steves mentions it in his 2005 guide book. The restaurant is actually known for its cicchetti. Venice has this  tradition of cicchetti — the local appetizers that line the counters of little pubs. We came here for the cicchetti, but ended up sitting down to dinner. Venice, being a port city, has excellent seafood. We ordered a mixed grilled seafood platter for two. It showcased very, very fresh seafood. I don’t ordinarily like octopus, but the grilled baby octopus they included in the platter was incredible. A lady near me was loving her squid ink pasta and squid ink sauce, but I was too chicken to try.

For lunch the next day, we selected osteria al mascaron.  From campo santa maria di formosa, follow the yellow sign to s.s. giov e paolo to calle longa santa maria di formosa. We got jammed in the back room with picnic tables. We ordered the antipasti plate for two. It was a great selection of antipasti and the quality made us very excited for the actual lunch entree. For the entree, we selected the lobster pasta. wow. It seemed as if they gave us all of the meat from one lobster, rather than just a couple chunks of meat. The sauce was creamy, but not too creamy and pasta was al dente. I recommended this place to my co-worker when he went to Italy. He send me a picture of the dish when they served it, and then the cleaned plate when he and his friends were done eating it. You could see the swirl marks where they cleaned the sauce off with the bread. Yum.

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I was in Italy quite some time ago, but I still get asked about where people should go when they visit. Here’s what I remember for Florence:

Tourist stuff:
Definitely get advance tickets to the museums (Accademia [where David lives], Uffuzi). Advance reservations are fairly simple and definitely worth it when you arrive to gain entrance. The lines of people queuing to purchase same day tickets were ridiculous when we were there. If you make the reservation, you pick up the tickets the day before. The next day, you cruise past the long line and straight into the Uffizi.

Duomo or the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore is a must see. You should definitely take the time to climb to the top of the dome. The architectural construction of the dome is very, very neat. There are actually two domes, one inside of the other. You actually get to climb within these two domes. Its definitely not made for very tall people.

Food:

One of our favorite restaurants of the entire 2 week Italy trip was in Florence: Cammillo Trattoria at Borgo San Jacopo 57 red. Its on the oltrarno or south side of the river. Go across the ponte vecchio. Look for the (first?) street on the right hand side, it should be called Borgo San Jacopo. Walk down the street and look to the left, the restaurant is before the next street/bridge back over the river. Reservations are probably recommended. We showed up exactly at 7.30pm when they opened for dinner. The gentleman at the front door asks if we have reservations (no) and asks us to wait to see if he can squeeze us in. Mind you, the place is completely empty and is a maze of small rooms with varying table sizes. He returns in 5 mins and says he can sneak us in. Yes, the restaurant is still completely empty.

We ate  a traditional “Italian style meal”: Antipasto, two primi piatti of pasta, and a secondi piatti of some meat. I still dream about the pasta with lamb meat sauce and have made it a life goal to make a traditional meat sauce like they do in Florence. The secondi piatti was definitely a disappointment. Whatever meat we got was a dry and over cooked. I’d definitely go back for their pasta….this time I’ll order two for myself!

There’s a gelato place near the Santa Maria Novella (this is not the duomo). I think its called Antica Gelateria Fiorentina. Facing the Santa Maria, turn 180 degrees and walk down the street. It should be on the corner on your right. They have a rice gelato….which tastes like rice. It was … interesting.

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