Central Europe 2008: From The Czech Republic to Poland to Austria to Croatia to Slovenia to Italy
Day Twenty Six – Vortex Of Sorrow, The Coffee Comedy Caper, Bella Venezia, Cupid Lends A Helping Paw, It’s The Big One Elizabeth, Wine On A Rooftop, She’s Got Panna Cotta Thighs And Cupid Shines From Above
It was between 4:30 and 5 a.m. when Tracy and I started to get ready to hop on the 7 a.m. ferry that would transport the four of us to our final European destination, Venice. I was out of bed first. Kim and Mary had given us their satellite phone to us to call home, and although I still had held out some slim hope for Cupid recovering, I had a bad feeling inside my stomach as I keyed in the number.
When the voice at the other end answered, I could immediately tell that my worst feelings were going to be, unfortunately, confirmed. “Cupid passed away about fifteen minutes ago,” our friend Susan told us. She was with Cupid (seen above and below in his favorite spot to get a suntan while watching the hummingbirds) when he died, and for that we were grateful.
I had to relay the bad news to Tracy, and by the time we met up with Kim and Mary, they could tell by our faces that we were now at, what we called, “The Vortex of Sorrow.” The Porta Antica location, like I mentioned earlier, is just a short walk from where you catch the ferry, so at least that was positive.
As we waited for the ferry, the skies, in an attempt to mirror our mood, opened up, and we were greeted with a heavy downpour. The moment reminded me of Marty Feldman’s Igor in Young Frankenstein when he and Gene Wilder were exhuming the body.
“Could be worse,” Igor said.
Dr. Frankenstein replied, “How?”
“Could be raining.”
Fortunately the ferry had arrived and we scurried on board.
Once underway, I decided I needed some caffeine to get me through this day. I got up and had them make me two cappuccinos. When they handed them to me, I found it somewhat odd that they also gave me straws for the drinks, but I took them and returned to my seat. It was now time for some Tom madcap comedy.
The boat was skipping over the rather rough seas at a good clip, and each time I attempted to raise the cup to my lips, the boat would bounce and the coffee would spill over the cup onto my pants. After watching me continue to partake in this fruitless endeavor for a few moments, Tracy reminded me that these straws were probably given to me for a reason.
The ferry made a quick stop in Piran, Slovenia, and then it was on to Venice. A few minutes out, I had a terrible thought. Tracy had booked that “expensive, non-refundable, non-exchangeable, no way in Hell you’re getting your money back” ticket to Los Angeles, and now, of course, there was no reason to go. I forget which online agency we bought them through, but now we were stressing about a huge payment we didn’t need to make.
The weather was turning progressively better as we zipped across the sea, and by the time we reached Venice, the skies were bright blue. Once again, location turned out to be on our side.
Venezia Lines dropped the passengers at a ferry building, which, as it turned out, was located only two bridges from our next hotel, Pension La Calcina, where the four of us stayed in 2005. Amazingly, the staff let us come back for a return engagement.
The first thing we asked was whether we could book the rooftop patio at the hotel for the evening, and we reserved it from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. (I do not know why other guests do not take advantage of that space, but we are always happy that they don’t). You can see the patio in this photo I took of the hotel from a Vaperetto.
Before lunch, we told Kim and Mary that we had to go online (computer is located downstairs at La Calcina) and see if we could finagle a way out of having to pay for Tracy’s ticket, although we knew the chances of that were remote at best.
When we checked our email, we had a message that said, “Due to one of the legs of your trip becoming unavailable, we are going to have to cancel your entire itinerary. Your credit card will not be charged.” We were, of course, quite relieved and was our first inkling that maybe Cupid was performing some last-minute magic on this day.
Our room was the same as the one we had occupied in 2005. It was small and clean with a small patio that had just a sliver of a view of the Giudecca Canal (foreshadowing alert). We unpacked a few things and met Kim and Mary on the deck of the La Calcina restaurant, La Piscina, which sits out over the canal.
I had a delicious crepe with Gorgonzola and haricot verts. Mary enjoyed rice with zucchini and roasted yellow pepper sauce. Kim and Tracy had the pasta with pesto and green beans.
It was a gorgeous day, but at this moment, we were not the best traveling companions. We told Kim and Mary that we would meet up with them later so they didn’t have to be followed by the “Tom and Tracy” Black Cloud.
Well, although I was sad, I wasn’t quite in the mood to die, so I did what most people do when they think they might be having a heart attack. I went in search of the place where I had my first Cafe Corretto back in 2005. Nothing stops heart pain better than a little espresso and grappa, I thought.
On the way back to La Calcina, I stopped and picked up a bottle of wine at Cantine del Vino Schiavi. It just so happened they had a bottle of Lamole di Lamole Chianti, a place that the four of us had visited in 2005.
We met Kim and Mary in the lobby, and Tracy had to tell them about my fake heart attack. Well, that’s all Dr. Mary needed to hear (although not a doctor, she is a qualified dental hygienist and more knowledgeable than the doctors I go to on a regular basis). Mary had me sit in a chair in the lobby of the La Calcina and took my pulse. Fortunately, she had not packed a stethoscope.
“Tom,” she said. “I have determined that you did not have a heart attack but are suffering from heart break.” Of course, we all got a good laugh, proving once again that laughter is the best medicine. She prescribed that I go upstairs and take a shower. “After some rest, you’ll be fine to drink wine.” First, Tracy and I shared a “Singing Gondolier” (aka sgroppino), because this was the first place we had ever tasted one.
Promptly at six, we met Kim and Mary on the rooftop. They had also purchased some vino, along with cheese, meat and bread (we always like to eat and drink before we go out and eat and drink).
“I found a special bottle of vino,” I told Kim.
He smiled and said, “Well, so did I, and I bet I know what you bought.” Sure enough, we had bought the same wine at the same store.
The view out onto the canal from the rooftop at La Calcina (if you stay here, take advantage of this spot) dazzled the mind and the senses, and we toasted not only Cupid, but also our fantastic good fortune that we had been able to return to this beautiful place.
We had planned on dining at a restaurant we had read about in Dorsoduro situated on a tiny alley called Osteria Al 4 Fei, but when we got there, we found out that it was closed for the month of June. Plan B turned out pretty good for us.
Located near the Campo San Barnaba and next door to the restaurant we had wanted to dine at on this evening, we saw a charming little restaurant called La Bitta. It had a tiny garden with four tables and a cozy interior (photo is courtesy of the restaurant).
We had (at first) a rather grumpy but (later) funny waitress who grew up in Kentucky, and the food was terrific. Mary and I decided on the lamb chops with peppers, zucchini, yams and mashed potatoes. Tracy went for the pasta with cherry tomatoes, while Kim had another pasta pesto (I think he just liked saying it).
Only one of us had dessert, and that, of course, was me. That’s because they had a scrumptious panna cotta with chocolate sauce on the menu. As our waitress handed it to me, she told me how much she loves eating panna cotta. Without missing a beat, to the tune of “Betty Davis Eyes,” she sang out, “That’s Why I’ve Got Panna Cotta Thighs.”
That night, as we walked back to La Calcina, there was a harvest moon that shone an amazing reflection onto the Giudecca Canal. It was truly spectacular, and fortunately Kim was able to take a fantastic picture of it.
Back up in the room, Tracy went to bed, but I was really restless as the thoughts of this very long day raced through my brain. I was drained. I decided to snatch one of the overpriced mini-bottles of wine from the mini-bar and sip it out on the patio.
I plunked myself down at the small table, opened the wine and poured it slowly. It was a very warm, comfortable evening with just a hint of a breeze. After taking a sip, I lifted my head to gaze out at my narrow view of the canal and what I witnessed still resonates with me today.
The harvest moon, seemingly at that exact moment in time, was filling up what I perceived as the entire sky and it was situated directly in front of me. The canal, its water lapping at the foot of the nearby bridge, appeared to be on fire from the reflection. The entire spectrum of my view was filled by this remarkable tableau, and the sheer beauty of it remains ingrained in my memory. To say the least, I was completely mesmerized by this phenomenon.
I was thinking, “This is absolutely incredible. I only have this miniscule view onto the canal, and look at what I am experiencing right now.”
At that moment, no matter how silly and improbable it seemed I truly believed Cupid was making a grand earthly exit and telling Tracy and me that he was fine. I had no doubt that if any cat could have pulled it off, it most certainly would have been him.
Crazy? Maybe. But one thing is for certain; that is one Venice view I will never, ever forget.
Next: Day Twenty Seven – A Near Slip Up, By Giorgio What A View, No Abbot In Castello, Who Is That Masked Man, Alas No Cat Puppets, Up On The Rooftop (part two), Intimate Canal Dining, Not So Wild About Harry’s And Battle Of The Bands (San Marco Style)