Thursday, May 23, 2019

Part One of Europe: Adventures in Italy

The day in Venice was gray and drizzly, though not especially cold.  Much to my surprise, this made for a great evening.  The city, not nearly as crowded as it might otherwise be.

We caught a water taxi from the airport into Venice (as there are no cars here, only boats and walking as means of transport).  After a 2 hour nap in our hotel room (as I hadn't slept at all on the red eye flight over the night prior), we walked out into the mystery of Venice.

In the rain, Venice was moody, colorful, with the quality of a watercolor painting done up in vivid hues, all slightly blurred and shining with the sheen of rain.  We walked down narrow cobbled alleys, the city deserted and quiet.  Turning corners and met with brilliant green canals, their surfaces dotted and pitter-pattered with rain.

Starved and tired, we didn't spend much time (which we should have) scoping out a top-notch place to eat.  Instead, we accepted the restaurant's recommendation of their "friends place" down the street.  And while the meal certainly wasn't bad, it was sub-par, mediocre.  The type of Italian food one might easily find in the US at a mid-grade restaurant.

We continued on through Venice after eating.  Walking over one of the many stone bridges that connect the alleyways and labyrinth like streets of Venice.

The buildings are worn, peeling, chipped away at, with the appearance of even slowly crumbling.  Though done up in vivid shades of reds, oranges, yellows, blues, teals, and creams.  The shutters are wooden, with cookie cutter carvings stamped into their center.  Elaborate flower boxes adorn most windows and balconies.  Antiquated door knockers in the shape of lions heads or human faces are affixed to the front of many doors.

This city is one laden with and oozing of enigmatic atmosphere.

Squid ink pasta.

Following dinner, we walked Venice for like 3 hours.  In the meantime, stumbling on a way cool gelateria (Maxx spotted it), Gelato di Natura.

They served all natural gelato, in an array of vibrant, enticing shades.  We went inside, a bright respite from the rain momentarily.  Maxx got the Lemon Cake and a scoop of another flavor which I cannot recall.  I had the dark chocolate, which was excellent.

We stood outside the little shop, under their black awning, watching Venice in the rain as we ate.  People bustling past.  The old city, vivid and eye catching.  Bewitching and quiet.

And then, we stumbled upon the famed Rialto Bridge, overlooking the Grand Canal.  See the next few photos below...

So quintessential and characteristic Venice.  Worn and withered buildings.  Colorful splashes abound.  Narrow, green canals around every corner.  Greenery and flowers hanging from and crowded balconies.  

Romantic.  Quiet.  Mysterious.  Atmospheric. Old.  Narrow.  Colorful.  Bustling (in certain spots). 

After our evening of wandering Venice, we awoke the next day and caught a bus to Cortina D'Ampezzo.  What was only about 2 hours away as a straight shot though took us almost 6 hours to reach by bus.  However, the last half of the journey was particularly awe inspiring and jaw dropping.

We drove alongside of staggering, dramatic, rocky, jagged peaks.  Trekking straight into the middle of being surrounded by them on all sides.  Snowy peaks, lush green mountains, long sweeps of forest.  The bus ride was a sight to behold.

On arriving in Cortina, we walked the 15 minutes ish from the train station to our hotel, the town all but deserted and quiet.  The bags on our backs, like boulders strapped to our bodies.  Backs aching within minutes.  Both Maxx and I hunched over comically.  Myself exclaiming to be dying from the pressing weight.

Our hotel was a charming, inviting, adorably decorated little Alpine hut of sorts.  All warm hued wood and fairy lights, wooden beams and windows looking out on the dramatic, rocky Dolomites.  There were endless sweeping fields, all brilliant and bright green.  Punctuated with sections of forests and smatterings of alpine huts.

We stayed in Hotel Villa Gaia, which I highly recommend.  The staff was wonderful, the atmosphere, rustic, cozy, and romantic.  The views, jaw dropping.  And great location in proximity to town.

The view out our window/from our balcony.

The view, just walking down our street from the hotel.

Our hotel.

Cortina D' Ampezzo.  Pretty awesome spot to celebrate a 30th birthday, if I do say so myself ;-)

Maxx and I took a walk this afternoon, prior to his 30th birthday dinner celebration that evening.  The walk was serene and wildly scenic.  Passing rushing rivers along the way, chalets and alpine huts, soaring mountain peaks capped in snow, expansive fields, lush forest.

We walked over a hill, the scenery surrounding, even more dramatic.  It was a captivating and awesome walk, to be sure.

See below for the photos of our walk.

Then, we wandered into the little city center.  Though silent and deserted at this time, it was mostly made up of touristy little shops.  The clock tower was gorgeous.  Several buildings had intricate, eye catching details along their facades.  We paused in a little cafe, on the hunt for gelato.  Each of us had a small bowl, along with a mug of tea (as it was quite chilly out).

And then, Maxx's 30th birthday dinner.  A gift from my mom and me.  We went to Ristorante Al Camin, per Maxx's choice.  

Maxx started with a cured meat platter.  I had a radicchio pie, which looked unappealing, but tasted awesome.  For his second course, Maxx had lamb ragu.  I sampled a ravioli with pumpkin sauce and, if I recall correctly, maybe arugula.  I cannot quite remember.  Maxx had a third course of boar cheek, which I could not be persuaded to sample, despite his trying valiantly ;-).

Our conclusion of the meal was spent luxuriating over four, yes, four desserts.  A pear and ginger cake, which we agreed was the standout sweet.  Though this was closely followed by a chocolate cake, which was more like a mousse, covered in chocolate pieces, raspberry sauce underneath.  Decadent and divine, though light and airy.  We had cannoli in a puff pastry wrap.  And then, decided on sampling the tiramisu, which Maxx liked alright, though I thought was icky (cream atop of small amount of actual coffee).

All in all, the dinner was superb.  I asked Maxx about the highlights of his 29th year.  As well as what he hopes for his 30th.  It was a wonderful, cozy, happy, and delicious evening.   

Stay Tuned!!  Part Two: Slovenia.  To be posted within 72 hours :-D

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