I've discovered that one of the fun things about travel is the meeting of people from all over the world. All who seem willing to help and assist you in enjoying your trip. Two of my absolute favorite people were Sally and Ann who were staying at our hotel.
English broads (and I mean that in the kindest possible way)
We would see them at breakfast (or I would, CoCo was usually sleeping) and then late in the day in the lobby. Last night we sat with them for a nightcap after dinner. Oh ho ho. They introduced me to the nectar of the gods -- Quantro. Yum.
We laughed an talked for hours like old friends. They asked CoCo all about herself and her view of the world. They encouraged her to find her own path and to ignore her mother's pleas for her to become President of the United States (????!!!). They also introduced her to a new drink called Orange Juice and bitter lemon which she loved.
Ann happened to work at an Animal Hospital so CoCo was thrilled to tell her that she would very much like to become a Veterinarian. Sally said she owned an auction house with her husband but it was clear to us that she was a famous English actress and that was just her cover. I doubt that Sally was even her real name.
This morning I attacked them in the lobby so that I could get a picture of them (with me, ahem) which I will probably sell on EBay and make 3 thousand Euro. And here it is.
Yes, that's right. It's March. The weather is cool and clear (so far, knock on wood). However, we've encountered several evil mosquitoes in our journey. And guess what. I must be allergic. Instead of the itchy minor bump I get from my hometown mosquitoes, here I get a giant red welt. That's right, it's every bit as attractive as that sounds. And guess what else... I got one on my face. Above my left eyebrow.
Is that you gasping? It's okay, here in Venice they are used to seeing things spackled over. It makes me look authentic.
Mosquitoes notwithstanding I am in love with Venice. The people are at once kind and intimidating. The streets are crowded with people from all over the world (not just Americans, Sleepless in OL). There is a bit of a "tour-esty" vibe but I've never minded that (remember I love Disney World).
Day three was terrific.
I let CoCo sleep in to her hearts content. She was up by noon and off we went. We made a deal much like the one we made on that fateful night a couple of months ago, you remember the unfortunate Liver and Onions debacle, right? Well, Tuesday was HER day to do whatever she wanted. And Wednesday we will do whatever I want to do. That's right, I'm a slow learner.
Anyway, she's discovered a chain of shops here called LaLa's (yes it does sound like something I would name one of my children in blogland). It's an accessory store. And while the jewelry isn't expensive it is elegantly displayed on lampshades which are situated on lovely antique cabinets. It turns out they have four locations in Venice and it became our mission on day three to see every one of them. And we did. Who needs Piazza San Marco when you are a pre-teen who wants more sparkly earrings?
We ate lunch at Pizza e Kabob and discovered the Kabob part. It's Gyros. We stuck with the Pizza. We also finished up our souvenir shopping. We bought Murano glass (absolutely gorgeous) and more masks, and CoCo bought herself a keyring that says "LaLa's" on it, of course.
We dressed for dinner and made the long walk to Harry's American Bar. If it's good enough for Ernest Hemingway, I figured we should give it a look-see. It was very cool.
It was breathtakingly expensive. I told CoCo that someday when she's my age she would think back about how cool her mother was to have taken her to Harry's in Venice. She rolled her eyes and finished every single bite of her Gnocchi. I had one of their Bellini's (natch). We shared Fish Risotto (to die for, really). We also had Cuttlefish and Polenta (in their own ink, the Cuttlefish). And I should not say this -- because it will give away my complete lack of sophistication -- but Cuttlefish in their own ink, taste very much like beef stew. There I said it, sue me.
On our way out of Harry's we ran into Mitzie and Manon! We chatted and made plans for Wednesday. We are going to the Friari Church together. (Remember it's my day so I get to do what I want).
Day two has convinced me that this was a wonderful idea. There are still some things that are not perfect. CoCo still has not adjusted to the time which lead to my first Executive decision of the trip (well, besides not killing red-sweater-man).
Our walking tour was to begin at 9:10 Am. So we dutifully rose, dressed and went down to the hotel's lovely breakfast room. The staff always fusses over CoCo (is there any better way into a mother's heart?). They even made her a pot of hot chocolate just for her. Unfortunately, she was literally falling asleep as she sat there. And while she was speaking her eyes were crossing with sleepiness.
At 9:10 Am we were not on the walking tour. At 9:10 Am CoCo was fast asleep in our lovely hotel room. She slept like the dead. She did not wake up until 1pm. When she woke up she was ready to take on Saint Mark's Square (San Marco Piazza).
It was unbelievable. Really amazing. We crossed the Rialto bridge several times.
CoCo bought a fan. with a scene of Venice on it. we don't try to be cool.
She still seems a little unsorted. However, we had a lot of fun. There seem to be an extraordinary number of "underwear" shops here. Scantily clad mannequins that would make Victoria's Secret less of one. Every time we pass one I ask CoCo, "Do you need some underwear?". After about the third time she started intercepting my question. "No Mom, I have enough" she would say. We also can make one another laugh any time we say "Pizza e Kebabs" which is the "American" spot where we ate lunch that first difficult day. We ate pizza. And drank cokes. And didn't see a single Kebab.
We made guesses about what the Kebab could be...each one funnier than the last (exhausted people occasionally find things funny that other people do not).
On Day two, we got lost a couple of times. Which is fine because we don't need to be anywhere and there is always fabulous food nearby.
In fact, as we ate lunch at Al Paradiso we met Mitzie and her daughter Manon. They are Americans from Manhattan. We struck up a conversation when Manon (13) and CoCo began singing along to the same American song. Mitzie was so much cooler than me (her name is Mitzie after all) but extremely kind. She's been to Venice a million times. They had already been to Rome and somewhere else before arriving in Venice. She took my map and marked all the best spots on it and gave some wonderful color commentary. She also gave me her Italian cell phone number so that we could meet up again.
After we parted ways from Mitzie (who, by the way, was wearing four inch heels to walk the streets of Venice) we shopped and explored. We got lost a couple of more times always ending in a dead end full of doors to peoples homes. We shopped and laughed. We turned down 3,487 gondoliers all who wanted us to take a ride.
We went to dinner at another restaurant near our hotel.
It was not as nice as the place the night before but still very delicious. We met some more Americans who happened to be sitting next to us. The girl was studying abroad from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her mother (from North Carolina) and her aunt (from Montana) had come out to meet up with her and travel a bit. They were so funny, they kept insisting on taking pictures of CoCo and me for us.
We ate beautiful food. Caprese salad.
Plain noodles for CoCo (sigh) and then we had Turbot which they brought out with the head still on it. Fortunately the waiter deboned it.
The highlight of the day is when the woman from Montana asked CoCo what year she was. ? I looked at her puzzled. She said, "is she in high school or college?". CoCo literally lit up at that. "Um. she's eleven. but she's dressed up like it's school picture day". We all laughed.
Very fun day. CoCo is till not sleeping at the right times. I'm sure by the time she's adjusted it will be time to go home. I'll keep you posted.
So, we arrive in Venice off our 3,000 year plane ride (we were a bit exhausted). The lovely "transporter" met us at the airport and got us safely to the hotel.
She was full Italian, but as you will see once I put the picture here she was very blond with enormous blue eyes....I accused her of being an impostor. I accused her of being Swedish. She did not think I was funny. Apparently "snarky" does not translate well. Ahem.
Anyhoo, the inn keeper told us that it was only 10 Am and so we could not check in. He did not care that I was full-on Shlumpadinka and could not bear the streets of Venice wearing CROCS! He did not care that I began to weep (he was clearly used to making Americans cry). I said, "I'm sorry, I didn't realize that this was a French hotel" He looked puzzled. I said "Italians would never be so rude". He continued to look puzzled and told the bell hop to take our bags to the storage closet.
"Check-in is at 2 Pm" said he. I was outraged. Our lovely transporter was very sorry...mostly that she had clearly brought a crazy lady to this four star hotel.
CoCo was embarrassed. In fact, if I had to describe CoCo's first couple of hours in Italy "embarrassed" would be the only word I would use. It only got worse for her after we left the hotel.
There was a coffee bar near the hotel. Our transporter was looking for a place to leave us (after all, her job is to leave us somewhere). We told her we would be fine and entered the coffee bar. She literally ran away which would have been hysterically funny if I wasn't so grumpy.
We ordered "duo caffees" which the barista clearly mis-understood because he only gave us one. I held up "duo" fingers and he became afraid enough that I don't think he charged us for both.
There were tables set up outside and we sat in one that had some sun shining on it. A couple sips of coffee and I was beginning to feel better. That's when red-sweater man showed up. Red-sweater-man is Italian.
He is not friendly. He was mad that we'd sat down for table service when we already had our "duo caffees". He insisted that we had to pay again if we wanted to sit at the tables. Three euros each (roughly $4 each). I had visions of what Italian prison would be like after I killed red-sweater-man and then went down the street to the hotel and killed the inn-keeper. Would it be like bad mom prison or would it be "hard" time. I guessed that the food would be better than the food Andy described in the Canadian prison where she works.
I paid the six euros bitterly.
My bitterness was not lost on red-sweater-man. I'm sure he saw his own demise in my tear filled eyes. Does that rhyme? I didn't mean to. I meant to convey the depth of my frustration with Venice. Why had I drug my lovely daughter all this way? She laid her head down on the table and said, "I thought Italy would be more fun".
Being a contestant for Mother of the Year I replied, "Me too".
It got better, dear readers. Significantly so. I began looking for chocolate for the inn-keeper. CoCo was mortified. Mostly because she knew how I would handle giving it to him with a scathing remark like, 'Here, so that you will be sweeter to the next guests". After much begging she convinced me to forgo the chocolates.
An hour and a half later we went back to the hotel to use the bathroom. The inn-keeper noticed us and said, "Good News Mrs. Chased, your room is ready." I fell down with relief (okay, CoCo could not have handled that). I was sooooo relieved.
We checked into a charming room.
We knocked the trail dust off with showers and naps.
We dressed. CoCo announced that while in Italy she was going to, "dress every day like it was school picture day".
We shopped our little hearts out (yes, I got something for each one of you).
We came back to the hotel and the lovely inn-keeper made reservations for us at the restaurant down the street.
We dressed again for dinner.
We ate a beautiful dinner served by professional waiters who clearly knew something about service. The wine (a house red) was like butter it went down so smoothly. The food was delicious and very plain.
We met some Canadians who had just come to Venice after skiing in the Alps. Their daughter was near CoCo's age and was just as obsessed with the Venetian masks that were everywhere.
We tucked into bed our first night in Italy very happily indeed. The rough start will be forgotten soon enough. If the red-sweater-man goes missing it won't be because of me.
Lola sometimes speaks yiddish to me as if I know what she means. It's endearing really. She and Thurston (her husband) have given me lots of advice about Italy.
One of the funniest bits of advice is something that only a dear friend can give you. A dear friend that speaks yiddish, that is.
She said, "Dress well because you don't want to look like a Shlumpadinka. Those women over there are all beautiful."
I had to look up Shlumpadinka. And it's only partly yiddish as it turns out. Shlump is yiddish. But the dinka on the end was coined by Oprah Winfrey. (please insert witty riff on the Oprahfication of America)
So, while I am landing in Italy this morning I will take my dear friends advice and try to keep my inner "shlumpadinka" from showing.