So dark was our room at the Vecellio that Monsieur and I found it difficult to predict the outside weather when we woke each morning. Today, our third together in Venice, saw the curtains draw back to reveal a glimpse of the lagoon and a blue (yes, blue!) sky. This was indeed fortunate as we wouldn’t spend precious hours squelching about in puddles, but it also meant that the air was even more icy than before.
Monsieur and I ducked out of the toasty hotel, into a very different Algiubagio – that of the day time, when the bar is stocked with snacks and locals stand about stylishly sipping on their first coffees of the weekend as they share local chit chat with their neighbours. I was dying for a tramezzino, or layered sandwich half in soft white crustless bread. The fillings are spread so thick that the sandwiches bulge inelegantly at their centre. The combinations are endless – tuna with baby onions, tuna with egg mayonnaise, cream cheese with grapes, ham and cheese, tomato and egg mayo… This morning’s choice would be tuna and onion, a savoury bite to start the day’s adventures. Monsieur, meanwhile, a creature of habit, remained unmoved from his desire for something more familiar, taking his staple breakfast of a croissant and coffee.
Now running on full tanks, so to speak, we took a vaporetto out across the lagoon to Burano. Being Sunday, there were lots of people dressed in their Sunday best, travelling to the islands to spend time with relatives and friends. This was a festive bunch, mingling alongside the tourists replete with signature baseball caps and gigantic cameras, or the likes of ourselves, relaxed to the point of nodding off at intervals on the long boat ride. As I took photos of San Michele and some abandoned islands, Monsieur dozed on my shoulder. Now and then, mist would descend on a patch of water, but mostly the weather and conditions were fine. In fact, our eyes ached with the brightness of light, having spent two days in the lifeless grey of winter and rain. We stopped twice at Murano to let people off and others on, and did the same at a place called Mazzorbo. From the vaporetto stop at the latter I noticed the houses, neatly lined up in colourful rows, the rainbow increasing as we pulled into Burano.
Although excited to be there and show Monsieur the fisherfolks’ houses, each painted a different hue to allow their owners to find their way home in heavy Venetian fog, it was a wrench to leave the warmth of the boat and be back outside in the bitter air. A path of Astroturf led away from the water, towards the centre of the island. Along the way we passed a house with ample front garden, boasting a couple of mature fruit trees and a resident cat on the prowl. Apparently, this house was for sale, or so said a sign hung on its gates. I wondered who would buy it. The commute into Venice proper would take a while, unless you ignored all the speed restrictions to zoom about in your own, private boat. Besides which, living in the relative isolation of Burano would drive most people slightly potty, no matter how picturesque it may be.
Monsieur and I wandered past the souvenir shops selling Burano lace table cloths and parasols, Murano beads and vases of glass, plates and goblets and more tacky tees. Following a twist of canals, we saw the houses for which this place is so renowned; red, blue and green of various depths, next to pastel pink, lemon yellow and terracotta. The fine day allowed us to take some wonderful photos. Here, with such bright subjects, it seems impossible to be a bad photographer. Considering this, we looked up at the wall of a green house overlooking a tiny communal square. There was a shrine to the Virgin Mary, fresh flowers laid at her feet by some reverent local. Returning to Burano’s main square, we were no longer alone. The islanders strolled around, going about their Sunday business, tourists seeking inspiration stared at menus outside restaurants and others fingered lace-trimmed tableware on display outside specialist shops. The proprietors must have been only too happy of the potential to make a few Euros in the off-season. In spite of the fine, blue sky, the air was still arctic, so we trudged back to the vaporetto stop, huddling in the shelter until our transport arrived.
Back on the boat, we traversed the lagoon, this time visiting Murano. A fellow passenger took advantage of the longish journey to apply a full face of make up without a single smudge. By the time Murano came into view, she was transformed from blank canvas to a blue eyeshadowed diva with fire engine-red lips. I wondered where she was going; hot date with a member of the Vigili del Fuoco, perhaps? Such saucy lips would certainly match his fire boat.
On the glass-making island, we shivered in the already-fading sunlight and walked briskly in search of a restaurant for lunch. Ai Frati had been recommended by one of our guides so once we found it, in we went. The dining room was large and somewhat Spartan, with a tiled floor and simple wood furniture. Our table looked into the open kitchen, with the ruddy chefs working at speed to create meals to satisfy the extended families seated around us. So far, it looked as if our tastebuds would be safe here. Wrong again. To start, we ordered gamberetti (tiny prawns) with polenta. Although tasty, it looked like fake plastic prawn babies on a big block of Styrofoam with vague grill marks. It could even have been toy food created to go into a toy oven on a pink plastic plate so I prayed that the main course would be more inspiring. My spaghetti alle vongole was a reliable choice, tasted exactly as I’d expected it to and disappeared down a satisfied throat, mind you, in Venice it’s hard to find a bad spag vongole. Monsieur’s meal, a plate of ravioli Bolognese, had the air of something bought off a supermarket shelf, added to which, it was depressingly small. Need I say here that the disappointment of the lunch had a direct effect on the mood of that afternoon? Shame on you, Ai Frati! You should know better than to cheat a Frenchman out of a decent lunch. You should know that this is capable of ruining his day. Frenchmen in Venice, be warned. The ravioli at this place will not make you glow with gastronomic pleasure. Head back to Algiubagio for a more reliable feast.
Forcing smiles as we braved the great Venetian outdoors, we walked to the nearby Glass Museum. The highlight of this was that Monsieur immediately homed in on a warm spot in the stairwell, so we basked there for a good few minutes before entering the much cooler exhibition areas. In one room to the rear of the building I stood at a window and gazed out at a cluster of gardens. They’re such a rare delight in Venice that I was curious to peep over the walls from an advantageous height, before continuing to learn about glass from its ancient beginnings through to pretty millefiori paperweights and elaborate chandeliers. It amazes me how sand and heat can create something so beautiful, that is, when you look at tasteful glass items. I coveted the crystal clear wine glasses with a curl of opaque white climbing up their stems like twists of DNA and feared for the contents of certain display cases as our footsteps caused them to rattle in an ominous fashion. There were glass table services causing me to imagine what damage could be done to such plates whilst dragging a knife through a cut of meat. Only the seriously wealthy could afford such risk.
Back outside in the late afternoon we took photos of the canal with its pretty row of houses and the nearby Romanesque church of Santo Donato. “Can you SMILE, please?” urged Monsieur as the camera pointed my way. I hadn’t realised that my face had frozen into a frown.
We were now too late for the glass-blowing demonstrations at the big furnaces on Murano, but that saved us the awkwardness of the hard-sell at the end. In a bead shop, we smiled at how the displays looked edible, more like buckets of hard-boiled sweets in a confectioner’s than glass accessories aimed at tourists, but we could tarry no longer. The sun was now sinking so it was back to Venice proper for us, for yet another culinary adventure, Venetian style.