Family travel story and guide through Venice
There was a firm knock on my door. There were two big black men on the other side. I opened the door, and with gentle voices, they wished me a good evening. They confirmed I was who I am. One of them, the larger of the two, asked me to sign a white screen on the iPad he was holding in his hand, as easily as I would hold my own, much smaller, phone. They brought into my apartment, 5 very heavy green bins, and addressed me as “sir” and thanked me before departing.
Hemingway’s “Across the River and Into the Trees”
I looked at the green bins that were provided by the storage company I use, named MakeSpace, for the sake of keeping my belongings. I scratched my head, not knowing where to start. I knew I had to unpack parts of my past, which was preserved well. The bins were filled with Christmas ornaments, photos in sepia, and very worn copies of classic novels. As I started to take things out, one item that stood out was a book by Hemingway, “Across the River and Into the Trees”. A story about a middle-aged American, scarred by war, and finds love and his youth throughout a few hours gondola voyage on the canals of Venice.
The Carnivale Celebrations have just ended in Venice
The copy I have is old, and I remembered not relating to the story when I read it as a young man. Just by looking at its cover, I knew I hadn’t read it since that first sitting, which was many years ago. I certainly had a chance of relating to it now. I’ve been to Venice multiple times, but last Spring I made a return after 17 years. The time previous, I was a much younger version of myself, traveling with a young version of my wife. It was a cold February and there were a smattering of masks being worn by left over revelers of the Carnivale celebrations that have just ended. We were young lovers enjoying walks through the small dark alleyways and stopping in for a tipple in equally small taverns. We would end our evenings near San Marco Square overlooking the great canal, listening to the classical music being played live in the background by the white-clad orchestra in front of Caffe Lavena.
Harry’s Bar and Peggy Guggenheim Museum
I remember on a Friday, we were hoping to live as American expats and visit some of the more familiar haunts that were made famous by the likes of Hemingway himself, but Harry’s Bar and the Peggy Guggenheim Museum were both closed. Due to it being the Christian season of Lent, and being a good Catholic boy, I relegated myself to not having meat on Fridays, as per tradition. We stopped at a local bacaro and had some cicchetti of bacalao fritters in the Jewish Ghetto. We weren’t quite sated, so we searched out for a more filling option. The dish we had that day was spaghetti alla vongole. Shortly after, we boarded a vaporetto to the train station. That dish was my last impression of Venice.
A Love that has lasted…
The young man portrayed in the previous paragraphs had nothing in common with the character in the book I was holding in my hand. The hand that held the book is attached to a man that has also accumulated his share of scars throughout the 17 years. Our most recent visit to Venice brought me to remember my youth, which helped heal the scars and also served as a testament to a love that has lasted much longer than a few hours on a gondola.
Osteria Al Mascaron
Upon our arrival, our daughter wanted to take me to a restaurant she and her mother had found during a trip they took without me 2 years previous. On the way over, we stumbled upon one of the small taverns that my wife and I frequented many years ago. We, of course, stopped in for a glass of vermouth. After a walk “across the river and into the trees” we reached our destination; a family run establishment named, Osteria Al Mascaron. We started our trip as I had finished it 17 years previous, with a plate of Spaghetti Alla Vongole.
Transport to Venice
Whenever I have this dish, it transports me to Venice and some of the most beautiful times of my life. Now that I have unpacked my archives, I will be sure to be reading Hemingway’s, “Across the River and into the Trees” while eating Spaghetti Alla Vongole. This time, I’m sure I’ll be able to connect with the lead character.
There’s another knock on the door, I think it’s the remainder of my storage bins. I hope it’s the same guys. I wonder what part of my past I’ll be unearthing this time…
Here’s a Recipe for Spaghetti Alla Vongole:
- Kosher salt
- 6 ounces spaghetti
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- ¼ cup white wine
- 2 pounds cockles, Manila clams, or littlenecks scrubbed
- 2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- Bring 3 quarts water to a boil in a 5-quart pot.
- Season lightly with salt; add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until about 2 minutes before tender.
- Drain, reserving ½ cup pasta cooking water.
- Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
- Add garlic and cook, swirling pan often, until just golden.
- Add red pepper flakes and continue cooking 15 more seconds
- Add wine, then clams; increase heat to high.
- Cover skillet and cook until clams open and release their juices, 3-6 minutes, depending on the size of the clams.
- As clams open, use tongs to transfer them to a bowl.
- Add ¼ cup of the reserved pasta water to skillet; bring to a boil.
- Add pasta to pan.
- Cook over high heat, tossing constantly until pasta is al dente and has soaked up some of the sauce from the pan.
- Add clams and any juices from bowl to pan, along with parsley, and toss to combine. (Add more pasta water if sauce seems dry.)
- Transfer pasta to warm bowls and drizzle with remaining oil.
Short Travel Guide to Venice
Arriving in Venice
We always use Skyscanner to get the best flight deals. However, we would suggest flying into Rome or Milan because they are the bigger and therefore more flights and cheaper to fly into. Then we recommend taking the train into Venice proper. The exit/entrance is right on the canal and it’s just magical to arrive that way. Here’s a free guide on trains in Italy from our partners: Gigi Guides.
We also recommend taking the Eurail if you decided to travel more than one destination around Europe. To read more on our own Eurail experience, please read: Eurail for family train travel in Europe with older kids
To save money on airfares and hotel stays, we also use Ebates. It’s a cash back program that allows you to earn cash back just by clicking their on their link. They have partners like Hotels.com, Expedia, Oritz and Booking. Here’s a $10 welcome link for you,
Where to stay – hotels we’ve stayed in
While we traveled around Europe for 8 months, we often used some very convenient apps to find great deals on hotels. In Venice, we found a great price for a family stay on HotelTonight.com. We stayed in Hotel Gorizia a la Valigia, which was an old hotel but clean and convenient. Use this code to save $25 on your next booking on HotelTonight: ATOLENTINO28
During Brenda and Bailey’s trip to Venice, they stayed at Bed and Venice – Casa per Ferie la Pietà and booked it through booking.com, which we use quite a bit during our travels. This is definitely a bed and breakfast and there are shared bathrooms but it is quite worth staying in this place for the wonderful views and walking distance to San Marco.
Lastly, another app called Hotels.com is great for finding great deals on hotels. Make sure to sign up to the rewards program to get 1 night free for any 9-night stay.
Where to eat in Venice
Al Mascaron – Our favorite restaurant for dinner in Venice. Please order the spaghetti alla vongole, it’s the best dish of clams you’ll ever have. Let us know if you agree!
Calle longa S.M.Formosa Venezia
Castello, 5225, 30122 Venezia (VE)
FAX – 041 2443856
E-MAIL – firstname.lastname@example.org
What to read to get ready for a trip to Venice:
This is Hemingway’s book: Another Travel guide we like for Venice:
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