Friday, April 29, 2011

The Markets of Cannaregio


Rizzo Pane is a true brick and mortar market on Rio Tera San Leonardo and is much more than it appears from the front. I especially like it because it’s not part of a large chain. As you walk in there is a bakery to the left and a section devoted to wine on the right. Sounds like the start of a picnic. As you move towards the back you find all sorts of gourmet delights packed in jars including olives, olive oils, antipasti, tuna and anchovies wrapped around capers soaked in olive oil, but as you proceed through that area and beyond the candy section you find a very large delicatessen with a decent variety of local cheeses and cold cuts, as well as some imported from other areas of Italy.


Also on the Rio Tera San Leonardo is the daily mercato where vendors sell their fresh produce. This makes it clear that Cannaregio is a vibrant neighborhood filled with thousands of residents and not just tourists passing through on their way to San Marco. This is the market where I first saw Fragolino grapes that are pressed for the Venetian wine of the same name. Fragolino in Italian means strawberry and these dark dessert grapes do indeed taste like strawberries.

The produce was beautifully manicured and displayed. Those are artichoke hearts in the bottom right photo. The vendors keep themselves busy by cleaning the artichokes and selling only the hearts. That seems like such a waste, since the leaves are so good on their own and stems can also be eaten, but having them pre-cleaned does have its appeal.

Saturday, April 23, 2011



The furthest sestiere from St Mark’s, Cannaregio is overlooked by many visitors unless they’re leaving the train station and jumping on a vaporetto there for other parts of “La Serenissima”, the Most Serene Republic of Venice. Let’s just keep it our little secret that this is one of the most authentic areas of town with the biggest transportation hub. I consider it the real Venice and have walked the many side streets as far away from the main thoroughfares as possible, to discover the serenity that few visitors ever find.

Along with the thousands of workers who live in Maestre, tourists pour out of the Mussolini modern, Santa Lucia train station every day. It can be a madhouse. You may find yourself in a crush of people, if you come during commute hours. The first time I did that my heart sank at the thought of wall to wall crowds impeding my natural walking speed. Looking left they see the Ponte Degli Scalzi Bridge that is only one of three to span the Grand Canal. Many of them cross that bridge walking into San Polo to ultimately get to the Rialto Bridge and San Marco. The Scalzi looks rather anemic in this photo, but it’s very wide with steps going up one side and down the other.

For those tourists who hop one of the many vaporetti docked outside the train station, this is the photo op they are missing. On my very first trip to Venice I took a photo here and over the intervening years thought it had been taken at the Rialto Bridge. After a long absence, I revisited the Rialto and realized it would have been almost impossible to take a photo there because it’s lined with shops. There are no gondolas in this photo and the sun isn’t setting, but I hope to repeat that photo one day.

There is so much hustle and bustle outside the station, the Scalzi Church next door can easily get overlooked. It’s quite a little gem inside and it took me 5 visits to Venice before I finally went in, even though my favorite hotel is just around the corner. The former monastery behind it has been converted into a 4 star hotel, but I prefer the small family run operation just across the street.

Pasticceria Martini in Venice

This decades old pasticceria has a sentimental attachment for me, since we first discovered it on our honeymoon. It’s located just over the Ponte Guglie as you walk along the Lista di Spagna towards San Marco. To keep hotel costs down, we opted out of breakfast and wandered around looking for just such a place. You can order pastries to go, or stand at the counter to eat them and drink your cappucino or espresso like a Venetian would. Walk in and as old Italian tradition dictates, make your selection, pay for it and then you can start your day off right.

The variety of pastry is more than you would expect in such a small shop. They have biscotti, palmiers, mini tarts, cream puffs, an assortment of filled pastries, and in the lower photo we can see French custard filled choux pastries, chocolate mousse and tiramisu. These were only in one case, about 1/6th of what they were offering that day. The pastry is baked fresh daily and I have proof.

The photo on the left shows pastry dough in progress by a pastry chef young enough to be working there for many years to come. Lights on the ovens assure us that there are wonderful treats baking right there in the pasticceria. The young American on the right, a non coffee drinker, just had his first espresso and liked it; a good indication as to the quality of the coffee.

A traditional cornmeal biscotto, a fragipane tart and two chocolate mousse rounded out the morning for us. Did I mention the cappucino comes with whipped cream?

Rio TerĂ  San Leonardo 1302
Cannaregio Venice
041 71 73 75

Friday, April 22, 2011

Quick Bites in Florence

This is going to be a quick photo essay for the most part. If you want something to tide you over in Florence there are a great variety of places that will accommodate and many will be in the main tourist areas.

Piccadilly Pizzeria has been in business since I was just out of college and I spent quite a few lira there. If you’re not so hungry or on a budget, this is a great place for pizza by the slice. You can’t miss it on the right side of the main street between the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio, about a block or so before the bridge. But if you’re heading to the Ponte Vecchio, you may prefer a panini at the next place.

Amici Di Ponte Vecchio was a newer discovery for me in 2009. A full review can be seen in RestoReco on the sidebar of this blog. It’s a few doors to the left of the bridge, on the street parallel to the Arno. You can select any cold cut from the counter and have a sandwich made on the spot, or you can look at the counter to see what’s available as an individual pizza. Don’t worry, those are samples; they make your pizza to order.

Gilli is the grandest of the cafes in Florence and their pastries are just the best. You can go in a grab a coffee and pastry for a quick pick up at the bar. Look at those biscotti and panforte; they taste as good as they look. Gilli is on the corner to the right as you move into Piazza Della Repubblica on that street connecting the Duomo to the Ponte Vecchio. If you’re wondering why I just don’t name the street, it’s because it has three separate names within a very short distance.

If anyone in your group is whining for hot chocolate with whipped cream, Rivoire is the place to go. I was introduced to this glorious elixir, in these elegant surroundings by Rossela Ristori, the woman who rented us her apartment on our last trip. Riviore is on the Piazza Signoria just east of the street we have been traveling and 4-5 blocks south of Piazza Della Repubblica. Rossella also brought me to our next stop.

Gelateria Dei Neri is on Via di Neri which borders the south side of Piazza Signoria; walk between the Palazzo Vecchio and the Uffizi Gallery and you will be on your way. Gelateria Dei Neri is a block or two away on your left. This place has the most inventive flavors of gelati in Florence. The Mexican Chocolate with Pistachio and Chile makes my heart flutter with excitement. They also make soy based and yogurt gelati.

If you’ve finally crossed the Ponte Vecchio then you must turn right on Borgo San Jacopo, walk the length of it until you can make a right turn toward the Ponte Santa Trinita. As you walk toward the bridge, Gelateria Santa Trinita will be on the left corner. This place is a goldmine for anyone who likes to cook as well as to eat because they have a gourmet store on the premises. But first things first, if you want a gelato, try the fruit flavors or the gelato made with Mascarpone cheese. If you have never tasted the cheese, it is almost like unsalted butter in richness, but lower in calories. Give it a try and report back. I can’t wait to order it again.

Okay, you don’t eat dessert or fast food. Walk back up Borgo San Jacopo and make a reservation at Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco, the White Boar and save your appetite for an early dinner. It’s very popular, but we have had no trouble getting a table when they first open. Order the Strozzapretti, a ricotta spinach dumpling drizzled in butter and Parmigiano. See full review on RestoReco located on the sidebar of this blog at the top.

As long as you’re now familiar with Borgo San Jacopo, you may wish to stop by Mamma Gina’s for a bowl of Pappa Al Pomodoro the famous Tuscan soup made of bread and tomato. Or make a reservation for dinner. Full review on RestoReco.

This Saturday market held at the park near the Ponte Della Vittoria is a great place for a light bite, providing you’re in the area which is doubtful, since it’s further out than most tourists would venture. There’s plenty of take-away foods at the markets and I purchased a delicious porchetta sandwich there. The signs show fried polenta, sausage, lampredotto, or boiled tongue panini, hot dogs, and calzone.


The Mercado Centrale and Mercado Sant’ Ambrogio, open daily except Sundays, also sell food to go or have small stands where you can stand at the counter to eat or sit down. Trattoria da Rocco at Mercado Sant’ Ambrogio pictured above has a solid reputation for good Tuscan food at local prices. That translates to cheap, since this is not in a tourist area and caters to locals, but it’s within an easy walking distance from Piazza Santa Croce. Their produce is quite good and the fruit would also make a good quick bite.

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Almost finished with gelaterie, but not quite yet. La Bottega del Gelato is also on the main drag, to the right as you head toward the Ponte Vecchio. They have a gimmick that works quite well; they sell ice cream bars and display them prominently in the front window. I have yet to try one, but it won’t be long since it’s only a matter of weeks before my next visit to Florence.


Gelateria Vittoria is a short distance away on the left side of the street, as you get within a block or two of the Ponte Vecchio. I will give my personal testimonial for the fruit flavored gelati, especially the Melone that you see on the left of the photo.


Most people traveling to Italy go to the three major cities of Rome, Florence and Venice. Some venture further to surrounding cities, easily accessible by train from this holy trinity of urban Italy. Then there are those with an adventurous spirit, and perhaps too, a high frequency of returning to Italy, who feel compelled to visit the backwaters and out of the way places, rarely discussed in depth in travel books and commonly more difficult to get to. Gubbio is such a place. If it were not for Earl Steinbecker’s Daytrips Italy guidebook, I may have never given it a thought.

Looking very much like a medieval city that time forgot, Gubbio, perched on a hill north of Perugia and Assisi, is a quaint Umbrian hill town. As you look at these photos you will notice that most of them are in a vertical format rather than horizontal. And for a very good reason, the entire old town is vertical, you can even see it in the succession of roof tops in the first photo. Don’t let that deter you, because you’ll want to work up an appetite here, especially if you visit in Fall. Unfortunately, I did not photograph food at the time of this visit, so I can’t show you the 8 euro pizza covered in shaved white truffles. I still think about that pizza and discuss it with anyone who will listen. Umbria is a great location for anyone who likes truffles because they are so abundant there, and even pizzerie serve it in season.

Most of the city seems very rustic and rough around the edges, but the Palazzo dei Consoli and its views seem much more sophisticated. It was very easy to linger there to look at the lovely panorama of Umbrian countryside. The loggia in the photo on the right is the place where markets are held and we stumbled upon a crafts market during this visit, but I’m certain you will find a fruit and vegetable market there at least once a week. If not the natives would probably revolt.

Gubbio can be reached by bus from both Rome and Florence, although we never managed to make those connections. No matter how one gets there, it is well worth the effort for this view alone, but also for the many Romanesque buildings that were constructed during the 14th and 15th centuries. It’s amazing that so many are still standing after all these centuries.


The mood set by the medieval gray stone buildings is somber and intriguing at the same time; setting ones imagination to wander, wondering what life was like in world long ago forgotten. If these were homes of the wealthy, what must the lives of the poor been like? The back streets of Gubbio are definitely a world apart from the 21st century.

Piazza Della Signoria is the main square in town and will bring you back to the present with all the pedestrian traffic. On this particular day there were mimes working the tourists for gratuities. I’m sorry to say that many fellow travelers have no appreciation for the work these people do for a donation. It’s a meager living at best. It may be of interest that there is an elevator in the lower part of Gubbio that opens at this level. Just follow the old ladies to find it, but I warn you, not all of the old ladies take advantage of this modern addition to their town. Gubbio has a thriving ceramics industry and many of the shops selling it are to the right of where these photos were taken off of the Piazza Della Signoria.

Just a few more photos to share, to help form a picture in the mind’s eye of this lovely Umbrian town.


All’Antico Frantoio Ristorante Pizzeria
This is the restaurant I recommend for the White Truffle Pizza; buy it no matter what the cost; then you may thank me.


Hotel San Marco
Although we stayed the night, we did not take photos of the hotel, but highly recommend it for cleanliness, comfort and service. I left my coat there and they were gracious enough to mail it to my next hotel.