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Barbara Lombardo of Saratoga Springs, NY, is a journalism adjunct at University at Albany and retired executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Back to work, with Venice and Varenna on the brain

One hour back to the office after seven wonderful days in Italy, I am trying with desperate calm to hang onto that vacation blush despite logging on to find 2,000 emails, 10 days of news and assorted stuff business awaiting my attention.

The view from Varenna on Lake Como. Ahhh.
I spent hours sipping latte from a café in Varenna while staring at Lake Como against a backdrop of the Alps, imprinting that awesome view in my mind, ready to call up whenever a marvelously relaxing image. Will have to decide between that and a scene from Venice, as gondolas, water taxes and water buses make their way past the decaying yet elegant former palaces lining the Grand Canal.

Does anyone who’s been busting their hump at work all week really want to hear about someone else’s storybook week?

OK, here’s an almost local angle. The vacation started with a van ride shuttling my husband and me from Albany International Airport to JFK (Albany not being quite international enough). Among the others on the shuttle were a woman from Malta, her mother from Niagara Falls and a brother from Kansas. They were also on the same flight to Venice. We ran into them once en route to the Rialto Bridge, equally lost. I regret not sharing our names. So if you know a woman from Malta who just returned from a day in Venice and a cruise along the Adriatic, send my regards.

Here’s another example of a small world. Fabrizio Bazzani, the executive chef at Chianti’s here in Saratoga Springs, got me psyched to visit his hometown of Verona, about an hour’s train ride from Venice. Regrettably, with only two full days in Venice, we didn’t make the side trip, so Verona remains on our to-see list. But we did get into his suggested Venice restaurant, Osteria alle Testiere, which European tour guide Rick Steves coincidentally called his "top dining recommendation in Venice." The all-fish restaurant with only 22 seats was reminiscent in size of Lanci's, one of favorite former Saratoga restaurants, and lived up to expectations. Actually, we were lucky with all our meals the entire week.

Gondolas line up like taxis in Venice.
Venice is a place where streets are what we would consider alleys, and countless little bridges connect streams of people up and over mini-canals. After having our fill of pre- and early Renaissance art, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection jolted us into the present.

We ended our final evening in Venice with a gondola ride. The friendly gondolier had to bend low time and again as we rode under one bridge after another during high tide. I asked if he ever had a chance to ride as a passenger, and he told me that he did, once, on his wedding day 14 years ago.

We literally jumped out of bed at 7:15 a.m. on our last morning in Venice, startled out of our skin by what we thought was a heart-attack provoking wakeup call. But the siren-like wailing continued even after we picked up the phones in the bedroom and the bathroom, and we realized it was coming from outside. At checkout the concierge explained: it was neither a wake-up call nor a nuclear attack, but the siren that warns of impending flooding in St. Mark’s Square and other spots, when high tide adds to rain-swollen canals.

Our next stop was the tiny village of Varenna on Lake Como, where it was so windy and rainy on arrival that Jim’s 5€ Venice umbrella flipped permanently inside out. But the next couple of days were lovely enough to walk many kilometers, enjoying lemon trees, clementine trees and palm trees, and lunch on the outdoor terrace of the Hotel du Lac.
In the afternoon, with "The Paris Wife" in my lap, I nursed that latte on the hotel terrace as ferries crossed over to Bellagio and the snow-capped Swiss Alps stood guard in the distance. It doesn't get any more relaxing. Let’s see how long I can channel those moments.