25 January 2014

A day trip to Burano

Travelling from Venice to the island of Burano by vaporetto

If you've ever been to Venice, you'll know it is very beautiful but very busy. As we had time, we decided to get away from it all and catch a water bus to one of the islands. The crop of surrounding islands tends to be quieter than the main tourist areas and you get to see a different side to this historic city. The main ones are Lido, Burano and Murano.
A sea view of Venice
We'd seen Jamie Oliver recommending a restaurant in Burano called Al Gatto Nero as the best place to try fresh fish in Venice. And, as we are the sort of people to take a day trip purely to try a restaurant, we decided on Burano.

It takes about an hour to get the island and its a stunning, relaxed journey. As you depart from Venice, you watch the huge crowds of people fade away like ants and get a sea-view of all the historic domes and towers of Venice without anyone stood in front to restrict the view.
The picture postcard island of Burano
The island itself is like an assault on the eyes. Every building is painted a bright, vibrant colour. Meaning that the canals crossing through the island are lined on either side with a patchwork of different coloured buildings. It is really, really pretty. Even as amateur photographers, every photo we took was like a picture postcard.

Burano is famous for lace, so you'll find it hanging up in all the shop windows. But having just got married, lace was the last thing on my mind! After months of dieting, I wanted food. I wanted wine. 

After five minutes or so we found the restaurant. We hadn't thought to book and, even at 2 in the afternoon, there was a long queue of diners waiting to be seated. In the end, we ate inside because it would have been a huge wait for the outside tables. But if we went again, it would be nice to sit canal side and watch the boats floating past.

As soon as we were seated, a glass of prosecco was put in front of us and a lovely selection of bread and crackers. To start, we ordered the "Al Gatto Nero" experience to share. It was described: "encounter the Adriatic and the Venetian lagoon by savouring these hors d'oeuvre selected and created by Ruggero. (Fish proposed will depend on the night market)."
Me canal side in Burano
Essentially, we had no idea what we were getting. But for just 30 Euro, we were presented with two huge plates over-spilling with an incredible selection of seafood. It included scallops, large prawns, razor clams, baby clams, squid, octopus, mussels and a few other fishies we couldn't identify.
Before and after, the Al Gatto Nero Exerience
We washed it down with a cold and crisp bottle of Monte Grande Soave Classico 2012. Tasting of peach, almonds and citrus, it was the perfect accompaniment to our fishy treat. 

It was incredible value and very delicious. For lunch, the starter platter would probably have been enough but we'd both ordered substantial main courses! My spaghetti alle vongole was the best I tried in Italy, although I was ashamed by how much I left!

Not only was the food delicious, the service was first class too. Our waiter was from the Dominican Republic and had photos of his children above the bar. I obviously played the honeymoon card (well, you only get the chance once). So he brought us a little present of a glass, black cat from Murano. Very sweet. 
After a few glasses of wine. Well, it was my honeymoon...
After browsing the dessert wine menu for a while, our waiter brought us another gift. A glass of sweet prosecco with Venetian biscuits for dipping. We spent five minutes or so trying to decipher the taste of the drink. Apple? Pear? He finally let us know it was strawberry. Absolutely mouth watering. 

Afterwards, we wound our way back through the streets to the vaporetto terminal. Very full, slightly inebriated and having enjoyed a lovely, romantic meal. 

It's a bit of an effort to get to Burano, but in my view, 100% worth it. Especially for the trip to Al Gatto Nero. Without a doubt the best meal I had in Italy and a great experience in a pretty little town. 

But remember to book a table at the Black Cat restaurant. 

Getting there:

We'd been walking around Piazza St Marco, so took the vaporetto (water bus) route number 24 from the San Zaccaria terminal just a short walk away from the square. The vaporetto goes via Lido for a change at Punto Sabbioni. You can then hop on the vaporetto route number 12 which stops at Treporti before finally arriving at Burano. It cost 39 Euro for a pair of return tickets.

You can also get to Burano from the terminal on the other side of Venice called Fondamente Nove. This is a slightly cheaper and quicker route, but I guess it depends on what side of Venice you happen to be.

We travelled at the end of September when it was warm and dry. Around 26 degrees C.

19 January 2014

Why are there so many padlocks on bridges in Italy?

Lock your love in Italy

For a wedding present, a friend of mine gave me a padlock with the initials of my husband and I scrawled on it in permanent marker. In the attached card, she wrote for us to go to Venice and "lock our love". I had no idea why but it was a wonderful, mysterious present.

Once we got to Venice, we soon saw the answer. All along the Rialto Bridge, the Ponte dell'Accademia and Scalzi Bridge are rows and rows of padlocks, all with a pair of initials inscribed on them.
Rows of padlocks on
 the Ponte dell'Accademia

If you go to Florence, you'll find the same on the Ponte Vecchio. And in Rome you'll find them on the Ponte Milvio.

Apparently it's a trend that started in Rome a few years ago. Young lovers would inscribe their initials on the a padlock and then throw the key into the river Tiber as a symbol of eternal love.

It's thought a novel by Federico Moccia inspired the cult. The book, called Three Metres above the Sky was later followed up with I Want You, in which a young couple from very different backgrounds begin a romance. They attach a padlock to Rome's Ponte Milvio in order to seal their everlasting love.

I say apparently, because unfortunately, the book doesn't seem to have been translated into English. And, my Italian is pretty much limited to wine and food.

Unfortunately, the Italian authorities don't like it much.They claim the padlocks damage the historic bridges and that they are an eyesore. So they've been removing padlocks from the bridges in Venice and Rome and 5,500 were removed from the Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence with the reason provided that they were scratching and denting the metal of the bridge.
The romantic view from the Ponte dell'Accademia

There were signs up everywhere giving threats of fines for anyone caught attaching a padlock to the bridges. And, in Florence, the Ponte Vecchio bridge was patrolled by police (we weren't sure whether this was because of the padlocks or the pickpockets).

It doesn't seem to stop people carrying out the ritual though. As there was little evidence of any locks being missing with the rails and posts of the bridges literally bulging. And, on nearly all the stalls surrounding the bridges there are locks being sold for a few Euro and they will even help you out with a permanent marker so you can brand your padlocks.
The Ponte Vecchio in Florence
And I think they look lovely and not an eyesore at all. Plus, the whole romance of the act really helps add to the romance of the cities. I think it is a lovely thought to imagine thousands of couples throwing keys into the river, with the same hope in their souls that this symbolic gesture will help ensure their love survives the rocky waters ahead.

And did we attach our padlock to the bridge? Well of course not. It's not allowed....