A first vacation to Italy tests the tenacity of the author's relationship.
To be honest, I'm not a natural traveler, and several close friends have refused to board another plane with me. So when my boyfriend of a mere five months offered to whisk me away on a romantic trip to Italy, I was hesitant.
On one hand, I'd never been whisked as far as the corner deli, so the prospect was tempting. On the other, I was having horror-movie flashbacks of a crappy (dutch) weekend in Mexico with a guy who was angered by my clumsy scuba diving and amused by my seasickness. That relationship barely made it through customs.
This time, everything was going so well. Did I dare tempt fate with nine days in a foreign country?
Wednesday: Somewhere Over The Atlantic Ocean
Who was I kidding: What girl is going to turn down a free trip to Europe? Not I, I thought, rather smugly, five hours into our six-and-a-half-hour flight, pleasantly tipsy on Alitalia's cheap red wine. Suddenly, someone poked me in the ribs. It was the boyfriend, who'd noticed something peculiar on the little screen on the back of his seat.
"Look!" he said. "The plane is going back to New York!"
We were indeed making the world's largest U-turn. A passenger had gotten ill and needed to be dropped off immediately.
Of course I felt horrible for someone who was sick enough to merit an emergency landing on the tundra, but the glitch also gave me pause: Was it an omen?
After a two-hour layover in Canada, the plane took off again. Five hours after that, we landed in Milan, smelly and delirious, to find that we had missed our connecting flight to Venice.
My first thought was of my bag and the carefully planned wardrobe inside. Since childhood, I've had recurring nightmares about losing my luggage.
I shared that thought with the boyfriend.
"Yes, but have you ever actually lost one?" he asked. "There's nothing to get upset about yet."
Thursday: We Open In Venice.
Three hours later, the Venice baggage claim was finally in our grubby view. Around and around it chugged, past the smartly dressed Italian officers and their handsome German shepherds, only to grind to a halt, having failed to produce our bags.
Another omen? I slumped into a black leather airport chair. But before I could finish my mental tally of what everything in my brand-new suitcase was worth, the boyfriend presented me with the airline's toiletry kit (complete with three-bristle toothbrush and dog comb) and whisked me out the door. He had quickly hatched a plan: "Distract her with bright, shiny things."
Bypassing the creaky and cheap ferry, he hailed a bright, shiny water taxi that took us directly to our hotel for a mere $100. Even unbrushed teeth, a day without sleep, and dirty clothes couldn't diminish my first glimpse of Venice. I've heard it called "the Disneyland of Italy," but what's wrong with that? The city seems to float on top of the sea like a fairytale come to life, a bit of the 17th century preserved in amber.
The boyfriend had chosen a luxurious hotel called Dei Dogi, a former palazzo in the Cannaregio Sestieri residential area. At that point, I could have slept in an abandoned gondola, so I crawled into the ornately carved bed while he went out foraging for really important stuff, such as wine and underwear.
When he woke me up bearing a demurely sexy white lace bra (in the right size) and a new pair of undies (ditto), as well as bread, a wedge of brie, and a bottle of Chianti—"They sell it right out of giant casks!"—that he found on San Leonardo, it struck me that this one might be a keeper.
The next day, after only three or so hours on the phone trying to find our bags and bump back our departure date to make up for the time we'd lost visiting Newfoundland, we set out to explore the city.
I had learned that the ornate, brilliantly colored chandeliers in the Dogi’s lobby were made on the nearby island of Murano, and decided we had to visit. It's definitely worth a trip. After a demonstration of the centuries-old art of glassblowing, you view More Glass Objects Than You've Ever Laid Eyes On. Yes, it's all designed to make you buy some insanely expensive thingamajig to take home, but the candy-colored glass is so beautiful you don't mind.
I discovered a grove of lamps shaped like bunches of grapes. I've wanted to possess such an item for nearly 15 years—don't ask me why—so I was thrilled and touched when the boyfriend announced I should pick my favorite for my birthday/Christmas/ Valentine’s/Arbor Day gift. Suddenly, the absence of my luggage didn’t seem so tragic.
Still, a girl can't live on handblown glass grapes alone. A trip to one of Venice's ornate houses of worship for a little spiritual sustenance was the next order of business. Basilica di San Marco may get most of the attention, but a local tipped us off to Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in San Polo. Its carved marble skeletons, pyramids, and saints are so exquisitely over-the-top that I couldn't bear to dilute their memory with a glimpse at another church until we got to the Vatican.
Next, we needed an art fix. Venice is filled with museums devoted to Byzantine, Renaissance, and Baroque masterworks, but I had just finished reading Art Lover, a biography of Peggy Guggenheim, who amassed an enviable collection of 20th-century art (and more than a few artist lovers) and spent her waning years in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal. So I took the boyfriend to the palazzo, now a light-filled museum, to see surrealist and cubist works by Max Ernst, Piet Mondrian, Marcel Duchamp, and Guggenheim discovery Jackson Pollock.
In return, he took me someplace that showcased his favorite Italian "art." Enoteca al Volto Calle Cavalli (rumored to be a favorite of Elton John's) is a rough-hewn ristorante tucked away on a winding street near the Rialto bridge. While the boyfriend adores "challenging" food and likes everything with