The Travel Test: Would Our First Trip Be A Disaster Or A Delight?

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bikes in europe
A first vacation to Italy tests the tenacity of the author's relationship.

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 ten kinds of sauce, I could live contentedly on protein bars, so I felt pretty adventurous letting the server choose what we should sample—salty creamed fish spread, tiny spicy langoustines, and pasta tossed in anchovy sauce. All delicious.

Cliché or not, we set off for a Bellini nightcap at Harry's Bar at the Hotel Cipriani. Who can resist a Hemingway haunt? I was tempted to snatch a signature ashtray—they are so bright and shiny, after all—but they’re less expensive than a drink, so we bought one instead.

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