Archive for Tourism


Hostel 2.0

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Nothing like a palazzo, but something that was much more useful: A converted 19th-century grain warehouse.

Up to now, my idea of the average hostel has been deduced from the average hostel-dweller, at least as seen around here in the summer.

Every sweltering day the vaporettos carry payloads of dauntless wayfarers and their gear, 80-pound backpacks that look as if they’d just arrived via the Old Silk Road lashed to the chassis of a 2 1/2-ton 6×6 truck.  Their owners don’t look much better, pounded like Swiss steaks by summer heat and malnutrition and the cumulative effect of too many languages and sleepless nights during their seemingly free-form peregrinations.  Their clothes appear to have forgotten what it ever meant to be clean.  These travelers might have credit cards and laptops and tablets these days, but going to a hostel still struck me as meaning they were essentially going to be sleeping in a multi-bed hangar, with a bucket by their heads to catch the rainwater coming through the roof.

Wrong again.

There has been a hostel in Venice since the Fifties, and it was (I’ve been told) of the Old School. I never visited it, but I read its rules once somewhere and was sorry to learn that in addition to everything else that seemed to suggest the aftermath of a festival as painted by Brueghel, the paying guests were required to get out by 11:00 AM and take their stuff with them. That seemed harsh.

But no more.  Not long ago I got an e-mail from Generator Hostels, alerting me that they had re-done the “Ostello” on the Giudecca, and inviting me to take a look at it.

I have never written about a commercial operation on my blog. It’s been a point of pride. But this philosophy, to which I am still faithful, runs head-first into my desire to be useful.  If the new hostel is a good thing, I ought to know about it.

So I went. I was shown around by Operations Manager Keti Camillo, and even if she hadn’t been so helpful, I’d have been impressed.

Bear in mind that I’m not risking the claim that this is the best hostel on the planet, because I don’t know.  But I do know that for Venice, this is a remarkable lodging resource.

This is not an infomercial.  I haven’t been paid anything by anybody.  I am merely letting you know about this place because I think it’s amazing, and I would happily stay here myself.

Naturally I consider that the maximum compliment.

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I recommend visiting a new place on a grey, foggy, rainy day. If it can overcome that, you can assume it will be even warmer and more appealing on sunny days. Here, the bar faces the entrance. Makes an excellent first impression.

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There’s something mysterious about how chairs salvaged from somebody’s backyard heap come to look so cool.


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Most of the ground floor is just one warm, eclectic little nook after another.

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This nook between two other nooks is occupied by this reworked four-poster bed which evidently has power to draw people onto it and keep them there, prone, for hours. Certain hours, anyway.

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This is the dining room, done up refectory style.

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So you’re ready to sleep. The landings/floors are color-coded and given Venetian names.

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Hallways: Wide, bright and clean. Like everywhere else in the building. These are not words I normally associate with “hostel.”

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Of course there are shared rooms and bathrooms. But they’re really clean, and there appear to be enough for everybody. By which I mean: Not just one toilet for 40 people. Bonus point: The mattresses are wider than usual for single beds. There may still be a snorer in the room, but nobody can help that.

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But there is a private double room with private bath. There are also some private triples and quads, but I didn’t see them.

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It’s not exactly an order. More like a strong suggestion.


Categories : Tourism
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Happy baguette to you

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Just to show that it’s not all lamentation and garment-rending out here, I’m sharing a glimpse of a blithe little moment in the Piazza San Marco this morning.

Four French women (no, they hadn’t been sent as reparations, or hostages, by Napoleon…) were celebrating the birthday of one of them.  It was pretty sweet.  I didn’t ask what else the day had in store for them.  Any people who are able to come up with this as the centerpiece of a party are capable of just about anything, and I hope they did them all.

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This sort of celebratory stegosaurus-tail baguette certainly upstages your ordinary old cupcake. The woman on the left was celebrating her “28th-and-a-half” birthday. I don’t see a half candle, but never mind. I didn’t wait to watch, but trying to light, and keep lit, 28 candles facing  into the wind was kind of like trying to keep all those plates spinning on their little sticks.   Anyway,I wasn’t there to stage-manage their birthday bread. They were having a great time, and that’s the end of the story.

1x1.trans Happy baguette to you


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Finding Venice everywhere

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I recently remarked on the extraordinary eagerness of people at every compass point to name some local enterprise for Venice (I exclude the Venetian Casino Resort Hotel in Las Vegas and/or Macao as being too screamingly obvious to be interesting).  And I offered the Trattoria Citta’ di Venezia in Conegliano as an example.

A reader e-mailed me a brief note in response: “Just to prove your theory,” she said, and as evidence presented the photo below, taken in Krakow, Poland.

If any other hardy readers want to join the scavenger hunt, I’d be very glad to get a photo of whatever Venicely-named establishment or undertaking you come across.  For possible, even probable, publication here.

Note: No fair doing any searches and uprooting photos from websites.  The only rule is that it has to be a place you’ve seen with your own eyes. If you can’t take a photo of it, for some reason, I’ll accept a postcard.

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This business earns one extra point for throwing in an extra non-Krakovian placename.

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This is fall?

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The first day of autumn came and went as decreed by the cosmos, but around here summer didn’t get the memo.  The heat wave that began some two months ago is still enjoying itself thoroughly, lolling on the beach, gleaming on the Alpine peaks, bringing  joy to the daring hoteliers who risked staying open and not unconsiderable damage to the farmers.

It was the hottest September on record; on average, nearly 3 degrees above the norm. In Piemonte, Torino registered 30 degrees C (86 degrees F), a September temperature it hasn’t felt since 1753. Rainfall has become a distant memory.

The farmers are not amused.  Not only are the crops lollygagging along for lack of rain and excess of heat, but the harvest, whenever they manage to make it, is going to be puny. Ten percent fewer grapes, and they’re already fermenting — unheard of.  Tomatoes and olives and rice are down 20 percent.

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No matter where you go, there will be some business named for Venice. In Conegliano Lino paused in front of the Trattoria "Citta' di Venezia," but I discovered a Cafe Venezia in Casablanca. Anyway, there isn't a Trattoria Citta' di Conegliano in Venice, which I think is narrow-minded.

But one crop is still going strong: The Adriatic beaches continue to pullulate with tourists even though the kiosks are closed and the lifeguards have all gone home.  Some wag had his picture taken under his big umbrella holding a batch of chestnuts, two seasonal icons which have never met and probably never even heard of each other.

But let’s make the proverbial hay while the proverbial sun is still proverbially glowing.  Even though school started two weeks ago, Gianni Stival, vice-mayor of Caorle (a beach town) is dreaming of a bumper crop of late vacationers and has proposed — not for the first time — that the Veneto postpone the first day of school for two whole weeks.

“It would be good for tourism,” he explains, “because now when the first school bell rings at the middle of September, families are compelled to go home.” And take all their money with them.  Never mind if little Bepi never learns the names of the European capitals or the definition of plankton or that when a girl says “no” she’s pretty likely to have meant “no” (oh wait — they don’t teach that). Whatever is good for tourism is, by definition, good for everybody, assuming that little Bepi has somehow learned to count past 20.  Or maybe that doesn’t matter either, now that cash registers calculate the correct change.

Last Saturday we decided to become tourists, in our own small way, so we took the train to Conegliano, a small but prosperous provincial town just 58 km (36 miles) from Venice.  Conegliano is  famous for Prosecco and a painter named Giovanni Battista Cima (1460-1518), nicknamed “da Conegliano,” or “from Conegliano,” so we don’t confuse him with all those other Giovanni Battista Cimas.

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I ate cappellacci di zucca, or "big straw hats stuffed with pumpkin," which were bestrewn with smoked ricotta and drenched with butter. This is a typical autumn dish -- note the pumpkin -- of the area around Ferrara, but it tasted fine here too. Three of these will give you the strength to harvest another five acres, if you can manage to stay awake.

It was a heavenly day — sorry for the farmers, but we loved it, even though we were thwarted in our intention to browse the weekly market, which spreads along the main street and its tributaries offering everything from socks to handmade baskets.  Don’t assume that Saturday has been ordained by God, or the mayor, as the perfect day for a big market.  Turns out they hold it on Friday. In case you ever need to know.

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Members of a local mycology club were setting up an exhibition of just-collected local mushroms ranging from delectable to fatal. The drought made a serious dent in this harvest, as well; there ought to have been several times more than these.

But we didn’t care.  We wandered around enjoying the sun, sat outside the duomo watching the guests arriving for a big wedding, we ate too much, we sprawled in the garden of the ruined hilltop castle. If it sounds like we did nothing, I want to tell you that nothing was exactly what we needed and we did plenty of it.
As far as I’m concerned, if this is autumn, it can stay like this forever.



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The backdrop of tiny wild apples and unshelled chestnuts (the green spiky ball) made a very attractive arrangement


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The chestnut squad at work: One man roasting them, two others sitting by bags of chestnuts from Cuneo, slitting their shells, one by one, to prevent their exploding in the heat.


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A classic autumn assortment (though no pumpkins). Clockwise from bottom left are walnuts, plums, chestnuts, giuggiole (jujubes), persimmons and grapes.

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Mirtilli, or wild blueberries, at only 12 euros a kilo ($8 a pound). Pretty cheap, considering these are all picked by hand in the woods.


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These mushrooms, on the other hand, are absolutely for eating: "Galletti" and "finferli," also uncultivated. Delectable.




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Categories : Food, Tourism
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