“Caffe con panna”
“Per voi?” The bartender looks bemused.
For me? Obviously, who else would willingly order espresso topped with whipped cream at 9pm on a Sunday? I nod. He still looks bemused.
Now a huddle of elderly Venetians are laughing. My montagna di panna is causing an unexpected stir.
I finish it quickly and step out into the damp, heading towards St Mark’s Square. It’s odd: no tourists and few people, bar a large group of elderly, fur-clad women leaving the Teatro la Fenice.
San Marco’s is eerie. The chairs are stacked outside Caffe Florian and a bitter wind from the lagoon disturbs the puddles in the square. I miss the orchestras, competing for customers to sit down and drink overpriced coffee and summer’s long, humid evenings.
It begins to rain. I’m told that there should be acqua alta tonight: a regular occurrence in Venice during the winter, hence the raised walkways circling Saint Mark’s.
I follow the signs towards ferrovia. Venice must be one of the safest cities in the world, yet the echo of my footsteps is oddly unnerving. How can a city possibly be this silent? Back on Strada Nuova, comforted that the fruit-sellers haven’t quite packed up yet.
I can’t help but feel that I shouldn’t really be here. Is it okay to take a week out of university to visit a friend and resume, if only temporarily, my au pair status?
By the end of the week, I decide it probably is.
For one thing, I discover something incredible – definitely more interesting than reading about the Sack of Constantinople, and probably also more useful. There’s a little spot in Canareggio that serves THE best fried vegetables. As we wait, each batch of garlic, cauliflower, courgette and artichoke is battered and fried, then tumbled into a paper horn. They even fry mozzarella. It’s a delight: the Italian battered mars bar.
One morning it’s so foggy that the bridges, the duomos, and the gondoliers smoking beside their boats are submerged in grey. Walking through the Jewish ghetto, I stop at a bakery for some pane all’ uvetta (raisin bread – simple but delicious). After a coffee it’s time to turn back, past Canareggio’s crowded fish stall – Thursday appears to be a busy day – and head towards La Zuccha, a highly recommended vegetarian osteria. I get lost (of course), found, hopelessly lost again – ah! Google maps! – finally, I find it. The courgette lasagne turns out to be utter cheesy heaven. Vegetarian and not a tomato in sight, it might well be sacrilege.
I spend a week eating, playing with Barbies and rejoicing in coffee. It is mostly damp and cold and still. Venice in winter: hauntingly beautiful but desperately lonely.