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Travel

Green Pass day arrives – will your UK one work in Italy?

Today’s the day new rules come in force in Italy. From now on you can only get into museums, galleries and indoors in restaurants if you show a green pass proving you’ve had two Covid jabs.

Update

I tried using the NHS app barcode at the lovely Codroma restaurant in Dorsoduro at lunchtime. The staff kindly offered to see if it would work with the phone app they’ve been given to check green pass availability. The NHS barcode failed. I would not have been allowed to eat inside. It seems to be pot luck at the moment.

At the end of last month the government announced it was extending the mandatory five day quarantine for anyone coming from the UK. But at the same time it said it would recognise the double jab barcode you get in the NHS app. So Brits should be able to enter the same places as qualified Italians.

Naturally I had to check this out so this morning I headed off to the lovely Ca’ Rezzonico city museum down the way. The signs were up already.

Staff were out to deal with inquiries. An irate American couple were complaining they’d bought museum tickets only to be told their US vaccination paperwork wasn’t acceptable. Don’t know what the problem was there because I’ve read elsewhere this was OK if…

But I flashed my NHS app and was told yes, it was fine and I was free to go in. Though you don’t just need the app or a certificate but photo id such as a passport too.

So you may still have to quarantine from the UK but once that’s over you won’t be barred from all the cultural attractions.

And inside restaurants and cafes? Look. It’s sunny and 28 degrees here. I’m not even thinking of sitting inside. Everyone I’ve talked to on the hospitality front here this week seemed to think the UK app would be fine though they were hazy on the details.

In short this looks like one Italian Covid measure that won’t punish us poor Brits.

Just to be sure of everything though I wouldn’t rely on the app alone. Download a copy of your certificate and print out a hard copy as backup. Would be awful to be refused admission to the Accademia or the like because you had a flat battery.

Ca’ Rezzonico is a wonderful museum many tourists miss by the way. Highly recommended.

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Travel

Vegan Venice, in an area most people miss

It must be rotten being a travel writer at the moment. Actually my first attempt at being a professional self-employed writer was in the travel field and it was pretty rotten then. Hard to get commissions, waiting ages for pieces to appear, then waiting even longer to get paid.

Still, newspapers continue to churn our travel sections and I’d bet a pound somewhere, someone this weekend is running an article on the hidden. As in ‘Discover Hidden Italy!’ Or Greece. Or Spain. Or anywhere else you can think of.

Let’s get this clear from the outset: none of these places are hidden. They’re just somewhere you and lots of other people haven’t found. It’s not the same.

When people travel they home in on the same places time and time again. Right now, here in Venice, the Rialto and around the Piazza San Marco are pretty bustling. Move beyond that and the place is pretty quiet.

That said, Venice is like Italy. The more you visit, the bigger it gets. I’ve set three books here and have been visiting regularly for twenty-five years. But I can still get lost and there are still areas I barely know.

This article is about one on my doorstep, an area I thought unworthy of exploring, and boy was I wrong.

I pretty much always stay in Dorsoduro here, in an apartment not far from the Frari. It’s an area I know very well, and love, from the tip of the Punta della Dogana, to the Accademia, the Frari and the bustle of Campo Santa Margherita.

But with changed travel plans I needed to find somewhere new, and wound up in an area I barely knew at all, the western end of Dorsoduro. Here it is on a map.

There are two places here I did know already. The church of San Sebastiano with its wonderful cycle of paintings by Veronese, and, a short distance away, the church of San Nicolò dei Mendicoli which, to be honest, isn’t that interesting except that it was one of the key locations for that seminal Venice movie Don’t Look Now.

But I never thought it worth exploring for two reasons. First, there are a few cars driving in from Piazzale Roma. Here I saw motor vehicles for the first time in ten days.

That felt odd. The second reason has vanished. This is close to the port area where the gigantic cruise ships used to moor. Take the vaporetto past Santa Marta and you used to see the bloody great things parked up there, looming over the entire city.

Here’s one on the way out. Well now they’re gone. Finally. Shunted off to the mainland somewhere. I don’t know the details. I’m just glad they’ve been banished. Years ago I rented an apartment on the Zattere waterfront. You could feel the whole building shake when one of these monsters came down the Giudecca Canal.

So this time round, since it’s on my doorstep, I decided to take a look around this part of a city I thought I knew. And what a surprise it was too. First stop I recommend is by the entry point — the bridge into Campo San Sebastiano. Here you’ll find a little café run by a genial Chinese family.

They’ve been here for thirteen years, speak Italian better than I ever will, make lovely coffee, serve Tre Marie cornetti and do a very decent Campari spritz for €2.50. Not many places in Venice where you’ll pay that for a canal side view even if there are only a few tables. Just down the way towards the Giudecca Canal you’ll find more restaurants too.

Cross that bridge and you find yourself in front of the San Sebastiano church with its Veronese collection and only a handful of visitors. Press on and you’re in a world of empty streets, a handful of restaurants and cafes, some patches of greenery and a kids’ playground along with some university buildings.

It’s not a big area and before long you’ll find yourself at the San Marta vaporetto stop, once the place you used to see those blasted cruise ships moored.

Tucked away in this quiet, almost remote corner of Venice is a vegan restaurant, La Tecia Vegana. No meat, no fish, no cheese. This I had to try.

I was dithering between vegan options like tempeh and seitan that were new to me. But then I saw a melanzane parmigiana come out and had to have that instead.

The aubergine was beautiful, as was the rich tomato sauce. I’ve no idea what the cheese substitute was, something vaguely cheesy but quite runny too. That wasn’t so impressive but the rest was lovely.

The starter was less good. I went for panzanella which I often have at home during the summer tomato glut.

This was just bread, tomato, capers, a few olives and dressing. Definitely needed some fresh basil and perhaps peperoncino to liven it up. The house wine was lovely, the service friendly, and it was nice to be eating outside to the sound of youngsters playing football among the blocks of flats that surround the place. If you want to go, make sure to book. The place is certainly popular.

Then I strolled home, along a footpath the likes of which you won’t find anywhere else in the busy cramped streets of Dorsoduro.

It’s worth venturing beyond San Basilio and taking a look.

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Travel

A working Venice lunch – Rialto mussels

Sometimes when I’m busy here the day flashes past so quickly I barely notice until it’s time to go home, footsore and weary and try to think through what I’ve been seeing. Other times I’m more based around the apartment, living off panini bought in mostly. But there’s one meal I will always treat myself to. It’s quick, it’s cheap, and it’s doable by anyone with a single pan and a hob.

It’s mussels in white wine with cream and shallots. Probably more French than Italian, but who cares? The key lies in the ingredients — fresh, local, seasonal. That matters more in Italian cooking than herbs and technique it seems to me.

First off, the ingredients. Some decent bread rolls, in this case from the supermarket Conad, butter, shallots (not onions, you need the sweetness) and white wine. I’m just round the corner from Danilo, the vineyard with a retail shop in Dorsoduro. Their Pinot Grigio or Chardonnary is great for this and light drinking too, and at less than €4 for two litres out of the cask a bargain as well.

As for the mussels… it’s always going to be the Rialto if I can get there. You will find other fish stalls dotted throughout the city, some of them very good. But I like the experience of the Rialto, the life, the choice, the fact you can eye up the produce on different stalls so easily before committing yourself.

Mussels here cost between €3 and €4 a kilo, half the price of many place back home if you can find them. If you’ve never bought them before the things to look for are shiny shells that are closed. If they’re open they’d dead or dying.  Half a kilo per person should be sufficient but I didn’t have the heart to ask for that so I bought a kilo anyway.

Now to the recipe. What you need is…

  • Mussels
  • White wine
  • Shallots
  • Butter
  • Pepper
  • Cream

OK you could skip the cream and then this would be mussels in white wine. But I like that and Italian supermarkets do these little packets of UHT panna which are great for cooking.

First, get a chunk of butter and chop up some shallots.

Then saute them slowly in the one pan you’re going to use. And I mean slowly. The shallot should go soft and sweet, not burn.

Now clean your mussels. This is dead easy. A quick wash and scrub of the shells if necessary (it wasn’t with mine, they were so clean). Then pull out the ‘beard’, the bit of seaweed that once attached the mussel to its rope. That’s the sticky out bit here.

Beard removal

Then you should end up with a nice load of clean, closed, shiny mussels.

Reward yourself with a glug.

Chuck the clean mussels in the pan with the softened shallots.

Keep stirring them around then add some wine, not a huge amount (I over did it here), just enough so that the heat is rising. You’ll probably need to up the temperature.

Now keep moving the mussels round with the spoon. When they start to open, throw in the cream. Don’t overcook mussels. If you finish with some that haven’t opened that means you’ve done it right.

In a a minute or two you should end up with this. Lovely mussels and a creamy soup for dunking.

Ignore the ones that haven’t opened and enjoy the rest. It really is a very simple home lunch or supper, and one I’d cook back in England if it was easy to find good quality fresh mussels there.

One dish and a plate for the shells. Couldn’t be simpler. Have to say when I came to clean those Rialto mussels not a single one had a cracked shell or was open, nor was there any mud on the outside. The quality was outstanding, but that’s the amazing Rialto for you.

And the cost? Maybe €5 at the most.

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Travel

Venice in pandemic – café life returns

The city’s open again and, as I reported yesterday, busy, even bustling in parts. But the last eighteen months must have been hellish for the industries that rely on tourists. No income, only outgoings. How have they emerged from this nightmare?

Rather more successfully than you might have expected. I made it back here a year ago and found quite a lot of places I knew boarded up. Many have either reopened or been taken over by new, different businesses.

An example: the Dolce Vita café close to the Frari, a regular breakfast haunt for years. Twelve months ago a sign on the door thanked customers and announced its closure. Today, it’s open again. Not quite the same as it was but still a good spot to stop for a coffee and a cornetto.

In England, particularly in businesses owned by big corporations, prices have on occasion soared with the reopening post-pandemic. One of my brewery-owned locals in Kent has put up drink prices by ten per cent or more. Gatwick has instituted a £5 charge for cars dropping off passengers to fly there — a great way of saying, ‘Thanks, welcome back.’

To my surprise, prices in Venice don’t seem to have changed much at all over the last few years. A coffee will still cost you just over a euro at the counter, a spritz anything between €2.50 and €4 or more depending on the location. The stunning frittura mista at Osteria Al Merca on the Lido is the same €25 it’s been for years, and still enough to feed two.

Lunch on the Lido

Purely for research purposes you understand, I had to try one yesterday and can report it’s as good as ever.

Business is quiet, though. Another favourite, Osteria Ai Pugni by Campo San Barnaba, had only a few customers inside when I dropped in for some cicchetti last night. Even at this point of the year, with most students gone, it’s a place you’d expect to be packed on a Friday night.

Fridays would normally be heaving here in Ai Pugni. Not last night.

Like many places, the Pugni has set up tables outside, in its case by the canal, a little way along from the point at which Katharine Hepburn tumbled into the water during Summertime.

The Pugni is right by the bridge in the background. Not much has changed sixty-six years on except for the shops. The poor woman picked up an eye illness that dogged her for life after falling in the canal. Remember what I said yesterday about steering clear of the water here?

Outside tables are a concession from the authorities to allow bars and restaurants to serve people more safely. In some cases this has expanded their business quite a bit. A short walk away from Dolce Vita in Calle Crosera there’s a tiny wine bar, Adriatico Mar, run by a friendly husband and wife who specialise in food and drink from the Adriatic, not just Italy. There are a handful of tables by the canal and not much space inside so getting in can be difficult in normal times. Today though it has tables in the street.

How busy they get… I’ve yet to see. I chatted to the husband, a chap with a very good memory since he immediately recognised me and wished me ‘bentornato’.

The street concession is temporary for the duration of the pandemic, at the moment anyway. It will clearly become more important on August 6 when customers will only be allowed indoors if they can show a green pass certificate proving they’re double jabbed. Quite how this will work no one I spoke to knew. Your UK NHS pass will be recognised here by the way, though until the end of August at least it won’t stop you needing to quarantine for five days on entry.

The big worry, though, is winter. A year ago I recall people being apprehensive about what lay ahead. With good reason as it turned out. For many it meant prolonged closures. That same fear is about today, the feeling that we’re far from out of the woods and could easily be headed for another lockdown soon.

In a normal year I’d be looking to return here in a couple of months to finish a book. Right now, I’ve no idea if that’s going to be possible let alone practical.

That’s the last of my Venice reports, for a while anyway. I hope they’ve been useful. The city is as delightful as ever, and it’s heartening to see the crisis has done little to knock its confidence. The streets are still full of happy people, kids playing, bickering dogs and the unique Venetian spirit. Long may it last.