Day 11: Castellina, American War Cemetery, Venice
April 3, 2004
Today, we venture on to Venice. The decision of whether to drive or train to Venice was resolved by a train strike. So off we were in our putt-putt of a car. We didn’t get very far on the road when we came upon Castellina’s market day. All the locals were shopping, so we joined in buying more Easter chocolates, gifts, and little jars of aromatic herbs and spices from the nicest man, Duccio Fontani. Reluctantly, we said goodbye to Tuscany and headed north.
Having had a father serve in fierce fighting during World War II, and knowing that many of his buddies perished in those battles, we could not pass American War Veterans Cemetery without stopping to pay our respects. Your heart breaks as you drive onto ground where over 4,400 American military personnel are buried, 1,400 of whom are unknown...
“Here Are Recorded The Names Of Americans Who Gave Their Lives In The Service Of Their Country And Who Sleep In Unknown Graves.”
The rows and rows of crosses and stars of David stand on a sloping hillside. The only sounds you hear are chirping birds and the rush of the river below. The memorial has two atria and a stone travertine wall containing the Tablets of the Missing Soldiers. Military operations are beautifully outlined on a granite wall of intarsia marble. There is a chapel on the grounds where there is always someone present to escort family members to a gravesite.
The cemetery is south of Florence on Via Cassia, surrounded by woods, on the banks of the Greve River, on land that was liberated in August 1944.
The next leg of our journey was uneventful. Even though the roads were foggy, there wasn’t much traffic, so we zipped along just stopping for lunch in Ferrara at the AutoGrille. We arrived at Marco Polo Airport by 2:00, found our way to the Avis office, dropped off the car and arranged for a water taxi.
Finally, we were on the water splashing our way to Venice. How exciting seeing Venice for the first time from the taxi! We were standing up videotaping our arrival and just reveling in the beauty and the uniqueness.
The taxi driver quickly found the tiny canal in Cannaregio, just a short walk from our hotel, and we didn’t even have to cross a bridge to get there! The boat landing was just steps from the SS Apostoli and just a few more steps to the Hotel Giorgione.
As soon as we set foot in the lobby, we knew we would just love this hotel. The lobby is nicely appointed with warm woods and huge arrangements of fresh flowers. We were greeted at the front desk by the most delightful people who welcomed us warmly and who were very helpful with directions and recommendations.
Our room was just beautiful! We had a superior room that was small but we did have room to stretch since it was a duplex. Downstairs was a king-sized bed, antique night stands and writing desk, an armoire and a stocked minibar. Upstairs was a sitting room with a silk covered divan, TV and a small balcony overlooking the tiled rooftops and towering campaniles with church bells ringing and the sun shining! The bathroom was large and modern with an enclosed shower. The lighting throughout was all Murano glass sconces.
As beautiful as the room and view were, we just had to get out of the hotel and into Venice. We left the hotel with directions to Da Alberto for an early dinner. As I’ve said before, we get lost...a lot. We actually had to find our way back to the hotel to ask for the directions again and this time, we found our way to the restaurant. But not before we roamed a maze of tiny streets in Cannaregio, stopped in a church or two and took photos, all the while pinching ourselves that we finally made it to Venice.
We arrived at Da Alberto without a reservation but they were more than happy to accommodate us if we could finish our dinner in less than two hours. Of course, this was not a problem for us. The kitchen was even kind enough to offer us a shrimp risotto that wasn’t even on the menu that night. The risotto was delicious as was a very tender and delicious filet of beef with rosemary with an arugula and tomato salad. Why we ordered a house wine, I’ll never know; it was not very good. But we had a very good meal and were very thankful that they found a table for us. The waitresses were very sweet and attentive.
We were so tired that we were convinced that a higher power guided us back to our hotel. We snooped around the hotel a little discovering its charms. The sitting rooms were lovely with comfy sofas and chairs and Murano glass everywhere, chandeliers, sconces and special pieces set in display cases—very tastefully done.
There were also two beautiful breakfast rooms and an outdoor courtyard for breakfast and tea. A nice feature was a small but comfortable bar area which was open in the evenings for a nightcap. Next to the bar is a billiards room with a computer and a free Internet connection. We discovered that evening, that we also had turndown service, candies on our pillows and two umbrellas in every room. We really appreciate those little touches.