One of the (many) things that I had to look forward to when we decided to move to Italy for Dave’s school, was that his program would take us just a two-hour train ride from Venice, where one of my cousins has been living for a few years.
On Saturday, Dave and I took the train to visit and see Venice, and thanks to my cousin and her boyfriend, we had personal tour guides 🙂 . We completely lucked out with the weather, too. Saturday and Sunday were sunny and perfect for exploring. Neither Venice nor Udine has had much sun the last couple weeks, so we couldn’t believe our luck!
We were greeted at the train station by my cousin’s boyfriend, who took us to meet her for coffee. We chatted for a bit while she took a break from her studying for exams, but then it was back to the books and Dave and I wandered around a bit. Her boyfriend took us to Piazza San Marco (where he left us to continue his study sessions) and Dave and I had a chance to walk around the Piazza and the Rialto areas.
It was also during this time that I should probably mention one of the elements that will make this trip so memorable: our stop at a spice shop. But let me back up a minute. Before coming to Italy, I knew that there were certain (food) things that wouldn’t be available here; for instance, cilantro. It’s not a thing here. Which is a problem, given my undying love of Mexican food. Sigh.
Luckily, Dave’s parents came up big at Christmas time one of their presents to me was a super-stretchy handbag and could serve as a shopping bag (it’s BYO here) and inside the bag was a bottle of dried cilantro leaves and a bunch of envelopes of seasonings for tacos, fajitas and enchiladas. Yes. So awesome.
Anyway, I thought I was set, but upon arriving here, I could NOT find ground cumin. I hadn’t thought of this, since it was available in France! Cumin seeds? No problem. Ground cumin? Not to be found. So when we saw the spice shop and Dave saw ground cumin, I got all excited. It was only €3 for an etto (100 grams) so we went in and got one etto. The woman behind the counter scooped it into a paper bag, taped it up and we put it in Dave’s backpack and went on our way. Fast-forward to later that evening when we got to Kela’s apartment to unload our stuff before heading to dinner. Dave’s whole backpack (and all of the contents inside) smelled horrendous. Like a dirty old man who had just eaten a lot of tacos. So gross!
Everything inside reeked: our umbrellas, my knit cap, the case to my sunglasses….oh, the horror. I cannot figure out how to get rid of the odor. If anyone has any tips, they would be most welcome. Because yesterday, Dave had to walk home in the rain, with his umbrella smelling like cumin all the way. Yikes.
But back to our trip.
So Saturday afternoon, Kela wrapped up her study group and met us for lunch. She took us to a spot that served fresh, daily made foods (all of which looked tasty), somewhat cafeteria-style. We walked up to the counter, checked out all the good-looking, freshly-made dishes of pastas, risotto, sandwiches, and salads before requested our meals, which we took back to our table. I loved that this place offered the option to order more dishes…had the portions not been so generous, I would have loved to have tried it all, but as it was, my penne with bolognese was really good and seasoned perfectly, so I was too stuffed to go back (bummer).
We walked around some more and she took us to Piazza San Marco because we hadn’t had a chance to go inside the Basilica before (they had requested no backpacks and we didn’t feel comfortable leaving our valuables unattended in a locker there). So Kela was kind enough to wait outside with our suitcase (she had been the keeper of it since we’d met for coffee upon our arrival) and we quickly went in and toured, before rejoining her outside.
Eventually we made our way to Mestre, where she lives, and we dropped the bags off and lounged a bit, before her boyfriend came over and we headed out to get a drink before our dinner reservation.
Drinks were enjoyed at this hip bar which gave us a good idea of what the city was like (spoiler alert: we wished Udine was more like Mestre) and then we walked to dinner at a little osteria that had many options for the meal. Between the four of us, we opted to try as much as possible, so that led to a tray of delicious antipasti, with a selection of apps, enough for each of us to sample everything. Then we all decided to try and order different plates so we could share and taste it all. Everything I ate was delicious, especially my pasta with a cinghiale sauce.
By the time the evening was finished, I was completely stuffed and exhausted from all the walking. We immediately crashed for the night, before going to brunch the next morning.
Sunday morning, we had been invited to eat with the family of Kela’s boyfriend and eat we did! Everything was homemade and SO delicious. Andrea and his parents (and sister) were so incredibly generous and patient with my (lack of) Italian. I actually was pretty pleased with how much I understood, but coming up with the words to respond still needs some practice. They sent us home with two bottles of wine and treats, which was so incredibly kind of them.
Kela gave me a book of verbs to help me learn (thank you!) and she also let me borrow her Italian cookbook so I can 1) make delicious meals with readily available ingredients, and 2) learn the language at the same time. Genius. And tasty!
We walked around Venice some more after the meal, before we had to hop our train back to Udine (where the afternoon got cloudier and grayer as the train roared closer to Udine–very metaphoric, really).
I can’t wait to go back and visit again. It was so nice hanging out with Kela and Andrea (and his family). On the train ride home, I was thinking about my friend Natalie and a blog post she wrote when she was moving back to the States from France. She wrote that “you never stop needing your people,” which stemmed from a story about her little cousin getting “lost” at a family reunion and crying out, “where are my people?!”
It’s true. You always need your people, and I’m glad I’ve got some people over here.