This scribe’s philosophy is that for everything good that happens in life, there’s always pay back time. Mine was the train trip from hell. Heading to Venice from Florence, with a reserved seat, I instead found myself sitting on my luggage in a narrow hallway for over 2 hours. People kept tumbling over each other in this very crowded coach as luggage was pushed, pulled and lifted. There wasn’t a chance to unseat the squatters who was now occupying my seat. And no conductor wanted to get involved in this chaotic scenario. They waved their hands and walked by. The good news was, I was heading to the renowned Hotel Cipriani on Giudecca Island, just a five minute water taxi ride from Piazza San Marco in Venice.

My luggage unloaded on the hotel’s dock from that short but costly water taxi, I walked past a small fountain featuring Neptune sitting amongst gold fish and water lilies before I entered the pink Fortuny silk walled lobby. What was beyond this smallish entrance was sheer bliss. Built in 1950 by Commendator Guiseppe Cipriani, (he was also the founded of the renowned Harry’s Bar), it blends in with the ancient buildings on this small island.

Napoleon described Piazza San Marco as “the most beautiful living room in Europe.” If so, than Cipriani is the most exquisite lounge.

My suite in Palazzo Vendramin, not in the main building, was only a short walk along the tree lined pathway. When opportunity strikes, grab it. And that’s exactly what the hotel management did in 1990 when this once private 15th century residence came up for sale. It’s an adjunct to Hotel Cipriani and with the renovations, they created nine rather regal suites on three floors. Then they hired Belgium artist, Isabella de Borchgrave, whose trompe l’oeil depictions are so realistic, I had to touch them for assurance. Even the small elevator, which can’t accommodate more than two very slim people, had renderings and created a space that looks like a rare library.

As I sipped my caffe latte and nibble on biscotti, brought to the private terrace of my room by the butler, I watched the sun go down as the mist clouded the view of the tiled roof tops, cathedrals and the gardens of the surrounding homes on the island.

Although there is a small kitchen equipped with enough dishes and flatware for a large party, I was certain that guests wanting to eat or entertain, would just press the butler button. It just happned that he comes along with these accommodations and arranges meals from the hotel’s famous kitchen.

The living cum dining room are decorated sumptuously up to the Venetian hand blown chandelier. Bedrooms are so very spacious each with a large marble ensuite and a basket filled with wonderous lotions and potions plus the fluffiest Italian-made terry bathrobe and towels.

I just couldn’t imagine being so close to the heart of Venice and not visit so I headed to the hotel’s pier where the round- the- clock- motor boat transfer services (one of the few free offerings in this very expensive city) took me to Piazza San Marco. Off season in Venice doesn’t seem to exist. Here I was in late autumn and the masses of tourists had me flattened against building on the narrow streets. It’s become so difficult that over 2000 locals relocate permanently each year.

Glad to be back from the ‘madding crowd’, my stomach told me that it was time to eat. ”Never trust a skinny chef,” the famous cook book author Marcella Hazan, told me while we enjoyed the evening meal along with 35 ‘students’ who had come from around the world to study with Hazan. Cipriani’s chef went all out. After all, how often does the opportunity arrive that someone with one of the finest palates in the world, sit at the tables. Dinner included carpaccio con insalata di porcini e tartufo bianco d’Alba, Translated that means a lot of rare white truffles on thin beef. This was followed by pumpkin risotto perfumed with rosemary and the entrée was loin of veal, oven glazed with Riesling wine and wild mushrooms served with the finest polenta. The wine, Pino Bianco, Schioppetto 1995, Pino Nero, Puiatti 1993 and Grappa de Picolit Nonino, left nothing to the culinary imagination.

It was arriverderci Venezio early the next morning. This was one of the finest last suppers in a country where food is a passion and fine hotels, an obsession. Both were more than adequately indulged.

If you go to Venice…..
Beware of exorbitant water taxi prices. There’s no bargaining and many times, the door (dock)men, are in cahoots with the drivers. Expect to pay approximately $50- plus from the station to your hotel. And approximately $100 to the airport. My companion was charged $120 because it was Sunday and it was morning. Want to go to the Ghetto or the Guggenheim Museum? Get ready to pay approximately $20 each way for about a 7-10 minute ride.

Even at the finest hotels, when you ask where to buy Murano glass at the best prices, the doorman will, undoubtedly, tell you that it’s a must to go to the glass factories on the island of Murano. Nonsense. The factory’s taxis are gratis. However, you’ll soon find out that nothing is free in Venice. The deal is that both the doorman and the taxi drive get a commission if you buy from that particular factory and once there it’s arm twisting pressure to purchase. In most cases, the prices in the city for the same item is less expensive. The stories are always the same. Either the proprietor of the factory or his father just finished blowing that original-to-their-shops piece of glass…Strange how the same design shows up time and again at the different Murano island stores. Then getting back isn’t half the fun. It’s a hassle. If you happen to ask where you can get the free taxi back to the hotel, unless you’ve purchased something, you have to go back to the original pier if you can find it, or wander around for hours until someone offers you’re a costly return ride.

Also beware of touts in the city who will ‘ help you’ find the perfect café, restaurant, linen, jewelry, leather, etc. Another beware signal. .There are restaurants that present their chit after you’ve eaten, and tell you they only take cash. Although you’ve just seen a local pay with plastic and there’s the Visa machine on the counter, arms start flailing, there’s a harsh stony stare and military style hands on hips moves you close to terror. You leave with less lira in your pocket. The scam is that with cash, the owners don’t have to delcare or pay taxes.

The Bridge of Signs has its own story about how it got its name but many signs come from those who have very light handedly been relieved of their wallets, even though there’s a profusion of uniformed police hanging about.

As for the value added tax which you should be able to retrieve at the airport, well, many stores will tell you they don’t have the necessary forms and that’s that. In some shop, however, there is an extremely high amount that you must spend to get tax returned privileges. It’s a good idea to ask before, unless you want the article and don’t mind paying that bit extra, tax included.

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