Pastries and Politics – a perfect morning

Cannaregio is one of those Venetian neighbourhoods I’ve rambled through many times, off in my own little world, pondering the mysteries of the universe. Which means that I probably missed half of what was around me. Deciding to remedy that, I booked a spot on a 3-hour guided tour which promised to combine a healthy dose of walking and history with a somewhat less healthy dose of baked goods and sugar.

In my last post I mentioned how serendipity and I have a bit of a thing going on … well, it happened again! I got an even better morning than I had expected/paid for.

Meeting the guide (an Austrian girl who moved to Venice with her boyfriend) on the steps of Santa Lucia train station, she ran through the itinerary with me while we waited for the others. The first stop would be for a quick espresso to get us moving. My face must involuntarily light up or something at the mere mention of coffee – she and I were soon bonding over a shared appreciation of quality coffee. I freely admit I have a coffee obsession – I’ve chosen not to fight it! It’s very few vices I have really!

There were eight others booked on the tour, but only one turned up, a Chicago-based teacher of Italian. No idea where the other seven people were, perhaps they underestimated how long it takes to get anywhere on the vaporetto in Venice (you’d walk faster, even factoring in getting lost, although not being able to walk on water could be an issue!). 

I wasn’t about to complain though – I was essentially getting a personal tour for the price of a group one! And while waiting for the no-shows to materialise, the topic of conversation had switched from coffee to US and Venetian politics, another shared interest, so it had the potential to be an interesting morning.

Our first stop was indeed for that much discussed espresso. I’m fussy about my espresso. There’s a fine line when it comes to bitterness – if it needs sugar, it’s crossed the line. Pasticerria Dal Mas delivered perfectly. It was accompanied by what looked like your standard chocolate croissant from the outside but was had more of a cake-y consistency. (Disclaimer: a food blogger I will never be, so cake-y is as good as it gets.) I pretty much devoured it. I was hungry. Well I had skipped breakfast in preparation!

As we entered the Jewish ghetto, I learnt that he who shall not be named in the US has a counterpart in power in Venetian politics, driven more by his own business interests than any civic responsibility. As Beatrice recounted some of the mayor’s more recent shenanigans, my heart broke a little for my beloved Venice.

Since we were in the Jewish ghetto, kosher Hamantaschen (a classic Purim treat) were next on the menu, at Panificio Volpe Giovanni. Of course they were delicious too! And mood-lightening! Buoyed by the sugar, we became a little more philosophical about the future and the potential that these less-than-ideal leaders may actually cause people to unite more and foster a greater level of activism, or even just engagement, among the younger generations in particular. By the way, the irony wasn’t lost on me that we were having this conversation in the Jewish ghetto.

Our next stop was for something savoury to balance the sugar levels just a bit. A cornetto filled with prosciutto. Okay … the image of an ice cream in a gondola … get rid of that! A cornetto in Italy has nothing to do with ice cream. It’s actually like a croissant, but not a croissant (apparently). Now it makes more sense to have it filled with prosciutto, right! 

And of course it would only be polite to wash it down with the ever-popular Aperol Spritz. You know that saying ‘when in Rome …’ – well when it Italy … even if it’s only mid-morning. Blame the weather – it was warm but it had started to rain a little, so we needed cheering up.

Perked up, Beatrice continued to talk to us about the relationship between Italy and Austria, and in particular the divisions in Tirol, with a conversation about the schools providing a segue to a discussion of the merits of the homeschooling movement in the US, which of course the third member of the party, the teacher (Lisa), felt strongly about. All three of us agreed that, in the current climate, exposure to the wisest range of views possible would be a far better option.

As we strolled on, we found a bookshop. It’s probably my favourite bookshop EVER! It will be getting a blog post of its own soon. It warrants it!

With the sheer excitement that bookshop generated, it was evident (if not surprising) that all three of us were avid readers. It also wasn’t especially surprising that we were all kindle users by necessity but ‘proper’ book readers by preference. There are quite a few of us around, it seems.  

It was time for tiramisu. You know that too-strongly flavoured, rich dessert we’re accustomed to? Well that wasn’t on the menu. The tiramisu served up by Pasticceria Didovich was light as air, with the most delicate of flavours and made with sponge rather than the usual lady fingers. Heavenly.

The rain had stopped, so on we went. At this point we’d parked the heavier subjects of conversation and switched to the infinitely more cheery gelato. I suggested to Beatrice that maybe they should run a gelato-tasting tour – I’d definitely book myself on that one. Again and again. They might have to roll me around, but nevertheless …

The last stop … chocolate! Specifically Vizio Virtù, reputedly Venice’s finest chocolatier. Inspired by the movie Chocolat, the owner (Marieangela) founded Vizio Virtù driven by the same passion for chocolate that has earned her the reputation of a chocolate magician today. As you open the door to the shop, you smell the chocolate before you see it, so your taste buds are quick to awaken in anticipation. And weren’t they in for a treat!

Cuori Morbidi, or ‘soft hearts’. Melting-middle chocolate cake basically. But the lightest cake, filled with the finest chocolate. To use any combination of adjectives to describe it simply wouldn’t do it justice, it was that good. I stopped talking, it was THAT good!

Of course we struggled to leave that shop, and wouldn’t leave empty-handed. I resisted taking home some chocolate covered olives (although I am going to attempt to recreate them) in favour of a jar of pistachio spread. Think of a well-known brand of hazelnut chocolate spread, but with pistachios instead. Tastes similar but a bit more nutty and less chocolatey. 

Eventually we left the shop and it was time to say goodbye to the treasure that was our guide for the morning, but not before she pointed us in the direction of Venice’s only coffee roastery, Torrefazione Cannaregio, where the best espresso I’ve had in Venice provided the perfect bookend to what was a truly enjoyable morning of pastries and politics. 

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