We’re going to Italy in a couple of days and this post was supposed to be the first from the Veneto. It wasn’t to be. We had originally arranged it so that we would arrive on Saturday afternoon but the forecast of wet, cold and windy weather in northern Italy together with the threat from the infamous ash cloud, forcing airports in the Mediterranean and north Africa to close and continuing to billow over the horizon like a harbinger of doom, conspired to ruin the plans. The local weather forecasters here in Sweden – these are guys that apparently check to see if the cows are laying down in the mornings and only forecast weather that matches one of their cute graphics – promised clear sunny skies and 23C for today. So we postponed travelling in the hope that we could avoid dashing out of the rain in Italy and laze in the sun in Sweden. As I write we are enduring yet another cold grey day of fine but persistent drizzle so the weather guys got it wrong. And airports are closing around us like dominos falling and now we may not make the rescheduled journey; it’s no comfort to know that the vulcanologists got it right.
Of course, we could have cancelled the trip altogether but Italy is always such a special place to be, regardless of weather, so the bags are packed and my bicycle-clips are in my pocket. May is the best time to see the Italian countryside; it’s green and revitalised, not too hot; wild flowers bloom everywhere and Italian waiters approach the new season with a fresh, but probably misguided, hope that the hoards of tourists won’t get under their skin again this year. In this region they even have their own language, called Venetian or Veneto, with nearly five million people speaking and understanding it. So, if the mood takes them, they can insult you without fear of you catching them out with the surreptitious use of the BBC Italian Phrase Book. Veneto gives the locals a haughty and slightly aloof character but that doesn’t stop them wanting to share the wonders of their singular cuisine with you. I love the food in this part of the world – risottos with a variety of fish or calves liver with onions and Marsala are Venetian specialities that I try not to miss and the Asiago cheese, from Vicenza, is world-famous. Also from Vicenza, aged salami called Vicentina is mouth-watering and, of course, Tiramisu was invented in the Veneto. The wine produced in the region is well-known and I’ll be making my personal contribution to the local economy by sampling the Soave, Bardolino, Amarone, Torcolato, Valpolicella and sparkling Prosecco. Grappa is also produced and is just the thing after a late dinner.
The market in Venice, just off the Rialto Bridge, is a magical, bustling place in the morning and fish stalls abound. When I first visited as a wide-eyed student it seemed that only Italians knew where it was and I felt as if I were the only foreigner there. Today there are more digital cameras but it’s still an important part of a trip to the Most Serene Republic. Venetians take their food and their shopping very seriously indeed so the market is a place to be revered. The variety on offer is a feast of sights, sounds and smells, all good ones too. The fish merchants are complemented by bakers, butchers, pasta makers and a string of stalls selling fruit and vegetables. We never miss the chance to stop over in the square for a sandwich and the apperitivo that will see us back across the lagoon.
There’s a secret to having a wonderful trip to the Veneto. Venice is magical but it seems to get more and more crowded each time I see it – on average 34,000 visitors daily. These days it even has two McDonald’s outlets and an Irish pub, which go some way to explaining why we’re staying in an old castel on the mainland. Peace and quiet, prices that aren’t extortionate, home-cooked food and a short boat trip each way. So, if we get there, I’ll hope to share a few thoughts over a Campari and soda while nightingales serenade us from the olive groves and fireflies meander through the warm night air. Perfect, no?