Before I left for my worldwide backpacking trip 8 years ago, my colleagues and I created alter egos during one of our epic happy hours. While my coworkers vaccilated between possible name and drink options, I knew instantly that Bella Marcelo would forever be my kick ass sidekick.
Why did that name resonate with me? Perhaps, I subconsciouly selected an Italian persona since it embodied a vivacious, fiery personality that I sorely lacked at the time. Unlike Bella, my former self was an overly-taxed, workaholic who couldn't say "no" even when I had reached my breaking point. Bella, on the other hand, was a tenacious jetsetter who unapologetically embraced hedonistic pursuits in spite of grueling work demands.
While I could have supressed Bella's indulgent influence, I decided that life as Bella Marcelo would be much more exhilirating.
Why can't I fully untether for at least a year? With Bella at the helm, I answered this question and made a pivotal decision that forced structured, pragmatic Myra to adopt a less austere lifestyle. In 2007, I left my job and embarked on an epic sojourn across 11 countries with Bella fully in tow. Thanks to my newfound Italian twin, I traversed the globe with reckless abandon and never once regretted it.
Fast forward to 2015. Bella's undeniable presence galvanized my decision to once again quit my job and finally launch my own venture, Palate Playground LLC. Apparently, my unencumbered alter ego has business sense and balls.
In honor of carefree Bella, I recently paid homage to her Italian roots. These next three blog posts featuring Venice, Tuscany, and Lucca are mini tributes to her effervescent lifestyle, which has seamlessly morphed into mine. Viva Signorina Bella!
Venezia: Italy Blog Part Uno (One)
I was 16 years old when I took my very first gondola ride through the meandering Venetian canals. These were pre-euro days when the dollar was worth so much more than the Italian lira. Back then I was excitable, impressionable, yet severely jetlagged so I slept through most of my Italian journey. Since I barely remember that last visit, I was truly anxious for my Venice trip "re-do" to commence.
Just hours after the World Rugby Cup Finals (London) ended, my friend and I boarded our Venice-bound flight fully sleep-deprived and lethargic. While I managed to take a 20-minute catnap en route, I knew that wasn't enough to prevent my impending comatose state. History sadly repeated itself, but this time it was preventable. Bad, Bella.
Canal Living, the Bella Way
I was fortunate enough to stay at one of the finest hotels in Venice, courtesy of my childhood friend, Hardip, who racked enough Hilton reward points to fund our entire London/Italy stay. Hilton Molino Stucky is several waterbus stops away from heavily-trafficked tourist areas (aka Plaza San Marco), which made it a relatively quiet rest stop for 2 bleary-eyed travelers. I briefly perked up when we were upgraded to an executive suite overlooking the water.
This oasis was absolutely worth enduring the rocky ride (via the public vaporetto) we took to get there. Clutching onto my luggage while navigating turbulent waters (standing up sans railing) temporarily woke me up. Thank goodness for that since I wanted to soak in this 5 star fabulous hotel.
Note: The hotel provides complimentary shuttle service to various tourist stops. If that initial choppy ride didn't immobilize you, then take advantage of this free perk. It's the best way to see many iconic landmarks along the main canal.
Once we checked into our fabulous retreat, we immediately made plans to connect with Hardip's cousin (Matt) and his girlfriend (Galina) at a restaurant near Plaza San Marco. Ai Mercanti Gastrosteria offers many freakishly-amazing dishes - all deserving of its Michelin star accolade.
Here's a visual sample and brief description of several dishes we tasted.
Carrot soup with almonds and curry flavoured olive oil
Local cheese selection
Mashed dried cod with polenta chips
Cod fish with taggiasche olives and tomatoes
6 champagne bottles + 4 limoncellos later, we were extremely satiated and giddy. Not the best idea since alcohol accelerates sleep deprivation symptoms. But we made this rare exception since we only had 1 1/2 days to immerse ourselves in Venetian culture.
Any normal person would call it a day (at least until dinner) after this highly satisfying foodie outing. However, we couldn't stop galavanting from one gastronomic establishment to another (restaurant to bar to gelateria). I'm surprised we could stomach another morsel. I guess Bella wouldn't have it any other way. I am techincally eating for the both of us.
It wouldn't be your typical Venetian experience without the quintessential gondola ride. Not sure how much lira I shelled out for it many years ago, but they definitely jacked up the cost since then. For 120 euros, you'll have countless photo opps for 20 amazing minutes. Unfortunately, Hardip couldn't fight the sleep demons any longer and fell asleep during the entire ride. I did my best to stay awake so I was able to capture the beautiful imagery. Bella would have ejected me from the gondola if I followed Hardip's lead. Anyone watch Fight Club lately? If so, you'll get the reference.
With only a few hours left, we accelerated our pace and covered as much ground as possible. Plaza San Marco is an absolute must see for any tourist visiting Venice. Unfortunately, 7 ginormous cruise ships docked that day and most of its inhabitants flooded the streets and alleyways. Luckily, I snapped a few photos before the melee. Gorgeous, isn't it?
One last restaurant stop to fuel up before our Tuscan road trip. Ristorante Hotel Messner is located off the beaten path - away from all the tourists and foot traffic. I highly recommend ordering the langoustine, spaghetti-alle-vongole, and one of their face-sized beers.
With a full gut and empty bladder, Hardip, Bella, and I bid farewell to Venice and began our long-awaited road trip to Tuscany. Our Italian adventure is just beginning. Stay tuned for the next Bella-approved post. For now, Ciao Bella and grazie mille!
Original Trip Date: September 19 -20, 2015