So sometimes being a musician seems like a terrible life choice. Like those times when I realize I’ve got $6 in my wallet and $30 in my bank account and it will be two weeks before I get paid for that gig I just did. Those are the days I start to wonder if I should just accept that if I ever want to be a productive member of society, I’m just going to have to suck it up and apply for a barista position at Starbucks.
But then there are other days. Like when I get invited to sing for the Giorgio Cini Foundation in Venice Italy for a week… and find out that the whole trip will be all-expenses paid. So here I am, staying HERE:
Making beautiful music with other fantastic musicians. And not spending a dime. In VENICE.
So yeah, occasionally there are perks! One of the best perks of this particular boondoggle is the fact that it affords me a fantastic opportunity to further my deeply important and world-changing research. Which is, of course, finding the best ice cream on the planet.
Turns out Venice is a pretty darn good place to start looking. Now since many of the people running the Fondazione Giorgio Cini are native Venetians, step one was to get the insider scoop, so to speak. Most of the gelaterias I visited, I specifically sought out because they were recommended. But getting lost is half the fun of Venice, so there are a few “stumble-upon” discoveries as well. Here are the results of my first day of exploration, adventure and pigging out.
During our lunch break Davit Moroney (total badass harpsichordist—if you’re into early music, you’ve probably heard of him… if you’re a normal human being, you might not have) took a group of us on the vaporetto from our lovely island right across the harbor from San Marco to the Zattere stop on the main island for his personal favorite gelato: Nico’s. Here are my tasting notes:
(Dorsoduro, on Giudecca Canal, near Zattere stop)
Flavors tried: Cioccolato and Fior di Latte
Fior di Latte had a lovely, delicate flavor, but was plagued by the ice crystals that are often a product of real gelato made the right way. Cioccolato… the first REAL Italian chocolate gelato I’ve had in a long, long time, I came to it like a starving person. Finally, that rich depth of chocolate flavor and color! The dense, rich texture that reminds one of silk… my only regret is that it took me three days to get to it!
So Nico’s is totally legit. I may or may not have gone back two or three times during the course of my stay. The servers were actually kind of impatient and rude, but the gelato is solid and the MAIN appeal of the place, in my opinion, is its location. Right on the waterfront with a fabulous view of the harbor, it’s the perfect place to sit and watch the world go by (which includes everything from mega-huge cruise ships that take up practically the entire width of the canal to tiny water taxis zipping around)… and watching the world go by is always more enjoyable with fabulous gelato in your hand.
I had the good fortune of not being called to any afternoon rehearsals that day, so I stayed behind to eat on the waterfront at my leisure and wander my way through Dorsoduro. Keeping the water on my left, I soon found myself at another gelateria.
(also on the Dorsoduro waterfront, near San Basilio stop)
Flavors tried: Liquirizia, Cioccolato, Pistacchio
Liquirizia, just because I’d never seen it before… turns out it’s licorice. I guess it’s time for me to go back to Italian 101. Glad I only got a sample since I’m not a huge licorice fan! Still, interesting as a gelato flavor. Cioccolato was rather disappointing right after Nico’s and the Pistachio was good, but nothing special. They all had identical textures (which I’m not sure is actually a good sign), very creamy, but more like ice cream (or the stuff they call gelato in Germany) than the really authentic made-today gelato. Flavors were pleasant, but lacking in intensity–not enough contrast between the chocolate and pistachio–should have been huge!
So this was something of a disappointment and as I had now eaten 4 scoops of ice cream in the space of an hour, I learned the lesson of choosing carefully if I was going to take a risk on an un-recommended gelateria.
So then I turned inland and started wandering in an attempt to burn off some of those calories and free up more space for more gelato. What an amazing city! It’s astonishing how deserted and quiet it can be once you leave the main tourist thoroughfares. I love getting lost in Venice, ending up in dead end alleys that lead to nothing but water, seeing brightly colored laundry and geraniums festooning the windows, happening upon stunning churches, piazzas or impossibly charming bridges over countless canals.
Among my accidental discoveries were the oddly shaped Piazza San Sebastian, La Chiesa del’Angelo Raffaelo (square cross shape, incredible paintings and sculptures–all just tucked away in this deserted church!), and La Chiesa dei Carmini, an immense and beautiful brick structure filled with enormous oil paintings depicting the 12 stations of the cross and many other scenes… the light was so beautiful in there! Just frosted (not stained) glass, but the whole church was bathed in a wonderfully warm light.
Once I got to the (I now know) Campo Santa Margherita, I asked an elderly couple that sat down next to me on a bench, “Sarebbe dove siamo?” (Do you happen to know where we are?) to which they responded, “Oh, sorry, we don’t speak Italian.” “English! Even better!” I answered. They were a really sweet pair from Birmingham on their first trip to Venice, so we chatted for a while, they kindly helped me reorient myself with their map… and pointed me towards where they had gotten their delicious-looking gelato.
(on Campo Santa Margherita)
I was really quite full of gelato by this point and had no desire to get any more when I happened upon this place, which was surrounded by a thick crowd primarily speaking Italian–usually a good sign. So I took one for the team and checked it out. And wow–even after O.D.ing on gelato, it was fabulous and I’m considering going back–so many interesting flavors!
I tried the Cioccolato (since it’s research, I have to have a control…) and the ‘mascarpone e fighi’ (mascarpone cheese and figs), which was delightful! The chocolate was also excellent, though not quite as rich, dense or flavorful as Nico’s.
Now that I knew where the heck I was, I then waddled my way through the windy streets and canals to the Accademia bridge, at which point I was able to figure out my way back to the Zattere vaporetto stop. What an amazing wander!