It started simply enough. The narrow streets of Venice are lined with shops and restaurants, and it didn’t take long for us to notice that the people sitting in the open air tables almost all were sipping an orange colored drink. And I don’t mean one or two people, I mean like 90% of them all had the exact burnt orange colored liquid in the same shaped glass sitting in front of them.
Now, I’m hardly what you might call a conformist, but when that many people can agree on a beverage, it does make you curious.
We started glancing at the menus as we walked by, and eventually put it together that the drink was called a “Spritz”. Since we are addicted to walking and knew we would be leaving Venice without ever stepping foot onto, you know, a boat, we decided we would indulge in a silly drink just for the experience.
The thing is, once you start hunting for an experience that you know you will only have once, you want it to be perfect. We didn’t want to stop in just any little tourist trap along the street, we wanted to have the full experience with the perfect table in the perfect spot with the perfect view.
Luckily we had a few days, because we agonized over finding the right spot, even as we giggled at ourselves for being so picky. This one was too crowded, that one was too empty. That one was too exposed, this one was too confined. Frustratingly many good choices had to be skipped because of the multitudes of people who were smoking at the surrounding tables. Seriously, who thinks it is ok to smoke a cigar in a crowded restaurant? (Answer: apparently a lot of people who aren’t me.)
The first day passed. Then the second. Things were getting desperate, so while walking through St. Marks Square, we spontaneously sat down at one of the restaurants in the square. Now, St. Marks Square is THE destination in the city, and the restaurants there are well aware of their prime real estate. Besides the amazing view and atmosphere, they notch it up by having small ensembles playing live music. Fancy.
David and I, of course, are not very fancy. We are on a budget. Instead of restaurants we eat out of grocery stores. But since we really wanted this experience, we impulsively thought we could handle the pressure of spending some excessive discretionary cash on such a trivial yet memorable experience.
The waiter takes one look at our tshirts and sandals, opens the menu and points to a notice that says there is a 6 Euro surcharge for the music. Per person. We gulp a little, but decide it is worth the splurge. He walks away with a sigh, and we open the menu to look for the drink. We were not surprised by the very high prices on the food items, but all we wanted was the Spritz, which we had seen everywhere else being advertised for 2-3 Euro. We figured even if they doubled that we would be ok with it. But when we got to the drink section, we saw that the fancy cafe was charging 11 Euro. So with the surcharge we would be paying 17 Euro – about $22 – for each drink. And that was before a tip!
So we did what any reasonable person would do. We panicked. Well ok, maybe “panic” is a little hyperbolic, but we definitely blanched. We balked. I was ready to pay a premium for the seats we had, but there was no way we were prepared to drop $50 on two drinks that anywhere else in the city would cost us about $7.50. We got up and ran, mildly frustrated and annoyed but also laughing at ourselves. Just as that waiter knew that we would.
Later that evening we stumbled into a little hidden square, with a cute restaurant next to a beautiful church and we knew we had finally found our place. We sat in a shaded seat overlooking the square and were a little giddy that we were finally doing it. The waitress spoke just enough English to know what we meant, and quickly brought us our drinks. As it turns out, a Spritz is made from prosecco wine mixed with sparkling soda water, with a dash of a bitter liqueur. There was also a large skewer in each glass with a wedge of orange and fat green olive. She also brought is a little bowl of potato chips, and the salty was a nice offset.
We certainly aren’t what you would call sophisticated drinkers, and frankly it is unlikely that I would ever order a Spritz again. But more than the taste of the drink it was such a perfect little moment in time, watching people wander through the square, the pigeons scurrying about searching for morsels, savoring the bitter/sweet/salty flavors. And yes of course, someone did sit next to us and start smoking, but thankfully the wind blew her smoke in the opposite direction.
This was Italy. This was Venice.