Last October, we were enjoying another magical day in Venice. In the morning we wandered through the famed Rialto Market.
Zucchini blossoms and multi-colored peppers. Fresh octopus and squid. Friendly vendors and lots and lots of photo ops. We stumbled upon a small trattoria, Tre Spiedi, and went in for lunch. It was crowded and the three of us squeezed into a corner table to order salad and pizza. At the table right next to us, there were 2 men dining on HUGE portions of pasta. They were seated at the table side-by-side, facing us. One was a generation or so older than the other. Father and son? Business associates? They kept looking at us, smiling and giving a quick nod, then commenting to each other. We smiled and nodded back, and speculated that we must so obviously look like tourists that we are eliciting comments. They left the restaurant before we did; the older man tipped his hat at us as they walked out the door. We continued on our way, enjoying the rest of our magnificent day in Venice.
The next morning, the hotel had arranged for a water taxi to take us to Murano. The ride over was fun, but the island itself was just OK. Glass blowing factories lined the canals and the shops were full of the kind of trinkets that can be found around Piazza San Marco. On a whim, we took a ferry over to the island of Burano. Ahh, Burano.
Lots of little canals. Lots of brightly painted doors on small brick and stone buildings along the canals. Lots of bikes. Shoes on windowsills. It was breathtaking in its ordinariness and lived-in look. We headed toward Al Gatto Nero for lunch; it was recommended by a glassblower we spoke to on Murano.
Luckily, it was 2:30 and we were able to get a table after a short wait. The place was packed. As Massimo, the owner and our waiter, escorted us to our table, we saw the two men from lunch the day before! Many smiles, lots of hand gestures. They spoke no English; I speak very very basic tourist Italian. I did understand they were recommending the octopus (polpo) and pasta with black squid (calamaro nero) sauce. I felt like we were locals ourselves, regulars who are recognized and noticed in our own little neighborhood.
A few years ago (OK, it was 13) we were traveling in Shannagary, County Cork in Ireland. We were staying at Ballymalloe House, an old manor house covered in ivy with croquet courts on the front lawn and horse stables in the back. Their dining room busted the myth of terrible Irish food, using local fish, meats, and produce, not to mention a well-trained chef. In fact they had their own cooking school and vegetable gardens down the lane. The gardens and grounds were open to the public, so off we went.
The woman at the front desk let us know that they were only allowing tours in groups and that they were expecting a bus momentarily. We looked at each other; we don't do tours and we don't do tour buses. The gardens were enticing, though. As we debated, a small van pulled up and out popped about 10 Irish senior citizens, 2 of them men. They were on a day tour; it was a group from the small town of Ennis on the west coast. We got swept along in their friendliness and enthusiasm. Everyone it seems has a relative in Somerville or South Boston. At one point one of the women linked her arm through mine as we sauntered through the beautiful Ballymaloe herb gardens. We ended up in the kitchens of the cooking school, watching demonstrations by local chefs. Our new Irish friends were effusive in their appreciation of the beauty and wonder of our surroundings. They were interested in our visit to Dublin. Were we going to the Ring of Kerry? We had a blast. When the tour was over, there were hugs and sincere goodbyes.
We headed back to the hotel to have lunch and hang out. We had no plans for the afternoon; the concierge suggested that we drive over to the Jameson whiskey factory. It is in Midleton, not too far. Back into the car we go and careen down the country roads toward Irish whiskey. We pull into the dirt parking lot and who do we see? Our Irish friends from Ballymaloe! Another tour? This time we didn't hesitate.