italy · travel

Around the North of Italy: Burano


One of my biggest travel mistakes is to over-plan. I figure, I’m here so infrequently and there is so much to see- best to just slam it all in, right? I’m learning to break this habit but this trip was not the trip for it.

The night before, we had made it to Venice after a series of stopovers and run-arounds. We had our dinner in a lovely little tucked away bistro, ate breakfast in a grand room with exposed, painted beams and Murano chandeliers, we even raced around that morning across the lido and Murano. And now, here we were in Burano for the afternoon. I think the standard is to do something like 2-3 days in Venice, 1 day at least for Murano, and another for Burano, plus maybe even more time in Venice. This is what my mother was now telling me because Rick Steves was telling her.

Look, I know some people love Rick Steves. Love him, love him. Can’t go anywhere without him, drag a whole suitcase of his books to each destination love him. And that’s just great. But what I picture with Rick Steves is somebody in zip-off moisture-wicking, panty-line showing khaki pants with giant white New Balance shoes and yanked up white socks topped off with an oversize t-shirt and a sweaty baseball cap, standing around with a floppy 2012 map in the middle of the walkway. Apologies to any and all Rick enthusiasts- I just can’t get behind y’all.

So I very gently took Rick from her hands as she protested with quiet refrains of “But Rick says…!” and said, “We might as well stop- it’s on our way back anyway. And you wouldn’t want to miss it, would you?

A large part of traveling with someone else is knowing exactly how devious one should be. My devious, calculated, manipulation of this situation falls squarely in the FOMO category. You’ve paid a hell of a lot of money to be here. You may never come back (you might not- I will. I never really believe in one-and-done trips). What if your Under the Tuscan Sun adventure is right over there and you missed it because you wanted to, what, stand in line somewhere for something?

At least for my mother, this argument always works. Always. So we begin to make our way back to the ferry. It’s fairly fool proof- you follow any of the interior canals to the exterior and walk the parameter until you find a boat. Read the map, get on said boat, get off at wanted stop. But my mother loves to worry. And travel brings out peculiar qualities in people. “We know where we’re going, ma, you just have to follow this street.”

“I know but how can you be sure. I’m just going to ask these people.”

“Those people are tourists too. Why would they know better than this map. This dot is us. When we move, it moves. There’s the ferry. Look, we’re walking towards the ferry.”

“I just want to ask them.”

So she asks them. But something strange happens to my mom abroad. She pretends she can’t really speak English even though she damn well can. I experienced this before in Iceland with another touring couple- it is the strangest thing. All of the sudden, you’re watching your mom from Cleveland pretend- and then protest that she’s totally not doing this- that she’s got a severe, poor Russian accent. Not only that, but that she can’t understand English.

She asks an English couple, “Zis waaay to zeee boo-at? Zis? Oza heeera?”

We all give her a look. “No, this is for our private boat,” the man says. They look incredibly well-heeled in that bland country club sort of way.

“Ooooh.” She sing-songs and nods before turning to me a few paces away. “Their own private boat,” she mocks. “Well, la-te-da.”

“Why are you faking an accent.”

“What accent?”

“Oh my god. Mom. Really. Zis waay to ze booo-at?”

“I don’t do that!” She scurries after me as we reach the pier and begins arguing about the stops on the map. The times are wrong. Rick Steves says the times should be this or that. I put Rick in the backpack. We get on the boat.


If Murano is for glass and muted tones, Burano is for lace and candy colors. Totally different. We wander past a couple with a huge fuzzy dog, a small park, and a cafe overrun with teenagers. There is no plan and no map- it’s so small as to not need either. We wander through residential areas with row houses in periwinkle, tangerine, and hot pink. I think back to needing a permit at home just to paint the house white and how that prospect shocked my coastal Irish acquaintance years back. I start daydreaming my own best Diane Lane Italian Scenario: I live on a little island in a lavender house with ultramarine shutters. Wisteria and climbing roses edge over the doorway and windows. My lamp is swirled blown glass from the next town over and all day I do god knows what and sit at the town fountain at night drinking wine and eating seafood with my gregarious and impeccable friends.



We find my brother’s suggestion- Trattoria Da Romano– and settle down on the square to spritzes and cuttlefish risotto. The spritz is bittersweet and refreshing. Its electric color swirls in the Prosecco- the ice highlighting the Aperol’s bitter oranges and rhubarb notes. I begin to cool down. A little girl chases pigeons in the square and sings. A woman stops to photograph her in all her oblivious joy before her parents call to her in Japanese. Her father scoops her up and places her on his shoulders. Her mother hands them both gelatos and kisses him on the cheek. She gives her daughter’s hand a little shake and they stroll off down the avenue. The photographer keeps snapping; the little girl keeps singing.


It is a freaking miracle we decide to split the risotto. It comes out in an 8×10 ceramic pan. A thin layer of black oozing rice is doled out onto little plates before us. The waiter sticks a big spoon into the remainder. My mother tells him about my brother and how he recommended we come here. He pretends to remember and this seems to make it all even better. It is rich and briney, soft and chewy, in its inky sauce. Little bits of cuttlefish poke throughout. We finish the whole pan. I drown any guilt I feel (cuttlefish are intensely curious and very, very cute) in my spritz.


On the way back, we stop into Martina Vidal. Outside, a hand crocheted tank top sits in the window. It is beyond beautiful with its little loops. Inside, table runners hang from the walls. I debate and debate buying one. At $200+ it requires extensive thought. I decide against it- after all, I don’t even have a dining room table to run anything on nor do I typically gravitate towards lace. Instead, I snag a few simple pins for hats and scarves, my mother grabs a lace bookmark, and we stroll off- back to the boat and on our way for an late afternoon in Venice.


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