It was a cold wet night. Rain pitter-pattered against salt-encrusted walls and cobbled alleyways. We quickly stashed our bags at our lodging by the train station, then hurried to catch a late night Vaporetto to St. Mark’s Square. The ride along the choppy Grand Canal was chilly.
In June 2015, I traveled through Italy with my sister Rachel. She had just finished a study abroad in England and it was her first time on The Continent. In a last minute decision, we were able to squeeze Venice in before flying back to The States. We had less than 24 hours there, but it was my third visit to this incredible medieval city and I knew that even in the short amount of time we had, Venice would be worth it. It was.
It was nearly half past eleven when we arrived into a nearly deserted St. Mark’s Square. If it hadn’t been so wet and cold, hundreds of tourists would have been milling around the massive square listening to competing cafe orchestras al fresco. Tonight, however the only sounds were our steps as they echoed against the stone. We virtually had the entire square to ourselves except for a hand full of other wandering tourists enjoying the rare solitude. It was spooky and beautiful.
As we walked, crystal clear notes wafted toward us out of the night sky. Intrigued, we followed them to the south side of the square where one shop stood open like a beacon still warm with light. It was the Café Florian.
Café Florian is a grand 18th c. establishment with an interior gilt in gold, chandeliers, and old foggy mirrors. But the real gem is their giant dining area set up on the square with views of St. Mark’s Cathedral. In past visits their house orchestra had been set up facing the square, playing for the hundreds of tables and chairs filled with tourists sipping expensive espressos. Jim and I had stood with the additional crowds that gathered beyond the tables and chairs to soak up the vibes on foot for free. We would wander back and forth between Caffé Florian and Grancaffé Quaddri, who had their own house orchestra set up directly opposite them on the square. It was a feast of sights, sounds, and smells.
This night however, the clouds and rain muted everything. The crowds stayed home — or at their hotels — and only Caffé Florian remained open. Their tiny orchestra was set up on a small stage under the arcade and faced inward. The audience consisted of a few servers flitting in and out, a couple sitting at one lonely table also under the protection of the arcade, and a man leaning against the wall. Behind the musicians, rows upon rows of empty tables and chairs stood abandoned and sopping wet.
We took a seat at the other empty table under the arcade. A man elegantly dressed in white tie offered us a coffee, tea, and hot chocolate menu. I normally wouldn’t indulge those types of prices — the drinks ranged from $10-$15 Euros each — but we were cold, tired, and nearing the end of our trip. Plus we had the orchestra, square, and entire night sky virtually all to ourselves. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and the time to splurge.
We of course, got hot chocolate. It was the perfect drink to drive off the night’s chill. Needless to say it was incredible. Rich and smooth and perfect. Even though it was June, I felt oddly festive sitting outside in the crisp air sipping ridiculously expensive hot chocolate and enjoying the private performance. And like Cinderella, we stayed until midnight when everything closed. We then walked back to the train station and our hotel. It was the perfect end to our trip.
Hot chocolate is one of those magical (typically) seasonal beverages tied to warm memories. And with Christmas just around the corner, there’s no better time to indulge in the hot cocoa season.
So grab yourself a cup of that sweet dark hot beverage, remember past adventures, and enjoy!
— Laura Rowley