Sunday Sept 27, 2015
It’s a beautiful, sunny day as I throw open all of the windows in my room, open my arms wide and exclaim, ‘Buongiorno Venezia!’ ala Katherine Hepburn. As I gaze down the canal what do I see? What is this? Oh no………. a behemoth of a cruise ship slowly passes by in the distance, towering over the buildings, obstructing any further view and shattering the serenity of the moment. Damn! A few minutes later, another makes its way through the Giudecca Canal across my field of view . Double damn!
I have been reading about the outcry of residents on this subject. There has been much written about these giants and what they are doing to the city of Venice, aesthetically as well as the damage they cause to the environment, and the fragile, historical structures. Many would like to see them banned from using the Giudecca Canal and use a different route. In November, 2014 such a ban was instituted that restricted ships over 96,000 tons from using the canal. Unfortunately Venice’s Regional Administrative Tribunal has since thrown out the limit. The Italian Transport Ministry stated it will appeal the decision to the Council of State. But I digress…..
Today we are taking a Walking & Gondola Tour of Venice. The Boys and I decided to meet for the tour at the Palace Gardens where the tour was to start. It seems that if you ask someone in Italy how far it is to a destination, the answer is ’10 minutes.’ Kind of like how long it takes for any take out order at a Chinese Restaurant. It is always 10 minutes no matter the time of day or size of the order. Since I had not yet been to this area I decided I would take a trial walk. It took me over a half hour! But of course, I took a few photos along the way and really had no idea what route to take. I since discovered a more direct route but it still takes longer than 10 minutes.
When I arrived in Piazza San Marco, there was water in the Piazza and the passarelle had been set up. Passarelle are wooden planks on iron supports – they remind me of tables – they are rather high, and since they are lined up end to end it is quite a step up if you don’t start at one end. It had also become overcast and I hoped that this would be temporary and the sun would return. The water was only about an inch deep with several spots that you could walk through if you picked the right route. It was late morning and perhaps it had been deeper earlier in the day. I was beginning to have some difficulty with my left leg so I started making my way back to the apartment to get my cane. On the way I stopped for lunch at a local place and ordered a pizza. I have to say I was again, disappointed with pizza in Italy, although I know I didn’t make the wisest choice this time. I love the crusts and the cheese, but it’s the toppings that just don’t do it for me. I ordered pizza Funghi Salamino – mushrooms and slices of a spicy type of Salami. As I said, poor choice on my part, I shouldn’t blame the pizza right?!? Also you don’t get the option of taking home any leftovers at restaurants. Pizza’s are all personal size, well maybe 2 person size? They are about 12″, way more than I can eat. So a pizza is really not the thing to order by myself.
A few photos of my morning journey.
By the time I’d finished lunch and returned to the apartment, it was time to make my way back to meet the Boys. I tried calling Richard several times to find out exactly where they were. As soon as his phone connected, a recording came on. The only problem was, it was all Italian and I had no idea what it was telling me. I kept hanging up and trying again. We figured it was probably his voice mail because he never set it up. We don’t know why it picked up right away. Finally, I tried Dennie’s phone and I had success with that. When we returned to the US, Richard found out he was over-charged for these phone calls that I had made to his phone.
Once we met up it was decided we should do a bathroom stop before the (2-1/2 hour) tour and made our way through a few Calli to the Public W/C. Again, it was quite clean despite what Rick Steve’s said about using public W/C’s. Public W/C’s cost €1.5 and have an attendant working in them that are constantly cleaning up,thus they are not dirty so I never minded paying the small fee. The Boys had purchased a card that gave them free access to them, I don’t remember how much they paid for the card, but that is an option if you are so inclined. While waiting for the tour to start, Dennie struck up a conversation with 2 gals from Australia and we all hit it off right away. They were loads of fun and had traveled together before. Their sense of humor was the same as ours and I could imagine travelling with them would be quite a bit of fun. They were on a 9 week holiday! We were continually amazed at the amount of time people from other countries were able to take for a holiday. Sure is a whole lot different than here in the US where 3 weeks is the norm.
Once everyone was gathered that had signed up for the tour (about 20 of us) we were given colored stickers to wear and headsets with earphones and we were on our way. The first stop of the tour was actually the Gondola part of the tour and we were led to a spot where there were a few waiting Gondolas. The tour leader kind of shuffled the 5 of us and one other woman off to the first Gondola. We noticed that no one else was being sent this way. However, we were so busy laughing and having a good time to pay too much attention. It isn’t all that easy to get into these things especially with minimal use of one of my legs. The seats are very low and I made the comment I might never get up from it. There is a guy who stands outside the Gondola and puts his hand out, not his arm, just his hand, kind of like a pose? This is supposed to help you get in and out. There isn’t anything to hold onto on the Gondola to help steady yourself so I was for once, glad for having the cane! When we got on and off, it was about a 2 foot step into and out of the Gondola due to the water level at the time. I had visions of my taking this guy down were I to actually hold onto his outstretched hand. The Gondolier simply told us where to sit to balance the weight. Once we were all situated we were on our way. Our first Gondola ride!!!!! I don’t think we ever stopped laughing and carrying on the whole ride.
It wan’t a guided tour but I really should take another ride and pay closer attention. However, when we headed out from a small canal onto the Grand Canal in front of Santa Maria della Salute? Oh you can bet we paid attention. It is a sight to behold. Since the sun had come out before we started the tour, it was absolutely breathtakingly gorgeous!!! It is jaw dropping actually. The Gondolier paused so that everyone can get plenty of photos. You cannot help but gasp as you make your way onto the Grand Canal on a Gondola, there really isn’t anything that can prepare you for the view – I would recommend it to anyone – it was a very different experience than when I stood outside Saint Mark’s Piazza and looked across. Just being on the Grand Canal at the waters level is very cool. Seeing any of Venice from this vantage point would be truly remarkable. I did snap a few photos amidst the laughter and gaiety of our little group.
We made our way back to the starting point. When we got off the Gondola, we asked where to go but the Gondolier didn’t have an answer for us. We looked around and didn’t see anyone with the colored stickers that we were wearing. Hmmmm…..perhaps there really was a reason that we had been shuttled off so quickly in the beginning? Were we known as the Party Gondola since we were having so much fun and goofing around? Were they trying to get rid of us? We waited for a bit never seeing anyone from our tour group so Richard made a phone call. Turns out we were supposed to meet elsewhere once we were done with the Gondola tour. Maybe they told us that and we were just too busy laughing to hear it? Either way, we had an awesome time and we met up with the tour group to continue on to the walking portion of the tour – this was the much longer part of the tour anyway.
Our tour Guide was a young, good looking, Venetian. Aren’t all Italians good looking??? Being a Venetian he lent some interesting viewpoints that perhaps another guide may not have. It is sad to think of the juxtaposition Venice is put in between the revenue generated by tourists, and what tourism is doing to their city. There certainly doesn’t seem to be any easy answer as they need the revenue to survive, yet the constant barrage of people and cruise ships is hurting the fragile environment. As a tourist, I feel bad for the citizens and hope that I am at least a conscious, respectful tourist while I am there. Or anywhere I visit for that matter. I certainly would hope that Venice will be there for everyone, including it’s residents, to enjoy for generations upon generations to come.
Dennie took a few more photos of us 3 gals, I got their email addresses to send pictures, and said our good-byes and went our separate ways. Dinner was next on our agenda and we headed back in the direction of the apartment. We wandered around Campo San Margherita deciding to dine outside on the ‘authentic’ side of Osteria Do Torri on Campo Santa Margherita. The other side was Italian/American with cheaper prices and no doubt, not as good as it catered to what Americans expect Italian to taste like. Our waiter was a whole lot of fun asking us where we were from then stating, ‘No let me guess. California?’ We laughed and said no ‘Illinois’ to which he replied, ‘Ah… Illinoise’ emphasizing and pronouncing it the way so many from outside Illinois do. We asked him what the other side of the restaurant was all about and he said it was much cheaper and for tourists not wanting real Italian food. Richard and I had been talking about trying a Bellini but were not sure if it was appropriate to have one before dinner, so Richard asked him. He laughed and asked why we wanted to know if it was appropriate or not. Richard said that we didn’t want to be committing any kind of faux pas like ordering a Cappuccino after noon. He really got a kick out of this and said, ‘Let me tell you this. A man orders a $300 bottle of wine. If he wants to order a Cappuccino after his dinner? Who am I to judge? He can order anything he wants. You are the guest. Please, let me make you a Bellini! So, I make you a Bellini?” Richard said yes and shortly I agreed to have one as well. Dinner was fantastic but I didn’t have any room for dessert. The guys had Tiramisu as you can see below. I think maybe, I might have stopped for Gelato on the walk home? I mean, there is always room for Gelato right???
All in all I ended up walking 9-3/4 miles today. I am looking forward to my first full day to explore Venezia tomorrow.
Monday Sept. 28, 2015
It is another gorgeous day and if the weather report on my phone is to be believed, it will be all week. This morning, I am off to the Rialto Market in hopes of buying something and actually cooking. I got to the Ca’ Rezzonico stop just as the last few people were getting on the Vaporetto. The guy let everyone on but me! Nice, real nice. This was the first time riding a Vaporetto besides when we arrived, so I didn’t know how long of a wait it would be and decided instead to take a walk around the neighborhood.
Walking along the Rio de S. Barnaba I Immediately recognize the spot that Katherine Hepburn fell into the canal in the movie ‘Summertime’.
The grocery boat that is always in Rio de S. Barnaba and small inside market. You notice the signs everywhere not to touch? This is in all outdoor and small indoor markets in Italy. And they mean, Don’t Touch! I saw an unsuspecting tourist in Florence reach for a peach and was immediately reprimanded by the shop keeper. So please, be mindful when shopping in the markets of Italy. Point to what you want, or ask for it, but do not touch and do not help yourself.
I had spent so much time wandering around the area, stopping to buy grapes that were the sweetest I’d ever tasted, it was mid morning when I got back on the Vaporetto headed back to the Rialto Market. It was much larger than I thought it was. Looked to be about half of the produce vendors were still there. I could see where the fish had been but were of course gone now. The tide was rather high and water was spilling onto the Fondumenta Vin Costello. There were small cafe’s everywhere along with a few vendors selling trinkets. I bought some fridge magnets and a slice of Focaccia with tomato and olives for lunch. Very good but I could only eat half of it and since this was ‘take away’, I brought the other half home for later. I could get used to this kind of street food.
Getting off the Vaporetto at Ca’ Rezzonicio I realize how badly I am walking – staggering actually, bumping into the walls, my left foot slapping the ground hard on each step, and I’m sure people thought I was drunk. I am so angry that this is happening every day, the severity and how quickly it starts every day. SO angry!! I am determined however to make the most of my time in Venezia, realizing I just have to stop and rest way more often and longer than I want to. I took my grapes and left over lunch back ‘home’ making my way up the 3 flights of stairs – this is not helping my cause any. But it is good exercise!
I knew that there was a Gondola repair shop in the Dosoduro and set out to find it. I found a short cut to where I thought it was only to find no one working outside. It appeared to be lunch as I could see inside the building and just barely make out a group of guys seated around a table. You can’t access the shop directly, you can only see it from across the canal. There is a green space outside Chiesa dei Santi Gervasio e Protasio next to the Gondola repair shop. You cannot get from there to the shop however, the only way to get to the shop is via the canal.
I see a group of people standing outside a Wine Bar, and many people inside the Bar. I looked inside and see cases of Cicchetti that the people were eating outside. I wander inside trying to see but quickly realize I am in the way in trying to get pictures – as I said it was crowded, people kept coming in, it is after all lunch time. They couldn’t seem to replace plates fast enough inside the cases so everything was always freshly prepared. The fact there were so many locals inside and out I knew I had to return when I was hungry.
Curiosity got the best of me however and after leaving, I turned around and went back to try just 2 of the cicchetti. Salted Dry Cod with garlic and egg, olives, mozzarella thin slice of some kind of fish that I don’t remember. The pairings they offered were so interesting and that is perhaps another reason I went right back to try something. Oh my goodness, both were so good!! They were for me 3 or 4 bites each so for €2.60 I had a perfect 2nd lunch! How could you go wrong at this price?!?
I really am quite happy spending time in the Dosoduro as I knew I would be. Originally when I was planning the trip, the apartment I’d rented was right off of Piazza San Marco and was a beautiful apartment with 2 balconies. As plans changed, so did the area I looked in. While that would have been a nice place, I know I would not have enjoyed the hustle and bustle and constant throng of tourists. The Dosoduro was certainly more my style, and what I had come to Italy to enjoy. The neighborhood of the local people, local food and less traffic. I find myself walking back from Squero di San Travaso a different way than I came, down very narrow, interesting, quiet Calli. Along the way, I notice the smell of garlic. Mmmm……it seemed every Calli I walked down at this time of day the unmistakable smell of garlic wafted through the air making my mouth water. I imagine Nonas and moms in the kitchen preparing for the evening meal. I smile to myself at the image in my mind.
I end up back on Campo San Barnaba in time to see a boat being unloaded. It hits home how everything that comes into, or goes out of Venice, must be done by boat. I mean, I knew that as that is the only means of transportation, but it is at this point that it is really driven home and I think about what that really means. I cannot imagine the effort that must go into moving to or from Venice and their daily routines. The deliveries of mail, food, and products, garbage removal all must be a logistical nightmare. Police, ambulances and fire departments also all done by water. The boats that are used are not that large as the canals are not that wide – with the exception of the Grand Canal and Giudecca Canal. That also includes Police and Ambulances.
Taking the Vaporetto to Piazza San Marco was a much more scenic route than walking, although it was a really windy day so the water was very choppy and the ride was a bit cold. But The views were spectacular.
Piazza San Marco looks much different in sunlight as opposed to the first time I went and it was overcast. Although that also meant there were a lot more people here today. Much like so many historical buildings, fountains etc, St. Mark’s was also under restoration. It also falls into that category of being way too big to get a photo of the whole thing, unless of course, you do it from above. A few views of the Piazza, St. Mark’s and The Doges Palace.
I chose L’ Osteria San Barnaba for dinner tonite. A very small restaurant on our Calle. It is one of the restaurants that close early and do not reopen until 7:30. On our way to the apartment, Giamba had explained to us about the restaurants. He said that if we see one open all day, don’t eat there. The reason restaurants close early is because in Italy it is about fresh foods. Food prepared earlier in the day, isn’t fresh, they must close to begin preparing foods for dinner. The Chef greeted me and brought me my dish. He spoke Italian telling me to enjoy my dinner. It was fantastic. So simple, yet so wonderful. Simplicity, what Italian cooking is about. You can taste all the flavors. Because it was such a small Osteria, I watched him prepare all of the dishes from where I sat. During my meal, a young man arrived bringing fresh loaves of breads to the Chef. When I was done eating, the Chef came and asked me how the meal was and cleared away the plate. Great touch for sure – yes there was a waiter, but I was impressed with the attention of the Chef. He cared about what he was serving, it wasn’t just a job. The following day, I would see the Chef opening the restaurant and I ventured a good guess that he was also the owner.
This was a nice way to end the day. They Boys got back shortly after I did. I managed 8 miles today. Looks like I will need to become satisfied with 8 and 9 mile totals each day, a far cry from the 13 I was used to doing when I travel to Boston.
Tuesday September 29, 2015
I didn’t sleep well last nite and was still wide awake at 2:00 A.M. I slept in until 8:00 when I heard the Boys leave for their usual busy day. The temperature is 60, the sun is out and once am on my way I realize it is quite windy. I took a meandering walk to the Universitario Di Architettura Di Venezia at the other end of the Dosoduro. It was such a gorgeous day to just leisurely stroll along the quiet Calli and Canals. As I was walking and looked off to the distance I saw cars parked – I wondered exactly where I was, obviously close to Piazzale Roma? I decided to try the Gondola repair shop again in hopes of finding some kind of activity but once again, nothing. I am beginning to wonder if this is really the place that I’d seen on one of Rick Steves shows and I’d read about on the internet. I may as well get some lunch since I am right here at my now favorite place to eat. I am feeling more confident today in speaking up and asking for my selections rather than waiting to be asked. This is after all, the way it is done in Italy. Today’s choices are: Tuna Tartar, Salted Dry Cod with Garlic (cuz it was so good), Egg Yolk with Flower Petals (told you the combinations were interesting) and Pistachio, the place card didn’t say what else was on it . Oh my, they were all heavenly and I knew if I had my regular appetite, it would be hard to not come away with an overflowing plate of choices. Everything just looks soooooo good I wanted to be able to try it all.
With a full stomach I headed to San Polo to visit Basilica Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari and from there over to the Rialto Bridge. The bridge is very, very crowded reminding me of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. As with all the bridges of Venice, you climb steps and this Bridge is much bigger than the others I’d been on so far so there are quite a few steps. Steps, my nemesis!!! Once I climb to the top, begin to walk down to the other side and see the crowds of shoulder to shoulder people, I am thinking this isn’t for me. Just as I turn to go back the way I came I happen to look to my left and see a familiar face in the window of a very small shop. It is Marco Jovan! I had read about his shop and his hand crafted cameos on Margie and Victoria’s Blogs.
I had wanted to see his shop but had forgotten about it in the moment. I couldn’t believe my good fortune in turning in that direction and glancing inside to immediately jar my memory thank goodness! I turned and walked in, being greeted with a huge smile and even bigger smile once he heard why I had stopped. We chatted for a few minutes about my journey while I admired his exquisite work. I bought a beautiful cameo for my mother and to top it all off? He handed me one of the tools that he uses to carve the cameos with what he had been currently working on telling me to keep it. At that precise moment, I didn’t really understand what I held in my hand and it would be after I got home and saw a video of him creating a cameo that I realized exactly what it was and was indeed honored by his generosity. You can see it in my hand in the photo. He introduced me to his brother and insisted that we take a picture together. I love his story and admire what he is doing so much. He is exactly what I had envisioned Artisans in Italy to be. His passion for his work and the craft just poured from every ounce of his being, it was electric and I was caught up in the moment and his excitement. Again, I couldn’t believe my good fortune in meeting him and his brother. It was one of the highlights of my trip to be sure.
I ended up crossing over the bridge from the outside rather than through all the people on the inside, taking the Vaporetto back home. My confidence in riding the Vaporetto has also grown despite just being my 3rd trip. I was glad that I’d confirmed the correct stop this morning as I didn’t realize there was the Rialto stop and the Rialto Mercato stop which of course was the stop that I actually wanted. I really need to start looking at maps when I travel before I set out to go somewhere, you would think I’d learned this after so many years of travel. However because I walk so many places I assume that I will just figure it out while I walk and can easily make adjustments that may be more difficult while driving like one way streets etc. Vaporetti tend to be very crowded with tourists and locals alike. They do not stop long at each stop keeping a very tight, on time schedule. When they do stop, hold on! as they hit the floating docks quite hard. I always make sure that once I get on, I am either right at the rail, or have something else to hang onto for the ride. Up to this point, I had only stood while riding – there are seats on the rear of the Vaporetto but I was only going a few stops and it wasn’t worth trying to get through the crowd to the seated area. What I need to remember, especially on days when the water is quite choppy, is that despite the docks being very large with an enclosed structure on each one, they are docks. They are in the water and can be rocking and rolling quite a bit some more so than others depending on their size. You need to get your sea legs as they say. There were a few times that I almost landed in someone’s lap who was sitting inside the stop as I staggered about.
Here is an example of the buildings and the docks. Each Vaporetto is marked with the line it serves. At each stop is a listing of the lines that stop serves with the stops that each line makes. The Vaporetti travel in one direction crossing from side to side of the canal as many stops are staggered like you see on the right for Ca’ Rezzonocio and San Samuele. Just like a bus line, you need to pay attention to what line and the stops before you get on. You also need to be sure to validate your ticket/pass before getting on because if you don’t, you could receive a fine.
I am amazed at the elderly people who don’t have any trouble at all getting on/off and riding the Vaporetti being so used to this form of transportation. It is like the many, many bridges they cross throughout their daily travels. They don’t seem to be bothered in the least even with their rolling grocery carts in tow. Yes, elderly Italians, are a hearty, strong people and so much more active and vibrant than so many of those in our country. They have no choice but to walk everywhere and do so with a steady determination that I admire. They climb several flights of stairs to reach their homes/apartments every day. Italians just seem happy as they go about their day. Is it any wonder that they have a smile on their faces and more often than not a ‘Buongiorno’ to offer as you pass by?
I need to do some laundry but each time I started it, the machine would start on the spin cycle and then shut off in just a few minutes. I did this 4 times trying a few different settings. On one choice it did start to fill with water, but again, started to spin right away. I was obviously using the wrong setting and tried finding the model we had on the web to get some sort of instructions but was not successful. The dials on the wash machine, 3 of them, same in Florence, are of course in Italian. I realize now that all I had to do was put the word(s) from the dial into my phone and ask it for the translation – what a dope! When the Boys returned, I asked Richard which setting he’d used the nite before because it had still been set at what the gal told us to use when we arrived. This worked however, the machine was quite small, I couldn’t do much and would have to do 2 loads. Not tonite though since it took a little over 2 hours for the cycle!
As I reflect on the day, I am saddened at the thought that I only have 2 more days. Each nite when the Boys return they tell me of their day and all the places they visited and all the foods that they ate. I read Richard’s detailed accounting on his Facebook page and I ‘see’ the things this way. Although I do wish that my appetite were normal because I am really not getting much of a taste of Italy so far! The food was a huge part of what I had been looking forward to on this trip. I realize that I am not doing many of the things that I had wanted to do while in Venice. I know that I am missing many beautiful things in the museums, churches or the island of Burano. At the same time I also realize that I am quite content. I am quite happy just walking around the Dosoduro. I am content listening to locals despite my not understanding them. I imagine what they are saying as they pass and greet each other. Italian, it is such a lyrical, sexy and emotional language that I could listen to it for hours. I may have had a list of ‘things to do’ but I am so happy in what I am doing. I am so relaxed. I am so at peace is the best way to describe it. I find myself smiling as I walk, I feel the breath slowly escape my lungs, sometimes tears start to come to my eyes, not because of something beautiful I saw, although yes I do that a lot! but because of this feeling of peacefulness. I go to bed with this feeling ready to experience it all over again tomorrow.