Village Italy Tour

Day 1 Saturday May 14, 2005
Rome - Venice

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The actual digital photos have much better resolution than the enlarged photos.

My new inflatable pillow worked pretty well. I still woke up with aches in my back and/or knee every hour or so, but my neck never bothered me. I managed to get a few hours of sleep, which is the best that I could have hoped for on an overnight flight to Europe.

Breakfast on the plane was not very good. It was some kind of nondescript egg sandwich and a flavorless roll. They did provide orange juice.

The plane arrived in Rome right on schedule, which was a pleasant change from our previous experience with Alitalia. The words from my Italian tapes came unbidden to my brain: “Il volo è partito in orario, ed è arrivato in orario.”

We gathered outside of the plane where a young lady from Alitalia brandished a sign with the word “Venezia.” Seventeen people on our flight from Rome were also booked on the flight to Venice.

While we were waiting for the group walking to the gate for Venice to assemble, I learned of the in-flight travails of my traveling companions. Sue said that she had not been able to sleep at all on the flight. Moreover, her feet hurt because her ankles always swell up on long plane rides. She has also been having trouble with one of her big (and I do mean big) toes. Wearing a new pair of shoes probably did not help the matter.

Tom and Patti told us that they had had to sit in the last row on the flight to Rome. This was no bargain because the seats were narrower, and there was less legroom. Tom might have had the worst seat on the plane. Tom was matter-of-fact about it. He is not a complainer. (Actually I got this wrong. I learned from Patti much later that only she and not Tom had been forced to sit in the last row. So, she was the steadfast soldier, and Tom might have been a complainer after all. We will probably never know.)

We had landed in the C terminal. Gate #A19 must have been on the other side of Rome. After a long walk we had to go through passport control, which, for me at least, was a breeze. The guy did not ask me a single question. He asked Patti where besides Venice she was going, and she could not think of the names of any of the towns. The guy let her through any way.

That bald guy with the epaulettes is about to earn his salary dealing with the most incompetent photographer in Rome.

After another walk we had to go through Italian security. I made the mistake of taking a photo with my new digital camera of the other three going through the line. The security guy came over and asked me to cancel it. I panicked, and I could not remember how to do it. It seemed as if I had pressed every combination of buttons. I was almost desperate enough to delete all of the photos. Finally, he took pity on me, patted me on the shoulder, and just said “OK.” I guess he figured that Al Qaeda agents would be smart enough to know how to use their own cameras. Thank goodness this was Italy, not the U.S. The FBI would probably have put a leather hood on me and flown me to “Gitmo.”

Even after security we were still a long way from our gate. During the walk Sue began to get very crabby. For some reason she insisted that we might not get on the flight to Venice even though we already had boarding passes and seat assignments. Nevertheless we had no problem making the flight, which, like the flight from Newark to Rome, was absolutely full.

The flight to Venice was short, pleasant, and uneventful. I sat next to Tom. Sue sat next to Patti. I think that everyone was getting a little excited that the painful part was almost over, and the fun part was about to start. The country was rugged, then a plain, then swamp. There was more farming than I expected. The area just outside of the airport was heavily industrialized. We were on the north side of the plane, so we could not see Venice, but we did spot the causeway connecting it to the mainland.

We had to wait an inordinately long time for the luggage. I recalled that two years ago in Milan it also seemed as if we had to wait forever. Sue and Patti spent most of the interim in the ladies' room. After a quick pit stop Tom and I found ourselves examining the lettering on the glass case for the fire extinguisher. I used my powers of deductions and proclaimed that the letters must be Russian. Tom pointed out that they were just upside down. So much for my legendary linguistic skills.

Evviva! No lost luggage. We gathered our stuff together and headed for the exit. The first stop was at the Bancomat. Tom and I each withdrew 200€. While we were doing this, Sue called the hotel. They said that we could take a bus or cab to Piazzale Roma. From there we could take the vaporetto to the San Marcuola stop. Well, yes, that would probably involve the least walking, but unfortunately I had very little idea of how to find the hotel from the San Marcuola vaporetto stop.

We went outside and got a taxi. The driver was exceptionably nice. He showed us where the vaporetto stop was, and he explained where to get vaporetto tickets. He said that San Marcuola was the third or fourth stop on the vaporetto. Tom paid 35€ for the cab ride. We found out that Rick Steves' Venice book had been wrong. There is no way for a motorized land vehicle – car or bus – to get to the train station. The causeway ends at Piazzale Roma. We saw that plenty of both the orange public buses and the blue express buses were there.

Our first view of the Grand Canal.

A pair of kayaks on the Grand Canal.

I was surprised to hear that everyone was agreeable to walking from Piazzale Roma to the hotel. I was pretty sure that I could find the hotel without inordinate difficulty from the train station, and I was certain that I could find the train station. It turned out that we had to carry our luggage over three small bridges and one large one, Scalzi, which is one of only three bridges across the Grand Canal. Negotiating the steps on the bridges was somewhat difficult, but nobody perished en route.

When we got within a block of the hotel, Tom spotted a sign on a wall. It said Hotel Herion 10 MT, We assumed that MT meant meters, but we could not see the hotel. We had the address, however, which was 1704. I found a door marked 1702 and deduced – correctly – that the hotel must be the next door down. A French couple was already at the desk. The desk clerk would not allow them to check in because their room was not ready. They had to stow their luggage and return in an hour. But our rooms, sacre bleu, were already prepared. We were able to check right in to rooms 6 and 11. That'll show the French not to support us when we tell them that it is time to go to war. It was about 12:30 p.m. I felt a great sense of relief.

I proposed that we chill out until 2. Then we could take the vaporetto to San Marco. If we were lucky, we would have just enough time to see the basilica, take Rick Steves' recommended walk to the Rialto bridge and from there to Frari church. This was a good plan. The only problem was that it did not provide for food or rest. Sue, for one, had had little or no sleep for two or three days. Nevertheless, everyone agreed to it. I took a shower and a short nap. Sue took a shower and spent a lot of time getting her stuff organized. Tom was a little late with his shower. So, we did not get started until 2:15.

Sue reported that she was, to no one's surprise, too tired to go out touring in the afternoon. We left her behind to catch up on her rest and take care of her feet. She was pretty sure that she had already seen the basilica anyway. Besides, crowding together with tourists and pilgrims in order to gawk at overdone Catholic churches has never been her idea of a great time.

I led Tom and Patti to the San Marcuola vaporetto stop by following the signs. There was no one selling tickets on the platform. So we bought them on the boat. I noticed one guy on the boat with very strange glasses. The lenses were just where one would expect them to be, but the frames wrapped around his face. The lenses were only attached to the nosepiece. I do not understand how this arrangement could possibly work. In Italy, especially in northern Italy, however, function is occasionally subservient to form.

I took lots of picture on the vaporetto. By the time that our short voyage ended at San Marco, Patti had already fallen in love with Venice.

Gondolas and speed boats share the water in front of the Venetian Post Office.

I think that the pink building might be Palazzo Benzon.

Traghetto crossing.

A rio (side canal) near the base of the Accademia Bridge.

Santa Maria Della Salute seen beneath the Accademia Bridge.

Getting close to San Marco.

Coming from the canal we passed the Palazzo Ducale on the way to the basilica.

Patti and Tom were both very impressed by Piazza San Marco. They had never seen anything like it for the simple reason that there probably is nothing like it anywhere in the world. We took a few minutes to soak in the environment. Then I went to put my backpack in the luggage depository, which was on a side street north of the basilica. Patti and Tom got in line for the basilica itself. However, the line moved so fast that they had to get out of line to avoid entering the church before I returned.

Mark Twain called the basilica "a vast meditative warty bug out for a walk..."

The church was monumental. It certainly has some impressive mosaics, but it did not blow me away in the same way that the cathedrals in Milan, Siena, and Florence had two years ago. I found it very instructive that the basilica contained two pulpits – one for the priest and one for the doge. In fact the arch-priest was actually appointed by the doge. The Corcorans shelled out 1,50€ to look at the solid gold altarpiece that is inlaid with lots of precious gems. I passed on looking at the shiny rocks, but Tom and Patti said that they thought that it was very impressive.

The campanile as seen from the balcony of the basilica.

We all paid the 3€ to go upstairs to see the museum and the view from the top floor where the bronze horses were. Actually the original horses stolen from Istanbul are kept inside in the museum. The ones on the balcony were replicas. The individual steps on the staircase that led up to the upper level were very high. The climb was not exhausting, but it was clumsy and difficult to make yourself step up so high. Inside the museum was a gift shop that caught Patti's attention and quite a lot of interesting information about the mosaics and how the local artisans go about restoring them. Outside Tom and I enjoyed the spectacular view of the piazza. I took quite a few photos. A young oriental man near me set down his water bottle in order to use his camera. He accidentally brushed the bottle with his elbow, and it fell all the way down to the piazza. I don't think that it hit anyone.

Piazza San Marco as seen from the balcony of the basilica.

We went down the stairs again. To get to the exit we had to go through the ground floor gift shop. Note: this so-called church had not one but two gift shops inside its walls.

The walk recommended by Rick Steves to Rialto was not very pleasant. The only thing of note that we saw was Harry's Bar. Tom made a pitiful attempt to see into the place by jumping up to look in the windows. He had to admit in the end that his jumping days were behind him. Oh yes, and La Fenice Opera House, which is now open again. A group of well-dressed people congregated on its steps. The last time that we were in Venice, they were putting on operas in a tent on the mainland.

Big doin’s at La Fenice opera house on a Saturday evening.

As had happened two years ago in this neck of the woods, I got a little lost. My troops were getting somewhat restless, mostly because I had put them on a forced march with no rations. We were on the lookout for a gelateria, but we had somehow found the only part of tourist Italy that did not seem to have any. We finally spotted one just before the Rialto bridge. We stopped and enjoyed a coppa together before crossing the bridge. I had pistacchio as usual. Naturally, we encountered one gelateria after another in the next hundred yards or so.

The Rialto Bridge is finally in sight.

The walk from Rialto to the Frari church was not too eventful. The further we went the less tourist-oriented it became. Although Patti seemed to suspect that I was lost again, we actually stayed on the right path throughout. It took a while to get there, but when we finally arrived, we all found the church to be stunning. The two Titians were very powerful. The rest of the church was nearly as impressive, especially the triangular crypt Canova designed for Titian. I still did not quite understand how such precious artwork got into a church run by Franciscans, of all people. I guessed that Titian must have worked pro bono.

I cannot make out the inscription on this arch; it might be in dialect.

We walked out of the church, and – uh oh – we quickly discovered that it was raining pretty hard. We dashed across the rio to a protected place in which we could plan our strategy. We decided to wait for it to let up - and it did a little – and then go to the San Tomá vaporetto stop, perhaps five minutes if we did not make any mistakes. We hurried to the sheltered waiting area without losing our way at all, thank goodness. Being lost in the rain is no better in Venice than in Juarez. However, by the time that we arrived, my map was pretty much in shambles. We got there just as a vaporetto was leaving. The conductor allowed the person in front of me to board, but he did not let me on.

We squeezed our way onto the next boat, which was at least as crowded. The only good thing about the ride was that it was absolutely impossible to pay for our passage. The worst was that a lady got whacked in the face by my backpack. I did not move at all, but the motion of the boat pushed her into me. I think that she may have given me the dreaded malocchio as she got off.

We disembarked at San Marcuola at about 6:30 and made our way flawlessly back to the hotel to pick up Sue. We asked the young lady at the desk where we could get some pizza. She indicated the pizzeria right across the street named Le Campane. She didn't exactly recommend it, but I liked the place. The pizza was very cheap, the selection was quite broad, the taste was at least passable, they served Heinecken on tap, and – get this – they had wrestling on TV. A typical romantic evening in Venice.

We decided to shelve the initial plan for a gondola ride. It was no longer raining, but it was chilly and damp. Indeed, after dinner Patti bowed out for the evening. Sue, Tom, and I took another crowded vaporetto to Piazza San Marco. Once again there was no way to pay when we got on. Eventually it cleared out a little, and Tom and I sat down. The conductor came back shortly thereafter and made the young couple behind us pay up. He never said a word to Tom and me. Maybe the couple looked French.

The basilica by night; on a warmer less damp evening the piazza would be full.

We walked around the piazza listening to all three of the small orchestras. It was rather chilly, and the crowd was pretty thin. It did not seem to be as other-worldly as we remembered it. Maybe it was the chill in the air, or maybe you only get one magical first evening in Venice. In the end we seated ourselves a table at Florian's again. We got a bottle of overpriced Cabernet and listened to the six-piece (two violins, a piano, a bass, a clarinet, and an accordion) band. It did not seem as good as two years ago either. There were a lot of tangos, which at least held Sue's attention. An obnoxious group of tourists sat right in front of the band. They laughed and talked throughout the performance.

Sant Maria Della Salute as seen from the vaporetto.

Sue took movies that featured her rabbit finger puppet. At one point the bunny spilled Sue's glass of wine. If Patti had been there, it might have ended up in her lap.

We left when the bells finished tolling at midnight. Another slightly less crowded vaporetto ride brought us to the Locanda Herion.

I discovered that Sue had stolen a blanket from Alitalia. Don't ask me why. She proclaimed that she thought that you could just take them - like the magazines in the seat backs. I decided that we would have to port it around with us and try to remember to return it on the flight from Milan to Boston two weeks thence.

I went to sleep thinking that we should have bought a 24 hour vaporetto pass, but I was wrong.