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“Arrivederci” Italy

by dan.kronstal on October 14th, 2011

Our train ride to Venice was short – just over an hour. An early start, mandated by our early-ish checkout time, saw us checking in to our new home at noon, so we had most of the day to explore Venice. We were not staying in Venice, since it’s so expensive, and easily accessible from nearby Marghera. We took the one-stop train ride into town, where I had my first (and Christina’s second) look at the famous canals of Venice. The canals of Amsterdam and Bruges were very nice, but always seemed a little frivolous. Here they are clearly a way of life, mostly evident in the water taxis and gondolas ferrying tourists about, but also in the more mundane logistical support of a community on the water.

We crossed the bridge and were swept away in the tide of tourists, most of them heading for either Rialto Bridge or San Marco square. We followed the flow for a few blocks, crossing the small bridges, and winding our way through the crowded alleys.

Evening in Venice

Evening in Venice

To be honest, at this point I could probably just post a bunch of pictures of canals and call it “done”. So fundamental to the image of Venice, and the one thing that everyone is sure to remember. There are other things that will stick with me after our visit though. The sight of uniformed gondoleers stroking their way through tight waterways, or ashore, bursting out in song to attract passing tourists. Bridges in every style, from ancient stone to wood to modern metal arches, in innumerable variety. Late night classical music in nearly vacant campos by musicians who, for once, seeming to play for themselves instead of the small change. We heard more live music in Venice than in the rest of Italy combined.

Each of our three days were characterized by different features. Due to our early arrival in town, our first was a very nearly full day – as we tend to schedule things.

Glass workshop

Glass workshop

We spent the early part of the day browsing around the key highlights of the map, and covered the core of Venice quite nicely. Piazza San Marco and Rialto Bridge featured prominently on our list of objectives, but unknown to me Christina had a third priority.

"Souvenier"

"Souvenier"

We stopped by the sales floor of a Murano glass factory, where she showed an unusually specific interest in some types of pieces. I had not known that on their previous visit the Escabillas family had picked up a set of fancy glassware; I was not aware that Christina was interested in getting a set of her own; and I did not expect to be making any such purchases. But they had, she was, and we did.

Rialto Bridge

Rialto Bridge

Rialto Bridge the largest and fanciest among the hundreds in Venice. You’re going to walk on it when you arrive, if for no other reason than to get to Piazza San Marco. Situated strategically along the Grand Canal, it photographs very nicely at any time of the day, and provides spectacular views out to either side of the water, including the numerous restaurants and cafe’s that line the river. If Venice has a “symbol”, other than the canals themselves, this bridge is probably it.

Piazza San Marco

Piazza San Marco

San Marco is the key congregation point for tourists in Venice. Whether they’re arriving by bus, train, or cruise ship, it’s the first place nearly everyone goes. It was packed with people, like most of Venice’s key attractions, but there the people are part of the reason to go. It is very entertaining to sit on the sidelines and watch the tourists feeding pigeons, and posing amongst the huge flocks – sometimes with a bird eating right out of their hands. We didn’t take any pictures like that, but had a good time watching, as well as listening to the bands playing on stages set up in front of restaurant patios. At these restaurants you don’t pay coperto or service charges, but your 1€ expresso will cost you 8€ instead.

Our second day we wandered a little farther, and spent somewhat less time wandering the highlighted “tourists go here” route on the map. We stopped by a restaurant recommended by a woman from the post office for lunch, where we had a massive meal, and had to keep walking to fend off the afternoon snooze impulse.

Giardini Pubblici

Giardini Pubblici

One advantage of staying a little further from the center seems to be that you can’t just nip back to your room for a “little nap” (which historically seems to take not less than two hours). We headed nearly as far west as one can go, along the waterfront promenade. The restaurants and shops gradually give way to more residential areas that finally conclude in a very nice park space which extends to the westerly-most point of Venice (not counting Lido island). This park is absolutely strewn with marble statues, most of which bear no plaque or name, and seem to be present simply for the aesthetic value of having something white in amongst the greenery.

Rialto Bridge at night

Rialto Bridge at night

Instead of dinner this night, owing to our daunting prior meal, we shared a carafe of wine at a small place just next to the Rialto Bridge, where we sat and wrote for a couple of hours, watching the people walk by and the sun go down.

Grand Canal at night

Grand Canal at night

Taking advantage of the dusk, we put our photographic abilities to the test, and tried taking some night-time shots of the city. We then got horribly lost, and wandered the maze of streets for some time before finally finding the bus station and riding home.

Until now I had enjoyed our time in Venice, but not been as impressed as I had hoped. Yes, the squares were nice, the buildings were pretty, and there was about enough fancy stuff to justify the number of times that the adjective “decadent” is used in describing Venetian style. Somehow it all felt too crafted, or forced, or put-on to satisfy me.

Us on Ponte dell'Accademia

Us on Ponte dell'Accademia

Our third day was chiefly spent exploring the south and west of town, and it was on this day that Venice started to click for me. There were a few reasons for this. We knew our way around a little by now – particularly following the unplanned and uncharted questing of the previous night – and various landmarks were starting to show themselves useful in orienteering through the confusion. Accademia, the area of the city at the hub of our days walking, was far enough from the easily accessible touristy areas that the ratio of tourists to residents began to even out. Finally, perhaps related to the last point, we got to see some places that felt like truly authentic Venice, and gave me the impression that a city like this could actually exist and be “normal”.

Grand Canal, south

Grand Canal, south

We navigated successfully to Accademia, and could immediately see the difference between crowds toting cameras and crowds toting notebooks and laptops. Here the churches were not charging admission, prices at the restaurants was somewhat lower, and the atmosphere was less hurried.

View from Saloni

View from Saloni

We slowed our pace to match, and had a nice long lunch in one of the smaller squares, then lounged over a couple of capuccinos and wrote postcards. Later we walked on, to Fondamenta Zattere ai Saloni, where we found a great view looking back north and east at the city, from the point of a dock south of San Marco. We hung out there for a little while, taking photos and checking out the wharf.

Gondola workshop

Gondola workshop

Walking back towards the more popular streets we happened upon a repair yard for gondolas. Several were right up out of the water, having some work done, and it was really neat to catch a glimpse of this “back of house” operation. We took our time walking back through the main areas of Venice, and took a lot of photos, but mostly photos of canals, which would likely look very much the same from one to the next, so I’m going to leave most of them out.

We had a last dinner in Italy at a nice little joint, tucked away in one of the small squares, free from most of the tourist traffic. A good sign was that we were the only couple inside speaking English. Our food was simple but tasty – bruschetta and a couple of pasta dishes, one with tomatoes and the other with pesto. A very nice way to conclude our Italian dining.

When we were talking to my folks about their experience in Venice it had not sounded like a place I would want to visit. Mom said that I aught to be sure to go though, since it’s one-of-a-kind. Though it’s not a designation that very many places can claim, as we know after so much touring around, she was right. Venice truly is unique.

Gondoleer at HRC

Gondoleer at HRC

When we had set out to visit Italy I had high hopes of finding a nice farm or vineyard host, something like we had in Australia, and thereby prolonging our time here. Unfortunately that hasn’t worked as well as I wanted, since we’ve been really packing on the miles. Despite our earlier plans for a longer stay, it feels like a good time to move on, so we’ll be doing just that and continuing north, out of Italy and into Austria. As we begin heading north in earnest the temperature is dropping fast. We lost nearly 20 degrees when we left Sorrento for Verona, so it feels like maybe we’re doing this part backwards. Now we know for next time….

2 Comments
  1. Mom and Dad E. permalink

    At least Dan, you could now chalk Venice off as, been there, done that!
    You should add then Bangkok in your list of canal cities for the Asian version.
    So you got yourself a Murano glass! Hope they pack it well…. we’ll let you know…
    We pray for your safe journey onwards to Austria…

    • Yeah Dad, Venice definitely takes the cake for canals! Much more so than other waterlogged cities we’ve been – some claim to be “The Venice of” this or that, but none really compare. It seems to be one of Christina’s favorite places, so I feel that we’ll be back :)

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