Venice 2008

Rosemary's Travel Diary

We continued on to Venice [from Bologna via Padua], where we traversed the long causeway to Piazzale Roma, then turned in the car and set off by boat and on foot to our hotel. In the past we have found Venice to be a quiet, peaceful place. This time we chose a hotel overlooking the Grand Canal (and across from the train station) and learned that the atmosphere can be just like a main street in Rome. Big boats chug up and down the canal, new arrivals drag their suitcases along the cobblestones, and a constant stream of laughing, shouting, chattering tourists and citizens passes under our window. After a much-needed (but somewhat difficult) nap, we went out for dinner.

Tue - That tickle in my throat has evolved into a mild case of laryngitis. Otherwise, I don't feel sick, so I am hopeful that this will pass quickly.

Staying in a different part of town gave us a wonderful opportunity to walk through areas we have never seen before. It was a lovely day, and without a specific goal we strolled at a relaxed pace. Starting in the morning we found the streets less crowded with tourists. Normal people were on their way to work, doing their shopping, sitting in the park. We walked all the way to the traghetto near the Salute church. The traghettos are gondolas that ferry people across the grand canal. Very handy when you are far from a bridge, and a cheap way to sample the gondola experience. We continued walking to Piazza San Marco. As usual, a lot of things are under renovation. A big section of pavement around the campanile has been torn up.

After lunch, we realized that the line to get into the basilica wasn't very long, so that's where we went. We started by climbing the steep stone steps to the galleria where we had a good overview of the church interior and access to the balcony for a view of the square. Downstairs, we toured the church interior with the rest of the crowd. It is amazing and inspiring, covered from top to bottom with elaborate Byzantine mosaics, and lots of gold.

In the afternoon we visited Harry's Bar. Famous since the 1930s as a hangout of the rich and famous, it is also a very pricey tourist trap. We knew what to expect, but some people came in, looked at the menu, and quickly left. Of course, we ordered the cocktail that originated here, the Bellini. Two tasty but small drinks (with a little dish of big olives on the side) cost 30.00E. We considered it part of our entertainment budget. It's not a place where we would actually eat (40.00E for an appetizer or a sandwich goes beyond my idea of entertainment) but it was fun to observe those who would. For dinner we went to Ristorante al Teatro, near La Fenice opera house, where we enjoyed dining in the fresh evening air.

Wed - We visited the church of San Giorgio Maggiore, which sits on the little island of the same name, south of St. Mark's Square, across the Canale di San Marco. From the top of the church tower, we had a terrific view of Venice, from a different point of view. After touring the church, we took the vaporetto to the island next door, Giudecca. This is not a touristy area, although it does have some nice hotels and restaurants. We strolled along the waterfront, passing only a few other sightseers, until we came to the huge Hilton Hotel (converted from a 19th century flour mill) at the western end of the island. A short vaporetto ride took as across the canal where we had lunch in a cafe facing the water.

In the evening we met the parents of Andrea Bari, Steve's former teaching assistant. Mario and Marina are delightful, warm-hearted people. I like them very much, and we had a great time with them, conversing in English and Italian (despite my worsening laryngitis). They took us to a good, local restaurant where we had an amazing meal with many different kinds of seafood. It was also fun to walk in Venice with people who really know where they are going; it improved my sense of where things are.

Thu - When I woke up this morning I could tell I was getting sicker. The prudent thing might be to rest, but our hotel room is much too noisy for that. Besides, this was our last full day in Italy, so I decided I might as well take advantage of it. So we bought train tickets and went to Verona.

All day pass
The first sight in Verona's historic center is the 2000-year-old Roman arena. Today it is used as a theater, and while we were there a crew was working on the stage and scenery. Leading away from the arena is via Mazzini, a pedestrian area lined with upscale boutiques, designer shops, and small cafes. Further on, there are a number of historical piazzas, sculptures, and buildings. The Lamberti tower is the tallest tower in town. From the top we had an excellent 360-degree view of the town and surrounding area. Shakespeare set his play, "Romeo and Juliet" in Verona, and the story has been memorialized here for the enjoyment of tourists. A house once owned by the Capello family (inspiration for the Capulet family in the play), radically remodeled in the 20th century, is now called "Juliet's House". Of course, I posed for a picture on the balcony. After a brief stroll through the marketplace and a look at the train schedule, we realized we had time for just a quick lunch, sandwiches from a street vendor. The Eurostar took just over an hour to get us back to Venice.

After a nap at the hotel, we went for a short walk and then to dinner. During the meal, Steve got a message that our flight out of Venice tomorrow had been canceled. Yikes! Apparently a strike in Milan led to the cancellation of all the Easyjet flights in Italy. Fortunately, it was still daytime in the U.S., so he was able to call Evelyn, our travel agent, who provided some helpful advice. We managed to get seats on another airline (for a higher price, of course).

Fri - Last night was just a little bit crazy. My cold got worse and worse until I couldn't breathe. There are plenty of pharmacies here (I bought throat lozenges at one near the hotel a couple of days ago) but they all close early. At 10pm in Venice, you can buy Murano glass and gelato, but good luck if you are sick. If I can't breathe I can't sleep (and then neither can Steve) so I finally asked the desk clerk if he knew of a pharmacy that would be open late. He found the only 24-hour pharamacy in the phone book and called to make sure. By now it was midnight. The night boat doesn't stop everywhere, so we would need to get off at Ca' d'Oro and walk back (not very far) to San Felice. While we were waiting on the dock, a young couple who had just arrived by train asked us for information about taking the boat. They were still shaking from their frightening ordeal. The boy had gotten off the train in Bologna to smoke a cigarette, and the train left before he could get back on. He had the tickets in his pocket, so when the conductor came through for the ticket check, the girl didn't have it, and the police ejected her from the train. We never found out how they got back together, because telling the story made her cry. While I was comforting her, Steve helped the boy find a water taxi that could take them right to their hotel. Then we began our mini-adventure.

It's dark out there

We couldn't find the pharmacy. I knew its name and approximate location, and we had hoped to spot its bright green sign from the street, but we just couldn't find it. I asked lots of people for directions. Most of them told me that all the pharmacies were closed, and when I explained that this was a 24-hour pharmacy and gave them the name, it didn't help. Naturally, people don't know the names of the pharmacies, they just know the green signs, and they obviously thought I was misguided. One very nice man walked along with us for a while, pointing out every pharmacy along the way, but none of them were the one we were looking for, and all of them were closed. A doorman at a nightclub knew where it was (or thought he did), but we were unsuccessful at following his directions. If I'd been well and we hadn't been stressed, roaming the streets of Venice at 1:00am would have been interesting. The town is very quiet. There are a few pedestrians, groups of young people going to one of the pizzerias or bars that are still open, tipsy couples making their way home, a shoeless woman in a long white nightgown. Without the crowds, the streets seem much wider, and it's easy to cover a lot of distance in the cool evening air.

Something different
But we never found the pharmacy. We finally gave up and headed back to our hotel. Outside one closed pharmacy we spotted a vending machine. Optimistically, we took a look, but it did not offer any medication, just condoms, tampons, and razors. [Note: After we returned to the U.S., I looked up the phantom pharmacy on Google Earth. It really does exist, but it's on a side street that we couldn't see from where we were, even though we passed very close to it three or four times that night.] After our time in the moist night air and a little steam treatment in the hotel bathroom, I was able to breathe just enough to fall asleep at last.

This morning we had a little extra time, so we took one last walk in the neighborhood. Then we dragged our suitcases over the bridge to Piazzale Roma where we got a taxi to the airport and boarded our flight to Paris. The hotel shuttle drivers were on strike (one of those scheduled strikes that provides a long weekend for the workers, it will end Monday), but there was a bus making a circuit of the affected hotels, so we finally arrived and checked in. This is just a layover; we are in a Holiday Inn next to the airport and will head for home (through JFK in New York) tomorrow morning.

Medieval buildings weren't wired for electricity, so today we see it all on the outside.

A hotel room in Venice wouldn't be complete without a Murano glass chandelier.

I've fallen and I can't get up
Italian hotel rooms always have these alarm pulls hanging in the shower.
I don't know whether anyone ever uses them, or whether they even work.
But a limited study has revealed that in most cases, if I actually broke my
leg and fell in the tub, the alarm would remain tantalizingly out of reach.

Tipping over
Pisa does not have a monopoly on leaning towers. This one is part
of the Greek Orthodox cathedral, San Giorgio dei Greci, in Venice.

The birds>
The city recently banned the sale of pigeon food, but these fine
examples of Columba livia haven't noticed any difference.

Don't feed them!
No pigeons here, but the Rialto market is filled with flocks of tourists.

The road less traveled
It's always possible to find peace by walking a short distance away from the touristy areas.

Lots of water
Everything is delivered by boat.

A heavy load
These hand trucks are used to haul deliveries through the streets and over bridges.

Construction progresses on Venice's new bridge, connecting the train station
with the car park and bus terminal at Piazzale Roma. It's the first new bridge
in over 70 years, and will be the fourth crossing the Grand Canal.

Just another canal.

Slippery when wet
These slimy steps are convenient for boats but dangerous for drunken tourists.

A luxuriously appointed gondola.

Monstrous cruise ships dwarf the buildings and release thousands of tourists into the streets.

Although not the most used, the Bridge of Sighs
may be the most photographed bridge in Venice.

Crowds gather outside St. Mark's cathedral.

A closer view of details on the roof.

Adventure travel
Kayaking on the Grand Canal.


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