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How Do You Know They Are Not Killers? — An Italy Trip Report

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Apr 18th, 2011, 03:11 PM
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How Do You Know They Are Not Killers? — An Italy Trip Report

How Do You Know They Are Not Killers? — An Italy Trip Report

19 March–7 April 2011

BACKGROUND
I've visited Venice and Florence a number of times, so this report will have descriptions of lesser-known places and experiences. Some people seemed to enjoy the details of daily life in my previous report, so I’m encouraged to report again the day-to-day humdrum life during my visit with an Italian friend in her home. Here's a link to that report:

http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...rip-report.cfm

Since my trip in 2008, R kept inviting me to visit her again in Florence, Italy. I’d also been dreaming of a luxuriously lengthy stay in Venice that would allow me to finally see the more obscure sights I’d missed on previous trips. R and I discussed that we might also travel to some other part of Italy as her schedule allowed.

As my plans developed, my friend P decided to join me for part of my trip. As on a previous Italy trip together, he was happy to follow whatever I planned, figuring that activities of interest to me will be of interest to him as well, as long as we feed his passion for gelato — not a real problem.
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Apr 18th, 2011, 03:13 PM
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PREPARATIONS
In late January, we booked our flights on Delta, the only airline with direct JFK/NYC-to-Venice flights. P would return home after eight nights in Venice, and then I would travel to Florence and whatever adventure R and I planned. I’d fly home from Florence via CDG/Paris 10 nights later.

After securing our flights, I booked a double room for eight nights at my favorite hotel in Venice, Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo, my third stay at this hotel. Our rate: 120€ per night, 6% discount for cash.

I posted my travel dates on the Europe Forum at Fodor’s and suggested a Fodorite GTG in Venice. Based on responses, I had the hotel reserve a table for six at La Zucca for dinner on Saturday, 26 March.

A few years ago, my luggage was stolen while on vacation in California. For this trip I decided to replace my favorite international rollaboard I’d been missing since the theft. I purchased the smallest foldable Lipault wheeled bag and a Lipault 19-inch shoulder bag, a larger shoulder bag than I usually carry since the wheeled bag does not expand.

Two weeks before departure, I used veniceconnected.com to purchase discounted public transport tickets and museum passes. I figured that with eight nights we were sure to make good use of both. I printed the PNRs for the passes, printing the museum passes on card stock for extra durability since we’d be carrying and using them each day. I also gathered event info from the official tourism websites of Venice (www.turismovenezia.it) and Florence (www.firenzeturismo.it), and restaurants from the Fodor’s forums.

We were watching the weather forecast in the days leading up to our departure — lots of rain all over Italy. Initially rain was predicted for our first three days. By the day of departure, rain had disappeared from the forecast.
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Apr 18th, 2011, 03:14 PM
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oh goody - another ellenem trip report.

and gelato too.

can't wait.
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Apr 18th, 2011, 03:14 PM
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Saturday, 19 March 2011
6:50PM flight from JFK to Venice, an uneventful trip. We both were able to travel carry-on only. I had plenty of room to pack my purse inside the shoulder bag, so it became my “personal item.” Even though I loop the shoulder bag over the rollaboard’s handle for easy transport in most situations, I separate the bags from one another when actually boarding the plane. Years ago a flight attendant told me this trick — the bags may not seem quite as large when they are not stacked together. I never sleep on airplanes and this trip is no exception, but my enthusiasm usually carries me through on arrival day.

TOMORROW: When the Duration of the Night Is Equal to That of the Day
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Apr 18th, 2011, 04:48 PM
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ellenem, you sound like a pro! Love the title -- can't wait to hear your tale!
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Apr 18th, 2011, 04:50 PM
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YAY - thanks for the report ellenem!
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Apr 18th, 2011, 05:17 PM
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DAY 1: Sunday, 20 March 2011 -- Venice

When the Duration of the Night Is Equal to That of the Day

Landing at about 8:45AM, we quickly pass through immigration and baggage claim. We’re in Italy! First things first, we claim our transport tickets (imob card) at the Venice Connected window. Note: When you pick up from Venice Connected, your ticket is activated immediately rather than at first use, so we will nedd to pick up a 24-hour ticket later in the week when our 7-day pass runs out. Outside the terminal the #5 local ACTV bus to Piazzale Roma is waiting at the curb, so we hop on, wave our imob cards in front of the scanner and find a seat. Though the bus leaves the airport with just a few passengers, locals and tourists get on in Mestre, so eventually the bus is quite crowded. After about 20 minutes, we arrive at Piazzale Roma.

Vaporetto #1 is waiting at the landing, so after another wave of the imob card, we are on the boat and moving along the Canal Grande. The hotel is just four stops away near San Stae, so we stand in the open air to be ready for our stop. At San Stae we roll off the boat, duck into the first alley on the left, and ring the hotel bell just before 10:00AM. Sandro is at the desk and gives me a warm welcome back, suggesting we grab some breakfast since our room should be ready in a little while. I’m surprised to see that the room I once had on the first floor that faces the courtyard has been turned into a little breakfast room. Sandro explains that they have added four more rooms in the Annex (part of the hotel building with a different entrance), and another six rooms in a building across the canal, for a total of 23 rooms. With almost double the rooms than my visit in 2008, the new breakfast room is an important addition.

After a cappuccino, Sandro escorts us to the Annex, explaining that the electricity in the entire district is being turned on and off this morning to do some repairs, so he needs to unlock the door for us since the buzzer release might not work. He shows us our pleasant double room on the second floor facing Salizzada San Stae, and mentions that after two nights he can change us to a bigger room on the third floor for the remainder of our stay.

I mention to Sandro that we plan to visit the Venice Planetarium on the Lido this afternoon and ask if he can recommend someplace nearby for lunch. After a pregnant pause, he recommends a few choices and pinpoints them on a map.

Following a brief refresh, we decide to get outside to enjoy the beautiful sunny day. After a few minutes walk, we are passing through the Rialto markets, mostly closed today. We climb the Rialto Bridge, and walk the direct route along the Mercerie to Piazza San Marco. I’m giving P an overview, pointing out sights along the way that might be ideas for our week. The piazza and riva are swarming with visitors enjoying the bright sun. We find a huge complex of scaffolding obscuring much of the Palazzo Ducale and Prison across the canal, a big blue-sky graphic covering all but the Bridge of Sighs — very ridiculous looking, but many tourists (including me) will go home with this view of the famous bridge in their cameras.

We walk along the waterfront for a while, visiting the gates of the Arsenale, and eventually catch a #1 vaporetto to Lido. All of Sandro’s recommended restaurants are filled with Venetian families, so we settle on a simple pizzeria on the main drag. We both choose pizza, P with pesto, and mine with prosciutto and mushrooms. (26€)

NOTE: As a help to those who are interested in budgets, I’ll list total prices for our meals, which included our beverages — always a bottle of water, occasionally a quarto of house wine and an espresso. I won’t list gelato prices — always medium cups, which varied in price from 1.80€ to 2.50€.

The street is full of real Venetians out to enjoy the first warm sunny day after a week of rain. We walk to the beach and sit on a bench in the sun, watching families play in the sand, some in winter coats, some in lighter jackets, most kids barefoot and having fun, while we try not to fall asleep.

I first read of the Planetario di Venezia Lido on www.turismovenezia.it. The planetarium’s own web site (www.astrovenezia.net/planetario.htm) explains that it is open every Sunday at 4:00PM for a one-hour Italian language presentation. Both P and I are interested in astronomy and planetariums, so this seemed like a good activity for us, even if we wouldn’t understand every word. We find the planetarium in a playground just a short walk from the beach. The web site describes it as the third largest planetarium dome in Italy, with 60 seats for visitors. I had wondered who would be there — from the web site, it seemed to be the brainchild of two guys who like astronomy. Would we be the only visitors among the five guys in the club who attend every week?

The doors open at 3:45PM. The place seems new and in good repair, the seats comfortably upholstered and reclined for better viewing. By the time this week’s presentation begins, about 30 people have arrived. There is a small group who seem to be the “club,” but there are plenty of other visitors who have wandered in from the sunny day.

Today’s presentation title translated from the web site listing: “The Spring Equinox Sky — When the duration of the night is equal to that of the day,” a timely topic for this week. The lights go down and I know I am doomed: I am sitting in a comfy reclining chair in the dark and I haven’t slept in more than 24 hours. I battle sleep the entire time (and know that P is experiencing the same trouble) but manage to understand and enjoy most of the presentation.

As we head back to the vaporetto stop, P suggests we have a simple supper of gelato and then crash at the hotel. The boat from the Lido is packed full of Venetians who have also finished their afternoons in the sun. We get off the boat at Salute to have a bit of a walk back to the hotel. We stroll through Dorsoduro, eventually opting for gelato at Gelateria Al Doge in Campo Santa Margherita. (P: Crema Venexiana and Bacio; E: Cioccolato Bianco and Caffe)

Back at the hotel we make use of another new feature: free internet. We have no device of our own to access the wifi, but get a personal code to use the computer that is set aside in the lobby for guests. Afterward, we try to stay awake as late as possible, but by about 8:30PM, we are both sound asleep.

TOMORROW: Guzheng Anyone?
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Apr 18th, 2011, 05:49 PM
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They would have found me snoring away at the end of the Planetarium presentation, for sure! Can't wait for more.
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Apr 18th, 2011, 06:57 PM
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Thanks for all the encouragement!
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Apr 18th, 2011, 07:59 PM
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Ellenem: This has caught me already! Delicious report. Will watch for more.
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Apr 18th, 2011, 08:56 PM
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great start
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Apr 18th, 2011, 09:09 PM
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I want to go back to Venice.
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Apr 18th, 2011, 09:16 PM
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Looking forward to more! Venice is one of our favorite spots, it's great to revisit with your report-- thank you!
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Apr 18th, 2011, 11:38 PM
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Hi! I'm finally healthy again. The first few weeks are just a hazy memory now.

You're the first person I've known who went to the planetarium on Lido .. next time, for sure.

Your report is going to be fun to follow.
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Apr 19th, 2011, 06:29 AM
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Glad to hear you are felling better, YvonneT.
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Apr 19th, 2011, 07:32 AM
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Great report...looking forward to more!
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Apr 19th, 2011, 11:20 AM
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DAY 2: Monday, 21 March 2011 — Venice

Guzheng Anyone?

After waking up way too early, we out at 7:00AM to walk through the early morning Rialto markets. There’s no fish today, but the vegetable and meat markets are already open, which makes for some good photos. It is another gorgeous sunny day.

Back at the hotel, Walter greets us and we have breakfast in the new breakfast room. He suggests we might inquire about the tickets to the Clock Tower at the Palazzo Ducale. I had decided not to book online from home, but to wait until we were in Venice to see how we felt and how the weather looked each day. At San Stae we catch a slow boat and sit outside at the back all the way to San Zaccaria. Since we’re right there, we visit the Church of San Zaccaria, particularly because I love the Bellini painting there.

The Palazzo Ducale sends us to the Museo Correr, where we are able to book spots on the next Torre dell’Orologio tour, just 45 minutes later. (I love traveling off season!) To make good use of the time, we stop by Teatro La Fenice to check on the free self-guided tours that P read about. We learn that there are no rehearsals this week, so we plan to come back tomorrow. We also take a peek at the Scala dei Contarini Boscolo, the famous spiral stair.

At 11:00AM we are back at the Museo Correr, our guide arrives, and we discover that we are the only ones on the tour. (Cost: 7€ each, reduced from 12€ because we have the museum pass) Our guide walks us through the porticos of Piazza San Marco to a small door in the archway at the bottom of the tower. A guard lets us in and follows us throughout the tour. We will have just 50 minutes to tour, so that we will be out of the tower before the noontime bells begin to chime. 132 steps to the roof, the tour stops on each level to learn about the mechanism, its importance as the first “digital” clock, and the life of the timekeeper and his family who lived among the gears, wheels, and incredible noise. Eventually we are on the top, right next to the bell and Moors, with a fabulous view over Piazza San Marco and the entire city — a very special opportunity.

It’s a little early, but I decide this might be the day to have lunch at one of Fodorite Franco’s favorites since it is nearby. Correctly described as “tricky to find,” La Botte is already serving lunch to five gondoliers in the front room. We settle at a table in the back room and the waiter immediately offers us a special risotto with scallops and zucchini that’s just been cooked. We both follow his lead and have a very tasty and filling dish. The room is cozy and soon fills with local business people as well as a few other tourists. As a second course, we share a platter of mixed grilled vegetables, which includes eggplant, tomato, onion, zucchini, roasted potatoes, and peas. We skip dessert here because we have something else in mind. (37€)

We had passed Boutique del Gelato earlier, and intend to return there, but come upon Gelateria Suso first. The enthusiastic young woman who serves us is charming as we chat about the intriguing flavors available. While we begin enjoying our choices (P: Crema Fiorentina which he loves, and a Cioccolato as dark as I have ever seen; E: Gianduia and Cuore di Cacao) she writes a list of restaurant suggestions for us so we can eat “good food like Venetians do.” Interestingly, all three places are on my list, and I’ve eaten a few times at one of them.

After a break back at the hotel, we walk to the Basilica di Frari and purchase our Chorus Passes (10€ for the pass; otherwise 3€ one church), good for entrance to 16 churches throughout the city. These churches all have notable architecture and art. I figured that by trying to see as many churches as possible, we’d also end up seeing a number of Venetian neighborhoods. Passholders receive a map that shows the locations the 16 Chorus churches plus most museums, churches, scuole, and places of interest. When you enter a Chorus church, your pass is punched at the booth and you receive a laminated one-page guide of notable features and art. All Chorus churches were well lit — no need to feed coins into illumination boxes. We visit the Frari and I am reminded that I much prefer Bellini (another luminous Madonna) to Titian.

I found the listing for a free concert in Cannaregio, so we’ll explore this area and have dinner before the concert. First we do some reconnaissance, passing by Gelateria Alaska to check on the flavors available. I had read of this place, of its unusual flavors, so it will be a must at some point. Ginger, Licorice, and Carrot are the ones we’ll try another day. We cross the Scalzi Bridge and stroll along the Strada Nova to explore another neighborhood, picking up a pistachio cookie for later from Franco’s favorite Pasticceria Boscolo Anna, pausing to tour the Billa supermarket as if it were a museum. We reach the Fondamenta Misericordia as the sun is setting and happen upon an energetic music group playing a variety of ethnic tunes. We pause to listen for a while, then browse the restaurants on the fondamenta.

We choose Trattoria Antica Mola, which is perhaps the least appealing looking, with its careworn décor. Sometimes this can be a good sign, sometimes not. We have an OK meal of basic Venetian food. We share a mixed seafood antipasti. P seems pleased with his fegato alla venexiana (Venetian liver and onions). I follow my light, crisp frittura of shrimp and calamari with a generous mixed salad, a good foil for the fried seafood. (38€)

Fondamenta Nuove is very dark, deserted, and windy when we arrive at Teatro Fondamenta Nuove, near Canale della Misericordia. We’re 45 minutes early for the 9:00PM free concert I found on www.turismovenezia.it, so we walk a few minutes and take shelter at Pizzeria Gelateria Algobigio, the only bright light in the area. We finish our gelatos (P: Albicocca and Crema; E: Amarena and Caffe Latte) and return to the theater and find seats. This concert of Liu Fang playing the Chinese lute and the guzheng has attracted a crowd, the theater filling quickly around us. The lights go down and I relive some of my problems of yesterday . . . a full belly, a darkened room, soothing music. The interesting musical pieces manage to keep me from falling asleep, six on the lute, six on the guzheng, and one encore on the lute. I feel more awake after the intermission, perhaps because I’m intrigued by the actual playing of the guzheng.

After the concert we walk quickly back to the Ca D’Oro vap stop, hoping that a boat won’t be long in coming so we can make the quick one-stop hop across the Grand Canal to San Stae. These one-stop crossings become a valuable part of our transit pass during the coming week, saving lots walking. Others arrive to make the one-stop hop — other concert goers, a local man walking his dog — all waiting in the evening quiet, watching the glitter of reflected lights on the water. Just 10 minutes later we’re back to the hotel.

TOMORROW: Dead Chickens, Fish Innards, and a Phoenix
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Apr 19th, 2011, 11:41 AM
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ellenem, I'm reading with interest - I'll be in Venice in just a few weeks! Loving your report.
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Apr 19th, 2011, 04:18 PM
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Saraho, cybertraveler, and all the rest—
yes, Venice is a favorite for me as well. I'm already making a list of ideas for the next time. Meanwhile, back to typing . . .
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Apr 19th, 2011, 06:02 PM
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Your writing is just delicious, and your pace has me transported back to Venice. can't thank you enough for this trip!
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