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Rickmav Italy Trip Report: Three Weeks in Venice, Florence, Tuscany & Umbria

Rickmav Italy Trip Report: Three Weeks in Venice, Florence, Tuscany & Umbria

Feb 14th, 2007, 05:23 PM
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Rickmav Italy Trip Report: Three Weeks in Venice, Florence, Tuscany & Umbria

Hello everyone. As some of you may know, we have been travelling for four months in England and Italy. This is our report on the three weeks we spent in Venice, Tuscany (including Florence and Chianti) & Umbria. Our other reports can be found at:

Overview & Yorkshire
http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=34937079

Suffolk:
http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=34941319

Sussex and Kent http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=34943207

London:
http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=34946152

This was our first trip to Italy and we visited from mid-October, 2006 to the beginning of November. Those of you who've had the good fortune to visit Italy may find some of my observations fairly obvious, but I've included them because there may be others who will be in the same boat (or vaporetto, as the case may be) as us.

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Venice - Day I: Freaked Out at Marco Polo, Comforted by Truman Capote, Spying on Henry James.
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After a three day visit to London, my husband and I fly, on a Tuesday, from Gatwick to Venice on British Airways. Talk about planes, trains and automobiles (or, buses, anyway)! In the morning, we take a train to Gatwick from King's Cross station, then the monorail to the North Terminal, bus to the plane, fly to Marco Polo Airport, bus to P. Roma and then, by vaporetto, arrive at our hotel.

At Gatwick, we use BA's 'Fast Bag Drop' system, which allows you to 'virtually' board the flight 24 hours ahead. Once you get to the airport, you have to deposit your luggage, showing your passport, tickets and boarding pass to the BA staffer, at identified locations. The system sounds great, but isn't that efficient in practice, and a lot of people are very confused about what to do. We aren't afraid to ask questions, so manage okay. And try to help as many others as we can. Travelling by plane is definitely getting to be more and more of a pain.

When we board the plane at the gate, we have to show our passports again, plus our credit cards that's never happened to us before because we purchased our tickets on-line. We can take duty free liquor on board, but no water. The plane is half an hour late arriving, which means we are an hour late departing, and the flight is packed to the rafters. But they do serve drinks and a sandwich, and the seats are nicer than Air Canada's. It's about a two-hour flight from Gatwick to Marco Polo.

After we land, I suddenly find myself in the midst of a half hour long panic attack. I don't know why, but it's as if I'm under this enormous pressure to understand all the signs, speak the language and know exactly where we should be going at every moment. And I don't understand a thing! I keep thinking I know I've seen that word before, but what does it mean? (This has never happened to me before and we have travelled in Portugal, Spain and France.)

Luckily, my husband, who has not studied one word on the Italian Language DVDs, steps up to the plate. He approaches a young man standing at the curb and starts speaking English to him. It turns out the fellow works for ATVO and sells Rick two tickets for the bus to Piazzale Roma. When I ask my husband later how he knew this man was the right person, he said he just connected the company name on the man's name tag to the ATVO sign over our head (I had, at least, got us that far).

The young man, dressed in blue (just like the bus when it arrives), tells us exactly what to do and where to wait. Normally, we would have been able to buy a ticket from a machine located just off the sidewalk, but it is out of order. The tickets cost us three euros for a one-way trip. They have to be stamped after you buy them and, again, when you board the bus.

The man in blue tracks us down when the right bus arrives and shows us where to put our luggage. Our suitcases go underneath the bus, like the Greyhound at home. As you board, there is a little yellow box just inside bus door, which is where you stamp your ticket.

The traffic is horrendous and it seems to take us a long time to get from the airport to P. Roma of course, we are impatient. Plus, the drive is not an attractive one. I'm still feeling a bit rattled about my 'breakdown' at the airport, and now I start feeling depressed. Is Venice going to be one of those places that cannot possibly live up to its reputation?

I worry too much. As soon as we pass by all the cheap hotels there are tantalizing glimpses of water and beautiful buildings - and then suddenly you are there.

But first, another mini-meltdown.

There are so many vehicles and people in P. Roma and so many stalls selling tourist junk, that we can't see the Canal hence, have no idea where the vaporettos are. I frantically start asking some tourist types, 'Dove è l'acqua?', 'Where is the water?' They either ignore me or scurry away in the other direction. (I have no idea if this is even the right context in which to use this phrase but I'm in meltdown mode). Rick, once again, comes to the rescue and asks an Italian-looking man standing nearby, who speaks perfect English, where the vaporettos are. He points us in the right direction.

(For the next day I so, I find my husband looking at me strangely; but he never brings up my 'breakdown', nor do I. Some things, after 30 years of marriage, are better left unsaid.)

We buy our three-day pass, which doesn't have to be time-stamped, from a booth near the water. They are 12 euros each and come with a simple map.

No matter how much I read about vaporettos, until I'm on one, I don't really understand what they are. As soon as I see it, I realize it looks just like a mobile home on water. We board the vaporetto through the little 'shack' that sits on the water, which moves about as other boats go by. On both the land and water side of every shack is the number of the vaporetto that stops there. A tip: Look for the number on the sign mounted on the deck of the vaporetto; don't be confused, like we were, by the number stencilled on the boat itself.

Everyone kind of crowds in, there's no orderly queues like in England, and only once in the three days we travelled on the vaporetto system did we have to leave people behind. We have no trouble getting our luggage on and off, and no one ever asks to see our pass. (Nor did the Grand Canal smell at least not anywhere that we went.)

We are both in sensory overload mode as we make our way down the Grand Canal, from P. Roma to the Accademia Bridge, where our hotel is located. The colours, the reflections in the water, the chatter in a dozen different languages, it's almost too much. And yet, I find myself getting calmer and calmer. I don't know if it's the rhythm of the boat on the water or that we are finally here after so many years of dreaming of Venice, but I feel myself physically surrendering to its magic. But there's also a shiver of excitement. As Truman Capote said, "Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs." And we are slowly beginning to get that chocolate-like high. (Particularly, after we have our first taste of gelato.)

There is so much to look at and relish. And it's so easy to see everything from our window seat on the vaporetto. I'm surprised at how narrow the Grand Canal is, at least on this part of our journey, and our heads bob back and forth as we try and take it all in. It's actually quite intimate, which only adds to its promise.

We have taken vaporetto #82, which drops us almost, literally, at the door of our hotel, the Hotel Galleria (www.hotelgalleria.it). We get off the vaporetto (the stop is Accademia), take a sharp turn to the left, and in thirty steps, or so, we are there.

The hotel, part of a 17th c. palace, is in the Dorsoduro area and its entrance lies along Rio Foscarini. Our room is quite small and, when we first enter, the curtains are closed so it's hard to make out where everything is. One of the owners, Stefano Franceschini, goes in ahead of us and opens the curtains, unlatches the shutters and there it is the Grand Canal framed by our very own window. To the left is the Accademia bridge; across from us are Palazzo Barbaro and the gardens of the Palazzo Franchetti Cavalli. (Henry James used to stay with the Curtis's at P. Barbaro and wrote a series of letters, from here, describing the writing process.) To our right the Canal eventually widens, leading to Piazza San Marco.

We are very pleased with the hotel. The service is impeccable, location unbeatable and price reasonable (120 euros, with breakfast). Our room is long and narrow and although the bed is in a strange position facing away from the Canal the room is very cozy. The bathroom is great, there is antique furniture and the views from the windows are, as the advertisement says, priceless.

There are a couple of small negatives. Since the hotel is quite close to the Accademia vaporetto stop, you hear some of the noises associated with that but if you wanted absolute peace and quiet you'd probably stay somewhere other than the Grand Canal. Part of the charm of Venice is watching the life of the city go on before you. You also have to ring the bell at the front door when you want in.

We have a bit of a rest, Rick's ears still haven't popped from our descent and he seems to be getting a bit of a fever. And my ankles have decided to blow up, but we are impervious to bad health and decide to check out our neighbourhood. We walk south on Rio Foscarini and suddenly realize we are hungry. We haven't had anything since the meagre sandwich on the plane, but most of the restaurants haven't yet opened for dinner. My husband manages to sweet talk the very kind waiter at Pizzeria Alle Zattere, located where the Rio Foscarini meets the Zattere, to serve us a sandwich. We each have a glass of white wine and a delicious panini - mine is grilled vegetables with mozzarella, Rick's is ham and mozzarella. With a bottle of water, it costs 16 euros, including the tip. We sit at a table outside, overlooking the Giudecca Canal, and watch a huge cruise ship go out to sea. People on board are taking pictures of their last view of Venice, and people on the Zattere are taking pictures of them.

We linger for a while, appreciating the air, the views and the simple church beside us known as the Gesuati. Suddenly, we realize that we'll have to get some supplies water and wine - and ask the waiter where the nearest supermercato is located. He points us in the direction of the Billa supermarket and we get there just as it is closing.

We stock up on supplies, making sure to buy water that is not 'frizzante', but naturale, and then slowly make our way home by a different route - although we have no idea if it will get us back to the hotel. We really don't care much whether it does or not. As gelato-virgins, we stop mid-way and have our first cup of chocolate (me) and cone of amaretto (Rick) and sit for awhile and people-watch. As we wander along the Rio di San Trovaso towards the Grand Canal, we pretend we are on our way back to our own apartment with our groceries. No one contradicts us.

We get into our pyjamas and climb into bed, propped up against one wall, with our legs stretched sideways on the bed. We drink our wine, with the window wide open and as we cuddle under the covers, toast our good fortune and the wonder that is Venice. Later on, when Rick has fallen asleep, a bit feverish and with little red ears, I write in my journal and finish the last of the wine.

I cannot bear to close the windows and so leave them open but, eventually, it gets too cool, and I, reluctantly, close the shutters. I climb back into bed, quickly warmed by a definitely fevered husband.

Next...Day 2 in Venice Breakfast Brunhilde, Napoleon's Drawing Room and the Poop on Rick Steves.




rickmav is offline  
Feb 14th, 2007, 05:40 PM
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Cant wait to hear the rest!
jamikins is online now  
Feb 14th, 2007, 05:52 PM
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Rickmav,

This is the start of a great report! Can't wait to read the rest. It's always wonderful to hear a first timer's impressions and remember your own!

Ciao
Dayle is offline  
Feb 14th, 2007, 06:00 PM
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dcd
 
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You write very well! Waiting for more. And Happy V-Day! Dave
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Feb 15th, 2007, 09:32 AM
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Thanks jamikins, Dayle and dcd for your support. It really does make the sitting down and writing up my notes worthwhile.

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Day 2 in Venice Breakfast Brunhilde, Napoleon's Drawing Room and the Poop on Rick Steves.
---------------------------------------

We both have a fitful sleep. Too much excitement for me, and unpopped ears for Rick. He's definitely getting the flu and we're not sure if it has anything to do with the fact that his ears won't pop. We open the curtains, window and shutters and immediately feel better when we see that our view of Venice is still there it hasn't all been a beautiful dream, after all. And then we fall asleep again.

Breakfast arrives at 9:30 in the arms of a blonde Amazon. At the Hotel Galleria breakfast is served in your room and you have to let them know the night before what time you'd like them to bring it (it's served between 8-9:30 a.m.). The very polite and muscular young Brunhilde hands over a tray, jammed pack with goodies, to my unsuspecting and non-muscular arms. (My semi-muscular husband is in the shower.)

I am quite proud of the fact that I did not drop anything, but it was like was one of the Stooges' bits. I weave my way from one wall to the other until I finally bump into the tiny table and deposit my treasure. There is tea and coffee, piping hot croissants with an apricot preserve inside, yoghurt, cheese, orange juice, buns and marmalade. We eat about a third of everything and squirrel the rest away for snacks later in the day. We munch on our croissants by the window and wave at the tourists on the Accademia Bridge. A few even take our picture!

We linger over our coffee and tea for as long as we can but decide we must leave the window, eventually, to explore the Venice that lies beyond. While I shower, Rick goes for a walk to clear his stuffed-up head. I can always tell when my husband feels at home somewhere, he has the urge to explore it without me. And then he comes back with the most amazing reports and has to take me to see all that he has discovered. I'm not the least big jealous that he has fallen in love with Venice.

When he returns, full of smiles and secrets, we take the vaporetto to Piazza San Marco. I can't believe I was stressed about figuring out the waterbus system it's very easy, convenient and you never have long to wait at least during the day. And, actually, that's another wonderful thing about Venice. You don't mind waiting for anything, even standing in line to see the Basilica, because there are so many things to look at and people to watch.

We are both impressed with the Piazza, "the finest drawing room in Europe," according to Napoleon, even though we've seen pictures of it a million times. Everything is over-the-top. People, birds, statues, construction fences, buildings, Venetian masks, gondoliers and souvenir stands all vying for your attention. What is behind all the fences? How do you decide what stand to buy a mask from or is it better to look and buy somewhere else? Is a gondola a schmaltzy tourist trap? How can those people let the birds sit on their heads? How can we possibly grasp all the history associated with the buildings? We decide to sit on some stone steps and just contemplate it all.

We debate whether to go in to any of the buildings, but decide we'll do that later. The thought of going inside to view art seems superfluous. Right now, we want to be outside and in the thick of things. There are long line-ups to get into the Basilica and Campanile, but none for the Doge's Palace or Correr Museum (this is around 11:30 a.m. on a Wednesday). We linger on the small bridge (Ponte della Paglia) to study the Bridge of Sighs. Not as grand as I was expecting, but the Rio Palazzo Ducale underneath it is pretty and I, along with countless others, get a great shot of a gondolier going under the Bridge quintessential Venice.

We browse all the beautiful paintings by the watercolour artists strung out along the Bacino di San Marco, near to the vaporetto stop. What I like is that there are different perspectives and views represented in the works, it's not like some places where you see artists lined up and everyone has a paint-by-number copy of the next. We spot a few that we could see hanging on a wall at home, but decide we'll put off buying until we have a chance to see more of the city.

Still full from breakfast, so grab a gelato each I have hazelnut, Rick has strawberry and chocolate. They are both delicious.

Next, we board the #1 vaporetto to follow the tour of the Grand Canal in Rick Steves's Italy guidebook. As I mentioned in the overview to our four-month odyssey, I've torn out the parts of his book that are relevant to this visit and then just throw them away when I am done. Overall on the trip, we don't have much luck at the restaurants he recommends, I'm not sure why, it could just be bad luck. But his little maps and descriptions of things to see, including his self-guided tours, are helpful.

Some thoughts on what we saw on the tour:
- the Grand Canal is a pastel green/dark blue kind of colour, smells like the sea in areas, isn't full of garbage and, so far, we haven't seen a rat. We do wonder why there aren't any flies in Venice or did we miss them, too?
- it's strange and very cool to see all the services we would normally expect to be on the road, in their own boats. Like: the Fed-Ex boat, firefighters, police, construction guys, furniture movers, garbage boats kind of amazing;
- Venice is one of the few places in the world where you can't build anything new, everything has to be created from what's there so, no new island is going in with a condo development! I feel an urge to go inside all the empty buildings and see what's there, what ghosts are wandering about.
- there are three movies that keep running through my mind while we are touring: The Italian Job (the most recent one); Don't Look Now with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie; and, for some strange reason, Blame It On the Bellboy with Dudley Moore and Bronson Pinchot.
- the Turkish Exchange building looks interesting and is the oldest house in Venice. In the 1500s, the Turkish traders would dock, unload, trade, eat, sleep and then go on their way in the morning, all in this one place;
- would be fun to be all dished up and hit the Venice Casino, but we're not the gowns and tails kind of couple. Maybe, in my next life.

Back to the hotel for a rest. Rick is definitely flu-stricken and lays down only when I threaten bodily harm. He sleeps for a few hours and is a bit better when we go out for dinner.

We have lists and lists of recommended places to eat, but decide we are going to wander and just pick something that catches our fancy. We land on the doorstep of the Taverna San Trovaso because when someone opens the door as we pass by, the smells inside almost make us pass out. It is very busy and we are worried that we won't be able to get in, but the waiter takes us upstairs and there is another entire restaurant. Ten minutes after we sit down the place is packed and stays that way until we leave.

A nice assortment of people Italians with families, tourists, elderly couples. The food is great, the service even better don't you love waiters with a sense of humour? and I get to practice my Italian (that's where the sense of humour comes in). Rick has the menu turistico and he gets a primi (rigatoni bolognese), secondi (veal cutlet with fries) and a dessert (gelato). I order a primi (rigatoni all'amatriciana) and contorni (salad misti) and we share the lot. Near the end of the meal we discover we are sitting next to two women from South Carolina (just love that accent), and a couple from New York on their honeymoon. We don't leave the restaurant until after 10 p.m. Definitely, a two thumbs up experience.

We wander home - full, content and very happy.

Next...Day 3 Attempted Murder at the Basilica, On The Floor to See Tiepolo and the Cicchetti Experience
rickmav is offline  
Feb 15th, 2007, 09:43 AM
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I'm enjoying your report. Brings back fond memories of this most unique of cities. We enjoyed boat watching from our hotel window, too. My favorites were the Beck's and Heineken beer boats!
RufusTFirefly is offline  
Feb 15th, 2007, 09:48 AM
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Great report! We'll be in Venice in under a month, so thanks for writing
Tim_and_Liz is offline  
Feb 15th, 2007, 03:21 PM
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SRS
 
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Wow! What a great report! I am loving this!

Sally
SRS is offline  
Feb 15th, 2007, 03:52 PM
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Loving this report; you are really capturing Venice well. I now have to go rent Blame it on the Bellboy to see what you are talking about!
annabelle2 is offline  
Feb 15th, 2007, 05:01 PM
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rickmav - I love coming home from work and finding a bit more of your marvelous adventure.

More please!

Sandy
SandyBrit is offline  
Feb 16th, 2007, 06:32 AM
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enjoying this--more please

Oh--by the way--you DO need to stamp you 72-hour vaporetto pass since it is good for exactly 72 hours from the time you stamp it.
ellenem is online now  
Feb 16th, 2007, 07:02 AM
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Yes, you do need to stamp your pass.
Mind you, I have been to Venice several times and have only once had my ticket inspected.
Next time, if I were you, I'd get the Alilaguna boat rather than the bus.
Venice should really be approached from the water.
You might be interested in my Venice pictures at http://sylvia.photoblog.me.uk/c421786.html
http://sylvia.photoblog.me.uk/c554610.html
MissPrism is offline  
Feb 16th, 2007, 07:13 AM
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As an armchair tour of Venice this is good stuff; as a portrait of a great marriage, it has enormous charm.
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Feb 16th, 2007, 08:35 AM
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great reading as I recover from surgery and dream of travelling next fall!
ssvw27 is offline  
Feb 16th, 2007, 10:23 AM
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My husband and I are going to Venice in June. I love reading about it. I decided to stay in the Mestre area. It makes me nervous to have to carry my luggage so far. So concentrated on that you make an easy pick pocket. Plus I figure we'll take one easy bus ride to the hotel, drop it all off, get the 3-day pass and be on our way. It's cheaper too, and I'm thinking they hotels are nicer, or more Continental maybe, and there will be more English speaking people to help. We plan on going to a winery on the mainland, so it will be easier and cheaper traveling as well. Maybe we'll rent a car for a day. We will catch a 7-day cruise stopping at Crotia, Greek Isles, and Turkey. When we return, we'll stay an extra night and attend the Heineken Jammin' Festival to see Aerosmith and Smashing Pumkins. I wouldn't go see them in Philly, but something seems better seeing them on vacation. It's at the largest European Park (I'm guessing it will be like a Central Park concert). We'll pay the extra money and stay at the hotel that sits on the park. It will be easy to get back to the airport too.

I wonder if anyone ever brought a laptop and actually used it?

Thanks for the info!
Brenda
BrendaJean316 is offline  
Feb 16th, 2007, 11:20 AM
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great post... thanks for sharing!
ltilley is offline  
Feb 16th, 2007, 12:04 PM
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Hello everyone. The sun has come out finally and so have been busy attending to all the things we couldn't get to in the snow. Will post Day 3 in Venice this evening. Thanks for your support.
rickmav is offline  
Feb 16th, 2007, 05:41 PM
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Oh rickmav, I am enthralled with this trip report. I am sorry your husband had a "bug", it does happen sometimes when travelling. Your description of your feelings from the time you arrived at the Marco Polo Airport is precious, I wish I could convey how I feel as you do, that is quite a talent. I am so looking forward to your next installment.

Hello BrendaJean. May I suggest you start your own thread regarding your trip and your questions. Best regards.
LoveItaly is offline  
Feb 17th, 2007, 08:32 AM
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rickmav, I'm really enjoying your report. I'll be back in Venice (as well as Bologna & Rome) in July and can't wait. As others have said, you DO have to stamp the 72-hour pass. You were lucky not to have been checked. I'm also wondering how you got it for 12 Euro, when the price is 25?
Looking forward to more!
SusanP is offline  
Feb 17th, 2007, 09:47 AM
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I finally have Day 3 completed. Thanks to all of you (RufusTFirefly, SRS, SandyBrit, Itilley, LoveItaly) for the nice things you have said about our report - and our marriage (LJ - my husband was quite 'chuffed' at your lovely words).

Ellenem - About the 3-day vaporetto pass: when we bought the pass we asked the fellow where we could stamp it and he said he had stamped it for us. Perhaps, we misunderstood. Lucky thing, no one caught us out - or I might have been writing a very different report about Venice!

ssvw27 - get well and glad I can provide a little 'light' relief.

MissPrism - your pictures are wonderful. Since we were away for four months, we were trying to economize where we could and the Alilaguna service served an extravagance. But 'next time' we have promised ourselves we will splurge on a few more things.

BrendaJean316 - Sounds like you have the ingredients to a great trip. We didn't see any of the Mestre hotels, so don't know if they would be a good alternative. But we loved being in the heart of Venice. And, I've never taken a laptop with me to Europe, mine's too heavy. But I certainly saw lots of people carting one around.

Annabelle2 - you'll have to tell me what you think of Blame It On the Bellboy. Silly fun.

Tim_and_Liz - hope you have a great time.

SusanP - Glad you are enjoying our trip report. Hope to see your's when you get back from Venice, Bologna & Rome in July. About the price of the pass, I wrote in my notes that it was 12 euros each but when I checked the ACTV website just now, they are 30 euros! I guess I was still in semi-meltdown mode.

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Day 3 Attempted Murder at the Basilica, On The Floor to See Tiepolo and the Cicchetti Experience
-------------------------------------

The next day, after breakfast, we head back to P. San Marco. The evening before we'd heard the sirens signalling rising water, so aren't sure what to expect. There are large puddles about, but the tables have been set up so you can walk into the Basilica without getting your feet wet. I'd been wondering what the stacks of tables were for, it looked like they were getting ready for a big block party (the tables look just like the ones you see at a community centre). Now, I see them unpacked and in action.

The line-up at 9:30 a.m. isn't too long so we tuck in at the end and wait. It moves fairly quickly and while we are waiting we listen to the myriad of tour guides explaining what we are about to see. It feels like we are cheating, since we haven't paid for the information, but what the heck. Information is precious no matter how you get it. I have to admit I do wonder if the German and French tour leaders mention how much of the Basilica's treasures were stolen by Hitler and Napoleon. But then Venice stole much of the stuff from Constantinople in the first place.

As I look around the Piazza and at the front of the Basilica, I think of Mark Twain's quote, which I'd written in my itinerary notes. He said the Basilica looked, from the outside, like, "A vast and warty bug taking a meditative walk." Hmmmm. Can't say I see that.

Inside, we start with the Loggia and Museo, which cost an extra 3 euros each. It's fun to see the Piazza from that perspective although in my exuberance I almost push a Japanese tourist over the balustrade. Rick and the man's friends both scramble to get him upright and I try to remember some of the Japanese I studied one summer at the University of British Columbia. But all I can remember is 'kudamono doko desu ka' where is the fruit? and 'kamikaze' neither of which seems to fit the circumstances. So, I just smile a lot and that seems to work.

I try to get some artsy shots of the quadriga, the four-horse team in the middle of the Loggia, but every picture ends up with the Japanese tourists in it. I don't know if they are stalking me or just keeping an eye on what I'm doing. We spend some time in the Museum. Neither one of us are much for rich and decorative Venetian art, although I'm fascinated by the altarpiece by Paolo Veneziano. Lots of Persian rugs, tapestries and mosaics to see as well.

Then we descend back into the Basilica. The mosaics inside, mostly gold and silver, make the whole place shimmer. I didn't realize that St. Mark's was originally the private chapel of the Doge; it didn't become a Basilica until the early 1800s. It was built in the 11th c. which blows my mind and its design is heavily influenced by the Middle East/Byzantium.

Eavesdropping on an American tour guide, I learn that both John Singer Sargent and my friend Walter Sickert (aka Jack the Ripper) both painted the Basilica. When we get home, I check them out on the Internet. Sargent's is unlike his other stuff, which I've seen in many of the English stately homes - he painted society types in the late 18th c. - Sickert's looks a bit wobbly and weird.

Once we finish exploring the Basilica inside, we sit for a while in the Piazza discussing what we've seen. It's there we make a 'radical' decision. Since this is our last day in Venice, we aren't going to go to the Doge's Palace or the Correr Museum, or the Peggy Guggenheim or the Accademia. It's pretty clear to both of us that although we'd planned this trip as our first and only visit to Italy, that is now impossible. We must return. And when we do, we will see all the museum stuff, the things one must do, but this trip we just want to explore and soak up as much as we can. We don't want to be inside.

The exception is Ca' Rezzonico, which may seem a strange choice. But when Rick and I got married, in the days when you could still write your own vows, we incorporated Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem 'Sonnets to the Portuguese'. Her husband, Robert Browning, died at Ca' Rezzonico, and for some peculiar reason we feel we owe his ghost a visit.

We stop at the American Express office to book our Eurostar tickets to Florence. An American woman and her son, in his early 20s, are behind us in line and are arguing. Mom has brought her son to Venice and he, apparently, is trying to change his ticket so he can leave early for Rome - on his own. After incessant questioning as to why he wants to leave, he tells her that he is bored with Venice. She says, "You've only been here three days, how can you bored?" And he answers, "I've seen the water, what else is there?" Since I cannot believe he really feels that way, I suspect he is bored with 'Travels With Mother'.

We make our way to the Rialto area. I think I could spend a lifetime just getting lost in Venice. We want to check out the Telecom Italia Future Centre where, I've read somewhere, you can use their computers free for 30 minutes. We finally find the place; it's tucked in a labyrinth of buildings and is somewhat spooky. This amazingly modern computer lab - no wires, plasma screens and glass everywhere - completely empty except for the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. She reluctantly takes our passports, gives us a card for the machine, then goes back to reading her book. It takes us 27 minutes to figure out how to get into the Internet and to our e-mail server, so the trip is not a success. I'm sure we could have asked for another 30 minute card, but neither one of us want to disturb her literary pose.

As we make our way back to the Dorsoduro area, we come upon a little crowd of people and when we get closer see that a bride is getting ready to enter a church. She is absolutely stunning, with the most amazing peachy-cream dress, black-brown hair piled on top of her head and dangling, silver earrings. She is oblivious to the passers-by, in that way that brides are, and I take a few photographs of her. It takes every reserve of good manners that I have not to follow her into the church. (These photos are among the favourite of our trip.)

Back in Dorsoduro, we have lunch at one of the places Rick discovered in his solitary travels. Bar da Gino is a wonderful little caffe on Piscina Venier, on the way to the Peggy Guggenheim. There are mostly locals inside, including a gaggle of school kids on their lunch break. First, you pick out your sandwich in our case by pointing at someone else's - and then you go to pay. You can get a take-away and sit by the Rio di San Vio canal or grab a table on the street. Or sit inside with the locals. We sit by the canal and eat our Rustico panini tomatoes, mozzarella and prosciutto with a bottle of water. Is very good. Followed, of course, by gelato at Gelateria Nico on the Zattere. I have chocolate and straticella (kind of like oreo cookie blizzard) and Rick has tiramasu and straticella. Very, very good.

Then we just wander, heading in the general direction of Ca' Rezzonico. Eventually, we get to Campo San Barnaba and on the other side of it, along Rio de San Barnaba and towards the Grand Canal, is the entrance to Ca' Rezzonico. The admission ticket is 6.50 euros each.

Henry James described the palace as "thrusting itself upon the water with a peculiar florid assurance, a certain upward toss of its cornice which gives it the air of a rearing sea-horse." I'm not sure I get all that, but it is interesting to go inside one of the huge houses we see from the vaporetto as we travel along the Grand Canal. Ca' Rezzonico shows how the rich lived in the 18th c. There are frescoed ceilings, painted by Giambattista Tiepolo, as well as 18th c. furniture, ceramics, tapestries and some paintings by Canaletto.

For most of our travels over the three floors, we are the only ones in the rooms. Occasionally we run in to a lonely room steward, or sometimes a group of them whispering in a corner. But there are very few tourists. On the top floor is an art gallery, with a variety of periods represented. I'm not much for religious art, but I do like the paintings by a woman named Emma Chiadi (I think I have that right). She painted in the Impressionist style and I'll have to find out more about her.

I have to fight the urge to lie down on the marble floor to better admire Tiepolo's ceilings. Rick volunteers to act as lookout, but in the end, I'm not sure how quickly I'd be able to get up off the marble if I had to, and I don't want to cause an international incident. I can see the headlines, "Crazy Canadian Passes Out On Priceless Marble Floor!"

In one room, there is a bedroom that's decorated as it would have been in the 1700s. There's a woman's dressing case there and it is fascinating to imagine what the assortment of exotic tools were used for. In a quiet corner, overlooking the Canal, my husband and I recite as much of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem as we can remember 'When our two souls stand up erect and strong...' and we feel a whisper of benediction from Browning's ghost as he passes by.

We make our way slowly back to our hotel and have a glass of wine at Pizzeria Foscarini, overlooking the Grand Canal. There are tables and umbrellas set up outside and it's a great place to watch the comings and goings on the Canal, the Accademia Bridge and Rio Foscarini. We had planned on taking the sunset cruise on vaporetto #1, but some clouds have drifted in and covered the sun, so we decide to go up to our rooms for a rest. I think Rick's flu is a bit better, he is such a trooper.

Later on, we decide to tackle the whole cicchetti thing. We start with the intention of following Rick Steves's Venetian Pub Crawl, but stuff our faces so much at the first bottegon, that we don't get any further. Next time, we'll have to pace ourselves because it's a lot of fun trying out all the little munchies, even though we have no idea what some of them are.

Our first and only stop is the Cantina del Vino Gia Schiavi (#992) on the San Trovaso canal in Dorsoduro another of Rick's finds. What a great place for our first experience with cicchetti. As we enter, we are checked over by a group of elderly Italian men, gathered around the wine bar. The entire room is lined with bottles of wine and I'm not sure which intimidates us most the men or the choices. But we take a deep breath and mosey in, trying to look very worldly while we check out the variety of cicchetti displayed under glass.

When we think we know what we want we catch the eye of the fellow behind the counter, who has politely been watching us, and he picks up a plate and simply fills it with the things we point at. We say 'uno' or 'due', depending if we want one or two, order a glass of white house wine (ombra bianco) each and head outside, as others are, to eat along the canal. The cicchetti are delicious - mozzarella and tomato, capicolli and a delicious cheese that tastes like a creamy cheddar, artichoke hearts, anchovies with onions and capers, creamed salt cod all served on small pieces of French bread. The cicchetti are are 1 euro each, the wine is 1.8 euros each.

After we fill ourselves to the brim, we wander back towards the Zattere, passing the gondola boatyard on the way. It's closed but it would be fun to see it on a working day. We will make a note to see it 'the next time' (this has become our mantra, and it will be repeated endlessly as we make our way through Tuscany and Umbria.)

The Zattere is cosily busy, lots of couples, arm in arm, a few nuns giggling over their gelato, families sitting outside having pizza. We go back to the Gelateria Di Nico for our last gelato in Venice pistacchio for Rick and hazelnut for me. The staff are so polite and helpful. We sit by the water, watch the cruise ships, and think that maybe the time after next, we'll see Venice from the deck of a cruise ship.

As we eat our gelato, we watch an Italian boy, who is about six, and his four year old sister, (I assume they are Italian from the few words of the language that I recognize), playing as their mother reads. All of a sudden, the little boy pushes his sister, who had been bugging him, and the mother quietly berates him then leads him to the wall of a nearby stone building and makes him stand there with his face against it. A Time Out in Italy! The boy is not happy but he does not argue. By this time, the little girl is in tears. She stands for a moment looking at the mother who has resumed her seat on a bench with a magazine, and her brother, with his nose against the cold stone. In tears, she walks to her brother and puts her nose against the stone wall as well. They stand there, looking so forlorn, then slowly the brother's arm comes up and he puts it across his sister's shoulders. I almost started bawling. When I look across to the mother, she has a small smile on her lips. I was going to take a picture of the two of them, and call it Comrades in Arms, but decided I might only cause further trouble.

We go back to our hotel by a different route that takes us by the Pensione La Calcina. I've read about it so often on Fodor's, I'm curious to see what it looks like. With lamplight spilling out onto the pavement and the restaurant, La Piscina, moored in front gently moving with the passing waves, it is very welcoming. Although we love the location of our hotel, perhaps 'next time' we will try to get a room here and be able to appreciate the same views Katherine Hepburn did in the movie 'Summertime'.

It's a beautiful evening, with a little breeze, and there is music coming from somewhere. I take my husband's hand and I thank whoever is responsible for these things that I have been able to share this place with him. What a gift for our 30th wedding anniversary.

Tomorrow we leave for Florence, and then a week in Chianti.

Next...Rumble on the Eurostar, Re-Evaluating Florence and What Does The Wrench Symbol Mean on the Control Panel of Our Rental Car?
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