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kagoo Nov 29th, 2007 12:58 PM

Trip Report: Umbria, Venice, Rome
We were in Italy from October 13 to October 31 – so this report is a tad late in coming. But I have procrastinated as much as I can, and I feel I owe something to all of the kind and generous Fodorites who answered my questions during the long planning phase -- so here goes.

I’ll preface this by saying that my husband and I have been to Europe and the UK about 10 times in the past 20 years. And that still didn’t stop us from screwing up in the most unlikely (we would have thought) ways. But we had a hell of a good time.

Philadelphia to Rome

Our US Air direct flight was on time and uneventful (always a good thing). But we had already hit our first tiny snag in the Philadelphia airport. When my husband (let’s call him Jim; that’s his name) booked our flights, he used my middle initial. Which is NOT on my passport. So the automatic check-in at the kiosk was a no-go; we needed a human to intervene, and luckily found the very helpful Tanya, who set things right. A shout-out to Tanya, and my first caution to all: make sure the names match.

OK, so skip ahead to Rome. We’ve claimed our luggage and made the hundred-mile trek to the rental car area. Jim gets in the EuroCar line while I mind the bags. After half an hour it’s his turn, which is when he finds out that we rented the car from Hertz through AutoEurope. Duh. New line. New half-hour wait. When it’s his turn again, the Hertz agent tells him, “We’re out of cars. That always happens on Friday; it’s our busiest day.” Now, imagine you’re a rental car company. You rent cars. On the first Friday of your first week in business, you run out of cars. And the next Friday. And the next…. What’s wrong with this picture?

Jim persuades her that she really needs to find us a car, and of course she does. It’s magic. It’s also a station wagon. Ugh. But it’s a car.

So we’re off. By this time we’re already tired from not having slept on the plane and having spent all of our remaining energy in the car rental area, but we get a second wind and are on the Autostrada in no time, heading for our agritourism apartment outside Assisi.

Or not. Through a combination of somewhat fuzzy directions (on our hostess’s part) and sloppy map-reading (on mine), we fail to get off the Autostrada when we’re supposed to (i.e. really, really soon), and go many, many, many miles north before it suddenly dawns on me (like in a cartoon – a little light bulb goes on over my head) that we’ve done something wrong. So we get off the Autostrada to study the map and try to find some help. Luckily, we’ve brought with us an inexpensive Siemens cell phone purchased for just such contingencies. Pulling it out and following (we thought) the dialing directions, I call our hostess in Assisi. Correction: I try to call. But *her* phone doesn’t ring; *our* phone – the one in my hand – rings. And vibrates. I think I’ve done something wrong, and try again. It rings and vibrates again. By the third try, I’m vibrating and threatening to toss the phone out the window. We give up on the phone. (Jumping ahead. Here’s how the phone works: When it rings and vibrates, you answer it; yes, you answer your own phone. Only then is the connection to the other phone – the one you’re calling – made. In all the words I read about that phone before we left, I never came upon that valuable piece of info. However, I have decided to blame jet lag for our inability to figure it out on our own. As I said to Jim, “We’re not stupid, are we?” After a while we both decided the answer was “Yes, we’re too stupid to live.” Oh well.)

Okay, this is getting too long. Cutting to the chase: We stop at a police station, and through a combination of pidgen Italian, map-pointing, miming, and near-weeping, we get directions and – only about five hours later than we’d expected to, and after getting lost a couple of times on the hill that winds up, around, and past Assisi – arrive at Brigolante Guest Apartments in Umbria. We are so tired our eyes are bleeding.

(I should point out that one of my favorite parts about travel is arriving in the foreign city early in the morning -- just tired enough to be in a bit of a fog but full of adrenaline because of where you are and the delicious strangeness of it all -- and the first few hours of getting to where you’re going and heading out to explore a bit before you crash. It’s always worked that way for us in the past, whether we’ve gone directly to a hotel in a city or gotten into a car and headed for the countryside. This time, not so much.)

A farm outside Assisi

Based on glowing reviews from the Slow Travel board, we booked a week at Bricolante Guest Apartments.

We liked Brigolante, and would recommend it – with reservations. The setting is lovely, but very remote. It’s well up in the mountains above Assisi, so every time you want to go somewhere you have quite the ride in front of you just to get to your starting point, as it were. It’s a beautiful ride during the day and a darned scary one at night (offset by the thrill of seeing the lit-up Assisi as you curve downward); that’s some winding road they’ve got there. The last time we were in Italy we stayed on a vineyard near Castellina in Chianti; there, we were a short, easy drive from the town itself and from several great restaurants along the way. Here, going out again in the evening after having been out all day and coming home for a wee rest, was a bit more of a hassle.

Our apartment was beautiful and spacious. Living room/dining area/kitchen; big bedroom; huge bathroom; big windows let in lots of sun and views. Spotlessly clean. Incredibly comfortable bed. (We stayed in La Logetta, the largest of the three apartments, but were able to look into the other two, which were almost as large. La Logetta is described as having its own private porch; it’s just the landing outside the door, with two little chairs on it.) Rebecca, the hostess, is very nice, if a little less accessible than other hosts we’ve had in similar situations. She has two little boys and was not in evidence quite as much as we would have liked, when we had questions, for example, or wondered when the power would come back on or when the hot water would be restored. (We lost power and hot water once; the other tenants lost them twice, I believe.) However, when she was around she was very helpful with restaurant recommendations, etc.

OK, so we’ve arrived, we get settled in, we decide to have an early dinner and go to bed at a somewhat normal (if early, for us) time as we are asleep on our feet anyhow. Rebecca recommends two restaurants – down the road, before you hit Assisi; simple, country food. Just what we want. We go to Giovannini, the one she likes best, and see through a window that it’s empty. (It’s only about 7:00 on Saturday evening so we’re not surprised.) We go in through the bar area, where a group of American women are standing around talking. They ignore us. A waiter comes in from the dining room; we ask if we can have a table for two; he says, “We’re full.” Speaking next to no Italian, we are in no position (and no mood) to challenge him; we figure maybe they have a big private party coming in. We decide to go to the other place, across the road. It’s closed. We’re starving. We’re tired. We’re desperate. We return to Giovannini, which has a tiny general store attached. There we buy a box of linguini, a jar of Barilla tomato sauce, a box of Special K, and a quart of milk. (Because we were so exhausted on the drive in, we neglected to stop and buy provisions. Rebecca’s welcome basket included a bottle of wine, a head of lettuce from her garden, four apples and some apple butter – very nice, but not quite breakfast material.)

We drive back up the hill, make dinner, go to bed and sleep for 13 hours.

End of arrival portion of story. To be continued (probably next week). Things do get better.

This report will not continue to be this detailed; my life expectancy doesn’t allow that.

hazel1 Nov 29th, 2007 03:24 PM

Well, I love it so far - can't wait for the rest, long or short.

travel2live2 Nov 29th, 2007 03:31 PM

Good report! So nice to hear about Italy when we have so much snow on the ground.

That apartment sounds just right for my husband and I. We love isolated, out-of-the-way places. We always manage to find spots that are hidden gems and quite far from civilization. We'll look into that when we go to Italy again.

NanBug Nov 29th, 2007 03:39 PM

Thanks for making me laugh, kagoo.

Keep it comin'!

ellenem Nov 30th, 2007 06:00 AM

waiting for more!

easywalker Nov 30th, 2007 10:36 PM

Good grief, kagoo! And this is supposed to be a vacation?

kagoo Dec 4th, 2007 07:25 AM

I'm baaaaccckkk...

Easywalker: Funny you should say that. When we got home, my husband said, "I had a great time, but I think it was of a trip than a vacation." However...

<b>Umbria, continued: In which things get better</b>

I’m not going to do a day-by-day -- just unconnected jottings about where we were and what we did.

Santa Maria degli Angeli. The day after we arrived was a Sunday, and in spite of having read about the popularity of Assisi, we were astounded at the sheer numbers of visitors – carloads, busloads, miles and miles up and down the mountain. (We’d already decided to save Assisi for evenings and nighttime, and that’s what we did. And we loved it. More on that later.) So on this Sunday we drove past Assisi and down the mountain to Santa Maria degli Angeli, a town that we found very charming and comfortable in a low-key, laid-back way. There was a flea market with some very lovely items (china, glassware, etc.) and we enjoyed milling around and people-watching. The basilica was just closing as we arrived (that was to be a theme of the vacation), but we went back several days later. I was especially taken with The Porziuncola, the tiny, ancient chapel that’s actually inside the basilica (and is, I believe, where St. Francis took refuge when he left his wealthy family); it is very lovely and evocative. We had dinner in Santa Maria on the Sunday, at Da Elide (on the main drag), recommended by Rebecca. Nice atmosphere, very casual, mostly locals dining there. Jim had meat-filled ravioli w/fungi, and I had strozzopretti (strangled priest!) with fungi, both delicious; we both had a heavenly arugula/pear/cheese/walnut salad. With a bottle of wine and a bottle of water, the bill came to 52 Euros. (This was certainly a step up from our Dinner of Desperation the night before. We liked this place so much that we decided to go back later in the week. When I went in to make a reservation – it was around 4:30 in the afternoon, so it was quiet -- the man at the front desk was on the telephone; I smiled and moved away from the desk, and waited for him to finish. He stayed on the phone, studiously ignoring me, for 15 minutes (not so much as a “just a minute” gesture, a smile, or a raised eyebrow) until – as no one else was around to help me – I took the hint that he was not interested, and left. Too bad; it was a good place.)

We spent the week visiting the various small towns in the area. We loved Spello and Todi – both very small (Spello the smaller of the two), with lovely, winding streets, plenty of nooks and crannies and passageways and cats and balconies and flowers, and of course churches and pasta and wine and gelato. We liked Spoleto but didn’t love it. Perugia was fun (the Eurochocolate Festival was in full swing, so the town smelled fab; the duomo was closed and there were no hours posted, so we finally gave up; we visited the National Gallery of Umbria, which is full of religious art from the 14th century onward, and most excellent). Also Orvieto, where we pulled a classic move (if you knew us, you’d know: We found our way to the edge of town easily and found a parking space easily; the funicular was just across the road, and Jim decided he wanted to ride it. (I always prefer to walk, but what the heck.) So we got our tickets and jumped on just in time … and DOWN the hill it went. Yes, folks, we got on at the top and got out of town in record time. Boy, did we feel dumb. (Because we’re … dumb? Recurring theme #2.) So we just waited like the two little dummies that we are, and after a few minutes the nice funicular took us back up the hill – and we walked into town. (That sucker didn’t have a driver, which came as a surprise to me – as I said, it was my first funicular. I had no idea.) Anyhow, the Duomo is as beautiful as advertised, and we spent much time gazing inside and out and milling around the town. When we emerged the rains had come, so we trotted back to the car ad headed home. (Lunch in Orvieto was our one spectacularly big food mistake: We chose a promising-looking, tiny little place that didn’t look at all tourist; the food was pedestrian at best, but the highlight was my insalata mista, which included what appeared to be an entire can of niblets. Woof.)

Now for Assisi. That is one magical little (or not so little) town. The secret, as so many in this forum have said before, is to go late in the day when the tour buses have gone. Our habit – and we wound up doing this several times – was to get into town around 4:00 p.m., wander here and there, stop for a drink in the piazza, wander more, then go home, rest up a little, and head back into Assisi for dinner. It’s a whole different place at night; the little streets are all but deserted, the moon shines on the pale stone, and it’s yours alone. We were so happy that we were able to experience this special place at our leisure. Of course we visited the Basilica, which is breathtaking and simply not to be missed; the Giotto frescoes alone… Also, the church of Saint Clare, shockingly beautiful in the sunlight and situated in a lovely piazza; the Temple of Minerva, where we heard a group of amateur singers giving a little concert one evening; the Rocca Maggiora; the views; the streets; the wine-and-chocolate shop … Reams have been written about it. My advice is, if you’re planning to make Assisi a day trip, try to make it an overnight trip – you won’t be sorry.

We had what was our favorite meal in Assisi, as well, at Osteria Piazetta della Erbe. I had a succulent eggplant/cheese appetizer (yes, think eggplant parmesan that had been kissed by an angel), and ravioli shaped like big salt-water taffy, filled with cheese and pear, in a pear butter sauce. Oh God, it was good. Jim had an appetizer of broccoli souffl&eacute; with mortadella and ham/cheese/broccoli lasagne. Again, water and wine (a bottle of Montefalco, nothing fancy); 62 Euros. We returned to this restaurant on our last evening, and there must have been a different chef; the food, while still very good, was not on the celestial level of the first evening. Still, a nice place that I’d recommend.

Another restaurant in Assisi that we liked was La Veranda. The clientele was a mix of locals and tourists (lots of Italian tourists, in fact); the food and service were very good. Our server insisted on speaking English (in spite of my efforts to order in Italian), which he has learned during his many travels to Scandinavia and Ireland (!).

Random stuff:

? The Special K. In Italy, so delicious that I went out and bought a box when we got home. The stuff tastes like cardboard. Do they use a different grain? (Surely it wasn’t just the magic of Italy at work.)

? The morning we were awakened at 5 a.m. by a bunch of guys yelling and what sounded like a combination Mack truck/steamroller outside – in short, all hell breaking loose. We never did find out what that was all about. We finally dozed off again (after 8 a.m., when we were awakened by loud music (again, never discovered the source) and discovered that we were without power and without hot water. Not the best way to start the day.

? My linguistic low point: That first evening, trying to buy groceries at the wee store. We had our cereal and needed milk, and I was drawing a blank. I tried “milk?” and got a blank stare; “du lait?” (I speak some French) – blank stare; “leche?” (I don’t speak Spanish) – blank stare. Long pause. Desperation. “Moo?” (I’m actually outside myself looking at this performance and being shamed beyond belief) – blank stare. Finally – “Latte!” I cried. And the nice Italian man pointed at the milk, which was in plain sight. Sigh.

? Umbria overall. We loved it, but were surprised to find so much development, so many industrialized areas. As I said, our only other experience with the Italian countryside was in Tuscany, where we simply drove around from gorgeous spot to gorgeous spot, through uniformly gorgeous scenery. In Umbria, we had to work a little harder for the gorgeous; some places were downright ugly. I don’t want to start a debate – I know some people have very strong opinions one way or the other – it’s just our observation.

-OK, that’s it for this installment, which is longer than I’d meant it to be.

Next stop: Verona, en route to Venice.

rew3434 Dec 4th, 2007 08:58 AM

Can hardly wait for the next chapter. Love your style of writing.

kagoo Dec 11th, 2007 07:04 AM

<b>Verona: A smash hit</b>

Our original trip idea didn’t include Verona, but the apartment we wanted to rent in Venice wasn’t available for the Saturday we left Assisi. So after doing some research, I decided we needed a place that was close to Venice so we could get all of our driving (and potentially getting lost; we know who we are) done on the day before we arrived in Venice, thus making our arrival easier in terms of hooking up with the apartment rep at the correct time. Many Fodorites love Verona – that was good enough for me. And we loved it, too.

The first wonderful thing was that, following the directions provided by our hotel, we got there without a hitch. Not one wrong turn. Incredible, because we’ve always found that the first 90% of a trip from one town to the next usually pretty smooth; it’s when you (oh, all right – <i>we</i>) get into the town itself that you run into the one-way streets, pedestrian areas, construction detours, and dumb mistakes. (We spent at least two hours circling our hotel in Rouen last year; so near and yet so far.) Anyhow, kudos to the Hotel Torcolo for directions that were spot on.

Kudos for everything else, too, beginning with the world’s most charming and delightful desk clerk, who managed to be competent, patient, and hysterically funny in English and Italian and probably any other language that could be thrown at her). (I said “Your English is excellent, and she said, “So is yours.”) Our room was the typical tiny European room, which was just fine; Spartan, spotlessly clean, and comfortable (big tiled shower and plenty of hot water, too). The hotel is just a stone’s throw from the Arena – a great location. It gets good reviews on Trip Advisor; they’re well deserved -- we’d recommend it. (Maria Callas stayed at the Torcolo in 1947; there are photos of her in the lobby and in the halls. Also a photo of Laurence Olivier and, as the caption said, “Janet Leigh.” I didn’t have the heart to tell them they had the wrong Leigh – that photo’s been hanging for a good, long time; who am I to mess with success?)

With only an afternoon and a morning in the town we had no real agenda other than to see the Arena. (We love opera; we knew the season was over, but as it turned out you can get inside and walk around for 4 Euros. Which we did, and thoroughly enjoyed; seeing an opera there must be thrilling.) We spent the rest of our time milling around the town, which is lovely. The Piazza del Erbe is gorgeous; we stopped in the terrific Piazza Bra for a drink, which came with a bowl of chips, and the little sparrows jumped right on the table and stole them, one by one; we came across a small chapel where some medieval frescos had been uncovered in the 19th century; we didn’t plan to visit Juliet’s (yeah, right) balcony, but happened upon it and took photos of everyone taking photos of everyone else. There are lots of up-market stores in Verona, and there were hoards of up-market people spending money in them; the people-watching was excellent.

On the evening of our arrival day we’d just returned to our room when we heard music outside, so of course we had to go out and investigate. There in the piazza outside the Arena was a small brass band; they were all wearing Tyrolean hats with feather in them, and sporting pink ribbons (for breast cancer? We never learned. There was some sort of ceremony after the music, but of course it was in Italian….) It was great to be there in the chilly night, with the moon shining over the Arena, listening to the music… What we call a lucky dip.

Dinner was at a small restaurant called Listone, recommended by the desk clerk and around the corner from, the hotel. Mixed salads, bruschetta, spaghetti w/clams, penne w/salmon and arugula, carafe of red wine, mineral water: 42 Euros. Nothing gourmet but well done and comforting.

The next morning we had another walkabout (I’ve conflated the two days). The desk clerk wasn’t on duty (we were sorry not to have said goodbye – and gotten her name!), but the two owers of the hotel were, and two more delightful and gracious women you would be hard put to find.

So that was Verona: pretty, charming, interesting; full of culture, art, history, and the opportunity to shop your brains out if you so desire. We barely scratched the surface, and would love to return some day.

That’s all for today, folks. When next we meet – Venice. Feel free to chat amongst yourselves. (This is taking forever, I know.)

In the meantime, here are the photos (if the link works); Jim gets all the credit for these.

hazel1 Dec 11th, 2007 07:27 AM

Kagoo, I'm just loving your trip report. Your writing style and sense of humor really keep me hungering for the next installment. Good work!

artlover Dec 11th, 2007 07:08 PM

I'm really enjoying this, especially your sense of humor, which you sure needed, huh? I can sympathize with your first venture getting lost trying to find your lodging--it's happened to us too and I know how that feels.

Can also sympathize with your frustration re. Hertz, which is why I always warn Fodorites not to rent from them (I specify this when I use autoeurope and it's never been a problem). We too had problems with Hertz, though bigger and messier ones than your.

Thanks so much for posting this.

kagoo Dec 18th, 2007 01:05 PM

Thanks for the kind words, everyone. And now...

<b>In which our adventures continue….</b>

So, up early, breakfast at the hotel, nice walkabout in Verona, and we head off to Venice. There we were to stay at La Rosa di Venezia, an apartment recommended in this forum by the invaluable Franco, friend to all who travel to Italy. Before we left, Jim spoke to the owner’s representative in Venice – we’ll call her Signora – who told him she’d meet us at the rental car office in Piazzale Roma and take us to the apartment. She said we should call her when we got within an hour of Venice to let her know our approximate arrival time.

So when we got close, we called (because know we knew how to use our phone!). And…there was no answer. Two more attempts as we drive on; two more no-answers. A little panic sets in. (I panic easily at these moments; Jim, not so much.) We continue on to Piazzale Roma, where we have several minutes of hilarious confusion and bewilderment (to the accompaniment of bus and taxi horns, and wildly gesticulating – and beautifully dressed – policemen) as we pull into all the wrong parking/waiting areas trying to figure out exactly where the Hertz office is. We do find it, and the very nice and helpful Lucca does the paperwork while I try to call the Signora again. This time I get her; the connection isn’t good, so I have some trouble understanding her, but we finally establish that she has no intention of meeting us at the Hertz place. She tells us to take the vaporetto to Valaresso to meet her colleague – we’ll call her Signorina – because “that’s better.” At this point, it didn’t actually seem better to us. Nevertheless.

(I asked Lucca if there was a restroom I could use (my need was great), and he apologetically said, “No, just some potted plants and a coffee machine.” I was tempted, but decided to hold it.)

So we schlepped our bags across the busy street and onto the vaporetto. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and we were thrilled to be in Venice again after 10 years. Our first visit was magical from start to finish, and here we were again after so much remembering and longing and daydreaming. Our rapture was modified, though, by the nagging fear that Signorina would not be there waiting for us. Sure enough. She wasn’t. We waited for a little bit, then I called Signora again. And guess what? Aw, you peeked. No answer.

Meanwhile, Jim was going up to every unaccompanied female between the ages of 12 and 90 and asking, “Are you Signorina?” They weren’t. Time passed, vaporettos came and went, happy travelers who knew where they were going milled around us, and Signora’s phone rang unanswered. Now even Jim was starting to feel a tad nervous – because even when you <i>know&lt;i/&gt;you’re in the right place, you’re kind of thinking maybe you’re in the wrong place. I had leaped far ahead of him on the anxiety scale, trying to plan once again (as I’d done when we were driving all over Umbria on Day 1) how on earth we might find jobs (selling handbags, maybe?) and Italian lessons and a decent place to live if she never showed up and we never found our apartment (because how could we? And even if we did find it, we had no key), ……

And then, just as we were about to go all operatic on each other and the good people of Venice – Signorina appeared! We were probably easy to spot – that expression of fear and desperation is a dead giveaway.

Cutting to the chase (if you can call it that), she led us to and across St. Mark’s Square, down one street, around a corner, down another street, and lo! There we were at La Rosa di Venezia (which we could never in a million years have found on our own; some might; not us). Signorina, it turned out, is not only the official greeter and bringer, she’s the person who cleans the place; she still needed to do that, so we went out to walk around and reacquaint ourselves with Venice. (The first thing we did was retrace our steps away from and back to the apartment so we’d be able to find it again.) Signorina, by the way, spoke almost no English, and could not have been more adorable and sweet and charming.

OK, time to start condensing again:

The apartment (which was spotlessly clean when we returned): Great size – living room w/comfy seating, dining area, separate bedroom, kitchen, bath. Great location – a few minutes from St. Mark’s Square, but completely away from the crowds; overlooks the junction of two canals, down which every O-sole-mio-singing and theme-from-“The Godfather”-on-accordion-playing gondolier passes; lots of fun. The balcony is teeny-tiny; we didn’t sit on it because the weather was pretty wretched (see below), but even if it had been warm outside we might have passed – that balcony is wee. But fun to stand on and wave to those who pass below. (A caveat: because the apartment is where it is, there’s also a lot of regular traffic and the noise that goes with it – including early morning deliveries and restoration of a building across the way; even a cement-mixer boat, which was fascinating. This was not a problem for us: It goes with the territory; you’re in a city and you’re overlooking a busy street. But those who want absolute quiet, especially early in the morning, be forewarned.)

The weather wasn’t cooperative; after settling in we went for a walk and ended up in Campo San Stefano (a favorite from last time) and sat outside to enjoy a glass of wine and the passing scene. We froze our butts off. Our first day was the sunniest; the rest of the week was a combination of sun/clouds/rain/chilly/more rain. Right after we bought groceries, we bought an umbrella.

We spent a lot of time wandering in various neighborhoods and getting lost a lot (sometimes deliberately; that’s part of the fun). We’re good for one museum a day, plus a church or two: Cultural highlights included Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (Titian Assumption; Bellini altarpiece; Titian’s tomb; Canova monument; and a small Donatello for good measure); Scuola Grande di San Rocco (54 Tintorettos!); the tour of La Fenice (incredible!); Ca’ Rezzonico (oh my – just spectactular; and those Tiepolos!); the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

In spite of having reams of restaurant recommendations (from Fodorites and friends), we ended up eating at not one of the places on the list. This is pretty normal for us. Basically, we like to spend the entire day walking and exploring and museum-going, etc., and in the evening we wind up wanting to stay close to home for dinner. Close to home doesn’t do it when you’re that close to St. Marks, too. So we cooked in more often than not (which was, anyhow, part of the plan when we rented the apartment). We did enjoy several good to excellent lunches (sometimes sitting down in a restaurant; sometimes standing up at a bar with the locals) – but I didn’t get the names of any of the places. We also did walking-around sandwiches a few times, and – of course – gelato (favorites being the place across from San Trovaso church and Paolin in Campo San Stefano. For me, it was the battle of the pistachios. They both won.)

We also, every evening – no matter how chilly – strolled over to St. Mark’s to hear the dueling orchestras. Florian’s guys seemed to have packed it in for the season, so it was just Quadri and The Other One (I like to think of it as Jose Carreras; actually, it’s Laverna). It may be the height of touristic clich&eacute;s, but there’s something magical about that place at night. (We would have been happy to do a Full Tourist Monty and buy an incredibly expensive afternoon drink at Florian’s for the pleasure of the ambiance and the view, but the weather was so bad it would have been insane.)

Random thoughts:

The crowds!!! As I said, we were in Venice 10 years ago at almost exactly the same time (third week in October). What a difference a decade makes. This time, St. Mark’s was just wall-to-wall people from morning to very late afternoon/early evening; the weekend days were particularly nuts. Same for the Rialto area and everyplace else on the beaten path. We were not prepared for that. Last time there were lots of people, of course, but it was very clearly the off-season; nothing like what we saw this time. (This is, I’m sure, the reason for something else that was very different: the trash. We arrived on a Sunday, and the trash cans were more than overflowing, and there was trash in a lot of the streets, including the one our apartment was on. It got worse and worse, and was really appalling, until Tuesday, when a lot of it disappeared. But it piled up again quickly. Clearly the city isn’t able to keep up with the refuse that’s generated by the gazillions of visitors. It was distressing.)

Good places for souvenirs: Il Papira; something for every budget (mine was small; I got lovely calendars for friends, as well as bookmarks). Small shops in areas away from the main drags – much nicer jewelry, for example, at very reasonable prices. Little gourmet shops that sell wonderful chocolates and other treats. And museum shops: I got a honey of a necklace at the Guggenheim.

The begging women: You know the ones, in the long dresses and windbreakers and babushkas. We’d see them in the morning, walking two by two, chatting, wearing backpacks; then later in the day, scattered around the city outside churches, etc., kneeling down and keening and asking for money. Pretty much a 9-to-5 job, it seems. One day we stopped to listen to a guy play music from “Swan Lake” on wineglasses (yes, you read that correctly), and one of these women was nearby, low to the ground and moaning. A very distinguished older Italian man stopped, pointed to her, and shouted, “Mafia!” As Jim so eloquently asked, “Why?”

The campos: San Stefano, Santa Margarita, Santa Maria Formosa (where I caught a Punch and Judy show), Santo Giovanni et Paulo, and of course San Barnaba, notable mostly because it’s where the the antique shop from “Summertime” (actually a mask shop) is; in the window are two red Murano glass goblets (like the ones that caused so much trouble for Renaldo) and the movie poster; inside, the movie runs on a continuous loop. Since that movie (on TV) was my first ever introduction to Venice at a very impressionable age, and I’ve seen it a trillion times since and love it every time, that was a nice little thrill.

On our next-to-last night I got a scratchy throat, and woke up with a full-blown cold and a mild fever. Our last day was chilly, and the rain it rainethed every minute from dawn to dusk. We did our souvenir shopping and got thoroughly soaked, so we spent the afternoon lazing around and reading and drinking tea and eating chocolate. (Hmmm….sounds like vacation!)

Well, I’m going to wrap up Venice here. I do go on, don’t I? If you have questions, about the apartment or anything else, I’ll be glad to answer them.

One final thought: I mentioned that our first time in Venice was completely and deeply magical. This time, a little bit because of the anxiety on the first day, and a lot because of the weather, fell somewhat short of that – although it did have its magical moments, for sure. But we both agreed that we know the magic is there. And there is no place like it on earth. And I’d go back in a heartbeat.

So, folks – will she get to Rome and wrap this up before the Christmas break? Stay tuned….


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