Venice - a sort of trip report

Nov 24th, 2010, 07:18 AM
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Venice - a sort of trip report

Well, we’ve arrived. About thirty hours, door to door, the initial door being in Melbourne, the ultimate door being at 2878A, Calle Lunga San Barnaba, Dorsoduro, Venice. I suppose one ought not complain – it took Marco Polo about 15 years for his round trip, so one must be grateful for the jet engine. Emirates is good – good service, on time, and our bags made it. I like the way they announce the multi lingual nature of their crew. “Good morning, I’m purser so–and-so. Our crew speaks Mandarin, Arabic, Cantonese, Italian, Urdu, English, Spanish, Greek, a decent broken Icelandic, and Sonya in First Class has just completed her MA(Hon), majoring in Sanskrit. We do hope you have a pleasant flight.” Melbourne to Dubai with five hours on the ground in the United Arab Emirates.

I think that there are two groups of people on the earth, people who like Dubai, and people who don’t much care for Dubai. I regret to say that I fall in the second group. Maybe it was being stuck, marooned, in Dubai for a week a few years ago, waiting for a visa to come through for Libya – a place that I liked even less.

Dubai airport seems to be in the business of redefining the concept of huge. Gates numbered from low digits through to about 320, with more to come. That’s a lot of gates, transit time from the single digit gates to the 300’s about 30 minutes on foot, but it is well organised and signed. I think the airport is a continuation of the Sigmund Freud inspired architecture that is evident in Dubai. “Who says size does not matter.” World’s tallest building, world’s biggest indoor ski slope, and world’s biggest artificial residential bunch of islands. I’m waiting for the announcement of the world’s biggest 18 hole fully grassed indoor golf course, design by Tiger Woods if he can find the time, structure by Frank Lloyd Wright, who did some nice structures on the prairies, so the dry and heat of Dubai would suit his style, if he were not deceased.

Dubai is a something of a contradiction, quite remarkable buildings, yet the fish market is an open-air affair, with enough ice on hand to make maybe half a dozen martinis at a stretch. Mercantile enterprises with names like Pan-Arabian Traders, who have cornered the local market for strange combinations like say, fan belts and plastic sandals, or saucepan lids and lube oil. Trading dhows in the creek, laden with motor bikes, drums of fuel, air conditioners, goats and plasma TVs. The spice souk standing in sleepy contrast to the frenetic construction activity, bags of frankincense, saffron, cinnamon, and other spices that I’ve never identified.
Peter_S_Aus is offline  
Nov 24th, 2010, 08:10 AM
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wow - interesting start to your report. Intriguing, to say the least.
elnap29 is offline  
Nov 24th, 2010, 09:27 AM
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Hello there Peter, wishing you, your dear wife and mother-in-law a wonderful time in Venice and of course the two ladies lots of fun when they take their side trip for some days.

I wish I could join you in Venice for a glass of two of Prosecco. Cheers!
LoveItaly is offline  
Nov 24th, 2010, 10:49 AM
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bardo1 is offline  
Nov 24th, 2010, 12:08 PM
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Oh, good, you're going to take us along for the ride!

I due gatti dicono "Buongiorno". Loro sono troppo grasso!! (Just kidding.) Oggi, piove.
YvonneT is offline  
Nov 24th, 2010, 12:46 PM
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ciao Peter.

looking forward to more - are we there yet?
annhig is offline  
Nov 25th, 2010, 12:02 AM
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I'm happy you're doing another Venice blog, so I can enjoy your adventures too. You're staying in the same apartment as last time?
tarquin is offline  
Nov 25th, 2010, 04:01 AM
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So we Emirated our way across the globe, fetching up at about 45deg 15m N, 12deg 19m E, in Venice, arriving in real style per taxi, threading our way through the Rio di Santa Giustina (sound horn at the intersection with the Rio di San Francesco), the Rio di San Lorenzo which gives a good view of crumbling foundations, and the Rio dei Greci. And then that complete knock out sight, as we entered the Grand Canal, Ducal Palace and the Campanile to starboard, and the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Salute to port. There’s a line in “Wind in the Willows” – “There’s nothing so worthwhile as simply messing about in boats”, and Venice has taken this to heart. The Grand Canal is full of people simply messing about in boats. Gondolas, police boats, workboats, ambulances, waterbuses, water taxis, the lot.

Upstream under the temporary bridge with traffic lights erected across the Grand Canal to the Salute for the 21st November festival, and disembark at the Ca’ Rezzonico. I can’t really claim to have returned like Marco Polo, if for no other reason that we lacked his cargo of silks and spices, but it did feel pretty special. Stroll down Calle Lunga with no bridges to cross, a blessing as we are travelling pretty heavy, and we’ve arrived. Same place as last time, up a tight spiral staircase, and we’re here.

We (that’s Lou and I) came here for eight weeks in late December 2008 , so we sort of know Venice, or we like to think that we know Venice about as well as non-Venetians can. We’ve brought Lou’s mother with us, a sprightly lass, and it’s her first real visit to Venice. We’ve left the home, cats and goldfish in the charge of another Venetian enthusiast, Yvonne from Atherton, and run away.
Peter_S_Aus is offline  
Nov 25th, 2010, 05:11 AM
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Sunday, 21st November, and it’s the festival of the Salute. This festival commemorates the delivery of Venice from plague in 1630, and the citizens were so thankful (after repeatedly praying to Mary for deliverance) that they erected a church. “Erected a church” is an understatement. The Chiesa Santa Maria della Salute took some 57 years to complete, and rests on a raft of wooden piles, 1,156,672 piles, so the documents claim. But show me a contractor that never exaggerated the work done to the Quantity Surveyor when compiling a progress claim, or who ensured that there was no double counting of work achieved. It would have taken the most dedicated QS to keep count, but that’s what the “as constructed ” docs claim. And I can just see the piling contractor rubbing out the QS’s chalk marks on counted piles. Venetians historically have mostly been on the right side of a contract.

So the Festival dawned in fine Venetian style, crowds of people crossing on the temporary bridge - which used to be built on a raft of boats, collapsing in style in the 1930’s, precipitating many, including the English eccentric, Sir Osbert Siswell, into the Grand Canal. I can imagine Osbert’s conversation with a chum at a club in Pall Mall.
“Doing anything much for a crust these days?”
“I’m in the City, and it seems to keep me busy. And you?”
“Oh, a spot of gardening at Sissinghurst, pulling the occasional weed. After doing Greats at Magdalene I found myself at a loose end, so I thought that the only career for a gent was to be an eccentric. It’s been pretty satisfying, Venice, all that stuff. Same again?”

So the 2010 bridge is a more substantial affair, substantial prefabricated steel, on substantial floats, secured by substantial piles knocked into the canal. Loads of people, candles about a metre long on sale (3 euro per), kids with balloons, Mass being said on what seemed a continual basis, and an absolute conflagration of candles in the church. A fine Venetian affair not dampened one bit by the rain that fell for most of the day. I always wonder about candles in churches, with works by Titian, and Tintoretto seeing their fair share of candle grease. But given that the smoke has been happening for 450 years, maybe everyone has become used to it, and it keeps restorers in business.
Peter_S_Aus is offline  
Nov 25th, 2010, 09:22 AM
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Returning here has a certain intimacy, and Venice is an intimate city – the fact that a cruise liner can disgorge 2000 souls somehow does not detract from the intimacy. So we stood on the balcony yesterday morning thinking “within a few minutes, the shutters will go up on the apartment down the way, and the woman of the house will let her cat out”. Sure enough, the cat was let out a few minutes later. A bit further away, a woman has hung her washing from her window – it looks like the same laundry, and a piece of fabric the size of a small circus tent. We’ve seen it all before, and it feels homely.

The intimacy extends to people that we don’t even know – I’d established a certain relationship two years ago with the guy at 2688B Calle Lunga San Barnaba, as he leant out the window and fired up his morning hazard to health, and we’d exchanged some “buongiorno’s”. We saw the Ambulanza come yesterday and carry him out, and we hope he is OK. We’re not close enough to say anything to his wife – we’re outsiders in this situation. But I can bet that half the street knows that there’s a problem – Venetians are notoriously nosey.
Peter_S_Aus is offline  
Nov 25th, 2010, 01:13 PM
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Keep it coming, Pietro, you're painting an interesting and colourful canvas, thank you. I sure hope your neighbour will be OK.
YvonneT is offline  
Nov 27th, 2010, 12:04 PM
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Hi Yvonne, the neighbour is home, not yet firing up smokes from his window, but one lives in hope.

I've been a little diverted - catching up on some old stuff:
Peter_S_Aus is offline  
Nov 28th, 2010, 12:37 AM
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"Emirated our way across the globe" Love it!
CaliNurse is offline  
Nov 28th, 2010, 03:33 AM
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Enchanting report. I look forward to continuing the journey right alongside you!
swisshiker is offline  
Nov 28th, 2010, 06:48 AM
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Long sigh.... thank you Peter for this. I so need a Venice fix...
bfrac is offline  
Nov 28th, 2010, 07:01 AM
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Grazie Peter for allowing us to join you in Venezia!
Dayle is offline  
Nov 28th, 2010, 08:31 AM
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I don’t get it. You could walk down Calle lunga San Barnaba with a lit candle in your hand, and then you walk into a gale just before reaching Campo Ditto. Boeing could cart their model aircraft to Campo San Barnaba for wind tunnel tests, and have a spritz at the Ai Artisti while the tests are done. One can measure damage by the number of winged umbrellas that proceed towards Academe, and the handful of umbrellas that are in the Campo San Barnaba rubbish bin. It is a graveyard for umbrellas.

Which is a most roundabout way of saying that it’s been wet. Windy too.

Yesterday I went to Vicenza, to sight some Palladian architecture. I like it, and yet at the same time, it’s almost clichéd. Palladio certainly discovered the knack of creating fine facades. I’ve seen drawings of many of them, and they do all follow a style, a certain form. The form that he found certainly found favour with the wealthier clients of Vicenza, he was THE architect du jour.

But one thing that I discovered, which I’d known nothing about, was the theatre that Palladio designed, modelled on the streets of Thebes. The gallery is semi-circular, a proscenium arch, and behind that are a set of seven trompe l’whatever streets running off to backstage. No matter where you sit, you can’t get a sight up all the streets at the same time, and it is most realistic. At the time that the theatre opened, it caused a sensation. Palladio was a stonemason by trade, and his drafting skill allowed him to become a brilliant architect. A bit like Charlie Mason, a bakers son, becoming the lead astronomer of his day, joining the Royal Society after surveying the Mason Dixon line. Interesting how there was such flexibility - birth was no barrier to brilliance.

The train trip to Vicenza was good – belting across the flat plains of the Veneto, and the fields covered by a light dusting of snow, past the shipyard cranes at Marghera, that look for all the world like fighting machines from “War of the Worlds”, but controlled by Venetians rather than Martians. Freezing, crisp and sunny in Vicenza. About 40 minutes on the train, and 13 euro each way.

The train was joined in Mestre by a couple of professional teenaged begging boys. They stroll down the car, placing their business card on each table. My Italian is not good, but I think the cards say something like “I am broke. I need money. Please give me some of yours”. They then strolled through again shortly before Padua, retrieving their cards and I suspect little money. They did the same performance on my return, with similar success.

I think that the begging industry took a significant hit in my eyes last Sunday, when I sighted a beggar near Academe finish sending an SMS, pocket the phone, and start on that “Alms for the love of God, Mary, Jesus, Joseph, San Sebastian, San Marco and I have to pay the web page designer account” caper that one hears on the streets. That particular woman – there are no men in the trade – picks a spot where she will certainly be in the rain, to elicit sympathy. I’ve seen her getting off the train from Mestre in the morning with a gaggle of fellow travellers, and she looked for all the world like any other commuter travelling to work.
Peter_S_Aus is offline  
Nov 28th, 2010, 09:36 AM
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excellent writing
wrestlpsu is offline  
Nov 28th, 2010, 10:33 AM
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What stuff costs.
People are often interested in the costs of things in Italy, so some current prices, courtesy of Billa on the Zattere (all prices in euro):
Merlot – per bottle, and pretty drinkable. 2.99
Baileys Irish Cream – 13.49
Smirnoff vodka – 8.49
(Getting the message where our purchasing priorities lie?)

We ate at La Bitta, Calle lunga San Barnaba, Dorsoduro 2753. One and a half entrées (starters for the American brethren as we were three) of artichoke salad, plus leg of goose for three, plus a bottle of the house Merlot – 89 euro, including service etc. Artichoke salad is great – we’ll have to try cooking that. Artichokes the size of a golf ball, lightly cooked, with lettuce. Goose is good too, very meaty, a cross between poultry and red meat, and I’ve never eaten goose before. It’s hard to buy – in fact I’ve never seen it in Melbourne.

Interesting with the wine. “Here’s the bottle, but if you don’t drink it all, we’ll just charge by the glass.” “La Bitta” means mooring bitts, for securing a ship. But they don’t do fish. Go figure – I think it’s just a Venetian take on life, or maybe they think that fish places are a dime a dozen in Venice, and so they differentiate themselves. The meal was excellent – the goose just falling off the bone, served with polenta. (How come my spell checker offers “polestar”, for polenta.)

Everyone complains of Italian beauracracy, and we’ve had our first taste of it, and it was painless. The other morning, Lou and I obtained our Carte Venezia, our resident’s card, and they are good for five years! We are almost honorary Venetians! These give us cheap vaporetto tickets – 1.10 euro instead of the 6.50 that casual users have to pay – proof conclusive, I suppose, that Venice continues the time-honoured tradition of slugging tourists, a practice that started around the First Crusade and continues unabated to this day. The whole Carte Venezia process was pretty painless, hand over 40 euro to the young lady behind the counter (who is visiting Australia in January, and we’re Aussies, so there’s a connection and great service), and walk out with electronic cards loaded with twenty ferry rides, that make us feel a little bit Venetian. Total time – about twenty minutes.

If only I spoke a little of the language …
Peter_S_Aus is offline  
Nov 28th, 2010, 10:50 AM
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If only I spoke a little of the language …>>

I'm sure you're being too modest. and if you started, you would discover how many words are the same [or almost] as English - thousands. I'm sure that I have read that there is a language school in Venice - why not go and have some lessons? go on, you know you want to!
annhig is offline  

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