Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Honeymoon: Venice


It's been five years since I've been to Venice. I was last here in 2011 with my Dad and Margaret for a few days. I had just stated dating Todd, and I so wanted him to be there with me. Here we are, on our honeymoon.

Sunday, September 18

Our journey to visit was a long day. Train at 8:30am to the airport, 11am flight, 2:30pm land, 3:30pm boat from Venice, 5pm land at Zattere stop and walk the block to the hotel. Needless to say, we were tired when we arrived.

Little things on the journey tire you out. Carting your luggage a few blocks, up escalators, down escalators, on trains, off trains. Waiting in line to check your bags at the airport. Waiting for your gate to be listed on the monitors. Shopping for last minute souvenirs. Buying food for the flight. A mad dash to the gate when you realize you have 10 minutes but the gate seems to be through never ending looooong hallways. Then waiting for your bags to arrive on the carousel, and they are really at the end. Then walking a few blocks to catch the water taxi, only to wait for 15-30 minutes for enough people to come that they decide to leave. Then being the last stop (almost) on the route.

But then you disembark at your stop, the weather is perfect, the sky a pretty blue, the buildings just the kind of rustic worn out that you love, and an accordion playing a love song in the distance. And you are exhausted, but you step off the boat with your equally exhausted husband, which seems the fulfillment of a wish. Your hotel is a block away and there's the most wonderful outdoor seating areas. The room key is heavy, feels like old world. The room you have is very small, even smaller than London.

Okay, enough of the "you." We check in, drop off our bags, don't even change out of our travel clothes because we are so hungry. Thanks to Rick Steves, we try a restaurant on the water where we got off the boat. It's a gorgeous place to sit and let the day come off us. I ordered a salad and roast veggies, and Todd orders pasta with mushrooms and shrimp. We have bruschetta, and we watch the colors of the  sky begin to change into the sunset. It's a gorgeous sunset. We totally ignore the smoke stacks in the distance that are right in front of the setting sun. Thankfully, the large cruise ship waits until after the sunset to move across our view.

After dinner, we take a very leisurely stroll along the Accademia Bridge and meander towards San Marco. We walk slowly and let ourselves take in the scenery, the people, the window displays. Todd eyes a white hat in a window. We both eye the glass jewelry and ornaments. I find al fruit Popsicles and enjoy. We arrive in San Marco and enjoy the views of the Square, Basilica, and the Doge's Palace. There are vendors out in droves, trying to sell us red roses are flying colored objects you can sore into the sky.

We return to our hotel the way we came and light seal our room with the electric metal shade.

Monday, September 19

We set our alarms but let ourselves sleep past them. There is no big rush to get up. We feel on casual Venice time, as last night's walk out us in the space. When we do, it's just to amble downstairs for breakfast. It's a beautiful day, and I definitely want to eat outside in the garden. So, we get our bread, fruit, and espressos, and camp out under an umbrella.

We then ambled over to the Guggenheim Museum just a few blocks from our hotel. Visiting this museum in December 1994, when I spent the last few days of the year here (ringing it in in San Marco Square), was a highlight of my trip. As Todd loves Modern art, I knew he would love it. We walked into the courtyard to buy our tickets and right there was an Andy Goldsworthy piece, "Snowball." A good omen since he is one of Todd's recent favorite artists.

The museum is in the former home of Peggy Guggenheim, who was an avid collector and patron of artists in the 30s, 40s, and through the rest of her life. The collection is astounding: Ernst, Tanguy, Pollack, Magritte, Picasso, Conrad,  Calder, Miro. The best part of the museum for me is that it's small and in her first home. Many of the pieces are in the room where they initially hung when she was alive. There are photos of her in each room so that you can see what they looked like. You can wander on to her patio on the Grand Canal and have a spectacular view, listening to the gondoliers singing to their customers. You can wander through the sculpture garden.

One paragraph hardly seems enough to do it justice. It was even better 22 years after my first visit. I know so much more about art than I did then. Still, looking at Magritte's "Empire of Light" again made me emotional. A special kind of travel and life nostalgia. As Todd said, "My Facebook post should say, 'I've died and gone to Venice.'"

After the museum, we ambled back home for our pre-lunch mission: find the laundrette. We are in need of clean clothes sooner than expected because Lindon was so sweltering. Our hotel told us about a place (hindsight: we should have looked up Rick Steves laundry info in the book), so we trudged off with our laundry in two small bags, with other bags for gallivanting after the laundry. Unfortunately, our hotel out it on the wrong place on the map, so we couldn't find it. So we asked in a hotel, and they pointed us in the right direction. Alas, it was closed. If we would have looked up our Rick Steves handy guide, we would have known it closed at 12:30 but there was a do it yourself laundry a few blocks away. Travel learning curve. It's our first big trip together, so still finding kinks in our system!

Instead, we started the trudge back to our hotel, laundry still in tow. We stopped at the place where we had seen a vegan sandwich advertised in the window. Good sandwich, but zilch of protein, but it helped. Back at our hotel, we washed some urgent clothes in the sink and hung some of them discreetly on our balcony to dry in the sun.

We hadn't over planned our day, so the only other thing on our list was the Frari church. It isn't too far from our hotel, so we took a relaxed pace to get there. The nice thing about Venice is that when you walk somewhere, you walk along canals and small side streets full of cute shops, restaurants, and endless photogenic views.

The Frari church is about 600 years old, and it is a beauty of the simpler kind. Not a lot of ornate ceilings, but many beautiful altars, paintings, and sculpture. The artist of renown for this church is Titian, who did the high altar painting and one other large one. He is also buried here in a beautiful tomb built in the 1800s. I had downloaded a Rick Steves audio guide which talked us through the key highlights, including the side chapels built by "rich people."

After the church, we were both hungry. The hard part was that all the good looking restaurants were closed for another hour. It was pre-dinner drink hour, and the plazas were busy with people drinking and socializing until restaurants opened. We made our way to San Stefani Square, just over the Accademia bridge, where we knew many restaurants would be open. By his time we were exhausted and so ready for food. Seafood pasta for Todd, pasta fagioli (soup) and spaghetti pomodoro (red sauce) for me. I had a glass of white wine, and it was tiramisu for Todd and fruit for me.

We took the short walk home and sat outside at our hotel, Waiting for there to be a little room left for Todd to get some gelato.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Mission Laundry Part 2 started our day. An early wake up and breakfast in order to get to the Lavanderia when it opened at 8am. It was a quiet amble, the streets not yet flooded with tourists. We were there when she opened the metal doors, and she took our bags off us, ready at noon.

We walked towards St Mark's, and it was still a light crowd. There were several brides out this morning with their photographers. I couldn't tell if they were brides or models on a photo shoot. We had an hour before our tour, so we went to a cafe on the water and had our second espresso of the day. We wrote in our journals, people watched, and relaxed.

At 9:15am we went over to the Doge's palace for our 9:55am Secret Itineraries tour. The inside courtyard is just as fabulous as I remember it. The different facades of the building revealing what century it was built or redone. Two sides are simple brick and stone. Two sides are elegant carved marble. We wandered the courtyard taking photos and noticing all the details.

The tour takes you through the prisons, offices, and court rooms. Our guide was fantastic, as I'm sure they all are, telling us about the history of Venice, the way the government worked, the importance of each room. The heart of the tour is Casanova's story of his arrest, imprisonment, and escape. His experience makes the perfect story for taking about how the prisons worked and how rare it is for someone to have escaped. The prison cells and even the offices are small. The tour ends in two very pretty decorated rooms. You feel impressed.

The tour ends in the Golden Staircase, and from that point on your mind begins to get scrambled. room after room is bigger, more stately, more frescoes, larger reliefs. It's a barrage to the senses after being in the small rooms with short doors (so the prisoners would have to bow and be humbled).

The one down side was that we had a half hour to do the endless maze of rooms. We had been walking for three hours already and we're getting tired, so it didn't matter in a way. There were rooms for the senate, council of 10, the Great Chamber, and many others. There were rooms just for armor, swords, and other battle gear. Then more jail cells that kept coming and coming. Some of these cells are at water level, and since Venice does flood every day, you can imagine how sucky it would be as a prisoner in one of those. Finally, we made it back to the great courtyard.

We scampered off to get out laundry as the clock struck 12. They closed at 12:30 for the day, so we didn't have much time. San Marco was transformed into a tourist mob. People everywhere, tour groups all over, and barely space to squeeze through. We made it in enough time for Todd to have his pants and shirt pressed, too.

Then, it was time to eat. We didn't want to push ourselves too much without food. We tried the restaurant near the laundry, but when I said I was vegan and tried to Dominicans what that meant, the waiter, said "pasta with fish." Maybe not. We  found a busy restaurant and asked the hostess outside if they had vegan options. She rambled off such a list of delicious options that we couldn't resist. Suitably, the restaurant was called Trattoria Casanova. When I told the waiter I was vegan, he suggested an appetizer plate with bruschetta, olives, grilled veggies, and melon. It was delicious. The flavors just made me moan with culinary happiness. I ordered pesto pasta with veggies, and Todd ordered pizza with ham, olives, artichokes, and mushrooms. Both of our dishes were decadent. So far, my favorite meal.

Instead of dealing with the crowds, we went on a shopping excursion. Todd wanted to check out the hat store, and there were many little shops we had been noticing. It was a pleasant afternoon as we headed towards the Accademia bridge and back home.

We packed up out suitcases for tomorrow's departure and decided to head out for more window shopping. Then, it was time to spiffy up for the gondola ride and our final Venice dinner. The wedding dress and suit made a Venice appearance!

We are right near the Accademia Gondola station, so we stood in line to wait for the next one to arrive. It's hard not to get sentimental in a gondola, especially since I've never had a romantic partner to do these sorts of touristy things with. Our very friendly gondolier took us through our own Dorsoduro area, where he said most local Venetians live. The canals were so quiet, and the sun was starting to set. It was simply contentment. Our gondolier was not overly chatty, but he did talk to us about Venice, talk a bit about what we were passing, and he ended the ride by taking us on to the Grand Canal.

He dropped us off not far from the Rialto because that's where we thought we'd head for dinner. I thought Todd should see it before we left. As we made our way on the streets, we had our eyes out for a restaurant for dinner. I heard the noise of diners and plates before we hit the restaurant. It was packed full and didn't look like many tourists. We asked about vegan options and again got great options, so we sat down. It was a great meal in an eclectic and fun restaurant. Todd had caprese salad followed by a Venetian special dish of polenta with a creamed white fish and roasted veggies. I had vegetable soup followed by spaghetti with olive oil, garlic, and chili. Delicious.

We then made our way to the Rialto. Nothing says romance like men trying to force roses in you or massive construction jackhammer on the bridge. So the Rialto was a dud. We took the vaparetto back to the Accademia and headed home to finish the packing for tomorrow.

Next stop: Florence!

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