Thursday, October 06, 2022

Three Days in Venice

Day 1: Chicago to Venice

When planning this trip, we had to decide where to go on our own before meeting up with Dad and Margaret. We don’t have long (thanks American vacation time), so I asked Todd what he most wanted to see. In choosing between Venice and Florence (one should never have to choose), Todd astutely said, “with climate change, who knows how long Venice will be here.” So, Venice it is. 

In a surprising turn of events, everything was on time in our travels. Security at O’Hare: speedy. First flight to Philly: on time. (We definitely got in our steps going from one gate to the next.) Second flight to Venice: on time. Venice Border/Customs: speedy. Aligaluna boat to our hotel: long line, but fast and efficient boarding (and a totally new water transit terminal). It was all a delightful surprise, which meant we arrived at our hotel too early to check-in. So we organized our day bags for a few hours of aimless wandering and went off to find lunch. 

The recommended restaurant was not yet seating for lunch (in fact, every time we’d try to eat here, they weren’t yet seating), so we found another restaurant near Teatro La Fenice. They had just opened, so we sat down in the pleasant alcove and let ourselves feel both tired and excited. The menu was a simple one, and my vegan choice was expected: pasta marinara. Yet, it was delicious and just the right welcome meal. 

My photographer eyes slowly woke up to all I love about Venice: the aging buildings, the textures of the old walls in various colors in contrast to the greenery and flowers everywhere. The people watching is just as interesting: people from all over the world mixing with the Venetians and Italian tourists. Let’s not forget the dogs and pigeons. 

Back at the hotel, we crammed into the little elevator to head up to our room on the third floor. More spacious than the hotel we stayed on our honeymoon, I laughed to see that it was still a red velvety wallpapered room. Is this a Venetian thing? We threw open the screenless windows to a light breeze and a quiet view to the next building and a small canal. 

Giving into the tired, we took a short nap (neither of us slept a wink on the plane, so we broke the cardinal jet lag rule). Closing the windows just enough so that pigeons didn’t fly in, we slept to the sound of the gondoliers rowing past outside, the slap of their oars, the chatter between them as they followed each other down the narrow canal. 

Refreshed, we dressed for an evening meander. People out for the passeggiata, tourists shopping, locals walking dogs. Just a regular Sunday evening. We stepped into the church of San Moise just to see, and come across a Tintoretto and an interesting altar piece of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments. Entering San Marco square, we hear the familiar sound of pigeons and pianos and people, the square not too flooded with people. 

Wanting to find the gardens, we meandered near the Doge’s Palace and along the Grand Canal. The gardens are tucked in behind all the souvenir vendors selling masks and hats  and all things Venice. A pergola runs down the center, and people telexed on the benches around the gardens. I particularly enjoyed the fragrant pink blossoms adorning the pergola. 

The thing about vacation is that you do things between eating. So, naturally, the question was: where are we going to eat for dinner? Which was definitely followed by: where will we get vegan gelato? Rick

Steves helped with the first question, and we headed towards a pizzeria chain called Rossopomodoro. With a vegan pizza and bruschetta on the menu, it made the perfect shared dairy-free meal for both of us. 

Todd engineered the answer to the second question, leading us towards a gelateria with vegan options. We zigzagged towards the Rialto and arrived to a serious line. When it was our turn, I told the staff woman in Italian that I was vegan, and she launched into a quick Italian response that of course I caught nothing of but Chocolate. Again in English, she told me there were four vegan flavors, and it wasn’t much of a contest. A scoop of chocolate raspberry and rice milk cherry. So, so good. 

Now fully satiated and jet lag kicking into high gear, we came back to our hotel. We made the mistake of opening the windows, hoping that keeping off the lights would keep out the mosquitoes. I found out at 2am from a determined buzzing near my ear that was not the case. 

Day 2: Venice

I’m familiar with my body on jet lag, so even though I hardly slept, I still felt ready for the day. I requested a vegan breakfast at every hotel, but I wasn’t sure what I’d find this morning. They had special vegan rolls with peach jam inside and soy blueberry yogurt. Perfect. We brought some peanut butter, so I added that to the roll. With an espresso and some fresh fruit, it was a champion breakfast. 

With no set plans for the day, we decided on a slow morning stroll. It was about 60F and a clear, blue sky day. Winding our way to San Marco, we pass by closed shops and cafes setting up for the day. We arrive in the square just in time for the clock to chime 9am. Just as we remembered from our last trip, it’s the hour for photo shoots: a woman in a tiara and poofy blue ball gown, a couple in wedding attire, a woman in a glittery gold gown. I’m not sure if they were all models, or if some were real people doing their own photo shoot. We stand in the Basilica line for a minute, but the church doesn’t open for another half hour, and Todd is already crashing despite the espresso, so instead we meander back home. The Grand Canal vendors outside the garden are just setting up, the garden closed. 

Back at the hotel, I drop Todd off and go for a photo walk, planning to meet up with him in an hour. Before the trip, I visualized what I wanted from my first vacation in three years: wandering the streets of Venice at a relaxed pace, photographing. And that’s what I did. I let the tiny lanes lead me to the Grand Canal for a photo of the Rialto, which was still in shadow. (Todd has requested a Rialto photo in full sun, as the one he has in his office is half shaded.) Atop the bridge, I find the same couple being photographed,  dogs and people walking past, all of us taking photos of them. The vendors selling roses are not yet out, and the bridge is relatively quiet. 

I continue my meandering, deciding to try to find the quirky Aqua Alta bookstore mentioned in guides. I pass by several small churches, whose facades you can only fully see staring up, the lane too narrow for a full-on view. Votive prayer candles glimmer in the quiet, as I walk through.

My walk leads me to the Campo San Maria Formosa, with its Scuola facade of marble and stoic lions. The church has a large sign, indicating the paintings found within, but I instead opt to keep outside. With no clouds in the sky and the sun starting to warm me up, I shed my sweater. I find the bookstore, intending to come back with Todd.

Meeting back up with Todd, we head towards the Accademia Bridge, treading our honeymoon steps. Our hotel in 2016 was in the Dorsoduro, and it feels a bit like coming to familiar stomping grounds. We pass by the Guggenheim, giving a passing glance to the Goldsworthy stone in the entry garden. The Basicala is wrapped in scaffolding, getting a cleaning or a facelift. Our destination, the contemporary art museum at the Punta della Dogana, looks out over the Grand Canal to San Marco. The north side is still shaded, and the moored gondolas bob with the choppy waters. At the tip, the sun is intense, glaring off the water. 

The museum proves an interesting experience, as the warehouse space is currently devoted entirely to Bruce Nauman’s work. It’s newish work in conversation  with a few pieces from 1968/1969. The works from past and present incorporate video, audio, performance art, sculpture, and according to Todd, “interrogates the Body in space and time, using image and sound through electronic mediums.” 

After an hour of interrogating art and admiring the views, we went in search of lunch. Outdoor tables are full, people settling in. Crossing back over the bridge, we find a table in San Stefano. Gnocchi with Tuna for Todd, pasta and veggies for me. Seagulls and pigeons fight over pizza crust, as we eat. 

At the hotel, we take a brief rest for our feet and backs, where the gondolas again return: this time with music! Afterwards, we did several food stops. First: a pasticceria with vegan pastries (frolla al farrow, cookie with a jam center for me). Then, a ciccheti stop for Todd (five different toasted breads with a traditional Venetian item on each); I ordered some bruschetta, fries, and my first spritz. Finally: a later dinner. The nearby vegan friendly restaurants were closed, and the Chinese restaurant did not have tofu dishes, so we found a restaurant with a free table and tucked into pasta. 

Back at the hotel, we collapse. Almost 20K steps for me, but still 15K for Todd. We sleep hard, no mosquitoes buzzing. 

Day 3: Venice

In choosing not to overbook ourselves, our mornings are delightfully unrushed. We enjoy breakfast, taking our time to get out in the day. I’ve been to Venice many times, but there are still so many new things. Yesterday’s museum at Ponta della Dogana was new to me, and today we choose the modern art museum at Ca’ Pesaro.

A short vaporetto ride later, with a great seat for Rialto photos, we hop off and walk the two blocks to the palace. Donated by an Italian woman for this purpose, I am reminded of how Peggy Guggenheim donated her home and collection. Women have done well for Venice’s art scene. 

While yesterday’s museum was a warehouse with one artist on exhibition, Ca’ Pesaro offers a selection of famous artists (and new Italian ones to us) exhibited under mostly preserved frescoed ceilings. Familiar artists: Rodin, Chagall, Klimt, Moore. New to me Italian artists: Zecchin, Rossi, Casaroti, Martini, Deluigu, Afro. Wildt’s sculptures really drew me in, but Bice Lazzari’s work (drawings, paintings, and collages) floored both of us. So much so that Todd ordered an exhibition book when we returned to the hotel. (Side note: it always annoys me when museums don’t have more postcards/prints of works for purchase—even a full

Permanent collection guide. We would have bought the shit out of that shop, but only spent 10E.)

After lunch at the museum cafe and a final hour of art, we headed back to the vaporetto stop. With no machine to purchase tickets, a frustrating half hour of trying to purchase tickets online and downloading an app resulted in the QR codes not being read by the machines. #technologyfail

We made it eventually to San Marco, where Todd bought a hat he had his eye on. Because he has great ideas, we then went in search of vegan gelato. I’m surprised at how uncrowded San Marco is, compared to the crowds of 2016. It’s still busy, but not like that. 

When we arrived in Venice, I noticed signs for Vivaldi’s concerts. Luckily, a local ensemble was playing the “Four Seasons” tonight, so I booked us tickets. (The opening of “Spring” played at our wedding when I walked up the aisle.) Of course, Italians start things late, so it was at 9pm. Held in a deconsecrated church with 8 ensemble members (all men this evening, though there’s one woman apparently in the ensemble), the audience was packed in. I usually listen to this piece, not watch it being performed, so it was a wonderful experience to watch the violins, viola, cello, and double bass play (couldn’t really see the harpsichord). The body movements of the musicians, their facial expressions, their fingers on strings, the bows doing their fine dance. A few other pieces were played after the “Four Seasons,” but not pieces that I knew. 

As I walked home at 10:30pm (Todd left at intermission as his back was sore in the chairs), the temperature perfect, I enjoyed my last view of Venice lit up at night.

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