City Stories #5 – Venetian Visions


13 years ago this week, my wife Susan and I spent the first three days of our honeymoon in Venice, Italy.  There is no other city like Venice, and even other cities named Venice or theme park recreations lack the accretion of human construction over centuries that makes the entire city a colossal sculpture of water and stone.  Below are snippets of my favorite memories. If you enjoy this City Story, please check out my previous writings about Brooklyn, Derry, London, and Chicago.  

 

Arriving at Venice’s Marco Polo Airport, we took the Alilaguna water bus into the city. I quickly got acquainted with the lagoon when a wave of briny water splashed through the window and soaked my shirt.

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While Susan napped, I strolled blindly through Venice’s alleys ending up in Campo Santa Maria Formosa. Children were playing soccer in the square and I got involved by kicking back a ball that went astray.

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In the evening we consume cones of limone while listening to the orchestras on Piazza San Marco. We try to dance in the mostly empty square, but that inadvertently prompts every flower seller in eyeshot to approach us and aggressively try to make a sale.

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The next morning, Susan catches a glimpse of everyday Venice from our hotel window, watching a man and his dog pilot a work boat down the canal.

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On our walk through the city, we climb the spiral stair to the top of Scala Contarini del Bovolo . We are greeted by a slim, friendly gatto wearing a jewel-encrusted collar. The view here is more intimate than the Campanile, with views of tiny Venetian backyards and clotheslines.

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We visit  the Scuola Grande di San Rocco — home to a fraternal organization that performed charitable works for plague victims — and is richly decorated with religious art by Tintoretto. We enjoyed interpreting the religious themes in the dozens of giant canvases on the walls and carrying large mirrors to study the murals on the ceiling.

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As the sun begins to set, we walk to get a closer view of  La Salute Church. The approach included walking through a covered alley that felt like a dark tunnel. We emerged from the tunnel and found ourselves amidst twig-thin fashion models in a photoshoot. We are certain the photographer said, “Yes! Gauche Americans are exactly what this picture needs to make the cover of Elle!”

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We ride a gondola at night, and Venice looks just right from the water. In the darkness, we can peep in windows, look at the stars, and listen to the gondolier greet doormen and waiters as we pass. We laugh as the motion-sensor doors on one of the fancier hotels slide open as we glide by.

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The next morning while we’re eating our breakfast at the Hotel Riva, we the same fashion models from the night before posing for another photo shoot. The whole crew come into the hotel for coffee and pastries, but the models stay true to stereotype and refuse to eat anything. More tart succo di frutti and cherry preserve on rolls for us!

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On our final morning, we visit Basilica di San Marco, where the glimmer of  mosaic tiles shine in the darkened interior. After years of settling, the marble flooring rolls like the sea. The walls use many marbles of different colors — pink, green, grey, white — like a Neopolitan ice cream.

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Those are some of our memories of Venice. Have you ever been to Venice?  What do you remember most?

Honeymoon + 10: Day #3: From Basilica Di San Marco to the Dolomites


The third day of our honeymoon remembered….


 

 

 

Over breakfast we determine that pricey Venice has emptied our wallets, so Liam sets off in search of an ATM so we have enough Euros to pay our hotel bill. Right in front of Hotel Riva the same fashion models are posing for another photo shoot. The whole crew come into the hotel for cofee and pastries, but the models refuse to eat anything. More tart succo di frutti and cherry preserve on rolls for us!

Liam evades a bronze horse trampling.

Liam in his wisdom made online reservations to visit Basilica di San Marco, yet when arrive at the church there is no indication of where tourists with reservations can enter. There’s a long line of tourists waiting by one door and a long line of tour groups waiting by the other door. This causes Liam to have a hairee-gazairee. We end up standing in the tour group line until the guides for a Japanese group tell us that all we need to do is cut to the head of the line and go right in. So we do. The basilica is crowded with people pushing and ignoring the no photography signs, but when we can sneak off into an uncrowded spot we admire the basilica’s beauty. After years of settling, the marble flooring rolls like the sea. The walls use many marbles of different colors — pink, green, grey, white — like a Neopolitan ice cream. Up in the galleries we can view the glimmering mosaics up close. Finally we step out on on the loggia to stand beneath the bronze horses and enjoy a wide view of Piazza di San Marco. Despite this, crowd fatigue has us feeling cranky and anxious.

We retrieve our bags from the hotel and then take a vaporetto down the Grand Canal to the train station. After puzzling over the self-service ticket machines we eat an adequate lunch and then board our train. Despite having reserved seats, we find a group of pouty, young German women occupying our compartment. They don’t have reserved seats and try using “We are so exhausted!” as an excuse, but we’re still forced to evict them. Our train rolls northward while we nap, read, write and look out the window. Susan is delighted when two gentleman in our compartment get off at Verona. The train heads into a long dark tunnel and when it reemerges we are in a land out of Grimm’s Fairy tales – towering mountains shrouded in mist. Yet even among the mountains it appears that every spare patch of ground is filled with grapevines. We arrive in Bolzano and on the platform Liam tries to buy a snack from a vending machine but it eats his money. Susan goes into the adjacent newsstand and buys an apricot-jam croissant which they share on the train platform. It is the most romantic moment of the honeymoon.

After checking extra luggage at the train station and struggling to find the bus station, our journey continues to Kastelruth. A few miles out of Bolzano our bus leaves the autostrada and starts up a narrow, windy road. Soon the autostrada is just a thin ribbon of black in the valley below, but our bus keeps climbing up, up, up through verdant mountain passes. Then we turn a bend and for the first time see craggy limestone peaks towering still higher above us. Liam contemplates hiking these mountains: “We’re going to die!” We’re seperated on the crowded bus and the friendly woman seated next to Susan tries to let her know where to get off for Kastelruth, but Susan can’t understand. Several rows back, Liam is powerless to reassure Susan that we are riding all the way to the last stop. That stop is conveniently located right next to our hotel, so we head up the stairs where the hotelier (who we learn later is named Burgi) greets is by name. Susan is amazed but Liam figures we’re the only guests who haven’t checked in yet.

Susan admires the view from the balcony of our room at Hotel zum Wolf in Kastelruth.

Hotel zum Wolf is very modern with rusticated decoration and is neat as a pin. We’re amazed that our bargain hotel room is large and cozy with a balcony looking out over the Dolomites. Susan decides she does not want to leave Hotel zum Wolf. Ever. At the desk we extend our stay another night after our planned hike and Burgi reccomends a restaurant for dinner. Our meal at Ausserzoll restaurant may be the gustatory highlight of our honeymoon. Liam eats rocket waffles with gorgonzola mousse and spinach ravioli, while Susan savors champagne soup and frogfish. We wash it down with the local brew and afterwards the waitress treats us to grappa as a digestif. We head off to sleep feeling warm and happy.

Full photo album from Day # 3: Venice — Kastelruth

Honeymoon + 10: Day #2: Venice Walks


The second day of our honeymoon remembered….


Rooftops of Venice in the shadow of the Campanille.

In the early morning, Susan watches from our hotel window as a man and his dog pilot a work boat down the canal. After a tasty breakfast at our hotel, we follow walks around Venice from our Rick Steves’ guidebook. We start in Piazza di San Marco – home to Basilica di San Marco, the Doge’s Palace and the Campanile. We ride the elevator to the top of the Campanile where we can see the red-clay rooftops of Venice and clear views across the lagoon. After strolling the waterfront and seeing the famous Bridge of Sighs, we head off in dense web of alleyways toward the Rialto. En route we visit the 10th century Church of San Moise with its Baroque 17th century facade. Our guidebook tells us that during World War II the Nazis had there local headquarters next door to this church named for one of the great patriarchs of Judaism (the irony of this occurred to Liam two days later while hiking the Seiser Alm). Further along our meandering brings us to Scala Contarini del Bovolo where we climb the spiral stair to the top. We are greeted by a slim, friendly gatto wearing a jewel-encrusted collar. The view here is more intimate than the Campanile, with views of tiny Venetian backyards and clotheslines.

Liam peaks out of the bovolo (“snail shell” in the Venetian dialect).

After a stop for a cappuccino, we emerge onto the Grand Canal by the Rialto Bridge where we are reacquainted with the throngs of tourists. We cross the bridge and enter the arcades of the Rialto Market (Erberia) where vegetables, cheese, fish, leather handbags, and tourist junk is sold. Susan is delighted by a UPS delivery boat and piles of pallets on the quayside. For lunch, Susan eats a plate full of tiny squid and Liam cannelloni in a dark, atmospheric pub along the shopping street called the Ruga. We follow lunch with another helping of gelato. Continuing our walk, we visit the Church of San Polo, its small stone nave decorated with art by Tintoretto, Veronese, and the Tiepolos. Like New Orleans, Venice is always ready for Carnival and mask shops are frequent along the tourist paths. We stop in Tragicomica and try on some masks, but don’t buy. Our next stop is the Frari Church, a larger medieval/early Renaissance building containing both paintings and the tomb of Liam’s favorite artist Titian. Next door is the Scuola Grande di San Rocco — home to a fraternal organization that performed charitable works for plague victims — and is richly decorated with religious art by Tintoretto. We enjoyed interpreting the religious themes in the dozens of giant canvases on the walls and carrying large mirrors to study the murals on the ceiling.

After all that walking and art, it was time to rest with pizza and beer at a cafe by the Academia Bridge. It was delightfully refreshing until the wind picked up and we got too cold. We ducked back into the alleyways zigzagging our way toward La Salute Church. Along the way we stopped at a gallery selling intriguing works of art by an artist named Tobia Rava. We continued are walk into a covered alley that felt like a dark tunnel. We emerged from the tunnel and found ourselves amidst twig-thin fashion models in a photoshoot. We are certain the photographer said, “Yes! Gauche Americans are exactly what this picture needs to make the cover of Elle!” We returned to our hotel to rest and wash up for supper at Osteria de Carla. The fact that all the other diners speak English and clutch Rick Steves’ guidebooks embarrasses Susan but the food is tasty enough to bury Liam’s shame.

We conclude the evening with a gondola ride. Susan chats up the gondolier:

“Have you gone under all 460 bridges in Venice?”.

“Si, most of them!” He shows as Marco Polo’s house and the City Hall as we sail along tiny canals as well as a brief float on the Grand Canal. In the darkness, we can peep in windows, look at the stars, and listen to the gondolier greet doormen and waiters as we pass. The motion-sensor doors on the fancier hotels slide open as we glide by. Venice looks just right from the water.

We eat more gelato before returning to Hotel Riva for the night.

Susan waits for the gondolier to return to begin a tour of Venice’s canals by night.

Full photo album from Day #2: Venice.

Honeymoon + 10: Day #1: Arriving in Venice


My wife Susan & I recently celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary.  Looking at the website with all our wedding and honeymoon photographs, I discovered that I’d written a travelogue of our honeymoon in Venice and the Dolomites which I’d forgotten about.  In a sense, it was my first blog post; my blog before I had a blog.  A lot has changed since that time (as all the dead links can attest).  Ten years ago I was still using a 35-mm film camera and apparently brought very grainy film on the trip, so the pictures look like their from another era.  Still, it’s a fun time full of fond memories.

I thought it would be fun over the next six days to republish the travelogue and some of the best photographs in blog format. Happy Anniversary, Susan!


Rio di San Giulliano flows by Hotel Riva carrying gondolas and work boats.

We flew overnight aboard Alitalia, our cabin served by handsome bald flight attendants, one who said to Liam “Look at my face!” and apologized for the plane not having vegetarian meals, but did a good job filling Liam up with salad and cheese. During a layover at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport we sipped cappuccino alongside nattily-dressed Italian businessmen and Susan napped. Arriving at Venice’s Marco Polo Airport, we rode the Alilaguna water bus into the city. Liam got acquainted with the lagoon when a wave of briny water splashed through the window soaking his shirt. We disembarked at Piazza di San Marco, pushing through its crowds of tourists and pigeons to get to our lodging at Hotel Riva. Once checked in, Susan napped and Liam strolled blindly through Venice’s alleys ending up in Campo Santa Maria Formosa where he kicked a soccer ball back to a local youth. Reunited at the hotel, we headed out for supper at Antica Sacrestia. Following a tasty meal, we search for gelato and happily consume a cone of limone while listening to the orchestras on Piazza San Marco. We dance in the now depopulated square until accosted by flower sellers.

Susan and Basilica di San Marco are romantic by night.

Full photo album from Day #1: Venice.