March 8, 2012

Venice, Who Knew?

Well, okay- to be fair apparently everyone knew but us!  

We had thought that someday we should make a trip to Venice but it never made it very far up the wish list.  There were all those stories about the filthy water and the expense and the fact that the whole city was sinking and fetid.  

Lies lies and more lies. 

Well, okay- to be fair it is really expensive and it remains to be seen if the sinking has really been arrested, but the water is no longer the stew pot it was 20 years ago and is reliably scrubbed by daily tides...

So once again we ventured into a land where we do not speak the language, taking our usual care to learn please, thank you, and I'm sorry- the three things we can speak in every language we've encountered.  Especially the last.  Mi dispiace (me dis-pee-ah-chay) a thousand times for all the misinformation I've believed about Venice. 

The city is magical and is certainly one of our all-time favorites!

We were smart enough, or lucky enough, to decide to go during Carnevale (pre-lenten festivities) - five days of Carnevale and four days of blessed peace after all the Carnevale revelers left.  It was a perfect split. 

For Carnevale, people dress in costumes- everything from Casanova and his lady loves to Pooh Bear and Mickey Mouse.  Masks are always a Venetian staple as souvenirs, but during Carnevale you can choose one and wear it without a costume day and night if you like. 

Here's a sampling of some costumes...

(note the tourists in the background of this first shot, with their masks 

 on their heads...)

and then a shot of one of the widest streets/sidewalks on the day before Fat Tuesday... it was a very international crowd- people walking left right and center speaking a half dozen languages and with varying needs for personal space.  

After the first 24 hours we started knocking into people the way they had been knocking into us, since our cultural need for some personal space was clearly not ever going to happen.  

Occasionally we would just stop and force people to move around us since everyone considered their chunk of sidewalk proprietary and we got tired of making way.  

The best way to deal with the crowds of Carnevale is to stop at every 5th shop and buy a small cup of hot wine.  It does wonders for your disposition and people are slightly more careful around you when you are holding a hot, red beverage. 

The people watching was stupendous, and thankfully Venice has no shortage of outdoor tables where you can sit (often in the sun) and sip more wine and just mock... er... admire the passing parade. 

I also claim Smartypants status for this trip re: public transport.  Soon after arriving we stopped by the ACTV ticket booth to check on possibly getting 'bus' tickets to get around.  They offer single tickets, day passes and weekly passes.  The prices are discounted as one would expect when you purchase more time.  I advocated for weekly passes and prevailed... best idea I've had for a long time.  

Bus travel in Venice is by wide flat boats. 

Venice Bus Boat

There is seating inside and out, plus a large area for people to just stand if they are only going one or two stops.  

The boat pulls up to a bus stop, usually banging it pretty good and the conductor throws a rope out and opens the waist high gate and everyone who wants off goes, then everyone who wants on comes.  

The stop rarely lasts more than 30 seconds and you're off to the next one.  

All the bus stops are floating docks with walls to shelter you from wind and/or rain.

Here's my scale model...

...waiting for the bus

We used those bus tickets like crazy.  Hop on hop off, walk four miles out... take the water bus back to the hotel.  

We took the water bus out to Murano Island where they make and sell Venetian glass and where we had the best lunch we've had for a very long time. Picture a place full of Italians on legitimate lunch breaks and only a handful of dopey tourists like us, eating pizza with the freshest ingredients ever and pasta made by people who know how.  

Our hotel was right on the Grand Canal, another opportunity for me to claim Smartypants status.  I told Ted if we were going to do Venice, we were going to do it right and I booked a hotel not only on the Grand Canal, but steps from the Piazza San Marco which is ground zero for Carnevale.  He balked when I did it, but now agrees that I can be Head Smartypants. 

The hotel was formerly owned in the 1500s by a family who was apparently tried and convicted of some treason or other...but now it looks like this:

Click on it to make it bigger and you can see our room.  We were right above the G in Regina on the 3rd floor (4th floor in America).  

And as you look at the picture you say to yourself, "Hey! There's no road.  Did they arrive by boat?" 

Well, yes and no. 

We arrived by really super crowded boring slow boat filled with jet lagged tourists from all over the world that left from the airport docks and cost us 15 euros apiece.  Bleah.  It dropped us and the other Smartypants hotel bookers off at the Piazza San Marco and we headed for the hotel on foot.

Family Rule #1 since the beginning of time: If you can't hump it, don't bring it.  So we were okay for luggage because we never have more than we are willing or able to carry for a mile or two and we knew it wasn't that far.  

Although we had no idea in which direction it was that we didn't have to go far to. 

I spotted an information office on the Piazza, and we did Rock Paper Scissors to see who got to be the dopey tourist with the stupid question and poor language skills.  

I lost.  

Ted stood with the luggage while I went inside and showed the nice lady my reservation sheet.  She told me "Italian Italian Italian, Tesselini, Italian Italian.  Over bridge Italian turn left Italian then left again."

I smiled, trotted out my best 'Grazi' and backed out of the office. 

Ted said, "Okay! Where do we go?" 

I said, "Okay! I dunno." 

Fortunately he laughed and I used the pause to look around frantically for Tesselini which turned out to be the name of a street nearby.  I faked some confidence and told him "This way."

Luckily there was a bridge right away and when we crossed it and turned left there was an actual sign for our hotel leading down what, in our previous experience, would have been a back alley...

...that's the hotel sign in the right center of the picture and we took two of these street/alleys before suddenly popping out onto a little campo in which was located the front door of the Hotel Regina and Europa.  

TaDa!  We had arrived.  

And this is how we knew we were in Europe...

Our son's favorite (NOT) part of Europe has always been the phone booth elevators.  So this shot is for him.  Airplane bathrooms have nothing on these guys.  A porter had taken our suitcases to a service elevator, and good thing, because the pair of us barely fit in this one. 

Scale model demonstrating European elevator.

We used it to go up, but came down the stairs every time... too claustrophobic even for lazy people to use going down.

From our Front Row Seat Room, the windows of which were rarely closed, Sunday morning about 10am, we heard music.            Italian music.  

We looked out the window and saw variations on this theme...

Remember, [almost] all the pictures are bigger when clicked.

They were having Carnevale boat races right outside our window.  Mickey and Minnie won this one.  Off camera to the left was a larger flatter boat with the race committee and large speakers playing atmospheric music.  

Three races and they were done, among much happy yelling in Italian.  :)

Meanwhile, on the Piazza San Marco... there is a huge open space in the area around the Campanille (giant bell tower) and the Doge's Palace (where Casanova was once imprisoned and escaped), and a statue to Saint Theodore, who was patron Saint of Venice until he was dumped around 800 A.D. for St. Mark.  

So here for your viewing pleasure is a picture of St. Theodore and Regular Theodore, together for the first time. 

Up on the plinth with the Saint is a big lizard or something... we are unclear about his lore, but I prefer my Theodores regular anyway so...

At this point in our tour, I will just put up some pictures.  We took over 500 but even I understand that would be too many to share, so I grabbed some highlights.

The Campanille at Piazza San Marco

Get a fresh apple as you walk...

Canalside, Piazza San Marco

From a bridge...

From another bridge...

,,,and yet a third...

These are called 'sotoportego' - through buildings...

Wow.  Just wow.


One of hundreds of tiny campos.  Sit, order wine, rest.

We would get to a spot like this and say...what's around that corner?... and we'd be off for another mile.  We couldn't resist.

Saturday morning after Friday kegs.  :D

And that's your whirlwind tour of Venice by picture.  If you're a glutton, ask me to see the other 485 some day.  

Finally, a quick shot of my scale model getting us the most delicious Italian Salami sammiches while I lounge in a window table admiring my lushly Venetian surroundings.  This truly is a magic city...

We had to say good bye eventually, but we were determined not to repeat the slow boat to Venice we arrived on, so we asked for a taxi and it pulled up right outside our room.  We reluctantly entered what we knew to be our last Venetian boat and gazed pathetically out the back for as long as we could...

Ciao Venezia!