Back from Venice so will now play catch up from my last post...you'd best get a cup of coffee or something, this will probably be a long one!
So when last I left off, I had just gotten off the phone with my friend and was feeling sad for her loss, so wandered over to Piazza del Duomo, wanting to feel the energy of crowds. I arrived at about 10:15...to find that the Baptistry was open until 10:30 only! Rats, wish I had known it was to be open the first Sat evening of the month, I bet it is wonderful at night. Anyway, I sat on the steps of the Duomo and gazed on the exterior. Along comes an attractive, (cover your ears, Dave) I would go so far as to say hot, Italian guy to sit beside me and strike up a conversation. His name was Gabriele (does it GET any more Italian than that?!) He was very pleasant, although spoke little English. He had a good friend who studied in Toronto, and knew of Montreal...that seemed to be the extent of his knowledge of Canada. He asked I was here on business, or just holiday. I said just holiday. "With a friend?" he asked. "No, just me", I say. "So you are staying in a hotel?" "No, actually I rented an apartment", I say and immediately think to myself eek, shut up and stop telling strange men that you are here alone in a foreign city, and don't even have the security of hotel desk staff!! Goodness I have no common sense at all sometimes. But as I said he was very polite and friendly and I really had no feeling that he was asking out of anything other than curiousity and to make conversation. We chatted for a while and then I thought I best get on my way. "oh NO, Anna" he cries, "where you going?" I simply say that it was nice to have met him and start away. "Caffe?" He persists. No, grazie, I say and wave good-bye...at which point he gives up and shrugs with a smile, ciao Anna. (I find that non-English speaking people often are stumped by the name "Anne"...so now I just say Anna to avoid the confusion! I noticed this also when I worked at the university in Halifax...all the foreign students called me "Anna". Guess the silent "e" is purely an English thing.)
Next morning I get up early and head to the train station, excited to go to Venice and meet Maria. I buy a ticket on the next train, leaving in about a half hour. I just went second class, because the seats are quite comfy, they are plush, have a headrest, and recline slightly...why bother paying for first class. The train was very crowded, because it was Sunday, I guess. I arrived a couple hours before I thought I would, try Maria's cell and get no answer, so walk to the apartment to wait (she had sent me the directions.) When I got to the apt, I tried her phone again, she answered and then said I can see you - I turn around and there she in in the door of the apartment! How wonderful to meet in person, we hug and exclaim how it seems like we already know each other. She is so lovely and lively, I am SO glad I went to spend a couple days with her. How wonderfully generous of her to invite me!
I drop off my bag and we go to Casa Mia (I think) for lunch...a place recommended in Ruth and Shannon's Chow! Venice anyway. It was ok, my porchetta pizza was very tasty, but surprisingly we felt rushed, which is unusual over here. Then we just wandered around, window shopping and admiring the gorgeous, brilliant colours of the Murano glass ornaments, and works of art, everywhere. There was a stunning glass eagle with wings extended in flight that I would LOVE to have bought for Dave, but...eek, the price was over a thousand euro. We had a gelato and espresso during the afternoon, and then went to the 6:45 Mass at San Marco.
It is so beautiful in that basilica...the mosaic ceilings glowed in the light. We had a bulletin so I was sort of able to follow along, but of course still took my cues from Maria re when to stand and sit, etc. There were visiting priests from Poland, and a total of SIX priests presided over mass. Maria said that was very unusual, although also said that otherwise the service was VERY traditional. I enjoyed the service, and said prayers of thanksgiving all that I am blessed with in my life, prayers of love for family and friends, and prayers of comfort for my dear friend.
We had supper at a place called Promessi Sposi (4367 Calle dell'Oca) which had been recommended by a painter we passed in a calle, with whom Maria had a brief chat because we had been having trouble finding Casa Mia earlier and asked directions. She says she speaks only a little Italian - I would be happy if I could speak a fraction as well as she does! I had a delicious gorgonelli with fish, tomatoes and capers...and we had prosecco. As I promised my family, I raised a glass in their honour and thought of them celebrating Thanksgiving dinner at my mom's. (Monday was Canadian thanksgiving day for those unaware of that...although my clan was having the big dinner on Sunday.)
In the morning, we had espresso and a pastry, then went to the Billa (grocery store) for a few essentials. Also, Maria gave me a lovely gift that she had brought for me...I was so touched by this. She is such a warm and lovely woman. I say again how glad I am to have met her! The gift is a beautiful hand made (by an Apache woman) dreamcatcher in a very unusual heart shape, instead of the traditional circular frame.
We decided to follow an intinerary in Maria's guidebook to go see the seven Tintoretto Last Supper paintings in Venice. We had very limited success as many of the churches were closed. However, being in the neighbourhood of the Frari, we did visit that church. I am thankful for this. Titian's Assumption is one of my favourite paintings in the world...and it is indeed glorious in this setting for which it was created. Maria's favourite was the Bellini painting, which is also very beautiful and has some vibrant colours. We carried on to San Polo, which had a sign saying "Service. Tourists are not allowed to visit"...Maria poked her head in, said there was nobody inside, so in we went. Not being Catholic, I felt a big uncomfortable because of the sign, but glad to have seen the Tintoretto Last Supper. It was not a calm depiction of the last supper, there was lots of movement in the scene, including an apostle handing a piece of bread to a beggar on the floor, and Christ with both arms outspread handing out bread to the apostles.
We then wandered over to the Rialto, where we sat at the base of the bridge and had a glass of prosecco...there were no bellini-induced falls this time though (those who read Maria's blog will know what that refers to!) The waiter tried to charge us 30 EURO cover charge, can you believe that?! When challenged, he said that paper was the receipt left over from the last people at the table...but that was not true because he had cleaned everything off the table when we sat down. Yikes, check your bills carefully in some of these places! Tonight we dined at Vedova (6912 Cannergio, on Ramo Ca' d'Oro). I had delicious, melt in your mouth, liver and onions Venetian style, served with polenta, and a side dish of grilled vegetables. We also had wine, plus biscotti and vin santo for dessert (or a wine similar to vin santo, which I had not had before and found quite tasty for a dessert wine.) I called MVH and Dave when we got back to the apartment, and it was nice to hear their voices...I am missing them!!
I did not sleep very well on the single sofa bed the first couple nights. (But the third night, I doubled up the spare duvet and put that underneath me, and that was much better.) But after the second night, I was a little less energetic than normal, so hopefully was not too much of a drag as far as company this day. We were going to go to Torcello, but I cheaped out. I really have a hard time paying those vaporetto prices! Hopefully Maria was not too too disappointed, but seemed ok to check out the Canneregio area instead. We went to Madonna dell'Orte instead and I am so glad we did. Along the way, we came across Tintoretto's house, which was a neat surprise. We just saw the outside, but still fun to see the home of someone whose name is so familiar. The church, I think, was his parish church and is full of his paintings. It was fantastic to finally have a chance to really appreciate his amazing talent. Other paintings of his that I have seen have been so incredibly dark and I had never been able to make out many details. But this church was bright enough that I could appreciate the paintings. His "Presentation of the Virgin" especially was golden radiant with light...stunning and alive with light shining from within, that is the painting seemed lit from the inside out. Very beautiful. The "Adoration of the Golden Calf" stumped me...I have no clue what is the message of this painting! Guess I will have to look up this bible scene and find out what it is all about.
Next we wandered through Caneregio to the Gheto Nova and the Gheto Vechio (those spellings are what was on the signs...Maria said Nan told her that there are no double consonants in Venetian dialect.) There was a haunting monument to those murdered in the Holocaust. And the buildings are so tall for Venice. I read that because the Jews were not able to expland horizontally, because were restricted to the Gheto, they had no choice but to build upward. Although the stories are not as tall as in other buildings, that is the ceilings were lower so a six story building here would be shorter than a six story building elsewhere in Venice. (except I don't think there are six story buildings elsewhere in Venice!) We just wandered around for the afternoon, which I really enjoyed. It was nice to see this residential area, away from the tourist sections. We even found a little public park, where Maria had a nice chat with an older gentleman, who was soon to travel to Toronto and Australia with his choir.
We eventually made our way to the train station, where I bought my ticket back to Florence the next day (I could have stayed longer with Maria, but thought there is a strike scheduled for later in the week and did not want to take any chances on getting stranded. Plus I usually think it's better to part while I am wishing to have more time, than to overstay a welcome!) Then we sat under the new bridge for a while. It has a graceful curve to it, but seems too modern for this city, at least in my eyes. Along to Dorsoduro we next wandered, eventually sitting in a cafe by San Barnaba, where Maria treats me to a drink - I forget the name, but it is an apertif, with an orange flavour and frankly it was very yummy!! I could get used to having one of those before supper! We ate at a nearby restaurant called "Casin de Nobili"...which building was formerly a brothel for the nobility! Hence the rather risque picture on the placement (which I confess I took away with me to show Dave because you just wouldn't see such detail in a restaurant in Halifax!) Most excellent food here, I highly recommend it (even to fellow ST members, who sound to be MUCH more discriminating in their food experiences than I am!) I had garganelli con verdurine saliccia e zafferano (past with veggies, sausage and saffron). Oh my, it was good. And we split a big salad of lettuce, arugula, tomatoes, mozzarella, olives, corn, smoked ricotta and baby artichokes. I had tiramisu della casa con pesche noci e amaretti (tiramisu with peach and bitter bisuits), which was also incredibly tasty. We were joking that the desserts were so good, we wanted to lick the plates clean! All this for 30 euro each, including 1/2 litre of red house wine (which was a merlot), cover charge and tip.
We had a gorgeous stroll through Dorsoduro and San Marco sestieres after dinner, stopping in the piazza San Marco to listen to the orchestras (although there were only two and they were playing alternately instead of at the same time.) Venice is so lovely late at night when there are hardly any other people around, it is so quiet because of the lack of car noise...and not many boats travelling at night, so the hush is nearly complete. Footsteps echo, and a few voices raised in nearby bars, but otherwise just our own sounds.
Maria and I shared many conversations and stories over these couple days, but never felt like we had run out of things to say, which is a wonderful connection. On my last day, we had some fruit and biscuits at the apartment while we chatted, then sat at a restaurant and talked some more over espresso (maccialatte for Maria), until the time came for me to go to the station to catch my train back to Florence.
Maria, thank you again for sharing your apartment with me for these few days, I had such a wonderful time getting to know you and seeing some of Venice in your company (Although I know you won't read this until early November when you get back from your own travels in Venice and Spain.)
My train ride was uneventful. Although when I boarded, I was not 100% sure I was on the right train. When I bought the ticket, I had looked on the schedule and found the Eurostar heading to Rome...when I boarded, the destination was showing as Napoli. But I figured how many Eurostar are leaving Venice at exactly 14:43 and heading south...besides if it was the wrong train, I'd obviously end up someplace, where I would just get another train to Florence. The train system here is so extensive, one really doesn't get too worked up about these things. But after a while, an announcement played, saying that this train would have stops in Padova, Bologna, Firenza, Roma and then was terminating in Napoli. Ok, so it is the right one after all. Was nearly empty until Padova, and then only about half full the rest of the way. The seats immediately opposite and beside me were empty...the was one man in the seat diagonally opposite me. (Seats are clumped in sets of four - two seats facing two other seats.) The man across from me looked remarkably like Tom Jackson (a native Canadian singer and activist.)
And now...I am back in Florence. What an unusual and amazing feeling to arrive back in "my" apartment and feel the comfort of returning to familiar surroundings. Even the buzz of the vespas, and the bells of Santo Spirito have a familiar ring to them. And the golden glow of this city really warms my heart. I did not do much last evening, except stroll across the Ponte Vecchio, sit in the Loggia for a while, listening to the street musicians and then wandered up and sat on the Duomo steps for a bit, before meandering back to the Oltrarno and my apartment. I washed some clothes and hung them outside. Although it is not sunny today so heaven knows how long they will take to dry...oh well, I can wear my other jeans for a couple days while I wait! And do have spare t-shirts. NO, I am not planning to buy clothes! I have enough souvenirs already, both for myself and for others. (A couple in particular I am thrilled with.)
Off I go to...somewhere...to see...something...I have no plans for today. Maybe will take the 7 bus up to Fiesole, I have not been there before.