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Report 1920: Rome, Tuscany, Venice & Amalfi for Beginners

By nikkihop from USA, Summer 2011

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Page 8 of 16: June 7, 2011 Day Seven: Venice

photo by nikkihop

Ascension by Anish Kapoor

DB woke up as I was preparing for my usual morning expedition to really get to know Venice in the early morning light. He could tell I was irritated by something from the previous day. I told him what happened and vented my frustration. Solid, loyal guy that he is, he got pretty fired up because he knows how much planning and worrying I did about putting a trip together that would please everyone, especially two college-aged girls. Then, it was me who had to talk him down off the ledge. We decided that I would be off the hook for the girls' last day in Italy and that he would entertain them, or rather follow them around while they decided what they wanted to do for the day. I was perfectly happy to have a day of sightseeing to myself. I left to explore, get some more cash, and have some breakfast.

I returned around 9:30am and DB and I showered and put on wet weather gear because the clouds we saw the day before came in with a fury and it was raining outside.  Having rethought the issue of having to entertain the girls by himself, DB began a major campaign to try and smooth things over and convince me to come with him and the girls. Huh. (Here's me thinking a bit uncharitably, "It ain't so easy, is it Mr. Internet Cafe").

His re-think began when I reminded him that DG2 had really only had one thing on her list for Venice -- to see some glass blowing on Murano. No one but DG2 wanted to take the 45 minute water bus out to the island, see some glass factories and then truck the 45 minutes back to Venice on their only full day in town. I was happy to be missing this little expedition and DB didn't want to do it either. Ever the problem solver, I told DB that Rick Steves recommended a little known glass blowing demo off St. Mark's square -- a compromise to the Murano round trip. The catch was that you had to flash your RS Guidebook to a guy in the shop below and beg entrance to the demo, which is normally a private affair for cruise passengers, with special exceptions made for RS devotees. DB looked at me with horror and said he wasn't going through all that rigamarole just to see some glass and that DG2 could lump it. I crossed my arms, raised my eyebrow and said "Welcome to the club of sacrificing what you want to do to make other people happy, my love." That's when the big "come with us" sales pitch started.

What can I say, I am a sucker.

First, we stopped off at the Trattoria all' Antica Sacrestia, a Rick Steves recommendation that was a block away from our hotel to make reservations for four for that evening.  The owner looked so pleased to have someone make a reservation, he said my name over and over as if committing it to memory instead of writing it down.  

Our next stop was Rick Steves' glass blowing demonstration.  We walked over to St. Marks Square, where the Galleria San Marco has a glass showroom. With my slightly guilty looking crew trailing behind me, I walked to the back of the shop, where a good looking Italian man stood with an FBI earpiece (not really ... I think it was a blue tooth) was guarding the back door. I said to him in my best Italian,"Mi piache Rick Steves. Vorrei vedere il demonstrazione, per piachere."  (I like Rick Steves.  I'd like to see the demonstration, please,"  or something to that effect, while holding out my iPad, which had been cleverly turned to the full-color cover of Rick Steves' Italy 2011 guidebook in Kindle e-book format).  The Italian James Bond chuckled, mentioned something about Rick and my charming Italian language skills and let us past the red velvet rope. (Okay, I think it was a chain).

We went across an alley, through a door, up some steps, and were met by another good looking Italian boy. He was dressed in tight, almost white jeans, a carefully unbuttoned-to-just-there shirt, and had a very smooth sales pitch.  He took us to see a brief glass blowing demo being given to paying tourists through various tour companies (ours were Japanese) where a master artist blew out a beautiful red horse with black feet and mane.  I felt smug because, for the bargain price of 12 dollars for Rick's book (which is worth its weight in gold), I got to make DG2's activity happen while saving everyone the 80 minute round-trip vaporetto ride out to Murano.  DB just looked at me with wide eyes and told me how glad he was to have me with him. I felt better.

The charming, very smooth as glass sales specimen of fine Italian genetics walked us slowly through the showrooms trying to get DB to buy his ladies a €4,000 blown glass fish or Picasso-like figure in profile, but with two eyes on the left cheekbone.  DGs just made eyes and smiles at said specimen and distracted him from his purpose of emptying our pockets.  Eventually, DB gave a last look around and said we had better go ... we'll think about the big fish ... and we became the tourist fishes that got away.  To be fair, I did buy a small Venetian glass and silver charm for my bracelet for €28 because it is beautiful, makes a lovely souvenir, and because I appreciated the red carpet treatment and free tour.  I recommend this glass shop for those of you who can afford some of those beautiful higher priced items.

We strolled around St. Mark's until we found a cafe selling Cokes and panini.  We bought two panini to share around and started to sit at a "free" table, only to be told by the cashier that if we sat, the price would be double.  We didn't sit.  We took our drinks and panini outside and sat on the steps, watching the rain and letting the girls decide what to do next.  

The girls had no idea. We sat some more. DG2 turned to me and said, "What do you want to do?" Oh, no! Not falling for that one. I said I would do whatever, or could go off on my own. Girls frown in thought. Nothing happens. Sigh. It rains some more. I look at DB, who is now carefully avoiding my eyes. Good Lord. "All right," I finally say, "Since it's raining, we can either see the Duomo and/or the Doge's palace, or we can hop on the vaporetto no. 42 and float down to see the Rialto and the Grand Canal. Rick Steves says the San Giorgo Maggiore church bell tower has a great view of Venice and it's not supposed to have much in the way of a line." Everyone jumps on my coattails and off we set for the vaporetto stop. (Can you tell I'm a little gun-shy at this point? Is this what it's like to be a mom? If so, you mothers have my sympathy. I'm not cut out for this.)

We ooh and ahh our way down the Grand Canal snapping photos and arrive at the island of San Giorgio and the church. We explore the church and take the elevator to the top and take some more photos.  Because of the rain, we didn't stay long at the top of the bell tower but saw Venice from across the canal looking stately and gray in the mist and rain.

On our way back through the church, we noticed several workers tinkering with a large white cylinder in the center of the nave.  It looked almost like a 6 foot tall white hockey puck-like altar.  As we were leaving, DB spotted a poster for Anish Kappor, an artist who was exhibiting a performance art installation in the church. Sure enough, just before we left, they got the complicated cylinder, which houses an amazing smoke apparatus, working.  The smoke from the cylinder rises up like a tornado and is sucked up by a large duct and fan placed in the dome of the nave.  The installation was titled "Ascension" and represented Mary's spiritual ascent into heaven. With the lighting in the white marble church, the whole effect was ethereal and really did look like a spirit rising to heaven.  It was beautiful and definitely goes down on my list of best serendipitous sights in Italy.

Full of wonder, we hopped back on the vaporetto for the short trip back to San Zaccharia.  We went briefly back to the hotel to freshen up, then walked down to La Serenissima for coffee and some wireless Internet and a snack.  Turns out, the only things they had for a snack were the usual formaggio, fish, and pasta plates.  We all really wanted coffee on this cool and rainy day, so we ordered three coffees, one black tea for DB, and then the fun started. We ordered one shrimp cocktail, one cheese plate (formaggio misto), one small plate of spaghetti and bruschetta.  Our waiter didn't even try to hide his disgust.  He actually refused to take the order at first.  Finally, and with face screwed up in anguish, he put in our order, but basically shamed us mercilessly for the 45 minutes we were there.  And yes, it was our foodie that ordered a cappucino and spaghetti, so I didn't feel so bad with my cheese and Americano.

Next, we split up - the girls to shop and DB and I to stroll down to the Rialto and ride the vaporetto number two back up the grand canal to Harry's Bar.  We didn't order anything, but peeked in just to see what all the fuss was about.  Then we all met back at the Trattoria alla' Antica Sacrestia for dinner.  We were met by the owner, who called out my name as if we were old friends and showed us to a table in a room wall-papered in old Venetian prints and artwork, wood-beamed ceiling and old wood furniture. Sugar-rimmed glassed of a campari apertif were served immediately as a house special.  We ordered the antipasti special, a seafood platter that came with baby shrimp in an interesting flavored mayonnaise, mussels, cabbage, calimari and assorted other items that I can't recall. It was delicious.  We ordered another bottle of cabernet.  I ordered the pasta of the day, a porcini and linguine pasta dish that was so full of flavor, it left me wondering what they do to our mushrooms back home that makes them so bland.  DB order a prosciutto pizza, which he says was the best he has had in Italy so far.  The girls both ordered salads and DG1 had the lasagna, while DG2 ordered a seafood pasta.  Great meal.  Lovely old world atmosphere.  It was almost too much when the owner presented me with a little gift of roasted, dried peppers and tomatoes as a parting gift.  Everyone should make a reservation here.  

After dinner, we took a final vaporetto trip down the canal at night so the girls could see the Rialto bridge at night and get one last gelato before their early flight back to college and home the next day.  I saw my first huge Venetian rat on the wharf, which thankfully was at least 10 feet away and quickly disappeared.  We boated back and went to bed.

Now, I know what you're thinking. We didn't see the Doge's Palace or the inside of St. Mark's Cathedral. How can you go to Venice and not see those things? I agree with you. I just wasn't prepared to make a fuss about it when I know the girls have little attention span or desire to see the inside of more museums and churches. DB couldn't care less. Someday I will go back. The peace of mind was worth the loss of the tours.

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