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Report 1968: A Month in Venice

By BJinNM from New Mexico, Fall 2011

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Page 15 of 28: October 18, 2011 Off the Beaten Track

photo by BJ Firestone

Isola di San Pietro

Today was another Brunetti walk day. Thank you, Donna Leon, for creating our friend Guido. I still look for him around every corner I turn in Venice. This was Walk Number 10 in the Brunetti Walks book called "Remote Venice." It takes in the eastern end of the main Venetian island. The start of the walk was about 10 minutes from our apartment and we noticed the further east we got the less people we saw. By the time we got to the start of the walk which was the Celestia stop, there was also no one around. We wandered in and out of calles and sottoportegos, and then in front of us was an unassuming looking church called San Francesco della Vigna.

The front was not open, but when we went around to the side, that entrance was. There were one or two other people in it at times, but at other times we had it all to ourselves. The inside was absolutely stunning. The light coming in and the colors of the paintings and scluptures was amazing. In the Sacristy there was even a Bellini painting. There are some lovely enclosed cloisters which are full of greenery and just in general we were blown away by this hidden gem.

We continued our walk, again through empty streets, until we got near the Arsenale where the crowds started again. The Arsenale was originally the shipyards of Venice when Venice was a naval superpower in the Mediterranean and beyond. Up to 16,000 people were employed there and a ship a day was turned out. It is now almost exclusively used for military purposes and most of it is not open to the public. When we took our lagoon tour in 2008, the marine biologist had his office in the Arsenale, and took us back into it and around it, but it is usually off limits to the public.

We went to the Museo Storico Navale next which is the museum of the history of the Venetian Navy. It is in a vast building and has even taken over the church next door. There was a lot to see and read about but my favorite thing was seeing a model of the last Bucintoro or Doge's barge. Having read a book about the history of Venice before we came we both were looking forward to seeing this opulent vessel.

We were getting hungry by this point and so turned down Via Garibaldi which is the widest street in Venice. However, it wasn't always a street. Until Napoleon filled it in, it was a wide canal that cut through this area of Castello.

As we walked up this street we came across Al Garanghelo #2 restaurant. This one is run by the brother-in-law of the owner of the one in San Polo. Like the one in San Polo, it is a small, neighborhood place where "everybody knows your name." The people were very friendly and we, again, had a great meal. We started off with a mixed seafood antipasto which had squid, baccala (salt cod), two kinds of shrimp, a baby octopus, sardines with onions, anchovies and polenta. We then split a seafood risotto which was so good it made me promise never to make another risotto because it couldn't compare. For our dolci (dessert) we had homemade tiramisu and then coffees. It's a good thing we weren't finished our walk yet.

We continued up Via Garibaldi and crossed over to Isola di San Pietro where the Chiesa San Pietro di Castello is. This was the first and main church in Venice after the Venetians left Torcello. It remained the main seat of the church until Napoleon decided he wanted San Marco to hold that distinction. The church was interesting from an historical point of view but the church we had seen earlier that day was so spectacular neither of us can remember much about the inside of San Pietro di Castello. The isola is lovely, and very quiet, again with almost no people around. I think we saw as many dogs as we saw people.

We caught a vaporetto at the stop on the island; but, since we didn't care, we took it in the opposite direction than we needed to go. This resulted in us going to Guidecca Island, around the cruise docks, into the Grand Canal, through the Cannaregio Canal, and out into the Lagoon in order to get to the Fondementa Nova. It was a great way to spend an hour. We love having the vaporetto passes so we can do things like that.

On the walk home from the vaporetto stop, we went into the neighborhood bakery for our breakfast pastries. They had fresh made potato gnocchi so we bought four etti of the gnocchi and I cooked that with a pesto sauce and a tomato salad for dinner. I don't know how we managed to eat anything but we apparently were able to finish all but a very little bit.

Tomorrow we take the train to Padua and will stay overnight there. It's a good thing we had made all the arrangements ahead of time because I am not sure we would have wanted to leave Venice otherwise.

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