Monday, November 2, 2015

Italy Day 5 - Venice: Gondalas & Squid Ink

Without getting into any sort of graphic details, let us say that Kerri had a very bad night last night. She came down with some sort of stomach bug that was kind enough to give her a lot of night-time exercise, hustling back and forth between the bed and the bathroom.

Despite how sick she was, she was a trooper and joined us for the day's activities. Again, I do not wish to become overly graphic, but the day, as it dawned, posed some daunting challenges.

Actually, the day dawned beautifully. This was not the challenge I was speaking of.

Kerri was better, but still not well. I was able to locate a pharmacy and through a brilliant display of charades, describe to the pharmacist, who spoke no English, what Kerri's problems were and get her the proper medication.

At least, I assume it was the proper medication. The package was entirely in Italian and the little Italian I had learned in preparation for the trip did not include advanced medical terminology. A mistake I will not make on any future travels because that game of charades was graphic and drew quite a crowd of interested onlookers.

Italy is also, as a whole, not as inclined to offer public restrooms as America is. If you are able to find one, it is likely to cost money, to have no toilet seat, and to have no toilet paper.

Kerri prepared herself for the day's challenges and we set off for a tour of Venice with our local guide, Anna, a charming old lady who whisked us through the quiet residential back streets of Venice and explained, in a resigned, sad way, how the tourism industry was destroying the island where she was born and raised.

It was an inspiring tour.

I was happy to see that the free beers were still readily available. Some, however, were more difficult to reach. After Anna's maudlin story of how my vacation was destroying her life, I did not let a small swim deter me from free beer.

Some residential houses with family boats parked outside.

A scene that doesn't show up on the postcards too often for some reason. All garbage is collected and hauled off the island. Eventually.

Venice is an island in the Adriatic Sea and, as such, is subject to tides. I assume this ladder was propped here to assist in any tidal related emergencies.

I don't know how it would help, but I'm sure it would try.

Time and tides take their toll on the facades of many houses.

More free beer!

There are also many, many tiny shrines along the streets. This one was installed many years ago when the crime rate shot up a bit. It was hoped that in case of emergency, people could break the glass and receive divine assistance. Or, possibly, I misunderstood Anna as she explained that. She had a very heavy accent and tended to weep as she talked.

Drinks for the non-beer-drinkers were provided occasionally, as well.

But not as occasionally as the beers. Woo Hoo! I LOVE THIS CITY!

I desperately wanted this lady to:
A. Shake a fist at us and tell us to stay off her lawn.
B. Throw us a few Euros and ask us to run to the cafe and get her an espresso
C. Both of the above.
Sadly, she did:
D. None of the above. She just looked at us sadly, reminding us, without words, that tourism is destroying her beloved home.

As Kerri wasn't feeling well still, she didn't share any of these beers with me. Her loss.

She didn't even want to share the ice cream cone I found. that just shows you how poorly she was feeling.

We wandered along the beautiful, quiet back streets of Venice, absorbing the culture and the free beer. Our immediate destination was St. Mark's Square, a giant, damp piazza dominated by the Basilica San Marco.

Some of the streets are very narrow. This caused slight pedestrian traffic jams when I stopped to collect my free beers.

Gorgeous canals.

More gorgeous canals. Or, possibly, the same gorgeous canal, but looking in the other direction. I can't remember. Maybe I should have laid off the free beers.

We were warned about rouge gondolas that hide under bridges and lured unsuspecting tourists to their deaths with promises of discount gondola rides. Nice try, gondola.

I'm assuming that a couple ten-year-old neighbor kids built this between their bedrooms when their parents weren't looking.

Kind of puts your doorbell to shame, doesn't it?

Here is the rare and elusive Venetian garbage truck. Really. With no motorized vehicles, this is how everything is moved through the city. This really is a municipal garbage truck.

The tide was coming in as we neared San Marco.

Through one final narrow street and then...
We sloshed into Piazza San Marco.

This is what we were assured was "a small line" of tourists waiting to enter the church.
The Piazza is a gigantic square, surrounded by impossibly huge buildings including the Basilica and the Doge's Palace, formerly the home of the Duke and connected to the city dungeon by the famous Bridge of Sighs. It is said that prisoners, crossing the bridge between the palace and the prison, could look out the small window and sigh as they had a last glimpse of Venice before their stay in the dungeon.

We were fortunate enough to be able to avoid the lines and head right into the Basilica. Once again, there was no photography allowed inside but it was a spectacular church made even more memorable because as the tide continued to rise, there were places inside the church that were under a foot and a half of water.

Raised ramps had been placed throughout the church and outside the church so people could stay somewhat dry.

A stunning mosaic, guided with gold, adorns the doorway.
Venetians are hearty people and a little water does not deter them from having a thriving, if soggy, sidewalk cafe. The waiters wore knee-high rubber boots. For real.

We had wandered off for a bit to find a bathroom and were forced to slog through 8 inches of brackish water to return to our group.

With soaking wet socks, shoes, and shins, we headed off for the big one...

Gondolas are strictly a tourist affair in Venice. The only time Venetians use them is for weddings. Tourist trap or not, I've always wanted to ride in one - to glide slowly down The Grand Canal as a beefy tenor belts out "O Sole Mio".

As an added treat, our tour group was supposed to have musicians accompany our gondola rides. With 40 people in the group, we were split among 7 gondolas. We were the lucky group to have the musicians aboard our boat!

My cold, wet toes curled with unbridled joy.

We lined up at the gondola docking station, which bore a terrifying resemblance to something out of Disney World, and awaited our ride.

Waiting in line is the national pass time in Italy.

That one is ours! That one is ours! Kerri and the kids refused to join me in my Tippy-Toe Dance of Exceeding Joy™.

All gondolas, by law, are black. True fact. But each gondolier is allowed to pimp out the trim in whatever way he sees fit. We had a sweet ride.

I had a big, stupid smile on my face the whole time. Kerri tried not to die. She was still feeling pretty rotten, I'm afraid.

 We climbed onto out gondola and eagerly awaited the musicians who were supposed to join our boat. We were slightly aggrieved when a young tourist couple climbed aboard. We started off on our ride a bit deflated that there would be no music.

But then...

just as all hope seemed lost...

The guy unzipped the black satchel he was carrying and pulled out an accordion!

Accordions, I fully realize, are not generally heralds of great joy. Generally, they are harbingers of auditory suffering, but not here. Not in a gondola.

I was delighted and my smile threatened to split my head in half.

Yay! They were musicians in disguise!
The kids also enjoyed it. Tori requested a Taylor Swift song, but the accordion player feigned deafness. Smart man.

The music rang out and we began our wonderful cruise through the canals of Venice.

I couldn't get enough of the doorways that open right into the water.

These Japanese tourists tried to enjoy our music for free. I slipped our gondolier 5 Euros to torpedo their boat. He did not.
"Ha ha!" he said. But he wasn't even talking to me. Our gondolier, as with most of the others, was talking on his phone the entire time he was rowing us around. He seriously never acknowledged us at all. And he never fired the torpedoes.

The lobby of this hotel opened right into the canal. If you don't pay your bill, you have to walk that purplish plank.

This is the beer that got away. I tried and tried, but I missed it.

The name of this place translates to "great site". And I guess it is if you are a fish.

These people also took advantage of our musicians. I tried, in vain, to get our gondolier to fire the torpedoes. He never even looked at me.
The gondoliers use the walls and window sills to push off of.

Our ride took us out along The Grand Canal and, joy of joys, the musicians broke into O Sole Mio and I dissolved into a tingly puddle of overwhelming contentment. I made a video of it (them singing; not me dissolving - don't be silly), but for some reason videos don't work here on my blog. Sorry about that.

After our gondola ride, we had a brief time of freedom before we had to get to another boat.

We checked out this drab, dreary church.

It might be nice if they found some way to make them interesting to look at.


Graffiti. No, please, tell us what you really think of the tourists.

Venetian pizza and a gallon of wine. (Just kidding - it was only 3 liters.)

The main drag of Venice.

More of the main drag. The dock on the lower left side of the picture is a bus stop where the Vaporettos pick up and discharge passengers.

We boarded a taxi with our tour group and were whisked to the tiny island of Muarno for a demonstration of the centuries old tradition of fleecing tourists - I mean - glassblowing.

I am genuinely enthralled with glassblowing and was looking forward to this. We arrived at a very high-end glass factory and were given a brief demonstration of glassblowing before we were herded into the showroom for a much less brief sales-pitch followed by a mandatory shopping experience that allowed no possibility of escape.

Unless you were really, really, desperately sick.

Oh, Kerri? Aren't you really, really, desperately sick?

In fact, she was still feeling very badly. She had soldiered on through the day, but was exhausted and  queasy.

Rather than enduring the enforced shopping expedition, we hopped in a water taxi and headed back to our hotel. Along the way, we saw more of the non-tourist Venice.

The local hospital, complete with emergency room ambulance boat dock.

And, an ambulance.

A random kayaker.  Probably searching for that beer I missed.

We got back to the hotel and Kerri dragged herself to bed. She was better, but exhausted. the kids and I went out to walk around and grab some dinner. We wandered fr and wide, as I was on a hunt for a local specialty that I needed to try. We wandered from restaurant to restaurant, scouring the menus until finally, I found it!

Spaghetti with squid ink! Yum.
The kids, unimpressed with the local specialty, begged me to let them sit at a different table. At another restaurant. So they wouldn't have to look at my "disgusting abomination of a meal". Naturally, I forced them to absorb some local culture by watching me eat it.

Alex traveled 4,000 miles and ordered formaggi maccheroni e quattro.
Macaroni and cheese.
The kid ordered macaroni and cheese.

Tori had some wonderful homemade gnocci.

I accidentally took this alarming close-up of Alex's mouth and just thought I'd share it.
You're welcome.
The restaurant was at a busy intersection where the tourist world and the local world crashed and borders blurred. We seemed to be the only tourists, though they flooded past us on the street in a never ending tidal wave. It was a wonderful meal.

After dinner, Tori decided that she had had enough for the day and we went back to the hotel with her.
Alex discovers the dangers of texting in Venice.

Alex and I decided to head back out and get ourselves good and lost.

It turns out that getting good and lost is extremely easy in Venice. We spent a great couple of hours together wandering through tiny alleys, along quiet streets, and through nearly deserted residential neighborhoods. It was a fun glimpse into the non-tourist parts of Venice.

Many parts of the city that seem deserted during the day came alive at night. Many restaurants don't open until late in the evening ,when they are crowded with locals grabbing dinner and drink after a difficult day of avoiding throngs of tourists.

These structures, built in corners are very common throughout the city. They were installed to keep men from peeing in the corners. They don't work. Don't ask me how I know that.

The day's trash, ready for collection.

We wandered along the canals, up and down stairs and over some of the 400+ bridges that connect all the various islands that make up the city.

I could have walked all night, but eventually exhaustion caught up with us.

When we came upon this street art, we took it as a sign. Back to the hotel.

We made our way back to the hotel where Kerri was resting and feeling much better. We crawled into bed for tomorrow's early start to Pisa and Florence.

1 comment:

Betsy said...

Well isn't that a live global warming experience. I visited Venice in 1983 and St. Marco's was quite dry. Good thing you didn't delay your trip till retirement, they may be renting scuba gear by then to see the sights.

If you ever get nostalgic for another gondola ride, head down to Providence RI. They give great gondola experiences complete with good singing accompaniment. The gondolas come from Venice and one is an intricately carved wedding gondola. Nice memories...