Thursday, July 7th
We left hotel London not too early Thursday morning to catch a train to Venice. On the way out we were aiming for breakfast somewhere along Via Dante again. The first priority was coffee for the wife. Milan is very metropolitan (1) and not as touristy as the other places we went. There were many business people headed to work so we were a little out of place. Fortunately, ordering coffee is fairly straight forward. "Un caffe, per favore," my wife said. You mean "Uno caffe?" Yes, she thought that's what she said. They brought her a cup that looked like it came from a child's tea set, only smaller. See "caffe" in Italian is more like Cappuccino. If you want more than 2 oz. of fluid you have to order "caffe Americano," as if we didn't look enough like tourists. So we said "grazie" and moved along.
The next stop was a bar for some real breakfast. No, not the acoholic kind of bar. Italians seem to like eating their breakfast standing at a bar so it kind of makes sense to call the restaurant that. The polite workers behind the bar spoke a little English and were able to describe the array of sandwiches they had behind the glass. They failed to describe that no one eats those for breakfast. We didn't figure that out until after we ordered and they took the trays of sandwiches out and covered them with plastic. No, Italians eat croissants and other assorted sweet rolls for breakfast, and Nutella. But they didn't laugh at us for ordering lunch for breakfast, at least not to our faces, and I actually enjoyed it. It was local and not touristy.
After lunch for breakfast we walked a little farther back to Statzione Centrale to hop the train to Venice. We saved a few Euros by buying tickets for a regional train instead of the faster Eurostar trains. The savings cost us about an extra hour train ride, for a total journey time of 3.5 hours. So off we went about 11:30am. Despite our 2nd class train tickets, the ride was quite comfortable. We weren't guaranteed seats with out tickets but we got on the train early enough that we didn't have a problem. First come, first serve.
The small train station in Venice (2) is on the north end of the fish-shaped island. The terminal exits right onto the grand canal (3-5) where hundreds of mostly tourists are jamming past each other going between the station and the vaporetto (water bus) stops because they're too lazy, or have too much luggage to walk. We were to cheap for the 13 Euro/hour vaporetto tickets so we set out on foot (6-8) with our laminated Venice street map we had picked up in Atlanta. Good thing too, you don't really navigate around Venice, it's more like a very short, repetitive cycle of getting lost and then found over and over again.
The hotel was only half a mile maybe from the station but it took about 20 minutes to get there. The basic process was walk 2 minutes, check the map, repeat. The "streets," if you can call them that, are more like alleyways between buildings occasionally dead ending into a canal. We followed our directions to the back door of the hotel which was down a narrow alley (9-10) just wide enough for one person, or two people if you're used to shopping at Walmart. We had booked a standard double room, but when we checked in they upgraded us to the superior double as the standard was not available. Score! The room was spacious and very red (11-15). And yes, it had a squatty potty (16). It was quite a step up from our room in Milan. We were fairly well rested and did not linger long before going for lunch, through the front door of the hotel this time (17).
The hotel was in a less touristy area of the island so it was very relaxing just walking around. We found a local pizzeria with outdoor seating (18-19). This was our first pizza in Italy and I found it to be much like a pizza I might get here. It was good, but not much different. As we sat down for lunch I noticed a couple of teenagers under a tree across the piazza. Then I noticed one of them throwing his show up into the tree, evidently trying to get something unstuck. This went on for probably 20-30 minutes and I give him credit for his perseverence. Then the shoe got stuck. So, logically, he removed the other shoe to throw. By a stroke of luck the first shoe came out of the tree. Somewhere around the middle of our meal the two teenagers realized their ineffectiveness at dislodging the object was due to a lack of supervision, so another kid came over to watch. There was a brief moment of hope as the shoe hit the object, but it only bounced down a couple branches and got stuck again.
Since additional supervision wasn't helping, they decided to go with more muscle. A man came over, grabbed the lowest tree branch, bent it 180 degrees, and shook with all his might while the kid continued throwing his shoe. But to no avail. As we were finishing lunch and I worried about never knowing the outcome of the great tree affair, the shoe hit its mark and a soccer ball came bounding out of the tree. There was raucous celebration. Italians love soccer, you see.
With lunch a success, we walked back to the hotel for a short nap. Early in the evening we set off for Saint Mark's square on the opposite side of the island. Along the way we got our first gelato (20). It was nice walking through the empty streets (21) and seeing how the locals lived (22). This was also the closest we got to a gondola (23). The government has fixed the price of gondola rides at 80 euros (~$120) for 40 minutes. Um, no thanks. I'm sure there's a very good economic model for gov't dicated gondola prices, I just choose to live in my ignorance, 80 euros richer.
Saint Mark's square (24-37) was the seat of religious and political power when Venice was independent. Now it's the seat of thousands of tourists each day. We were too late to tour the Basilica but just seeing the outside was incredible, and it was a nice place to people and pigeon watch. We wandered for a while but decided against eating at one of the touristy outdoor restaraunts on the square. There are about 4 restaraunts, two per side, that have small orchestras performing every night. You can linger behind the last row of tables and listen for free.
For dinner we decided on a Rick Steve's recommendation closer to the hotel called Osteria alla Botte. It took us an hour to make the 20 minute walk back after starting out in the wrong direction from St. Mark's. Ironically, though the island is small there are so many different streets it's nearly impossible to figure out where you are on the map unless you already know about where you are. We eventually made it (38-39). Dinner was a selection of fresh local seafood. We didn't love it, but it was a little different and definitely local. We were the only tourists there. I think we would have appreciated it more if we had gone to the fish market first (see Installment 4 coming soon).
The night stroll back to the hotel was fabulous, with the buildings on the grand canal lit up and the boats going by (40). There was lightning in the distance which made me want to buy a better camera (41). Our first day in Venice was thoroughly relaxing and it didn't occur to me until later that it may just have been the complete lack of cars. We had decided we would spend one more full day in Venice on Friday. Fortunately, the hotel had a room available, though not the same room. Friday night would make 6 nights in a row we slept in a different bed. But considering we arrived in Italy with hotel reservations for exactly 1 night we weren't complaining.
Next up: Rialto fish market, Frari church, pigeon feeding, helicopter cartel.