Saturday, August 13, 2011

Italy Trip - 4th Installment

Pictures for this entry are at:

Friday, July 8th
We ate breakfast in the hotel courtyard (1-2). We were already used to Italian breakfasts of mostly breads and sweet rolls, and Nutella. Some of the other guests had fruit and few other things that we were never served. Breakfast was adequate. The hotel clearly catered to Americans. I think everyone we saw there, guests, wait staff, front desk staff, spoke English. The high Trip Advisor ratings were obviously working their magic.

The first item on the agenda was the Rialto fish market. Near the Rialto bridge there is a large square that becomes the main island grocery store for a few hours each morning. We had seen some of the fruit and vegetable stalls that remain open later in the day but we wanted to see it at peak hours. As we made the short walk from our hotel to the market we saw numerous boats stacked with boxes (3-5) waiting to be unloaded. All goods travel around the island by boat and hand truck (6-7). The hand trucks had two small wheels sticking out the front that allowed the hard working delivery men to climb the numerous stepped bridges around the island by rocking the trucks onto the front wheels at each successive step.

Arriving at the fish market we immediately had a much better appreciation for the fresh seafood dinner we'd eaten the night before. It had all likely come from the market that morning. What had been an empty square the night (8) before was now lined with tables in a makeshift grocery store seafood department, except there was about 10 grocery stores worth of seafood, some of it still alive (9-14). I sort of felt like a highway rubbernecker, holding up the locals trying to conduct their business while we slowed to gawk. But they're kind of asking for gawking toursists when they put entire swordfish heads on display (look carefully in 14). I don't remember that being on our plate the night before.

The market is near the famous Rialto bridge (15), hence the name. The bridge really is impressive, with a large center walkway lined by shops (16) and smaller walkways on the backside of the stalls where you look out over the grand canal. Picture 17 is just a random picture some where in Venice.

After some debate about our agenda for the day we headed towards Frari church (18-19), a large medieval church in the center of town away from many of the other tourist traps. Some street musicians were playing in the piazza outside the church (20), but we didn't close enough to feel obligated to tip them. No pictures allowed inside the church but I'm sure you can find some online.

I suppose like many churches of that time it was an interesting dichotomy. Ali had to cover her shoulder to go inside, but inside there was an angel sculpture wearing nothing but a leaf. The church was shaped like a 'T' and the entire bottom half of the T was lined with great tombs of the big church donors, each seemingly trying to one-up his predecessors. Two marvelous wooden choir boxes were situated side by side at the back of the worship area, dividing the T and creating a center aisle. The very top of the T was divided into smaller sections, the main altar in the center featuring a painting of the Assumption of Mary by a famous Venetian artist. To either side, more tombs. My overall impression was that these ancient Christians spent a great deal of time and money honoring themselves. Then again, I hadn't been to the Vatican gift shop yet.

After wandering the church for a while we exited to the piazza and I sat down to listen to the street performers who were still playing. If I had more disposable time I would enjoy picking up the violin again. At this point we discussed going out to the other islands where the glass blowers and lace makers are, but the Vaporetti would be almost $50 so we passed. Instead we just set out on foot to explore. First order of business was lunch.

The major achievement at lunch was Alison using the phrase book to ask for a spoon in Italian (21). The waiter spoke English but seemed amused that she was making the effort. I ordered sardines (22). It was a nice lunch in my opinion (23). The sardines were good (24). After lunch, as we were walking Alison figured out how to ask for some vino to go in Italian. Another succes (25)! And yes, that's my wife drinking wine out of a plastic cup.

We wandered some more (26-28), stopped to mail the kids some postcards (29), and eventually made it back to St. Mark's. The line was too long to try and go inside so instead we fed the pigeons (30-33). Somewhere along the way we also stopped in a video game art gallery. There are not words to describe it. Imagine your worst stereotype of a self-aggrandizing artist making nonsense modern art. Now imagine that artist spent his entire childhood playing video games so that's the only subject he knows. You probably have the idea now of what we saw. But hey, it was free.

Then it was back to the hotel for a rest. Snapped a few shots of the front door with the private bridge over the canal (34-35). The hotel also had a receiving dock (36). Later that night it was back out for more strolling. Venice sure is pretty at night (37-39). We went to St. Mark's a third time to listen to the orchestras and people watch (40-42).

At this time I'd like to point out a few things about the St. Mark's pigeons and capitalism. We were told the government fixes the prices of gondola rides. Feeding the pigeons in St. Mark's square, however, is not even legal (43), a fact we were unaware of when pictures 30-33 were taken, much less regulated. My demand for pictures of Ali and me with pigeons all over us eating of our hands was high. My supply of pigeon feed was low, zero actually. The guy from the helicopter cartel wants as many euros from me as possible. His supply of pigeon feed is high, actually he holds a monopoly. So the result? I give him the first coin I pull out of my pocket, 2 euros or about $3, and he gives me 25 cents worth of pigeon feed. It briefly occurs to me that I'm getting ripped off but don't care because I'm on vacation and have already paid 3 euros for a can of coke on several occasions. But I get my pigeon feed, he gets his euros, and we all walked away happy. Capitalism. Now, guess how many $120 gondola rides we took?

Okay, last thing. Every tourist town we visited had street pushers pouncing on tourists trying to sell something or give you something "free" and then ask for a donation. But the big thing in Venice seemed to be guys hawking these little helicopters with a blue LED that they flung 20-30 ft. high with a little rubber band slingshot. I really wondered who organized them. They were spread out all over the major tourist thoroughfares through town and were especially dense in St. Mark's square. They all looked to be of Indian descent and clearly had their own territories. We even thought we saw their handler one time watching over them from the end of the square. It was clearly organized, not just a couple guys trying to make a few bucks. I suspect they all lived on the mainland and would take the train in every morning but I still wondered how they managed to make enough to pay their cartel handlers and eat too. Anyways, we knew the boys would like the helicopters. So Alison asked me to come stand with her more towards the middle of St. Mark's square. I didn't know what she was doing. We were there maybe 15 sec. before we had a guy trying to sell us a helicopter. I think the starting price was two for 5 euros. She paid 1 euro each. She was good. When another guy came up, she offered 0.50 euros for one. He walked away. I think this also is a good case study on monopolies of non-essential commodities. Consumers control the price. She had obviously driven the price down to something close to its real value. You don't like that I'm selling a Wii for $150 over retail 3 weeks before Christmas? Learn some patience, quit paying the exhorbitant prices, and people like me will quit selling them. Supply and demand.

Next up: Traveling to Acquasanta, home of Ali's great grandparents.

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