Monday, August 31, 2009

Giorno Tres: Venezia a Firenzia

Giorno Tres: Venezia a Fierenze

Day three began with an earlier start, enjoying a lovely breakfast in the hotel and a crisp morning. Oh it was beautiful! Sunny an warm with a nice cool breeze. We headed to the Rialto Mercado (market) to check it out and were greeted with the lovely sweet smell of fresh produce. The fish market is closed on Mondays, so it was just the produce market. They had some gorgeous foods all sweet and brightly colored. We wandered a bit then found our way back easy enough. The signs are quite funny. Some are actual signs in a bright yellow with an oddly curved arrow indicating the way. Others are either paper signs, or spray painted on the wall! It’s quite funny. Then sometimes they guide the way, and others they sit and wait to see if you might be able to figure it out!! There may be great signage, then you hit a dead end and no clue where to go! After the first day and a half or so, we (I should say, Kim) seemed to get the gist of things and we made our way around pretty well. We headed back towards Piazza San Marco and the line at the Basilica wasn’t too bad so we got into it. According to the ‘church and sights opening guide’ the basilica wasn’t supposed to open until 10:30. So much for getting the most current listing! Here was the first place that suggested appropriate attire, and I got some rather pointed hand gestures as I was putting a shirt on over my sleeveless shirt. I was also conveniently covering the strap to my bag, as I wasn’t sure if I would be allowed in with it, but despite our best intentions, we just couldn’t find the bag check which was at a nearly closed church (was not an active church, but was still used for a bag check.) We got in and saw a sea of pink wraps, which we later suspected were actually tablecloths that we found at many of the local restaurants, which women used to cover their shoulders. I’ll hold my sarcasm, given that I don’t know everyone who may read this very well, but I found it to be a rather interesting thing that people had to have shoulders covered. No one appeared to be turned away due to salacious knees showing though we didn’t see any of the amazing skirts while in line (we saw two women wearing skirts that we simply couldn’t figure how it stayed down to cover their backsides!) Interesting contrast, but I digress..

The church was MAGNIFICENT and what I most enjoyed was the tons of mosaic all around. There was an amazing and intricate pattern on the floor of different colored stone and mosaics, and some of the most ornate and detailed mosaics, many with gold leaf, on the walls. We toured the little museum which had more mosaics and tapestries and the ‘Wall of Gold’ which was really beautiful. It was a really large panel of gold depicting scenes with these huge gemstones gleaming everywhere. One wall in the church had an amazing pattern from the stones that made it, which was in a square/diamond pattern and incredible consistent. It was quite stunning.

It was such a nice cool day and we walked around a bit more. We stopped in the post office to get stamps for post cards, then wandered back into the maze of San Marco to stop back to find a jewelry store that a friend of mine told me about. We had somehow passed it on the way to our hotel on the first day, but wanted to drop the bags and never could find it again. Today was no different! The people watching in Venice is quite amazing too and varies widely between the ultra-fashionable, to the rather scary fashion statements like bright kelly green or hot pink pants. It was good going.

We stopped back at the hotel to check out, and the man who checked us in who was quite cranky was ultra-friendly. He was all talkative, asking about our time in Venice and even gave us kisses when we left! I speculated that perhaps Monday was the day that he started drinking before noon! We headed out for lunch and found a lovely pizzeria on a side alley and got an amazing meal of Caprese salad (tomoatoes, fresh buffalo mozzerella, and basil) and a pizza with tomatoes, ricotta and mozzerella with basil. The pizza was just perfection, nice and creamy and crisp and both were really enjoyable. We then got our bags and made our way to the vaporetti (boat) to take a tour of the grand canal on the way to the train station. It was really beautiful and we took lots of pictures. We got to the train station with plenty of time and debated checking our bag, but decided it would be more work than it was worth. So we enjoyed two blended fruit drinks and chatted for a bit. The train ride was fine and we napped a little bit, only little because there was a child sitting near us with an ear-piercing shriek that was just wonderful!! The ride was beautiful through the hills of Tuscany and we found our hotel pretty easily. It’s in the shadow of the duomo and in a perfect location. The room is a bit of a disappointment, but the location can’t be beat. I once again goofed on the type of room, so let’s just say Kimmie and I will be a bit, um, cozy until tomorrow when they can change our room! The guy in check in was very nice, poured us some wine an gave us restaurant recommendations.

We walked a bit and went briefly to Otrarno, or ‘across the Arno’ river. We saw the bridge Ponte Vecchio, which looked like it had houses built on the sides, though the street level was all stores, and saw the side of Piti palace. We had a nice dinner at a place recommended of fresh pasta with mushrooms, carpacchio which was really great. I had a crème catalan which was like a lemony crème brule, and Kim had chocolate panna cotta (I know, I didn’t have chocolate, if you can believe it!!) We snuck a gelato in earlier too, but hey, we haven’t had much dairy so it’s a good thing.. Oh, and of course we had a nice chianti with dinner! We saw some great people watching as well, including a very interesting man riding a bike that sounded as if it would fall apart any minute! He had a bamboo typed mat tied to his back, as well as an assortment of other things that were rather odd!

Tomorrow we’re actually touring—I know, I know. It’s a walking tour of Florence, then an Uffizi tour (which I wouldn’t ordinarily do, but the Vatican Museum tour was one of the best I’ve seen! I already bought my ticket though, so I’ll give it away to someone.) Also doing a tour of the accademia to see the David. I’m not one for tours, but I think this will give us a great orientation and will enable us to see most of the main sights. Since we’re doing a couple of day trips, our time may be a little limited.
Bueno Sera!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Giorno Due: Venezia

Giorno Due: Venice

We awoke to the beautiful sound of the San Marco Basilica bells calling the faithful, surprised that we slept so late. I usually am up with the light, around 6 or so, but I was up from 2-5 for some reason, and we slept in until 9! We missed the hotel breakfast by the time we headed out and caught a macchiato or two at the café a few doors down, as well as a croissant which was filled with apple. The weather was magnificent—nice and crisp with a light breeze and full sun and it was just wonderful. It’s a great location to people watch, and we got some great views! Our favorite was a woman who was wearing a flowy and loose brightly satin colored dress. Did I mention the light breeze? Well, I’ll confess that we got a few good laughs waiting to see if she was wearing anything underneath! She ended up walking down the road and turning as another gust of wind caught her dress, and we saw several feet of the dress flowing behind the corner she just turned down! Thankfully never did answer our question!

We walked towards the Piazza San Marco again amazed by the volume of pigeons in such a relatively small area. It was especially amazing that people would feed them by hand and encourage them to land on them! We headed towards the Correr Museo to get tickets that would allow us into the Basilica Museo and Palazzo Ducale, or Doge’s Palace. We toured the Correr Museo just because then headed over to the Palazzo Ducale. We noticed the campanile (bell tower) had a short line, so up we went to take in the views. They were magnificent! We were blessed with the bells ringing when we were up there, and were almost able to hear once we made it down! The views were really amazing and it was well worth going up. The elevator was a little bit of a disappointment, but I was a bit sore from the flight and the 8+ hours of walking yesterday so it was ok!

The Palazzo Ducale is a similar concept to the Tower of London. It housed the government from 1150-1450 as well as a prison. The prisoners arrived by water, so the last sight of freedom they had was the “Bridge of Sighs”. The palace was impressive and rather large. We were hungry so we grabbed a snack- Kim got foccachia which was actually a pizza crust with melted cheese, greens of some kind and fresh tomatoes. I got a prosciotto cotta y formaggio panini and a prosecco. We decided to hit the travel office to get tickets to Florence for tomorrow then headed out to see some churches. Yes, I am obsessed with them. We headed in the direction that we THOUGHT would get us to the Rialto bridge.. and walked, and walked, and walked. Lost again! Somehow we got so turned around we managed to walk a good half hour out of our way into a whole different neighbood in Venice called Castello. We saw the Armory/military building before we realized!

We finally made it to the Rialto bridge and crossed over. The neighborhood was very quaint and we enjoyed wandering. We found the San Polo Church, which was closed, and continued on until we saw the Frari Church. We walked around and toured the Scuolla San Rocco, Scuolla Church and Frari church. All were beautiful in different ways and styles. The Frari Church was brown brick on the outside and the most ornate and largest inside. The Scuolla had the most beautiful paintings, but it was very dark. It’s funny because our guide books as well as friends warned us about dress code in churches: no exposed knees or shoulders. So we both wore capris, had closed toes shoes in our bag, and Kim had a short sleeved shirt but I brought a cardigan with me. Never did we get questioned, though, of course if we hadn’t brought the accessories, I’m sure it would have happened!! We then headed towards the area that my friend Sandy told me about with an interesting chocolate and hazelnut ice cream, but I had left the paper in the room unfortunately and wasn’t sure I had the right place. And we had just eaten and weren’t very hungry, so we wandered around and came upon a beautiful park called Giardino Papadopoli near the grand canal. We exited and walked along the canal which was gorgeous. We found a store with some beautiful Murano glass, which Venice is known for. We both found things that we liked, but the place is near the hotel that we are staying at on our last night in town so we’ll head back most likely. Across the canal is the bus station and the train terminal, so we know where we’re going tomorrow to take the train to Florence.

We continued walking through the Santa Croche neighborhood, which was beautiful and quaint. We found a nice little campo and sat down for a drink and to rest our feet. We had done a ton of walking today, from 10 until around 10 tonight!! It was great for people watching and there were some really cute dogs walking around. Not many dogs, but those that I’ve seen all have nice collars and most don’t walk on leashes. There was a big fat cat sitting in the courtyard too, much to a dismayed dog’s view!

We continued walking, heading towards Rialto. We came upon a quaint little restaurant with a menu all in italian and thought “perfect!” What a wonderful meal! We had a mixed seafood dish, some salami and cheese, and two pasta dishes of tagiatelli with clams and a red sauce, and spaghetti and shrimp with olive oil. Both had fresh made pasta, and accompanied by a nice red wine, it was the perfect meal. We of course had to end it with gelato. Hey, we saw people eating it at breakfast time so we’re not going to feel badly. We do need the dairy anyways!!
We made our way back which seemed much more simple for some reason! Made our way over the Rialto bridge, and headed back to the hotel, wandering through the narrow alleyways and taking in the sights. We found our hotel with little issue. It’s so funny what a maze the narrow alleyways are here sometimes! Almost like someone picks up the city, and moves it on us!! And then it goes right back to where it was. Strange.

We plan to get up and out to see a few more things tomorrow before our train just before 3. I’ve really loved Venice, and I’m glad that I will have another partial day here to explore when we get back from Florence. It’s funny as the city isn’t so large, but it seems to take forever to get anywhere. Possibly because we keep getting lost!! The map is useful for orientation, however, not very good to determine exactly where you are. Roads that appear straight dead end, and you end up hopelessly lost! But we’ve figured out way for the most part! We’ll be staying in Cannaregio when we get back, not far from the train in the northern section of Venice. Looking forward to exploring a new part of the city that’s a bit off of the beaten tourist path. Also looking forward to hearing the beautiful bells in the morning when we are waking up! We have the window open and we’re taking in the wonderful breeze. It’s just gorgeous here!


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Day 1 in Venezia

Buon Giorno da Venizia! I’m so very excited to be here, and it’s gorgeous!!! The flight was mostly uneventful and though we were delayed about an hour leaving Philly but we did make up the time and somehow made it into Venice 10 minutes early. I was quite impressed with my 27 lb bag, though Kim actually packed a carry on! Wow. Sat next to two nice and normal people on the flights, and surprisingly managed to get a little bit of sleep on the way here.. maybe a few hours with a two hour straight shot. Kim slept a bit too, so we were tired, but revved up on adrenaline and ready to go! Amazingly, my bag was not the last bag off the plane, or even close, and it was smooth sailing to the vaporetti.

There’s no way to arrive in Venice except by water, so we did just that. The Vaporetti had several stops, in Murano, where the famous venitian glass is made, Lido, where a guy that we were talking with from LA who was working the three week venice film festival was headed to. The water was choppy from the storm in and gave the docks quite a smack upon arrival! The jolt only served to ensure we stayed well awake, and we headed off into the sea of people at Piazza San Marco to find out hotel.
Kim suggested to stop at the tourist office to get directions. Well, I usually will walk for hours before doing so, but it seemed like a really smart idea so we did. Or so you’d think. We got a map (again, seemed smart at the time!) and headed in the right direction. 10 minutes of walking through the crowded piazza, up and down stairs over the bridges spanning the smaller canals and no hotel. We stop and ask for directions again… and again.. and again. Oh yes, our first experience in Venice, like that of SO many other people, was of getting completely lost in the maze of Venice. We finally realized that we trekked well past our destination, backtracked and did eventually make it in. Whew!

Checked in and our room would be ready in one hour, so we decided to head out for lunch. But not before I decided to “clear up “ the room confusion. I had originally booked a single, and when Kim made plans to join, I booked a double. Well, when I checked in they said they had a twin. So I explained that I requested a double room. Ok, so we head out to lunch. We got two paninis which were great and loaded up on water as it’s very hot and humid, and wandered a bit to get our bearings. Went back to the room and apparently a double is one bed. Whoops! Well, the hotel staff was quite open and accepting of our request, but it wasn’t exactly the right one! :o) Cleared that up (the right time, this time!!) washed up and changed, and headed out again. We of course had to try some gelato (when in Rome, right? Or Venice anyways.) Yum. Of course.

We decided to head to Dusoduro and the Peggy Guggenheim museum. On the way we heard a rumble of thunder followed by another. “nah, it won’t happen” I said. It was a gorgeous and quaint walk through a quiet neighborhood to find the museum. It’s funny, as there’s a lot of hand-written signs in strange random places here. So, don’t look for street names, just keep an eye out for a small hand written sign! Then you come to a dead end, and … no sign! Guess your way and hope you see another, and maybe you will. If not, backtrack as you likely went the wrong way and voila! It’s a riot. The walk was nice though, again going over small canals and the grand canal on the Accademia Bridge. The museum was formerly the private residence of Peggy Guggenheim, american heiress. She had not one but three picassos, which was impressive. Also had several Pollocks. The museum was neat as it showed pictures of her posing in her house (back when it was her house) so you had the perspective of this artwork she had in her private residence. The art wasn’t really our taste, but by the time we got the museum it started POURING so we were glad for the cover. There was a special exhibit too which was avante garde ultra modern junkyard—not sure how to describe it but it was kind of interesting actually!

We ventured out in the rain and got rather soaked. I was regretting not having my flip flops (they were part of the ‘I need to lighten my bag’ mission, and missed packing several other things. As a matter of fact, Kim and I have been laughing about it. I think I win the ‘prize’ if there were one, of things forgotten. Worst of all was my battery charger and spare for my camera (resting quietly in the outlet being recharged as we speak!!) Drat. I also forgot my license, or more accurately, grabbed my AAA card instead. Mother, before you start squawking, I mean, providing your supportive opinion, I will say that as reminiscent of New Orleans as this is, I DID manage to remember my passport, which is far more important. Thankfully we didn’t plan on driving!!!! As we were walking we saw probably 25 gondolas covered and sitting in one of the waterways. The rain died down as we were there, so the gondoliers all started walking onto their boats, uncovering them, and readying them to take out people. It was really funny to see all the guys with their striped shirts balancing on the boats!

Oh, one thing I did forget to mention is the fires. So, a few weeks before I went to Costa Rica in February, I found out that there was a pretty major earthquake, right in the region we were going. Being ever responsible, I decided it made sense to NOT see what is going on in Venice and Florence. After all, why find that kind of thing out? Well, get to the airport and the super friendly (bastard) guy who checked me in pipes in “hey, did you hear about the fires just outside of Venice?” I won’t document my reply…

We walked around for a couple of hours dodging into stores when the rain got heaviest, ogling the Murano glass that’s to be seen everywhere. We came upon the Rialto bridge and checked it out, then headed off to find a trattoria for some dinner. We found a cute little place after a bit of wandering, and had a surprisingly good dinner. Kim had porcini pizza and I had fresh made tagiatelli pasta. Yum. We had some barbera wine then headed back to our hotel.. which we didn’t realize was maybe a few doors down! We had no idea we were so close.
We got to the room all set to send our messages, but unfortunately the wireless connection isn’t working in the room. At least we have Kim’s little netbook that we can write this up in the room and run downstairs to send (I hope.. guess we’ll find out in a minute!) We’re both exhausted and it’s been a long day. Getting to bed early so we can get up early to head out to see the town. We decided what we’ll do tomorrow.. but you need to wait until then to read all about it!!

Venice is really beautiful. Narrow and windy streets, and as was suggested to me before I came here, maps are largely irrelevant here. They're good for direction and perspective, but that's mostly it! Following a map led us well out of our way, and to several dead ends. The city is very quaint and it's a lot of fun to wander down the narrow alleyways to see what new adventures are lurking just ahead! I'm looking forward to exploring further tomorrow!