Tales of a wandering lesbian

Venice Day 4

Warning:  This was a very long day.  You might want to take a nap before reading.

The day started on a good note.  At breakfast I discovered “delichoc,” little containers of a nutella-like substance.  They were hiding among the little containers of jelly.  Suddenly, the nice rolls on the breakfast table became fantastic!  I found myself wondering if I could smuggle some of them, along with the delichoc, out in my shirtsleeves.  Trying to remember how I’d done just that in the college cafeteria, I had to abandon the plan as other guests walked in for breakfast.

I walked out of the hotel into my first sunny day in Venice, and found the sun doing lovely things to the city.

Venice sunny door

This was my last full day here, and I had a lot left on my list of things to see.  I had planned my day carefully, and hoped that I could use everything I’d learned to keep myself on track.  I tried first for a traghetto ride, but found the stop closed because it was Sunday.  No problem, I knew how to walk where I wanted to go, so I struck out on foot.  They city had a nice surprise for me.  It took me right past the firehouse.

Venice Firehouse

I found the municipal boats of Venice an amusing novelty.  Seeing the firemen scooting around on a little boat was totally entertaining.

When I reached the Rialto bridge, I saw a sign that read “Rialto, the heart of the city.”  “It’s a sinking heart” I thought to myself.  Little did I know…

Floodwaters at Rialto

The first site on my list was the island of Murano, famous for its glass furnaces.  I’d have to take a vaporetto ride out and back.  So, I walked up to the top of Venice, bought a ticket and hopped on a boat.  The ride itself was beautiful, taking me past the dramatic island cemetery.

Venice cemetary

Murano was a sleepy island with wide canals, interesting public art, and glass everywhere.

Murano canal Glass public art Glass Madona

I followed the other tourists down the row of formal glass furnaces and shops, across several bridges and to the glass museum.  I spent an hour or so moving through floor after floor of glass exhibits.  From seriously ancient pieces to really old ones, they were all exquisite and fascinating.  But, I had at least three other major sites on my list, and needed probably 30 minutes to get back to the city.  Plus, I had only consumed one coffee, and it was pushing noon.

After a hasty macchiato and a vaporetto ride, I was back in Venice proper, and headed over the Rialto again.  My plan was to visit the Ca’ Pesaro to see its Modern and Asian art museums, before visiting the huge collections at the Correr Museum and then, hopefully, the Accademia.

The bar where I’d grabbed my coffee was so insane that I abandoned hope of trying to get something to eat.  Now I was seriously hungry and beginning to panic.  (Honestly, the only times I panicked in Venice were when I couldn’t find food immediately.  I was in full-on panic.)  I found Ca’ Pesaro – which was in another damn foodless part of town – and went in search of pizza.  There was no pizza.  I walked for at least 20 minutes before settling for a fancyish-looking bar, where I picked up something that looked like a twisted piece of pizza (sfizzaforno, I think it’s called).


For some reason, it took like a zillion years to heat it up.  I stood at the bar the entire time thinking it would come out of the little oven at any moment, and dodging the stares of the barista who was probably wondering why I was standing there with a panicky look.  When it finally emerged from the oven, it was hot – I mean hot.  Still, I shoved half of it in my mouth before I thought to take a picture.  It was tasty, I think.  One caffe later, I felt human enough to try another museum.  I relocated Ca’ Pesaro.

I don’t know if I saw everything in the museum.  I tried.  I think I saw all the great modern art, but the Asian art went on forever.  (And I love Asian art.)  According to the signage, it was originally the personal collection of a guy who became an enemy of the state or a war criminal or something.  The 30,000 items were seized, some were sold, and the rest became the museum.  It was overwhelming.  The swords, armor, guns, saddles, scrolls, lacquered bowls, pots, jade and ivory seemed never-ending.  Unlike other Asian collections I’ve seen, this one was a collection of a single person, and reflected his tastes, as opposed to featuring “culturally significant” works.  The experience was very interesting, but exhausting.  This is where I think I might have missed a couple of rooms, given my state of exhaustion and hunger, and the poorly-marked walking route.  Even so, I saw a lot.  A LOT.  And I had two huge museums left.

Now, I know that it’s best to visit cities like Venice with the thought that you will return.  And it’s not a good idea to pack so many exhibits into a short time, but I really wanted to see the archeological museum at the Correr (which was free to me with the museum pass I bought earlier in the week), and the Leonardo exhibit that was advertised all over town.

So it was back to St. Mark’s piazza where the Correr museum is.  I saw important rooms of a library (I don’t remember which one) and the archeological museum.  This was great.  Lots of ancient sculpture, ancient coins and the machinery to make them, and several galleries of antiquities housed in vacuum-sealed rooms.  And beautiful views of Venice from the gallery windows.

Accademia view

I might have missed some of the rooms (I was still hungry and the routes were confusing to me in my stupor), but I didn’t really care.  I closed down the museum and staggered out to continue my search for pizza.

This time I stepped into the first bar I saw with pizza in the window.  It was thick-crusted, and very different from the other pizza I’ve had in Italy.  It was good, though.  And kept me from having a full on melt-down on my way to the Accademia.

Thick pizza

When I bought my ticket at the Accademia museum, I was super-excited to find that it was discounted.  I didn’t ask why, but the 1.50 would buy another piece of pizza, so I was happy.  Inside, there were galleries of great collections.  Series after series of paintings commissioned regarding specific topics.  They were enormous works filled with religious scenes.  The most interesting to me was a room filled with huge paintings of scenes depicting the miracles of the relic of the true cross.  Strange scenes of exorcisms and priests swimming in the canals of Venice were even more interesting as my head started swimming from everything I’d seen that day.  Helpfully, the exhibits had excellent English-language explanations, which was nice.  I was able to give my brain a break from the non-stop translating that it undertakes each day, and just lean back on the padded benches to enjoy the paintings.

About halfway through the museum, I found the reason for the discounted entry.  A couple of the major galleries were closed.  Frankly, I was relieved.  I was tired.  But there was one last thing I wanted to see before I ventured out into the city in search of dinner.  Leonardo.

Leonardo poster

I’d seen posters for the exhibit all over the city, and wondered what, exactly, the exhibit would be.  When I first stepped into the tiny room housing the special exhibit, I was a little disappointed.  There was just one piece in the darkened room.  One little sketch.  This is what all the fuss was about?  And then I stepped in front of it.  The posters weren’t just using the “Vitruvian Man” sketch as an advertisement for Leonardo, they were advertising the exhibition of the piece itself.  (I learned later that the sketch is actually housed at the Accademia, but is rarely exhibited.)

It was remarkably powerful.  And beautiful.  The rust-colored ink on the camel colored paper was bold and clear.  Everyone in the room was silent.  Absolutely absorbed.  This was a nice surprise to end a long day of art, much of which will run together when I look back on the day.  Of the thousands of objects I saw, this one will stand out.

I knew that with certainty.  And I knew something else, as well – I was hungry again.

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December 4, 2009   1 Comment

Venice, day 1, part 2

Venice is known as a safe city to walk around at night.  As a solo traveler, that’s exciting news.  Sure, there are folks who are up to no good, but the island, relatively speaking, is safe.  So, as the grey skies turned to black, I ventured out again.  My earlier wanderings had taken me through neighborhoods, past churches, and across countless canals.  I had stayed away from the Grand Canal and the other big attractions.  There would be plenty of time for those.

As I headed to dinner I planned my return route.  The restaurant was a couple hundred yards from the hotel, but I wanted to see the Grand Canal at night.  When I left the restaurant, it was raining again.  For me this meant a couple of things.  First, I might get a little wet.  Second, there would be beautiful, shimmering streets to add to the magic of the city.  It was a fair trade.

Venice wet

I headed first to the Rialto bridge.  There were enough people walking the streets that I could follow them, along with the yellow signs affixed to buildings that point the way to major landmarks.  Even so, I almost missed the bridge.  The arcade lining the street leading to it caught my eye.  The shops, of course, were all closed, but the sweeping arches and strings of Christmas lights gave a feel of grandeur – and seedy commercialism.  I’ll go back and have a look a little earlier in the evening for the full effect.

On the other side of the bridge I found myself in a seriously polished commercial district.  I think I passed three Gucci stores, along with every manor of upscale retailer.  This well traveled district between the Rialto and Saint Mark’s must be one of the busiest during the day, full of the tourists that keep the town alive.  The rain and the number of tourists picked up as I headed into Saint Mark’s square at about 10PM.  It was dark, and mostly deserted.  The young pub-crawlers that were everywhere on the other side of the bridge remained there, giving way to vast seas of little tables and chairs – empty outdoor dining areas, all closed for the night.  The whole place had a ghostly feel, the four horses on the front of the church galloping onto a dark, empty piazza.

S. Marco at night

I wandered over to the water that borders the square and found a fleet of gondolas, their sterns bobbing up and down in the water, and another eerie view of the La Salute Church floating in the distance.

La Salute at night

My next destination was the Academia, and its bridge, which would put me back in my hotel’s neighborhood, and on familiar ground.  I consulted a map.  The canals of Venice make it challenging to navigate by dead reckoning.  I’m a poor navigator at the best of times, but for some reason, Venice is proving a bit intuitive for me.  I hit dead ends every so often, but am able to wind around and through to my destinations with little trouble.  Even at night I only took the map out a couple of times, preferring to pick my way along, enjoying the fantastic scenes that unfolded.

Night canal

The huge academia bridge popped up out of nowhere, obscured by construction surrounding the academia itself.  Atop it, I was treated to shimmering views and the low rumble of boats passing under.

Rialto night view

Once across the bridge I wound my way back through the neighborhoods, popping out in the same piazza where I’d had dinner.  I congratulated myself and then promptly found that I was momentarily paralyzed,  unable to pick the correct street leading back to the hotel’s lantern and my waiting bed.  Too funny.  Sleepy from the long day, even the map left me befuddled.  I took a breath, laughed at myself and picked a path.  It’s an island.  How lost can you get?  And the hotel materialized before me, a welcome sight.

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November 29, 2009   1 Comment