Tales of a wandering lesbian

Venice day 3

Every day in Venice has been like a gang initiation.  I wake up, pretty much alone.  I’ve been stripped of everything familiar to me, and wondering what the day will bring.  Even when I think that I’ve figured something out – where a building is, how to get there – the city, which I swear can sense pride, knocks my feet out from me.  Then, on its own terms, it gives back to me.

After breakfast at the hotel, I gathered my supplies for the day (I still had half of my picnic from the day before, and was confident enough to take only about half of my tourist info with me).

The plan for the day was to see the rest of St. Mark’s and then, maybe see another museum.  I absolutely knew how to walk to St. Mark’s now, so I’d probably be done by noon, leaving lots of time to do whatever I found myself in the mood to do.

I’d had good success with the tragetti yesterday, so I thought I’d try again.  Consulting a map, I found a stop.  It was a decent hike away, but it would put me right at St. Mark’s, and the hike would take me past a the Salute church, which I’d wanted to see, out on the point of the peninsula on the east end of Dorsoduro.  I have no idea how I did it, but I ended up on the wrong side of the peninsula.  I think I picked the wrong church to navigate by – or I held my map upside down, or something.  I walked for at least 30 minutes, maybe more, before I realized that the open water I was dutifully keeping on my left was the wrong water, and I’d walked in the entirely opposite direction from Salute.

It may have been at this point that I realized I am in possibly the worst shape of my life.  I think it’s even worse than when I was a baby and unable to hold my head up.  My calves were like granite from the week of intense walking I’d forced upon them, but one of my feet was refusing to flex appropriately.  Only when I slowed down to a stroll did the pain go away.

Fricking city slowing me down.

So I turned around and walked the entire length of the peninsula, slowly, past the pink-glassed lanterns of Venice, to the tip of the peninsula and finally to the Salute church.  Where there was no traghetto stop.

Pink lamps

I consulted my map and felt like “Tom Tom” recalculating routes on the fly.  There was another traghetto stop just on the other side of the church.  I could bop in, take a look around, and then catch the boat across the canal.  No problem.


The Salute church is beautiful.  I played musical tabernacles, trying to figure out which of the 6 or so chapels housed the Eucharist.  (I try hard not to totally offend every culture I come in contact with, but there were candles lit everywhere, and it was practically impossible for me to tell.  So, I chose the one with holy water close by, genuflected, and continued my walk around the church.)  The sacristy had some beautiful art, and I felt compelled to light a candle for the health of my family.

Health candle

Then I was ready to make my way to St. Mark’s, which was, after all, my original goal.

I was able to find the traghetto stop, but it was roped off and clearly closed.  The detour treated me to some beautiful views of the Canal, and now I was in a totally new place – an opportunity to see new streets and squares.  Also, I was hungry and caffeine deprived.  I’d only had one cappuccino, and breakfast seemed ages away.  I needed coffee and pastry asap.

This should have been easy, but for some reason, I chose only the streets that had no food and very few shops.  I started to panic a little.  This is Italy.  Where, for the love of all that is holy, was the coffee?  Perhaps I should have lit a candle at the church of caffee and paste.  Finally, I passed a moderately busy bar and walked in.  They had pretty much no pastry, but did have a pile of sandwiches and an espresso maker.  I picked out a crustless wonder and pointed.  “Questa” and a macchiato.


I’ve stopped drinking cappuccino after noon, because of the looks I get.  Macchiato, which has about half the milk but all the caffeine, seems more acceptable to the locals.  When in Rome…or Venice, or whatever.  The sandwich was egg and asparagus, and it was perfect.  I should have had three or four.

After my refueling, I took a peek at where I was on the map and plotted a course for St. Mark’s.  It was now almost lunchtime

When I arrived at the piazza, the sun was starting to peek through the grey mat that had lain over the city for two days.  St. Mark’s was even more luminous than it had been the day before.

St. Mark's daylight

Today, I took in the murals of the basilica, saw the golden altarpiece, and climbed the steps to see the horses that adorn the face of the church.  Both the replicas and the originals were beautiful, and the views from the terrace were excellent.


While in Venice, I got a number of workouts.  My legs walked me all over the city, my mind got a nice dose of orienteering, and my stomach went through a stretching routine.  Every night I packed it full, and every afternoon it demanded refilling.  It was maybe 30 seconds after I walked out of St. Marks that I jammed the remains of yesterday’s cheese into my mouth, having unwrapped it as I walked down the steps.  Passersby stared a little as I munched and raised my eyebrows in greeting.  The cheese and remaining bread was good, but I was in serious need of something more.  I needed pizza.  And I needed a nap.  Growing up, it was common wisdom that you shouldn’t eat and sleep immediately, but it was also common wisdom that you don’t drink coffee right before bed, either.  I’m still getting used to both ideas.  This day, however, I was going to eat pizza and climb into bed.  I might even bring pizza back to the room where I could eat it IN bed.

Once again, I chose streets that didn’t have food.  This was one of Venice’s cruel tricks, breaking me down to build me up again.  And it was working.  I was frantic.  A sandwich just wasn’t going to cut it this time.  I wanted pizza.  I was almost back to the hotel.  This was not good.  I’d decided not to eat at the same place twice, but this was bordering on emergency.  I pulled out the map, located the square where I’d had pizza the first day, and headed directly there.

One bite, and I was okay.  The city had given back.

Return to Pizza

I resisted the urge to have another 6 pieces.  It was afternoon, and I wanted to have a decent dinner.  Plus there was a gelato shop on the way back that I wanted to try.

My brain was addled form the scare of not immediately finding pizza, so I forgot to take a moment to shift my language to Italian.  I spent a lot of time alone in Venice, which meant talking to myself in my head, which is still in English.  If I can take a minute before I step into a situation, I can shift my language to Italian as much as possible.  This time, I forgot.  This might have been partially due to the attractive woman who was standing behind the counter.  It’s kind of a miracle I didn’t smile nervously and run out of the shop.

Instead, I picked out a size – in Italian – but she responded in English.  That’s always disappointing.  With a simple “questo” I’m found out.  Oh well.  Momentarily, I gave up.  Instead of nicciola, I ordered hazelnut.  “Just hazelnut?”  She was surprised.  “Oh, no…what would you recommend.”  I almost always choose hazelnut and then ask for a recommendation for a pairing.  That way I know I’ve got something I’ll like, and I also have the opportunity to try something I wouldn’t otherwise.

She smiled, and disappeared to a back bank of freezers.  I paid, wondering what I’d get.  When she reappeared, she was still smiling and handed me the cup.  “Grazie.”  My language shifter was stuck between English and Italian and I couldn’t think how to ask her what it was.  As I walked out, she said after me, “oh, con marron glace!”  I tried to look excited, smiled and stepped outside.  What the hell was marron glace?

Marron Glace

I filled my little plastic spoon.  Marron glace is damn good, that’s what it is.  I tasted the gelato, trying to isolate one of the chunks that dotted the creamy goodness.  It dissolved.  “Perhaps chestnut?”  I thought to myself.  The consistency wasn’t quite right, but the flavor was close.  Soon, I stopped trying to figure it out, and just let the excellent gelato melt in my mouth.  Tasty.  The shop was the exact right distance from the hotel for eating a medium gelato.

I ate the last spoonful as I walked in the door to the hotel, up the stairs, and climbed in bed for a nap.  Maybe it was a bad idea to nap directly after pizza, but napping directly after gelato felt utterly acceptable.

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December 2, 2009   2 Comments

Venice day 2

Yesterday started early.  I’d been up late the night before seeing the sights.  I was told that breakfast (included with my room) was at 8:30.  Now, I’m not one to miss a meal, so I figured out which of my electronics had a functioning alarm clock, and set it for 8:00.  When I woke up, it was clear that my morning cappuccino had become a full on addiction.  I could hardly open my eyes.  So I hit the shower (I love showers), threw on some clothes and blundered downstairs.  I was the first one there.

Breakfast was cute and completely adequate.  One of the guys who runs the hotel (not Georgio) made me a cappuccino while I checked out breakfast.  I grabbed a roll and some yogurt and surveyed the cereal selection:  corn flakes, a bland looking oat and raisin mix, and a promising oat and chocolate mix.  One guess which one I tried.  The oats and puffed rice were ho hum, but the chocolate krispies and both light and dark chocolate pieces helped me wake up enough to consider the day before me.  Well, the cappuccino helped, too.

I enjoyed my quiet breakfast and headed back to the room, awake and ready to plan my day.  I looked at my maps, considered my guidebooks and decided on a route.  Head to Saint Mark’s and then to the Rialto for lunch in the market.  If all went well, I’d be able to catch a vaporetto at dusk for a self-guided tour of the Grand Canal, thanks to Rick Steves.  But first, I needed to put some money on my internet card so that I could continue checking email and posting about my trip.

“Ho una domanda.”  “Di mi.”  Georgio was at the front desk when I came down and ready to answer my question.  He wasn’t sure, but though one of the internet points around the corner could help me out.  “Grazie!  Ciao!”  I was off.

The internet point around the corner was less than helpful.  A snooty youngish man in a frilly cravat was the apparent shopkeeper.  Internet points are places where you can plunk down a couple Euro and use the computers.  This was a tiny, strange corner shop, with huge boxes of legos stacked high above the clutter of postcards, keychains and two or three computers jammed against one wall.  This shopkeeper is the first person who looked at me with thinly veiled disgust when I apologized, in Italian, for not speaking the language well and asked him, mostly in Italian, about my internet key.  All he said was “not here.”  I had to prompt him for more information.  “Go to Rialto, to the Vodafone center there.”  Okay, well, at least I knew where that was.  I smiled and thanked him and went on my way, not eager to try another internet point.

The Rialto.  That had been my lunch plan.  Well, at least if I went there in the morning, the shops would be open, and I would be able to assemble a picnic for later.  I quickly revised my plan, checked the hours of operation for Saint Mark’s and struck out for the Rialto bridge.

I was one canal up from the route I’d taken several times to the Rialto via the Accademia.  Ready for a new adventure, I fell in line behind a stream of locals, and headed in the general direction of the bridge.  One thing I’ve found is that if I find a string of apparently unrelated locals walking swiftly in the same direction, the street is unlikely to lead to a dead end.  One local might just be hurrying home, and lead you to a dead end street.  A group of tourists might be going anywhere and are totally unhelpful for navigating.  So I walked on with the locals – to a dead end.  The street ended at the edge of the Grand Canal, with nowhere to go but out into the water.  And then I realized where I was.

This was a traghetto stop!  Traghetti are gondolas that ferry people back and forth across the Grand Canal.  While a fancy gondola ride can cost upwards of 100 Euro, a traghetto ride costs only 50 cents.  Riders typically stand as the two gondoliers shuttle them from one side to the other.  I had wanted to experience this (an expensive gondola ride wasn’t on my list of things to do), but really had no idea how.  But now, I just followed the person in front of me as we climbed aboard, paid the 50 cents and piled aboard.  The experience was very similar to being on a subway car.  Everyone stood very close to each other, swaying a bit with the movement of the boat.  One smiling passenger took video of the entire thing, and I snapped a covert pic.


It was super-fun riding with the locals commuting to work, and the traghetto put me in the right area to head to the Rialto.  I walked for the next few minutes, my eyes peeled for the Vodafone center.  I remembered seeing it the night before, but couldn’t remember where.  The district around the bridge was crowded with people, and the bridge itself was alive with the colorful stalls that had been closed when I first saw it in the dark.  I found no Vodafone on the East side of the bridge, so I headed across, to the West side, and the markets.

The markets on the West side of the Rialto are amazing.  There are fish vendors selling fresh fish of various types.  And there is a lovely produce market where you can buy fruits and vegetables of all colors.


Still looking for the Vodafone center, I wandered in and out of the stalls that surround the market.  I found Wind and TIM and Alice, all the competitors to Vodafone, but I couldn’t locate the store.  I wound in circles, thinking I had missed it.  As I passed by fruit vendors and bread shops, I decided what I wanted to have for lunch.  I hopped into a shop to pick up a loaf of multigrain bread, then to a shop for a hunk of assiago cheese.  Finally I picked out a single apple from a lonely vendor, and my perfect picnic was complete.  But I still didn’t have internet service.  I asked the lady at the cheese shop.  She sent me down a street I’d walked three times already.  Afraid that she was sending me to the Alice/TIM shop, I wandered, and found what I was afraid of.  “Prego,” I decided to ask the man in the competitor store where to go.  “The other side of the bridge.  Turn right.”

The other side of the bridge.  I was starting to feel like I was on an episode of candid camera.  I had now spent over an hour searching for this place.  But at least I had my little picnic tucked inside my overflowing bag.

There are several places to turn right when coming over the Rialto bridge.  I had no idea which right I was supposed to take, so I chose to systematically eliminate the possibilities.  The first right took me along the canal, past gondolas and coffee shops – but no Vodafone.

I walked through the Rialto again, past all the shops I’d passed earlier, halfway back to the traghetto stop.  This was ridiculous.  I turned around, walked back, saw nothing, and tried again.  Finally I asked a young man standing outside a restaurant.  Disappointed that I wasn’t actually interested in his establishment, he coldly pointed me back toward the bridge, while looking the other way.  “Up here?”  “Si.”  I was seriously striking out with the young Italian men today.

This time, I saw the red letters of the Vodafone logo just off one of the squares.  It looked closed – like under construction closed.  But one of the doors was ajar, so I pulled it open and stuck my head in to find several people looking at me.  They weren’t open.  The signs on the door probably told me that, but they were in Italian, and I was feeling desperate, knowing that stores would be closing in about 30 minutes for lunch.  One of the men came outside with me to show me a map plastered on the door that told me where the other store was.  I looked at it, memorized a couple of street names and went around the corner to find the place.  After another ten minutes of wandering back and forth, back and forth, I went back to the closed shop to have another look at the map.  I really thought I had it, when I realized the map was upside down.  I had enough.  I took out my camera and took a picture.  Now I had a map to carry with me.  Two minutes later, I was in the open Vodafone store, and 5 minutes later, I had my internet service again.  I also had a pretty good understanding of the Rialto bridge area – a bonus for my trouble.

As shops started to shut down, I rearranged my plan for the day, and headed over to Saint Mark’s to see what I could accomplish before dark.  I knew that I could buy a “museum pass” at the Doge’s palace that would let me into a bunch of museums, so I headed there first.  Once inside, I decided to run through the palace.  I could always come back later with my pass.  I hit the opera museum with its huge columns, the palazzo courtyard, and the bathroom.  Then I entered the palace itself.  It was big and interesting, housing the senate chambers, different courts, residences, and the armory.

Doge Senate chamber Secred doors

I made it through about half before I started getting hungry.  By the time I reached the armory I was pretty much starving.  It was only my deep love of swords and armor that kept me focused at all.  I wanted to look at every, single blade, regarding them lovingly, with an appreciation I can’t explain.  But there are a lot of swords in the armory.  It took a lot of time.  And I hadn’t seen the prisons yet.  I considered reaching into my bag to pry a hunk of bread off of my little loaf, but thought the ubiquitous museum guards might frown on that.  So I continued on to the prisons, thinking of the apple and cheese I had under my arm.

To reach the prisons, you cross the “bridge of sighs” which links them to the palace – to the courts.  It’s under scaffolding right now, but it’s supposed to be really pretty.  I’ll have to come back and see it.  From the inside it’s really cramped, and smelled like every prison I’ve ever toured (yes, I’ve toured a few).

The prison itself was fascinating.  I opted for the “complete prison tour” which lead through several floors of stone cells, wood doors, and huge bars.  There was even a display of the art that prisoners had scratched into the walls and windowsills over the centuries that the prison was in use.

Prison bars Prison hall Prison art

Back across the sighing bridge, I practically ran through the rest of the palace and out into St. Mark’s where I scoped out a spot for my picnic.  Picnicing is illegal in most of Venice, especially St. Mark’s, where police roam around watching for people like me who are brazen enough to munch in the open.

I put on the raincoat I had been carrying in my bag to make more room, and transferred the slab of cheese to my coat pocket.  That done, I had easy access to both my bread and cheese, which I cut with my handy-dandy pocketknife.

Covert picnic Covert cheese Bird People

While I ate, I disguised myself as an interested tourist, reading about the renovations to the drainage system in the square.  The police were far more interested in the people who were sitting among the zillions of pigeons.  Even when seagulls circled and came in to harass me for snacks, I went unnoticed.

Well fueled, I gathered myself and headed across the square and into St. Mark’s basillico.  I’m not an expert, but St. Mark’s is different from any church I’ve ever seen.  For a start, you’ve got the outside, which is incredibly striking at any time of the day or night.  Today, it was grey outside, but St. Mark’s still shone.

St. Mark

It really shines, inside and out.  The gold of the mosaics is dizzying.

St. Mark mosaic

It was nearing closing time for the church, so I did a circuit of the basilica and headed into the treasury to see the spoils of war brought back from Byzantium – and a bunch of creepy relics.  I grew up Catholic and was pretty darn involved in the church.  But I’ve never really gotten into the idea of keeping the bones and clothes of saints.  It’s just a little creepy to me.  So, I took a peek at the arms, legs, and skulls of the saints and headed back out into the square and the steadily darkening night.  I’d come back for the other St. Mark’s attractions tomorrow.

St. Marks at dusk

I was tired.  It had already been a long day, and I was ready for a nap before dinner.  I got my bearings and started the trek back to the hotel.  It was a beautiful evening, dry and relatively warm.  A few blocks off of St. Mark’s as I stopped to take a picture of passing gondolas, I remembered my plan from earlier in the day.


A vaporetto tour down the Grand Canal!  Crap.  And I was so looking forward to a nap.  I reached into my bag for a hunk of bread and altered my course.  If I was going to do the boat tour, tonight was the night.    I consulted the map and saw that there was a traghetto stop not far from where I was.  Pefect.  The night was getting darker, and I wanted to be on the vaporetto while there was still some light.  A short ride later, I was on the other side of the canal, and on my way to the vaporetto.

I hopped on with all the other tourists who had just arrived on the train and were looking for their hotels.  Grabbing a good standing spot with leaning room, I positioned myself for what would be a really good way to see the great palaces of the city.  We chugged along from stop to stop, the driver bumping unceremoniously into the docks, and the conductor throwing out thick ropes to hold us against the straining engines.

Vap ropes

The Canal was beautiful, but allowed for only shaky pictures as we moved along the water.

Canal at night Palazzo at night Adcademia bridge at night

We cruised past the Rialto bridge, the Academia, countless ca’ (only the royal palace could be called “palazzo” evidently) and finally St. Mark’s.  By the time I stepped off the 45 minute boat ride, it was dark.  I had seen a lot of Venice.  I was happy, tired, and ready for dinner.

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December 1, 2009   2 Comments