This update comes a bit late, as we’re now in Florence, but our beautiful Venetian pensione with an excellent location only steps from the Rialto bridge near the Grand Canal did not offer internet access.
The train ride from Salzburg to Venice was long — two hours to Innsbruck, then another five from there to Venice — but uneventful. Innsbruck, even from the train station, was beautiful, though unless one is doing serious hiking or skiing, or partying, there’s not that much to do. So we contented ourselves with a shot or two from the train station, and moved on.
We shared a first class compartment for part of the ride from Innsbruck with a young couple (seemingly in their twenties) and their lap dog! Who knew that one could bring lap dogs on Italian trains? Later on, in the Venice train station we saw a twenty-something hipster with a ferret on a leash, so who knows what the limits are. We did not, however, see many children.
We made our children do some schoolwork on the train, however, and, as you can see, at least some work got done, though not as much as we had hoped.
Upon our arrival at Venice, we attended to the most urgent matters. Cash machine in the train station (we were paying the hotel in cash). Check. Vaporetto tickets. Check (we bought the 48 hour passes). Then on to the #1 boat (luggage and all) to the Rialto-Mercato stop and a short walk to the Pensione Guerrato http://www.pensioneguerrato.it/, which is hidden in an alleyway right near the Rialto fish market. They say the building was first constructed in the fourteenth century, which, for Venice, is not all that old. Though the it had been renovated many times over the centuries, the place still felt solid and ancient.
It was a classic old place, with antiques in the hallway. And several rooms (including the ones we hired) with no “facilities.” These were down the hall. John and Dad shared a room, and Mom and Margaret. The ladies had the bigger room, with the better view. If you look carefully in this picture, taken from their room, you can just see the water of the Grand Canal (look under the arches). Not bad for 90 Euros per night, per room, in Venice. Our first night, we wandered to a restaurant recommended by our hotelier, Rick Steeves, and the Knopf Pocket Map Guide to Venice (Al Nono Risorto). The pizza was excellent, with crispy thin crust; the house red wine, cheap and tasty. Dessert featured little Italian cookies and a small glass of something like sherry, for dipping the cookies in.
We got out to an early start and were at the Academia when it opened. We had the place almost to ourselves for a few minutes, and enjoyed the late medieval and early Renaissance art. Unfortunately, about half of the Bellinis were either being restored or lent to other institutions, which meant that Margaret did not get to see the famous Madonna and child with Mary Magdalene that she had set her heart on. At least the Tempest was there. After reading A Soldier of the Great War, I had to see it. That novel had more meaningful and intelligent things to say about that painting than just about any of the guidebooks or museum-supplied commentaries we've encountered anywhere.
After the Academia, it was off to St. Mark’s square. As an incentive to keep the kids interested, we played another search game. I offered them ten cents for every winged lion (the symbol of St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice — as he became when some Venetian merchants “rescued” his body from Alexandria in the tenth century). Here’s one of the most prominent, on the Doge’s palace:
We toured the Correr museum (of the history of Venice — and lots of winged lions) and had lunch in their cafeteria (great view, quiet, expensive, mediocre food, indifferent service). The interior of the Doge’s palace was next. Naturally, large portions of it were being restored, but the astronomical clock, which was being restored when I was last in Venice (2004) was now visible — and glorious. This picture may not show the details as well as possible, but it is digital, showing the time in five-minute increments. (By about this time, I had to cut the game off at about 2 Euros per kid — these things can get expensive, fast).
We decided to try the basilica on Monday, first thing in the morning to beat the crowds, so we hopped on a vaporetto to St. Giorgio, where we took in the church and admired the Doge's Palace:
We also saw the remarkable spectacle of a cruise ship being tugged out of Venice. See how the modern ship dwarfs the Renaissance scale of the modern city. I am giving my verdict on the design of the ship, here (the stern is not visible in the photo (the ship was just too big), but it was hideously squared off).
After returning to St. Mark’s, we found an overpriced café with a view of S. Giorgio and sat for gelato and espresso.
Then, we took a cruise on the vaporetto down the rest of the main island, past the big park, out to the Lido and returned up the Grand Canal for a sunset cruise. Us and as many people as could fit body-to-body on the boat. We were so crowded in by the end that we were unable to get off where we wanted and had to get off at the next stop and make a long walk home. Naturally, by that time, everyone really needed to get back to the hotel (if you know what I mean), and naturally, that was the only time we really had trouble finding our way.
Here's another random, lovely view:
For the record, Margaret took over a hundred pictures in our two days walking around Venice. Apparently Adelia told her to, because she'd like to visit the place some day. So we have lots of Venice photos on the hard drive.
I thought, briefly, about taking a gondola ride — but they're quite expensive, and I'm certain that, knowing the cost, Susan would not have enjoyed it. We did, however, take some nice pictures of the gondolas and gondoliers:
After taking care of business, we wandered out again, found a cheap pizza place (cheaper, but not as nice as the previous night’s place, with a very questionable semi-fizzing cheap red house wine -- cut with fizzy water, perhaps?) and got home for bed.
Monday was another big day. We were packed and out of the hotel by 8:30 and planned to get in as much sightseeing as we could before our 2:45 train to Florence.
We were at the Campanile when it opened at 9, and enjoyed a delightful view of the city.
Here's the view from the south (note the Chiesa di Santa Maria Della Salute under renovation):
And to the West (note the renovations on the square):
And to the East (see the domes of the basilica in the foreground):
We were among the first tourists into St. Mark’s when it opened at 9:45 and spent a long time admiring the mosaics, the treasury (Susan had some things to say about the merits of the Protestant Reformation and its iconoclasm and repudiation of the veneration of the saints — some of which might have gotten us kicked out of the cathedral, if any English-speaking ecclesiastics had been around), the spectacular golden altarpiece, and the museum in the balcony.
Outside, the kids climbed on some of the St. Marks' lions (no wings, however):
We had a picnic in the park and took the vaporetto up to S. Toma, where we got out and hiked it to the Frari church to admire the Titian Assumption of Mary and a truly extraordinary Bellini altarpiece. I had hoped we’d have time enough also to see what Rick Steeves calls “Tintoretto’s Sistene Chapel” (the Scuola Grande de S. Rocco). Alas, there was no time. We hiked it back to the hotel, packed ourselves and our luggage into the vaporetto, and got to the train station to board the Eurostar express train to Florence. It was much nicer than the train we took from Innsbruck, though we had been required to reserve seats at 15 Euro a piece, so it should have been. The train was fast (2:45 to Florence, making only two stops before ours), did not require a connection, and had a free beverage service, so it seemed worth the extra cost. And it was.
We arrived at the Florence apartment without difficult and found it very satisfactory. But that will have to wait for another blog entry.