Friday, May 27, 2005

Day 11: Venice

We are up early again....the sun is up before 6 am here in Venice. Last night is the first time that the noise from the campo disturbed us.....most especially the sounds of the restaurant below closing up--moving plastic tables and chairs makes a big racket. (Of course we chose a hotel on a campo, and a room with a balcony.)

After breakfast, we pack up our dirty laundry and walk over to the laundromat on the main street just five minutes from our hotel. The proprietor is on the premises and she gets us organized very quickly, leading me to the proper machines and directing me about which buttons to push and where to put the money. She doesn't know that we are Italian laundromat professionals and, in fact, we help several of the customers, including one Italian woman, get their laundries started. In fact, the only time that most Italians seem to use a laundromat is when they have to wash their quilts and bedcovers--they are too large for most of their home washing machines.

This laundromat is clean and well organized and we are out in just over an hour, in time to take the 10:30 tour of the synagogues in the Ghetto. There are many people waiting for the tour but the museum staff is skilled in organizing the groups and staggering the tours so that the mostly small synagogues are not overwhelmed with crowds. The tour--in English--visits three of the five synagogues in the Ghetto; the two largest ones are still in use for regular services and are not visited on the tour. All three of the synagogues that are on the tour are built into the upper floors of buidings in the ghetto; you can't distinguish them from outside except by the five arched windows across the front facade. One is directly above our hotel. All of them were built in the early 1500s, shortly after Venice established the first ghetto; it was getting too dangerous for Jews to live outside the city walls so the city officials decided to bring the Jews into the city but to keep them isolated in their own restricted zone from dusk to dawn.

All of the synagogues were designed and built by Christian architects and craftsmen; Jews were limited to only a few trades--doctors, moneylenders and cloth merchants- so the synagogues have some "un-synagogue" -like decorative and architectural characteristics. The five synagogues were needed because the various Jewish communities had different backgrounds, languages and customs. There were Sephardic Jews from the Middle East, Spain and Portugal, Ashkenazi Jews from Germany and France, and Italian Jews who had been in Rome from before the birth of Christ. The ghetto also has the tallest buildings in Venice....the buildings had to accommodate about 5,000 residents in a very small area.

The tour of the ghetto is fascinating and moving....the different buildings have subtle differences in design and feel. Some of the arrangements are due to factors such as how much weight the floors of the buildings could support so the ark and the reader's pulpit have to be on opposite sides of the room. The Venetian officials restricted the kinds of materials that could be used in the synagogues, so there are no precious metals or marble...rather artisans created marble-like painted surfaces that we were told are now more valuable than actual marble.

After a short walk through the Jewish Museum, we browse at a few of the shops and galleries in the Ghetto and then stop in at a used bookshop that is run by a friend of Howard Fitzpatrick's. We have a nice conversation with the proprietor, buy a book, have a glass of prosecco with him and ask him for some restaurant recommendations in the area. He recommends a neighborhood trattoria frequented by workmen that he says serves a very good lunch for 11 has no name but it is located just beyond a wooden cross set in the sidewalk on the next canal over .

Since it is time for lunch, we decide to eat there. We almost give up before we finally see the wooden cross and a building with a green awning and no sign. We go inside and the most of the tables are filled by men--not a woman in sight other than the two waitresses. While waiting to be seated, I take a look in the back and see some tables set up in a pretty courtyard. We decide to eat out there since it is very warm inside. Lunch was indeed very good--Diana has a delicious risotto with seafood, and vitello tonnato (veal slices in tuna flavored mayonnaise) and I have spaghetti with mussels in a vibrant tomato sauce and terrific baked stuffed sardines in pesto. It is the type of lunch experience that you read about but rarely experience; we certainly wouldn't have found it without the recommendation of the book dealer.

I have made arrrangements to visit some Venetian hotels so we head for La Calcina in the Dorsoduro neighborhood, where we had actually stayed on our first trip to Venice. This is one of our nicer vaparetto rides....the boat isn't crowded and we get a nice breeze. The vaparetto stop where we get off is right in front of Gelateria Nico, so we have a refreshing gelato before heading on to the hotel. The hotel has remodelled and upgraded since our stay there in 1994 but it is still one of the more affordable hotels with some sense of style. The room with a terrace overlooking the canal is especially nice.

After leaving the hotel, we stop in the jewelry shop at the Accademia Bridge where Diana had bought necklaces on each of our previous trips. The store specializes in jewelry made with Venetian glass and African beads, as well as African statues. And on this trip, since she has a birthday present coming to her, she buys another necklace. We have a nice talk with the very charming proprietor about his business and his products. Diana tells him that she always gets compliments on his necklaces and will stop in again to show him one that she bought on a previous visit to his store.

We stop at another hotel, the Hotel American, where I meet the manager and tour the hotel. This is a very nice three star hotel that clients have been very happy with, but I find the rooms overdecorated and a little musty.

We have plans to meet our friends for a drink and to say goodby at 6 pm at the Hotel Orion (near San Marco), which means that we have some time to kill. We hop on a vaparetto to San Marco and I plan to visit another hotel, the Metropole, a very popular four star that I have used frequently for clients. The walk from the vaparetto stop to the Metropole takes us right across the mouth of Piazza San Marco. This is our first time in this area on this trip and we are amazed at the crowds; the atmosphere is very different from what we are experiencing in Cannaregio.

By the time we reach the Metropole, my contact has already left for the day but we take advantage of the air-conditioned lobby to rest for a while before we go to meet our friends. It is the end of a long day, the sun is still very strong and we try to take advantage of the shadier streets that wend their way through the area north of San Marco. We make one more rest stop in a cafe on the Campo Santa Maria Formosa before getting to our meeting place. We escort our friends to a pizzeria (they are having an early dinner because both couples are leaving tomorrow) and say our goodbyes. We then have the hike to the Rialto to pick up a vaparetto back to our hotel.

For dinner, we decide to stay in the neighborhood and head to a very well recommended place called Anice Stellato (Star Anise). When I had tried to make reservations the previous day, they told me that they were booked, but we walk over there hoping that they can fit us in at the last minute. It turns out that they can. The restaurant is very informal with wooden tables, butcher paper place mats and red paper napkins, but the menu is quite ambitious, mixing together Venetian standbys and more creative dishes. We both have risotto with seafood to start--beautifully cooked--and I have the best fritto misto ever, a very large portion including terrific fried vegetables and a delicate small whole sole. Diana has a roast lamb preparation with fabulous roasted potatoes. With this terrific meal, we drink a wonderful bottle of Adami prosecco. We would be happy to return.

Luckily it is short walk back to the Ghetto because it has a been a long day and we are ready for bed. Tomorrow morning we plan to go to services at one of the synagogues not on the tour, and then make an inspection visit to the Hotel Cipriani.


Anonymous said...

I am even too lazy to do that. When I have to wash my quilt, I take it to a "regular" laundry shop and have the "manager" take care of everything.

Alice Twain

4:59 PM  

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