Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Day 9: Venice

Bright and sunny outside this morning....we know that very early, because the air-conditioning has not yet been turned on at the Locanda del Ghetto, so we are sleeping with our window and the balcony doors wide open. I get up about 6 am and sit out on the balcony to do some is very pleasant to watch the Campo wake up....people crossing the square on their way to work, the streetsweeper cleaning up, mothers with children on their way to school, old women on their way to the market and the ever-present soldiers (all synagogues in Italy are guarded by the military since an attack on the Rome synagogue in the 1970s) who come on duty very early . No cars and no motor scooters......

We have a leisurely morning (it had been a late night). Breakfast at the Locanda is one of the least elaborate we have cappuccino even. Only one cornetti and couple of mediocre rolls with butter jam, juice and tea or caffe latte. After breakfast, we walk on the main street in Cannaregio; it is very busy....lots of stores, a small market with fruits and vegetables--but except for the tourists walking from the train station to the Rialto, it seems to be very Venetian. We stop for a coffee at a cafe and Diana writes some postcards. On our walk, we locate a self service laundromat that we plan to use while we are in Venice.

After a stop at the hotel, we walk to the vaparetto stop on the Grand Canal--San Marcuola--and take the boat to the Rialto bridge. It is already quite warm and the dock is very hot making the ten minute wait for the boat seem even longer. When it does arrive, it is very crowded and we have to fight for a place to stand near the railing, in order to get a cool breeze.

The Rialto area is also very crowded but the people appear to be mostly tourists. We are too late for much of the market but we walk through the narrow streets and come out in the Campo San Polo. Campo San Polo is a huge square and lots of benches....besides tourists taking a short break from their rounds, the campo is also the neighborhood park for the residents of the area. Children are kicking a soccer ball around and playing with toys under the watchful eyes of their parents or grandparents.

We go inside the Church of San Polo and buy a Chorus Pass--a comprehensive ticket for 15 churches all over Venice....good for two years. With the admission ticket, the churches have also developed a one page handout on a laminated plastic card, that has a map of the church and identifies each of the pieces of art.....a very welcome development for those who often are confused in Italian churches. The highlights of San Polo for me are the Tiepolo (the son) Stations of the Cross and the Tintoretto Last Supper, but how different these Venetian painters are from what we are used in the rest of Italy, certainly a lot less calm.

We have lunch sitting outside at a new trattoria/winebar on the Campo San Barnaba called Oniga. The meal is very pleasant--I have the set lunch which includes a saute of clams and mussels followed by a grilled orata with polenta--both dishes delicious. Diana has a large salad (insalatone) with mortadella (they are somehow out of the advertised prosciutto). After lunch, the heat takes its toll and we take a vaparetto back to the hotel. (A welcome innovation on the vaparetti is that you can now buy tickets on the boat if you don't have one. Part of the reason for this is that fewer vaparetto stops have ticket sellers and there are no ticket machines. We haven't yet purchased a daily or three day pass because it is hard to judge how frequently we will be taking the vaparetti and whether it makes sense from a cost point of view.)

The boat is again crowded (there are definitely a lot of tourists in Venice) and the boat trips on the Grand Canal don't provide the same sense of enjoyment that I had remembered from previous trips.

Back at the hotel, we relax and try to escape the heat. I sit on the balcony and watch the passing scene on the Campo, children playing, people having aperitifs at the restaurant below our room, tourists coming and going for the tours of the synagogues and the museum, and locals sitting on the benches and talking to their neighbors. Later in the afternoon, we sit at the same restaurant/bar below our balcony and have some dessert. I head off for a short walk in the neighborhood, trying to stay in the shade whenever possible. I am surprised at how Venetian the neighborhood of Cannaregio is, especially as you walk in the areas north of the ghetto. It is filled with bars with locals sitting around and small restaurants that serve the neighborhood. Some restaurants that are appealing to tourists have opened in the area, but they don't appear to be changing the local feel of the area.

Tonight we are having dinner with our Peace Corps friends whom we had seen in Ravenna as well as with two friends of theirs who shared their villa in Tuscany the previous week and another Peace Corps friend who came down from Vienna to see the Lewises. Dinner is at a restaurant in our neighborhood, Vini di Giglio. Dinner is a lot of fun...there is lots of joking and reminiscing and talking about Italy. The food is not bad....the highlight dishes are a grilled eel and a fried cheese with polenta appetizer. The waitress maintained a good humor with us throughout the evening which included a large amount of delicious prosecco and didn't finish until past midnight. We have a relatively short walk home...luckily--because it is has been a long day.

One thing we learned today is that the canals do smell sometimes when the temperature is the restaurant for dinner, we have to close the window because of the odor coming from the canal outside. But we also feel that Venice is still magical and a very unique destination.

Tomorrow we have planned an outing to the island of Torcello with our Peace Corps friends.


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