In the past I’d never had a burning desire to see Venice, having heard it called Disneyland and a shopping mall with a river running through it. But once my sister and I booked a cruise to the Greek Islands which started in Venice, we decided to add another night and day to (what should have been) 2 nights and 2 days that were part of the tour. So I started my usual research and reading–relying on Walking Venice from National Geographic and Venice and the Veneto from DK Eyewitness, supplemented by several websites on specific sights.
Overall I’m glad I got to see Venice, especially given the fact that in a few years it may be underwater. But I feel the same as my sister; that if Venice had been the first place I’d seen in Italy, I wouldn’t have returned 7 times.
And that’s not to say it isn’t beautiful as the pictures in this post illustrate. We were fortunate to see some stunning places. I think it’s more because Venice and the Veneto have a totally different culture from that of Tuscany or southern Italy; less friendly, less warm. Although if I lived in a city of around 60,000 people with 20+ million tourists, I probably wouldn’t be very friendly either.
I’m going to write this post in the same style as my Verona, sequentially and taken predominately from my journal, although there were days when we were so busy that I didn’t write until late at night or the next morning. I’ve illustrated the post with a mix of my sister’s pictures and mine.
Thursday October 12, 2017
We arrived from Verona around 12:30pm. The Hotel Canal Grande had contacted me before we left Florence, reconfirming our reservation and asking if we needed a porter to help with our luggage. That was a major relief since I’d learned from a student in my Italian class that the bridge across the canal near the train station is very difficult to cross with luggage.
I had reconfirmed with the hotel while we were in Verona and we spotted the porter as soon as we exited the station. The down side was that he placed both our large and small bags on the trolley and then charged us 5€ per bag. But it was worth it. We would have never made it on our own despite it being a fairly short walk to the hotel.
I chose this hotel thinking it was the same one that our tour had booked us into. Nope. There are two hotels in Venice with Grand Canal in their name. Our tour used the Carlton Grand Canal while this was the Hotel Canal Grande. It was light years away from the Carlton in terms of service and furnishings.
The concierge assured us they’d take care of getting our bags to the Carlton the next day and once I got over my embarrassment, I decided it was a fortuitous mistake. One of the staff took us to a gorgeous room which had a bottle of prosecco and a torta al cioccolata for my sister’s upcoming birthday.
Prior to the trip I had gone over detailed maps of Venice and researched restaurants and wine bars.
So I suggested to my sister that we walk to Campo San Giacomo and have lunch at Al Prosecco. We stopped at the concierge’s desk and went over the map with him. I pride myself on my map reading skills but I had us lost within 15 minutes. Here’s what I wrote: “Yesterday after checking in and unpacking enough for one night and day, I got us hopelessly lost trying to find Campo San Giacomo. We finally got there but couldn’t find Al Prosecco (the theme of this trip) so had an expensive caprese salad and wine at a restaurant recommended by the hotel.” (Here’s the link to Al Prosecco, http://www.alprosecco.com/english_where.htm#) (Post trip comment: I wish I hadn’t been so stressed about being lost. In retrospect, looking at our pictures of the canals, winding alleys, and campos, I should have just stopped and enjoyed the beauty. I’ll randomly place some of those beautiful pictures throughout this post. Weirdly enough as I write this, I’m reading a Donna Leon/Commissario Brunetti book, The Girl of his Dreams and some of the plot takes place in Campo San Giacomo.)
Friday October 13, 2017; 1:50pm: Waiting for our room @ the Carlton. They treated us like garbage when we got here, questioning our reservation and apparently refused our luggage from Hotel Canal Grande. So we have to wait for our luggage as well. I am foaming @ the mouth.
Going back to yesterday…after lunch we went to Ca’ Pesaro which I loved–Klimt, Picasso, Matisse with a large exhibit of David Hockney portraits.
We continued on to the Rialto, stopping to see the Hands sculpture on the way. This sculpture is phenomenal and according to various web sites (e.g. http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2017/05/support-hands-sculpture-venice/) the artist, Lorenzo Quinn, created the sculpture to call attention to climate change and global warming.
The Rialto was crowded and consequently a bit underwhelming but we did get some cool pictures, even though the sun was close to setting.
Then we found an easier route back to the hotel past S. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.
Still it was almost 5:30pm by the time we got to the hotel and long past sunset by the time we were cleaned up. It took at least a ½ hour to find the Accademia and the Zattere. Once again I couldn’t find my planned bar–El Chioschetto– and we settled for a pizza and salad at a less than friendly trattoria.
When we got back to the hotel, we took the torta and prosecco out to the deck and ate ½ the cake and drank most of the prosecco while talking to two couples from Kansas City.
Friday, October 13, 2017, 10:10pm: In bed trying to finish my journal after another 6+ miles day. The trip to Murano was kind of disappointing. The price for a ‘free’ water taxi was not getting to see anything but the glass factory and an hour of hard sell. The only plus was that I got a compliment at the glass factory. I was trying to put off the sales woman and said, “I know my daughter would like something but I don’t know her taste.” “How old is she? “49.” “49? You’re 49.” One bonus of the trip was that we were dropped off at the Fondamente Nuova and had to find our way back to the hotel which came in handy after our Canareggio tour (see below.)
After the fiasco of getting checked in, we unpacked then walked to S. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari and Scuola Grande di Rocco.
Santa Maria is known for its Monks’ Choir, the only one in Venice that is intact.
It is also known for Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin above the altar. You can’t take pictures in the Basilica but here’s a link where you can see the art and the Monks’ Choir. https://www.basilicadeifrari.it/
The Tintorettos in the Scuola were stunning and the history of the Scuola is fascinating. Here is a link to the ‘brochure’ for the Scuola which describes the ‘brotherhood’ and why the Scuola is dedicated to the patron saint of the plague. Scuola Grande di San Rocco (In February 2017 I attended a talk at a local art museum given by the Curator of the Boston Fine Arts museum who had studied in Venice and written his doctoral thesis on Titian and Tintoretto. In all honesty, though, I still don’t have the appreciation for the Titians and Tintorettos as I do for the 20th century art in Ca’ Pesaro.) But even if you’re not an aficianado of 16th century Tintorettos, the ceilings and walls of the Scuola will leave you amazed.
Across the small square from the Scuola is the Chiesa di San Rocco. We didn’t go inside but my sister took a picture of the lovely exterior.
We came back here, cleaned up and met our walking tour of the ghetto.
The tour was both an introduction to the Venetian tradition of bacari (standing bars) and cicchetti (appetizers) and to the history of the Jewish ghetto; a rather odd combination. So I’ll talk about the wine bars first, then the ghetto.
The bacari tour was interesting and fun. The guide was pleasant and we talked to several nice people including a very sweet young guy who’s a Foreign Service Officer serving in Baghdad. (He’d grown up in Oklahoma and since I’d done my undergrad at the University of Nebraska, he wanted to talk football. Lol) We started at a small wine bar just across from Ponte di Guglie. That was the only bar where we actually sat for awhile and had our cicchetti and prosecco. Then we walked along the Fondamente di Cannaregio. (A fondamente is a street alongside a canal.) We stopped at a wine bar there and it was so crowded, we had to stand outside along the canal which made for interesting, albeit chilly, people watching.
Our third and final wine bar was at the far end of the Cannaregio, a wine bar in Campo dei Santi Apostali, close to the Rialto. Again we had our wine and cicchetti standing outside. (I didn’t write down the names of the bars but this may have been Osteria dal Riccio Peoco.) While it was fun feeling like the locals, we were all ready to head to some place warm and the group scattered fairly quickly.
From our second wine bar, we took Calle del Forno into the original Jewish Ghetto where our guide showed us the homes, schools and synagogues of the original Jewish population, describing how the people lived. While Bonaparte ended the practice of closing the gates of the ghetto each night, it wasn’t until 1866 that Jewish people were allowed to live in other areas of Venice. (I wasn’t aware that the term ghetto originated in Venice until I began reading the DK Eyewitness book on Venice. Most travel books have at least a short section on the Venetian ghetto. However, I found this article in The Guardian particularly interesting https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/venice-ghetto-jews-italy-anniversary-shaul-bassi-180956867/. )
Our guide also showed us a memorial wall for those taken from the ghetto to the concentration camps. Standing there in the quiet campo, surrounded by homes and schools, contemplating the loss of 250 lives was a moving experience, more personal than some of the other memorials I’ve visited.
After our last wine bar we headed back along Strada Nova. Having walked along that street earlier in the day we found our way back to our starting point fairly easily.
We stopped at the same wine bar near Ponte di Guglie where we began our tour with the intent to have more wine and food. We got the wine but started talking to a Brit couple who are on our cruise and never got food. Go figure!!
I’m beat and hope I can sleep but it’s really noisy outside.
7:45am: Having a cappuccino in the breakfast room. Woke before the alarm with a bad headache. My backache gets worse every day.
Yesterday we managed to get an early vaporetto to St. Mark’s and I would hate to be there during high season. The crowds were crazy.
We walked through the Duomo which didn’t take long since we couldn’t take pictures. But we did take a lot of photos of the square itself.
Then we spent an hour and a half @ least going through the Doge’s Palace. The art, especially the Tintorettos in the Sala del Maggior Consiglio, was magnificent plus the rooms with the arms and armor were fascinating. We tried to take photos of the interior but they didn’t come out well. Here are a few of the exterior. (We didn’t notice the Tesori sign until later.)
The major bonus was an exhibition of unbelievable jewels once owned by a mahariji–emeralds, rubies and diamonds the size of my head. [Post trip note: Sometime during the first week of January 2018 thieves walked in to the exhibit and walked off with a number of jewels. Crazy! Read the story here: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/04/daring-doges-palace-jewel-theft-police-expert-help-venice]
After going through the special exhibit, we were waiting in line to see the prisons, but they kept letting tour groups through first so we bailed then wandered around the square taking pictures. There were a couple of other musei on our Venice card, including the Correr and the archaeological museum but I couldn’t find the entrance and when we sat down on a step to look at our map, we were shooed away by an officer. We, then, walked over the Ponte della Puglia to see the Bridge of Sighs and took lots of photos of the bridge and the view from the ‘promenade’ in front of the Square.
From there I suggested we go over the Accademia bridge, see Ca’Rezzonico which was on our card, then have lunch. We got several pictures from the bridge that were phenomenal.
Ca’Rezzonico was several floors of weird 18th century art so we didn’t stay long. (My guide book calls it one of the most splendid palaces in Venice but we definitely found it odd.) We did like the area around the palazzo including the gardens next to it and my sister took lots of lovely pictures shown below.
We found a little bar in Campo San Barnaba that had 2 euro tramezzini so we had ham sandwiches and wine and watched the people in the campo. Of all the campos we walked through in Venice, I found Campo San Barnaba the most charming. It’s a bit off the beaten path so somewhat quieter than other areas of Venice. A great place for people watching (and gondolier watching.)
(Post trip comment: We purchased the Venice card at https://www.veneziaunica.it/ before the trip and it paid for itself with the Doge’s Palace and Ca’ Pesaro. However if I ever get to Venice again, I’ll probably focus on the Accademia, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and Santa Maria della Salute, all in the Dorsoduro and not on the card.)
By the time we got back to the hotel, we barely had time to shower and head back out; our plan being to find El Chiosechetto and have spritzes on the zattere.
I got us to the zattere more quickly using a different route and we walked the length of it, never seeing anything that looked like El Chioschetto. So we ended up at the same restaurant as Thursday night with the same waiter. But the spritzes were good and the weather was perfect. And most importantly we got to see the sunset along with a number of cruise ships and sailboats going up and down the Guidecca Canal.
We got to the meeting point by the Accademia for our walking tour way early but the City Wonders person was already there. She immediately told us we would take the gondola ride prior to the walking tour due to it becoming dark and foggy fairly early. While we waited, we watched some musicians in the area alongside the Accademia. It was pleasant listening to the music and we got some interesting pictures.
The early gondola ride was a piece of luck because the ride was lovely but by the time we finished it was cold and foggy.
The tour/walk was so awful—huge group that required microphones and radios, a terrible guide who didn’t speak very good English and kept stopping in the fog to point out things we couldn’t see or tell us things we already knew—that we bailed early. Sue wanted to eat in Campo San Barnaba but the waiter at the one restaurant with indoor space laughed at us
(Post trip comment: In 2016 my sister and I did a Rome by Night tour with City Wonders/Dark Rome and it was amazing. We were stunned at how poor this tour was in comparison to the Rome tour.)
So we continued to Campo Santa Margherita and ate at a tourist trap with mediocre food. But we were just happy to be warm, dry and fed. At my suggestion we had a limoncello in the hotel which set me back 27 €. Crikey!!
1:10pm: In the ship’s boarding hall, starving and grumpy ‘cause the ship is late and we won’t board until at least 3:00pm (make the 7:00pm). This AM I drug Sue down for a coffee then afterwards I took a walk We finished packing and checked out then had to wait on the dock for 45 chilly minutes for the water taxi. The only plus is that we have a fairly low boarding number. (NOT We were in one of the last groups.) The worst part is that it is a gorgeous day and we could have spent another 2-3 hours in Venice.