A city made to wander.....
Originally published 3 January 2017
On one of the main canals
We woke this morning and after breakfast, set out to discover Venice in the daylight. While spectacular at night, there are a lot of things not easily seen after dark. And there are many things here to see. Laurie is fascinated by the art and culture. The engineer in me drives me to figure out how the locals do things, how things work, and how they live their day to day lives.
Laurie wanted to start with St. Marks Church, a mere 100 yards from our apartment. 15 minutes after opening, the line stretched forever. We went to plan B and that was to have coffee at Caffe Florian.
According to them, they are the oldest cafe in the world, opening in 1720 and in constant operation ever since. It was quite elegant, but welcoming to all. We sat at the bar as it is considerably cheaper than sitting in the tea room. Let's just say it's one of the most expensive cups of coffee I've ever had....but that's not really what you're paying for. The place itself is a work of art. The walls are covered with all sorts of things hundreds of years old. The service is white dinner jacket waiters, even at the bar.
I had my standard latte and Laurie had some chocolate coffee concoction. We also ordered a chocolate mousse type dessert which was just phenomenal. It doesn't take you long to realize you are paying for the experience and not what you're having. I will say what you're having is of superb quality and the service was wonderful. If you're here, do go and pay too much for a cup of coffee and experience history.
Coffee at Cafe Florian, open since 1720
We begin our wanderings of the city and watch the gondolas loaded with tourists ply the canals. An actual ride on one will cost you somewhere in the neighborhood of 85 bucks minimum. You can see many of the places seen on a gondola for a Vaporetto (water bus) ride at considerably less costs.
You can also take a traghetto, which actually is a gondola, just not a fancy one. They're basically ferries that you can take back and forth across the canal for 2 euros per person. They're piloted by the same gondoliers. The gondoliers belong to an association, and according to Laurie's research, each one is required to row the traghetto two days a month.
We took the advice of many guidebooks and don't try to navigate every inch of the way. You just head off in a specific direction and when you get close, check your landmarks and correct as needed. This has so far proven to be a very effective way to get around here, especially for someone with a good sense of direction.
I do quite well. As I've said the past, Laurie does languages and communication and I do navigation. I joke with Laurie that if she's not nice to me, I'll leave her to find her own way back to the apartment! In reality, it is an easy city to get turned around in. It is also an easy city to correct your path if you get lost. No matter where you walk, eventually you'll hit water. This helps you locate where you are and find your way.
One of the "locals" streets in Venice
While we've walked quite a few miles today, Venice is surprisingly much smaller than I thought. You can walk almost everywhere and this is how the locals get around. I've almost always had the ability to know where north is. Couple this with my love of maps and getting around isn't tough at all.
We have actually gotten confused a time or two when we were wandering as we thought we were only 1/4 the way to something only to find out we had passed it. Having the water bus (Vaporetto) to get you somewhere is great, but often times it's much quicker just to walk.
We head to the market near the Rialto bridge. It is brimming with all types of incredibly fresh produce and fish that are so fresh that they are literally still moving. I actually pointed out shrimp still moving to Laurie. We wander this market and take photos, and just have a great time.
Being around the market gives me a chance to see how things work. Everything comes into and out of the city by boat. There are bunches of boats that do nothing but haul freight from place to place. Once it arrives there, it is put on hand trucks and taken the rest of the way. I pointed a guy out to Laurie that had a hand truck full of boxes. I told her he's the Venice equivalent to the UPS guy. He even had the bar code reader where you sign for packages.
I also figured out how they handle trash here. They recycle just like everywhere else, and they have stainless steel bins with different color lids on them. Each color signifies what kind of refuse it is. They have a boat with a small hydraulic arm that reaches over, picks the bin up, and dumps it in the boat. You can spot the garbage boats. They're full of.....garbage. And old mattresses.
Inside the Friar's Church
After this, we go to the Friar's Church (of course called something else in Italian). Laurie was incredibly impressed with the artwork in the church as well as the impressive building itself. While not possessing Laurie's taste in art, I do realize a pretty impressive pile of bricks when I see it. And this church was one of them, dating back to the early 1400's. You have to admit it's pretty cool to be in a building that old.
While always told as a child not to walk on a grave (perhaps this is childish superstition), you can't help it in this church. The actual floor inside the church itself has multiple graves under the floor. It's easy to figure out where they are, but not always easy to figure out WHO they are. The inscriptions are usually in Latin and are often worn off by hundreds of years of foot travel over them.
For lunch, we have cicchetti. This is not a type of food, but a type of place you eat it. They have these little bars around town and they have what are known in Spain as tapas. They are a small item like a meatball, or a little sandwich, or a small cup of green beans. You pick the ones you want and have them for lunch, or even dinner. They're usually between 1 and 2 euros (about 1-2 dollars) each.
We have a nice lunch, and I have some sort of crab roll in bread, green beans, and a meatball. Laurie has a beet/potato/pea/carrot/pickle salad, and a salmon and egg rolled up in bread. For here it's a cheap lunch, and quick. I saw a mailman come in, point out a tiny 1 euro sandwich and do a grab and gulp. Sometimes they're just a quick snack too.
During one of our Vaporetto rides standing at the rail viewing the city, Laurie said "it doesn't look real". I agreed and told her it looked like something conjured by Disney. But it isn't...it's for real. And yes, it really looks like that. One has to admit it's a pretty amazing place.
After this, we head to the Jewish Ghetto. Laurie wanted to visit the Jewish museum and go on the Synagogue tour. When we reached the square, there was a bulletproof kiosk with three Italian soldiers inside it and it had gunports on every side. Laurie raised a camera and they opened a window and told her no pictures. I snuck one later that doesn't show much detail...so we're not giving up anything here.
A normal Venice canal
There were several Synagogues built in this area, but in a odd way. The Jews were not allowed to build buildings so they built the domes on top of the synagogue on top of normal buildings where they would worship. Laurie really enjoyed the tour and learned quite a bit while I was out wandering.
And why was I out wandering? We got to the door of the Jewish museum and they had a metal detector and x-ray machine. I told Laurie to wait a minute and I googled what the laws were for carrying a knife (yes...a KNIFE) in Italy. Turns out that my pocket knife was ILLEGAL. Every country is different and I didn't think to look it up until that moment.
I did not want to risk a trip to an Italian jail so I sat this one out. Carried knives may not have a blade over 4 cm here, which is tiny. Most Leatherman and most other pocket knives do not meet the law. You can have them, just not carry them with you. Thus, I went wandering.
I walked through an area of Venice few tourists see. It is in the northeast corner of the city and it is mostly apartment blocks for a very long way and a very large area. There were few if any stores or businesses. I see no tourists looking at maps, and hear no english. I also find out where everyone gets fuel for all the boats around here. I was walking along the north end of the island and found a waterfront gas station!
I wander back as there really isn't much to see. I get near the area where I'll meet Laurie and the locals are all hanging out on the street having wine and smoking cigarettes. I pop into the place and it's basically a heavy metal wine bar. I get a glass of wine for 2 euros (a huge bargain here) and stand outside with the locals.
Inside the heavy metal wine bar
I am truly in a working class Venice area. This is where all the people that work in the restaurants, run the shops, work for the city, and hold all the other jobs in the city live. I stand and listen to them even though I know little if any Italian. I hear them talk about some Americans but can't tell what they're saying. Their body language and inflection didn't make me think it was something critical.
I am afforded a bit of camouflage here as I am wearing a hat I bought a few years ago in Austria that has the name of a mountain there on it. I'm also wearing a coat bought last year that isn't normally found in the states and is almost exclusively European, by a company called Jack Wolfskin. I'm wearing clothes from Europe so as long as I don't speak, I kinda look like I fit in. I don't really stick out.
I meet Laurie after her museum visit and bring her back to the locals bar. The bar is a trippy place. The bartender has a pony tail and a goatee, and is probably my age or older. There is a wide screen TV in the back room with speakers playing heavy metal music. The bartender (obviously the owner) is cordial and treats us like everyone else. We have a drink and head out looking for dinner.
We stop at a restaurant in the same area and have a great meal, starting with some of the best bruschetta I've ever eaten. This was coupled with spaghetti and clams for Laurie and tortellini with a cream sauce with ham. Dinner was truly good.
After this, we headed back towards the apartment with the intent of picking up the Vaporetto somewhere along the way. We bought Cuban cigars and smoked them as we strolled. We walked for a while and then realized that we had walked all the way across the city and were almost back at our apartment. Like I said...the place is smaller than you think. It's also made for strolling.
Laurie wanted to make a few comments on her observations today. After that we're off to bed and will awake to more adventures tomorrow!
Venice is an amazing city. Although it has been a city for centuries, it is still very much alive with more than just tourists. Everyday life was evident with laundry hanging from balconies, people shopping in the markets, hanging out on cichetti bars and generally just being people.
Then there is the art and arcitecture everywhere. All periods of art history are present here, and some can be viewed for free or close to it. Getting way from the big sites has made life easier and more pleasant as a tourist. The Friari church is an amazing art history museum with original works dating back to the 1400s.There are churches everywhere and wandering the back alleys has been a great way to get away from the crowds and stumble upon interesting things.
Gondolier at work
The Jewish ghetto was one place I did want to see. Jews began arriving in Venice as early as after the destruction of the first Temple. The word ghetto comes from the word getar in Italian which means foundry. When the German jews came they pronounced it with a hard g sound changing it into what we now call ghetto.
The Jews were not allowed to live in Venice proper from 1516 when they were forced to live on the site of the old foundry. They could not own property, belong to trade unions and had to wear yellow sashes or head covers when leaving the ghetto, From dusk to dawn they had to be inside the ghetto. During the day they could be out and were pawn brokers and money lenders mostly.
The 5 synagogues came about as different groups moved into the ghetto from different parts of Europe - Germans, Italians, Spanish/Portuguese and Levantine Sephardi. Because assimilation was discouraged, they kept their cultural identities. And since they could not expand out of the ghetto or build places of worship, the places their synagogues on top of existing buildings and built upward.
This caused the area to have the tallest buildings in Venice. Napoleon conquered Venice in 1797 and dissolved the ghetto. Jews continued to live in the ghetto but not exclusively. And of course they were deported again in WWII. There is a nursing home on the site where the Nazis deported the jews from and it now has a memorial plaque on the wall.
After that I was ready for a break so we had something to drink and then dinner. Tomorrow brings new experiences and things to see.
Venice Slide Show Day Two
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