Thursday, January 10, 2002

A Real Day in Venice

A Real Day in Venice

We had our first real day in Venice. There was no train to catch, no airport schedule forcing our plans into a condensed version. We had all of the time we wanted to do what we wanted. We found that a traditional breakfast is not provided at our hotel, but there are supplies for making tea and coffee plus there are snack goodies to bide your time with until you get real food. However, the restaurants in Venice do not believe in real food by American standards. There are no restaurants open where you can sit and eat a meal. The restaurants that are open in the morning are coffee bars. The key word here is bar. Italians drink their coffee on the run, they do not sit and savor it for hours, after all, the cups only contain a shot glass full of coffee anyway, and so how long could it take to drink it? For food, there are various types of sandwiches that are served in foccacia breads, pita breads, and different types of rolls. These too, you are expected to eat standing up or on the run to somewhere more important than the coffee bar. This limited our choices considerably.

Finding a coffee bar with tables was a coup on our part. They did not, however, have the sandwiches, which we thought would be our morning feast. They had a small selection of pastries. We each ordered an apple pastry and Ron started off with a café grande. The confused barman said the only grande they had was a cappuccino, which suited us just fine. We ordered two, but made him pour a whole lot more milk in it since it would only have been espresso with milk foam otherwise. It is only at coffee times that I am very grateful to find a Starbucks or as a last resort, a McDonalds, just for a decent sized cup of coffee. Do not tease me with the drippings and say that is a cup of coffee. For a leprechaun, it may very well be satisfying, but for an adult who likes coffee, it is only an appetizer of the appetizer.

Starting to explore, we hopped on a waterbus and chose to get off when we saw something of interest. We disembarked at San Giorgio Church. The plaza was small and the main attraction was the church, there was not much else to see. The church itself was plain inside without any spectacular décor to comment on. Signs all over claimed that the view from the belfry was one of the best in Venice and pointed the way to the elevator. We decided to see for ourselves if this were true. Of course, the elevator ride was not a free one. You paid the attendant two euro each for the ascent upward. This poor person has to stand all day going up and down in the small elevator that only holds six people at the most. He had a down jacket, gloves, and scarf on to keep warm. I have wondered if parents bring their children to see employees like this and say, “See what you will do for the rest of your life if you do not finish school?” It ranks right up there with the poor woman who collects coins from you at the public bathrooms in various countries. The other non-glamorous job is the person, both male and female that has to tie the waterbus to the dock each and every stop, let the passengers off, then allow the incoming on, and secure the gate once again before untying the ropes from the dock. Somebody shoot their guidance counselors before other misguided youth find their way to dead-end careers. The view however, was spectacular. Walking around the belfry, it was possible to see 360 degrees around the city. There is a haze that hangs over some of the parts of the city and we are not sure if it was fog or pollution, but it added to the mystery and romance. There were signs that warned the bells were ear shatteringly loud when they rang at noon. We left by 11:00 am.

Both of us were interested in going to the island of Murano. This is the home of the famous Murano glass that comes in everything from little fine glass figures to paperweights to giant vases, and chandeliers. Many years ago, I had collected Murano paperweights and have always been curious to see the area that produced them. Finding the waterbus was the trick, since it was on obscure routes, but we eventually did and the trip took forty minutes.

Murano was once its own city with an independent government, but in 1929, it was annexed to Venice and became part of the Venetian governmental system. The island is wall-to-wall with stores selling Murano glass and there are dozens of factories that one can visit to watch them create it. We chose not to and walked around instead. It seems like we walked for miles, covering the island. We got lost in some residential areas that looked like they were probably spectacular in their hay day, but have gone to seed since. Many of the residences as well as the factories looked like it has been years since there was a life force within. We are presuming that it is a factor of the economy, not having anyone handy to get the facts from. Just as surprising was the fact that many of the glass stores with windows brimming with products were also closed. This could be attributed to the tourist situation or to the Italian way of life.

We passed a bakery that sold pizza by the slice, but the slices were in squares. Deciding to walk a little further and come back for the snack, we continued on. When we returned about thirty minutes later, the place was closed at 1:30 in the afternoon. At the time we left the island at 3:00, it was still closed, not that we still wanted pizza, we just happened to be passing by. Shops have their hours posted on the door, but that is no guarantee that they will open at the time listed or close according to schedule. That’s Italian! Somehow, that gene by-passed me, I am usually early for everything. I must have inherited it from the other side of the family, perhaps.

As we meandered back and forth on the main canal, we found a little snack restaurant that proved to be a treasure. It was filled with locals or who we suspected were locals and that is usually a good sign. It was just a tiny place with no tables and chairs, just a few stools sitting around a wall bar. In a case, they had little rolls with a cottage cheese type cheese on them, little sandwiches with polenta as the bread and ham filling, roasted artichoke hearts in olive oil, and big chunks of parmesan cheese. The man behind the counter gave us a plate to help ourselves to what we wanted. Each snack came to ninety cents. With a small beer and a glass of wine, we had a hearty snack for fewer than eight dollars. I did have a surprise when I bit into the roll with the white cottage cheese on it, for hiding underneath was some creature from the sea. Ron inherited it rather quickly.

Growing tired of Murano and with the sunlight still with us, Ron wanted to explore the Rialto area, so we water bussed to that stop and walked miles more. Each section has its churches, it plazas, shops, coffee shops, and other interesting little visual feasts that quench ones hunger for beauty. I have developed this unnatural yen for ties since having to buy one in Budapest for an exorbitant amount, so I had been checking out the ties as we have window-shopped. Silk ties can be bought here for less than ten dollars. I who usually have an aversion to wearing a tie at all have come to face the fact that if I am going to teach, it may be an unavoidable evil that I will have to deal with. If that is the case, I might as well like the noose around my neck.

Having succumbed to tired backs, over exercised leg muscles, and general sleepiness, we returned to the hotel for a rest break. Ron napped while I typed and two and a half hours later, I woke him for dinner.

Last night’s restaurant was worth returning to, so we headed in that direction. After an hour of walking around, we still could not find it. With or without a map, this city is difficult to find your way around. Since seventy-five percent of the streets and named alleys never make it to map status, you can wander for hours and not find what you are looking for. We gave in to hunger since it seemed hopeless that we would ever find that restaurant again. A lively place that caught our attention was a pizza restaurant, so we gave into fate and entered. The pizzas here are like a medium pizza in California. The crust is very thin and full of flavor, unlike California pizza. My choice had asparagus, ham, cheese, artichokes, and mushrooms. They do not just dot the pizza with toppings they decorate them with toppings. When you bite into a piece, you savor the blend of flavors.

Returning to the hotel, we reached for our books. Our room does not have a television and I do miss CNN and BBC, but Ron claims that he found their respective theme music to be jarring his nerves, so is happy for the break. I started reading “The History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters”, by Julian Barnes. Silly of me to think it was a condensed history book with highlights of what everyone should know, like the Reader’s Digest version of History 101. It could not be farther from that image. It is a work of fiction and after reading the first chapter, I am hooked. A British author who created a skillful blend of humor, suspense, and believability into his story wrote it. Most of my book recommendations have come from the “Book Lover’s Book a Day Calendar” and I have to say that 99% of the books that I have read based on the synopsis given of that book have proven to be charms. Unfortunately, we left before the 2002 version was in the stores or it would be gracing my desk. delivers to Hungary, so I need to look for it.

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