Sunday, May 20, 2012


Venice and Murano – Day 49 - Thursday 

Ghetto "Skyscrapers"
I Think This is a Bad Sign
The Americas Cup World Series was going on in Venice and I fortunately happened to be there at the same time, having missed it in Naples by a day or two.  I knew I would want to spend a day enjoying that, so I had to cover a lot during my first day in Venice.  I started the day by walking back to the railway station to buy a vaporetto pass.  I passed through Cannaregio district and the Jewish ghetto on the way.  As in other places, the buildings in the ghetto were taller than anywhere else because of the lack of space.  The word "ghetto" actually originated in Venice.  "Ghetto" mean foundry and the original Jewish quarter was located near the foundries in Venice.  The are came to be known as "Ghetto" and the word eventually evolved to mean first an area where Jews were confined and later any are dominated by a single ethnic group.

The Rialto Bridge
St. Mark's
Vaporetto tickets are very expensive.  A one way ticket costs 7 Euros.  You can get different passes, but none of them are cheap.  I bought a 12 hour pass for 18 Euros and a museum pass at the tourist information office because the line was shorter than at the vaporetto ticket window.  Armed with my ticket, I took a cruise down the Grand Canal to San Marco (St. Mark’s.)

St. Mark's Pillars
San Marco was my biggest disappointment in Italy.  It never occurred to me that all the pictures I had seen were paintings and the lofty arches and tiled floors depicted in those paintings never existed.  The square is large and surrounded by arcades, but they are quite pedestrian, dirty and covered with scaffolding in several places.  The huge square was crammed with tour groups and the scene made me want to run.  I did suffer through the line to get inside San Marco, but that was a disappointment, also.  The church is interesting in that it is very old and constructed on the Greek cross floor plan, but it is dark and dingy and most of the interesting parts were roped off so that they could herd tourists through faster.  I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

Golden Staircase
The Doge’s palace was the best part of Venice.  Even after the cultural overload of the past seven weeks, the palace was impressive.  Venice was once the richest country on earth and the Doge was the ruler.  The public rooms and council chambers went on and on, each one larger, more sumptuously painted, and more heavily gold leafed that the last.  Wood seemed to be the material of choice, rather than stone.  The ceilings were more gold than painting.  The paintings were oils, rather than frescoes, so were unfaded and glorious.

Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs runs across a canal from the court in the palace where criminals would be sentenced to the prison on the other side.  It is called the Bridge of Sighs because prisoners crossing the bridge would sigh at the thought of leaving their old lives behind.  The tour route led across the bridge and through the cells.  The doors were low and the beds were slabs of wood on stone feet.  It wasn’t too dark or damp, but I wouldn’t want to be confined there. 

Narrow Enough?
After the Doge’s palace, I made a quick trip through the Correr Museum.  I could tell that it was getting time to go home when I wasn’t interested in looking at any of the exhibits.  Roman sculpture – ho, hum.  Thirteenth century icons – BORING.  Yes, it’s time to watch some sailboat races and drink some wine.

Crossing to Murano
There was, however, one more thing I wanted to do in Venice and that was to go to the glass museum on the island of Murano.  First, however, I had to make my way to the Fondamento Nuovo (the embankment) where the vaporetto stopped.  This was a frustrating project.  I wound my way through streets so packed with tourists that I could barely move and too busy to stop and look at a map.  What should have been a 15 minute walk took an hour.  Eventually I started to see signs pointing the correct direction and the crowds thinned as I got further from San Marco.  I found the vaporetto and climbed aboard for the short ride across the lagoon to the cemetery and then on to Murano.

Murano is Venice on a more human scale.  It also relies solely on boats, but there are no palaces there.  The buildings are lower and people park their boats in front of their homes.  The pace was slower and the streets weren’t completely packed with tourists.  Murano is a city of glass factories and glass shops.  Since I come from a city famous for its art glass, I had to see what was going on there.  Unlike Venice, Murano had nice wide walkways along its major canals.  The glass museum is in the center of the island(or maybe I should say archipelago, since it is criscrossed with canals), so I was able to enjoy strolling along the banks and looking at the glass on my way.
Dr. Seuss Chandelier

Glass Sailboats

There was every kind of glass imaginable.  At the Doge’s palace, I had seen chandeliers like lacy crystal confections.  No hard edged, cut crystal here.  These are hand blown and fanciful and sometimes colorful.  Murano produces every imaginable kind of glass, from the traditional to the crazy.  Some of the chandeliers looked straight out of Dr. Seuss.  Every kind of jewelry and glass animal was represented.  There were even some beautiful glass sailboats.  The prices were actually quite reasonable by Benicia standards, but, alas, glass is too heavy and fragile to carry.  On the way to the museum, I passed a piazza with a large glass sculpture resting in it.  It looked like some sort of giant undersea creature waving its many blue arms at the sky.

Glass Garden

The glass museum was very interesting.  One room showed the evolution of Venetian glass beads by decade.  There was another large collection of intact(!) Roman glass.  The skill of Roman glassmakers always surprises me.  It was more than 1,000 years before anyone would surpass their work from the first century.  The rest of the museum was filled with fantastic works of art by local artists.  My personal favourite was a sea turtle swimming through a world of glass plants and multicolored fish.  Pictures weren’t allowed, but I did managed to sneak one of a model of a garden, all worked in glass, that covered the area of a ping pong table.  I was in no hurry to leave the mellow atmosphere of Murano, but my feet were hurting so I headed back to the vaporetto dock.

AC 45s at Anchor in the Arsenale
Entrance to the Arsenale

This time, I took the vaporetto to the Bacini stop, which is the outer entrance to the Arsenale.  The Arsenale is a series of basins in the interior of the island where Venice’s navy was once built and housed.  This particular week, it housed the Americas Cup Village.  The AC 45s were anchored in one of the basins and exhibits filled the warehouses.  I was surprised at how emotional I got at the sight of these boats.  They aren’t particularly large, but they are beautiful and look so fast and powerful.  It was also thrilling to see crowds of people excited about sailing.

The racing was done for the day when I arrived and I just happened to be passing by when a couple of the teams started signing autographs.  Someone thrust a postcard into my hand and I found myself in line to get the autographs of the Korean (not one of them was Asian) and French teams.  In Europe, sailors are professional athletes with fans just like any other sport.  Most of the people there were clearly not sailors, but they were as excited about their teams as if it had been a soccer match.  Luna Rossa was clearly the favorite.

Vaporetto Stop
I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pick up a t-shirt and I’m glad I did because it came with some very interesting literature about the series that would come in very handy when trying to explain sailboat racing to non-sailors the following day.  I wandered through some of the exhibits, including a nice one about the history of the Americas Cup.  I would have lingered longer, but my feet wanted to go home.  I was glad I had a vaporetto pass and could just hop on a boat and ride back to the stop near my room.

I wanted to go somewhere different for dinner, but didn’t want a tourist menu place or anywhere I had to sit outside.  I accidentally turned down a dead end alley and ran into one of the restaurants recommended by Rick Steves.  The Osteria La Bomba is run by a couple and the wife met me at the door.  She doesn’t speak English and was painfully grateful that I spoke Italian.  The seating was at one long table and the only other patrons were a couple from Canada.  They were friendly, so we sat together and I translated.  The food was very good.  I ordered cheese ravioli with sage and Squid in a sauce made with squid ink with a side of polenta.  I was hungry, but feared I couldn’t eat it all.  That didn’t turn out to be a problem.  I devoured it all and could have eaten more.  I think the one meal a day plan is catching up with me.

Venice – Day 50 – Friday

Leaning Tower of Venice

St. Something
I had plans to meet my friend, Linda from the school in Montepulciano, and her husband at noon to watch the races.  I planned to hit a museum or two on the way, but it took me nearly two hours just to walk from my room to San Marco because of the crowds and crazy streets.  I first walked over the Rialto bridge.  It is lined with shops.  I passed them up, but vowed to return later because I wanted a Carnival mask and there was a shop there with good prices.  Once on the other bank of the Grand Canal, I wound my way through the most tangled web of alleys and tunnels yet to the Accademia and the Accademia Bridge.  I wasn’t too disappointed that I didn’t have time to visit the Accademia Museum.  It has the best collection of painting in Venice, but I had seen so many paintings that I needed a break.  Back on the other bank of the Grand Canal, I fought my way through the crowds to San Marco.

I was supposed to meet Linda on the steps of San Marco, but of course I couldn’t get anywhere near them because of the line to get in.  I decided to stand on the far side near the exit, where at least I could be visible.  I waited for 15 minutes or so, fearing they would never find me, and then my phone rang.  They were over at the Americas Cup village and had snagged a table in front of the big screen.  I agreed to meet them there instead.  I was eager to get away from San Marco, anyway.  It took me 20 minutes to swim through the crowds from San Marco to the Arsenale.  The racing would be off the shore near San Marco, so the village was busy, but not mobbed.  

AC Village Big Screen

We sat at our table, chatted, drank wine and watched the race on the big screen.  While I did want to see the boats in action on the water, I knew that I’d have a better view of the race on the screen.  Peering at the boats in the distance does not compare to watching coverage provided by three helicopters, chase boats and GPS.  It was good to see Linda, catch up on our respective travels, and meet her husband, Don.  Luna Rossa Piranha won the first race. 

Oracle in the Lead
Tacking Duel
Yes, They Are That Close
We had a half an hour or so until the second start, so we packed up and wandered out to the quay opposite the race course.  It was crowded, but not as bad as I expected.  I was only one row back from the front and could still see pretty well.  The second race was more exciting.  Oracle was in the lead on the leg up to the finish past the viewing area.  It looked like they were the sure winners until they had to tack and Luna Rossa Swordfish laid the mark and slid through behind them.  The boats were in very close quarters and there was a lot of drawn breath and oohing and ahing.  Of course the Italians went wild when Luna Rossa won at the last moment.  I was so busy taking pictures that I actually missed a lot of the action, but I did get some good shots.  It could hardly have been more scenic, with gondolas in the foreground and Venice behind.

 Linda and Don left after the second race to visit the Doge’s Palace and I stayed and watched another.  The crowds had thinned out and I got a spot along the rail.  Neither of the Oracle boats were ever in the running in the third race, but it was still fun to watch the boats sail.  It’s amazing how you can forget the wing when you watch them sail.  What would you call a wing sail in Italian, anyway?  Vela, the word for sail, already means wing.  No wonder they win.  They won the third race, also, though it looked like Artemis, the Swedish boat, might get it for a while.

Venice is crowded with tourists and has very limited space, so there are few benches, trash cans or public restrooms.  Everything is paved with stone.  Consequently, Venice is hard on the feet.  I had a hundred pictures to email to myself, so I walked back to my room (I took the direct route, this time.) and set to work.  After a while, I got hungry, so I went back to the restaurant where I had first eaten and had some calamari and salad for dinner.  The calamari was light, hot and crispy, but the salad was made from iceberg lettuce (They actually grow that in Italy?) and was disappointing.  There wasn’t even any balsamic vinegar.  They gave me a big packet of olive oil and a small packet of white wine vinegar.  I usually use more vinegar that oil, but I am strange that way.  I could drink balsamic vinegar out of the bottle.

I went back to my room to finish importing pictures and post a blog entry, since I wasn’t sure there would be reliable Internet at my next stop.  I stayed up way too late considering I had to get up early the next morning to catch a train.

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