Today our travelers are in Venice, the romantic Italian city of Carnival and Casanova. Readers are reminded, however, that it is August, one of the hotter Augusts on record in Italy, and that provokes a certain irritability within our normally amicable duo, resulting in two decidedly antipodal perspectives on the Venetian experience…
Tom says: To my mind, Venice ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be. It’s dirty and stinky and touristy and expensive and crowded and in August, oh-so-hot. Graffiti has embarked on a campaign to cover every vertical surface and all kinds of plastic floats in the canals, vying for dominance with service boats.
Ah yes: the boats. Pictures of Venice invariably show elegant gondolas paddled by happy gondoliers while a loving couple snuggles in the moonlight. In fact, there are no roads in this city. All deliveries (and all garbage) has to be hauled by boat. Buses and taxis and ambulances are boats too, and none of those can be described as elegant. With all that going on, you can forget about the handsome dude in the striped shirt singing O Sole Mio while he happily paddles along a quiet Venetian canal. Those few canals that are dedicated to gondolas are crammed with them, cheek to jowl like so many rubber duckies in a washtub. Besides, no one wants to snuggle when it’s 95 humid degrees under a hot August sun.
In other words, four days in Venice is enough for me. Louise, on the other hand, is an explorer: she can’t leave a place with a clear conscience unless she turns over every rock, and Venice has a lot of rocks. She has been dragging me all over the city until the heat finally overcomes her – it takes about five hours – and only then do I get to rest my aching feet. We’ve agreed that today we will take canal boats instead of feet, and tomorrow she will explore on her own. Lock up your shoe stores, Venice!
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Louise says: Tom and I travel well together, with this one exception. I try to drag him to the most famous tourist attractions so he won’t miss anything important. I live in fear that somebody back home will ask: “You were in Barcelona? Didn’t you love the Sagrada Familia?” No, we actually never got there. And it would be my fault, wouldn’t it?
These expeditions rarely get off the ground before 10:00 AM, involve a long walk to avoid taxi fares or figuring out the bus system, and often land us in the middle of touristville at about noon, the sun high and hot above, the French and Japanese elbowing each other aside.
So it was at St. Mark’s Square yesterday, after a dreadfully hot two-hour stroll. “Isn’t it glorious?” I kept saying. “Isn’t it FABULOUS?” He glanced around at the line outside the basilica and the Doge’s palace, watched the orchestra play at the Florian, tried to sit on the steps but got shooed back to his feet by step-monitors, and after about seven minutes total, wanted to leave. He felt the same way about Athens and Istanbul.
I think he feels if it’s popular, famous, hot and crowded and expensive, it cannot also be FABULOUS. Feeling grumpy, he started taking pictures of graffiti, rust, peeling paint, rotting wood.
I look around and see beauty everywhere. Palazzi on the Grand Canal, lacy filigree balconies burdened by trailing flowers in pink and peach, roof gardens covered with vines.
Age spots and decay are what one expects of Venice; it’s part of what you come to see.
The solution, if there’s time, is to take Tom someplace that is not crowded and touristy. Today we got on the city water bus. (We stood on the floating loading dock for awhile, waiting for it to chug away. Duh.) To Tom’s bewilderment, I pushed him off at the island of Giudecca, which he’d never heard of. Neither had I, but I knew that the endlessly tasteful Elton John has a house there so it had to be cool.
We let the bus-boat chug away and were stunned by a gorgeous and complete view of the rest of Venice. It’s like watching Manhattan from the Brooklyn promenade. We walked down several streets and saw nobody French or Japanese; in fact, we saw nobody at all. We discovered a huge private estate (not Elton’s) that turned out to contain the largest garden in Venice. We bought Cokes at a small shop where they only cost a euro and the owner was happy to see us. We found an empty bench (no monitors) and studied the fabled skyline and watched the many boats come and go.
Tom stayed longer than he had at St. Mark’s Square, and he liked it better.
Eventually we got back on the boat bus, landing at San Marco, last stop, on the opposite shore. There, I led him past a jumble of souvenir carts and into the Danieli Hotel lobby. Blissfully air-conditioned, centered by a grand stairway, beamed and painted ceilings, an entire wall made of stained glass, a concierge in a tailcoat and broad tie. This is a historic hotel, a classic along with the Cipriani and the Gritti Palace.
The staff ignored us completely, vermin that we were, while we took pictures. Always ready to patronize a famous bar, I took a peek at the menu. Glasses of wine began at 16 euros, or $21. For 24 euros, ($32) one could have a glass of Veuve Cliquot. That would be the right drink at the Danieli, but we would have to give up lunch (and dinner) to pay for it, and I was growing faint.
Back on the boat, we got off at our San Croce neighborhood and had lunch instead at an Asian-run restaurant that had ninety different kinds of pizza. We skipped over all the horse meat toppings for a simple ham, cheese, and radicchio, and we each drank a liter of water.
Now Tom is napping. Again. I’m tapping my toes. We have a twelve-hour bus-boat pass and there are only seven hours left. Venice is fascinating as long as you stay away from the famous bits. Okay, Tom’s right about that. But hey, we’re here, let’s go!
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(Photo credit for image at the top of this post: Wikimedia Commons.)