Saturday, October 17, 2009


Camping Miramare, €21.50
By Claire
Before we get to Venice, I must mention again how wonderful Camping Valdeiva at Le Cinque Terre is. Everyone there was so helpful and nice, especially Virginia who offered to call our next possible campsite with some questions I had.

I can’t recommend this place enough. They even offer free WiFi!

So, Venice. I was very excited to be seeing one of my favorite cities for the third time and especially to be sharing the wonder of it with Chuck. We grabbed front row seats on the ferry we took from our campsite on the Venetian Lagoon at Punta Sabbioni. I couldn’t wait for him to see the sweeping view from the Grand Canal as we floated in. I took him outside at the front of the ship so he could really take it in. My disappointment was extreme when the first thing I saw were two enormous billboard ads—one on the Doges’ Palace and the other across from it. But, the sky was blue and it promised to be another gorgeous day. Back to that in a moment.

We got off the ferry and were immediately pushed into a sea of people. One of those things where you are frantically watching for each other in case one of you gets swept away.

We made it to San Marco Square in one piece but I was really turned off by the crowds. Plus, there had been some flooding so the wooden platforms were set up so that people could walk without soaking their feet. This just added to the gridlock.

We looked around a bit but all we could think of was to get out of there, now! We dashed down a side alley and finally found some peace. We wandered around for awhile, taking in the non-stop shopping mall feel of the place. Meanwhile, it was freezing! Yes, the sky was blue without a cloud in the sky. But, it was in the fifties and all the tall buildings and narrow alleys kept the sun away. I had three layers on plus gloves and a scarf but it wasn’t enough. We scurried around looking for sun, picked up a couple of cream puffs and found a corner in the sun on the Rialto Bridge to consume them among the throngs.

View from Rialto Bridge

We did enjoy walking around, especially when we were able to ditch the crowds. One sight I found interesting was an Asian couple in a Gondola. He was grinning from ear to ear while she stared off into the distance as though serving a sentence having just crossed the Bridge of Sighs. I only wish I could have taken a picture.

Lunch time rolled around and we had already decided on a spot recommended by Rick Steves (of course), Osteria Alla Botta. Two short blocks off Campo San Bartolomeo down Calle de la Bissa. Good luck finding it. We had quite the adventure.

It was small with dark wood and about 12 tables. I’m so glad we decided on lunch rather than dinner this time. It meant we could sit down in a warm place, we could use a bathroom without paying €1.50 and it meant we could come home before it was dark and even colder. On Rick’s recommendation we ordered the Antipasto Misto to share for (€15) and added pasta with scallops (€14 ea.) on our own. The half carafe of house red was just right. The food was delicious. That large grilled piece is polenta, not fish. This is my share of it. Chuck’s had a small, whole octopus which we shared. It was interesting if a little unnerving to bite into it. I liked it but wouldn’t want a plate of them.

Pasta with scallops already half consumed. The servings were huge.

I loved the sound of nothing but lilting Italian voices buzzing through the place. I think there might have been two other tourists having lunch. It was mostly families and old guys.

By now the sun was high in the sky and things were warming up. Time for our “free” boat cruise along the Grand Canal and the lagoon. We had purchased boat passes for 36 hours so we saved a bundle and could ride whenever we wanted. Individual tickets are €6.50 each, one way. The pass was €23 each and it has already paid for itself. We plan to use it for the islands of Burano and Murano tomorrow. The boat cruise was vaporetto #1, a boat bus we picked up at the Rialto dock which gave us a 45 minute ride through the canal. We lucked out and grabbed front row seats outside in the sun—well it was in the sun as long as we were going in the right direction. When we decided to grab another vaporetto to go back through part of the Grand Canal we hadn’t covered, we sat inside to stay a little cozier.

Boat Cruise Views:

View of Rialto Bridge

Interesting bridge

Along the way we passed a cruise ship parking lot and it suddenly hit us! That’s what the huge crowds were all about. I counted at least 6 cruise ships and I’m pretty sure they belched out about 2500 people per ship that morning. They were all bunched up in impassable groups with loud tour guides. My favorite was the group assembled at the top of the stairs so that no one could pass.

We wandered some more, noticing that the crowds had finally thinned out and it was actually manageable.

St. Marks Square wasn’t as mobbed anymore, although the huge fenced off construction area next to the Campanile really detracted from the grandeur of the square. We decided it was time to see the Basilica. The outside is gorgeous and we were interested in seeing the inside. The line wasn’t too bad and it only took us 10 minutes to get to the entrance where we saw this picture. I’m so glad men dressed only in underwear are not allowed inside.

We stepped inside and were immediately shunted through a chute to the outside because of Chuck’s backpack. It was unclear where we were supposed to check his bag. We tried several doorways but received no help. One guy pointed to the left. We looked. Nothing. Another guy said around the corner. We walked around the corner. Nothing. We asked another guy and he told us “a little street around the corner”. We looked and looked but were fed up and decided to skip it. Later in our wanderings we found the bag check down a tiny street in a place with no connection to the Basilica. However, we were done. Gelato was much more in order. We stood in the sunshine on the square and listened to the small orchestra.

By now I was pretty frantic to find a WC and decided I would pay any price. I knew there was one in the Giardinetti Reali, a beautiful garden right on the lagoon. It was worth every penny.

We decided to head home before we became too tired and cranky and before the sun went down. We made our way to our ferry dock and lucked out. Ours was leaving in 5 minutes. It was a relaxing ride home and a short walk to the campground. We did a little grocery shopping at the camp store and relaxed for the rest of the evening. Ah, Venice.

I’ve been meaning to mention a wonderful suggestion given to me by my friend Jamie. She told me to try wearing my moneybelt in the small of my back. It’s perfect and I hardly notice it anymore.

The other thing I’ve wanted to say is that my prescription glasses with the transition lenses, the ones that work like dark glasses then lighten up when going inside, have been a godsend. I have worn my regular dark glasses only two times and what a hassle to remove them when going inside a dim, ancient building, which we are doing constantly. I never would have dreamed that having transition lenses would be so perfect as a travel accessory. I’m only sorry I resisted them for so long.

If you ate pasta and antipasto, would you still be hungry? ~ Author Unknown

Murano and the Leaning Tower of Burano
By Claire

We slept in today with the idea of heading to the two small islands of Burano and Murano after it warmed up. I also changed my wardrobe to include my Smartwool sweater. I must say, if you’re heading this way, skip Venice and head for Burano. We had a wonderful, relaxed day with very few tourists and SUN! Instead of dark, dank alleys we had open squares and promenades with SUN! It was quiet and filled with local Italian residents going about their business. The colors are bright and cheerful.

Naturally, the first stop of the day was a treat for Chuck.

We wandered at will, stopped and looked at some of the items for sale from the street vendors and pretty much just enjoyed the scene. Burano is famous for lace, and it’s everywhere, but we were only looking, not buying.

Burano house

Nice deck

Face on the leaning tower

We saw these advertised on Giuseppe's List

I loved seeing two old women walking arm in arm, clusters of old men gesturing and talking, and the women in shops calling to each other.

After we had explored most of the island we decided to head for Murano, famous for the beautiful glass.

Murano statue. Birth of Venus, the new millenium?

Murano seems dull by comparison, and it isn’t as interesting but we enjoyed ourselves and had our picnic lunch in a small square all by ourselves.

With 5 minutes to spare before our ferry left, Chuck decided to get a gelato and I wasn’t far behind.

We made it home, relaxed, warm and much happier. I guess I really don’t do crowds.

As for the vaporetto/ferry costs, we spent €23 each for 36 hour passes. We rode 4 boats each day which would have cost €52 each.

By Chuck

I really had no specific expectations about coming to Venezia, so I was not greatly surprised to find myself mildly disappointed. It is difficult to point to a single specific reason for this; however, the day was cold; we had great difficulty finding our way around; there were unexpected hordes of tourists – this is mid-October, after all; and we were frustrated in our attempts to enter St. Mark's Basilica: We were warned (by Rick Steves) that there was a bag check that would slow entry; but, we were not informed until the last minute that you had to go to a separate location to check your bags and then re-enter via the original waiting line. Some early warning system would have been considerate. Even though I finally found the bag check location – around the corner and down an alley – after being given curt directions, twice, I decided it was not worth the wait. We went to have another cream puff and espresso, instead. I contented myself with a long look at the outside of the church, which is both lovely and interesting.

The highlight of the day was lunch. As Claire mentions, we went to Osteria Alla Botte. One reason for lunching out was that we did not want to come home in the evening cold. It is interesting to note that picnicking – our customary mode of mid-day dining – is only permitted in a single park area near St. Mark's Square. Also, as an aside, it is illegal to purchase knock-off handbags from the immigrant peddlers found in abundance around the docks near the Square. Caveat emptor, baby!

I enjoyed just walking along the many alleys, getting a feel of the city. For the most part, we deliberately avoided the expensive shopping areas. I especially enjoyed riding the vaporetti, appreciating the many casas along the Grand Canal – they are not, formally, palaces since only the Doge's digs merited this designation. But, I was simultaneously saddened to realize the deteriorated state of many of the buildings. Strange how I can see something 2k years old and not be bothered by its semi-ruined state; yet, I see a building that is 500 years old and am bothered by the same state. Maybe I am thinking of the U.S. and how it has, since WWII, enjoyed some of the clout and economic robustness of Venice 500 years ago. [Clearly, I ignore the past two years.] “All things are impermanent” and this fact should humble and sensitize us – and everyone else, for that matter – to how we are and how we shall be in the world of the future.

I suspect some of you are appalled by my apparent lack of interest in the artistic treasures I have missed along the way; but, I have been perfectly content to approach the various places in just the way we have. But, I do plan a more intense indulgence in the arts in Florence and Rome. I have a strong sense that we “cannot do it all” and I also don't want to overdose on anything; for example, I don't want to be in England next summer having lost all desire to see another castle or museum!

Funny, but I was excited to find that, upon our return today, the campground store had large containers of yogurt! We have yogurt on our “granola” almost every morning; but, most of the stores in Europe (so far) only carry the kid-sized yogurts in six or eight packs. The packaging is wasteful and we don't get quite enough of it that way.

I am amazed at the similarities and the differences among the showers and other facilities in the campgrounds we have visited. Here at Camping Miramare, there is free hot water with no timer; but, there are only two tiny hooks on which to hang your towel, toilette kit and clothes; and there is no divider to keep the water from drenching these vulnerable articles. In fact, today, my shower head jumped out of its holder when I, apparently bumped it; by the time I retrieved it, the bottom of my towel was drenched. But, the shower routine is doing a lot for my balance and, I suppose, some muscle groups: Since the floor is wet at the end of my shower, I carefully remove the pants from the hook, fold up the pant legs under my fingers and then insert my legs one at a time [of course], trying not to let the ends of the legs touch the wet floor. Do not try this at home! Thankfully, there are “training walls” to rely on if I lose my balance. I now understand why many campers wear bathrobes or shorts to the shower.


Napamick said...

A huge billboard on the Doge's Palace? That's horrifying. Truly.
Is Venice so desperate for funds that they have to resort to that? Or does Belusconi own the Palace?

Burano looks beautiful. I didn't know that Pisa didn't have the only leaning tower. Perhaps the same architect did a number of them.

Chuck and Claire said...

Yes, they are desperate for funds. This is their attempt to keep the city afloat.

Apparently, there are many leaning towers in Italy. We'll keep you posted.

Anonymous said...

I also remember loving Burano and just walking the streets and cruising the canals. I believe their "sinkin" problem is responsible for the poor condition of many buildings.
Buon Viaggio Rich