Veni, Vidi, Venice II

Wednesday May 17

The hotel is across the road from a farm (and the property where it’s located probably been a farm too until recently) so I was woken up by a rooster and serenaded by a couple of other birds and beasts in the morning! It’s another glorious day: blue sky, hot sun, cool air.

After breakfast (an adequate selection, both European and American standard fare, and all of it fresh), the concierge (cum desk clerk and everything else) told me about a terrific deal in terms of how to see Venice. It’s a public bus pass that entitles you to any number of bus trips in a given period (24, 48, or 72 hours) but way more than that, the pass gives you unlimited access to the vaporettos (vaporetti?), essentially public buses on water that cruise the main canal systems and even go out to the islands of Murano (glass) and Burano (lace). I chose 48 hours – Wednesday and Thursday – partly because the weather is predicted to turn on Friday and partly because I want that day off to do things like repacking to go home Saturday morning – and writing this blog. I’d also seen the main attractions of Venice such as St. Mark’s Plaza and I wanted this time to get lost, explore the back streets and wander along the small side canals, go where the large masses of tourists aren’t likely to be.

The bus stop is about 300 meters down the road and around the corner, opposite a tobacconist’s that I’d already visited the day before to buy a converter plug for the computer. For two Euros. To add to my collection. I have at least half-a-dozen of these things at home, but for an allegedly experienced traveler I forgot to bring a shocking number of things on this trip, including one of those converter plugs. Or one of our several Italian/English dictionaries. Nor did I pack any of the maps and guide books I have for Athens and Venice. Fortunately as I was heading out this morning the friendly hotel courtesy bus driver Christian chased after me to give me a very good map of the city and quick instructions about where the bus terminal was in Venice and where to board the vaporetto. Nice guy. I’ll slip him a bit of a tip when I leave.

The bus took about a half an hour to get to Venice and arrived at the Piazzale Roma, which seems to be the bustling main bus terminal for connections to all the local suburbs. A nice cop who saw me looking confused pointed out where the vaporettos (vaporetti?) boarded and there I was on the Grand Canal. An exhilarating feeling. I decided that for the first morning I would stay on the boat through one complete cycle (as I do in other cities around the world with the Hop On/Hop Off buses) and then decide where I might want to alight to start wandering.

The visual cacophony of boat traffic is incredible – dozens of the bus-sized vaporettos plowing in both directions, dodging speedy private water taxis, gondoliers slowly poling their iconic craft, and most fascinating to me, commercial boats delivering everything from farm produce and mercantile goods to bottled water to construction materials. Interspersed are small scows picking up trash and garbage to take out of the city. Everything coming in or out has to be transported by boat. Coming into the harbor yesterday I even saw a complete tractor-trailer crossing on some sort of a barge or ferry.
And later a boat leaving an emergency medical treatment center with a coffin strapped to its deck.

The buildings along the canal are fascinating, a magnificent and architecturally multivariate history of Venice, churches and palaces, hotels and hostels. Little arched bridges frame the openings to narrow secondary canals. One of them is of course the famous tourist magnet “Bridge of Sighs.” And its counterpart over the Grand Canal is the equally famous Rialto, a large ornate structure uniquely edged on both sides of the bridge itself with expensive shops.

There’s also a cacophony in Venice in the original meaning of the word, sound – church bells ringing, boat motors snarling, music floating out of apartment windows, people chattering in multiple languages. And above it all, birds! There are more birds twittering around Venice than one might imagine, not counting pigeons and seagulls.

The second time around on the vaporetto I chose to get out well past St. Mark’s and the main tourist mob in an area called Arsenal. I’d seen a small island named Isola di San Pietro that I thought might be an interesting destination, just because it was off the beaten path. (Or the beaten canal, as the case may be.) Maybe I could find a little seaside café for lunch out there, I thought.

Meanwhile, I stumbled into some sort of an art installation – giant painted tortoises in a park – and learned that the 57th Biennial Venice Exposition of the Visual Arts was on. Over the next few days I experienced several of the nearly two hundred exhibits, some on purpose and some by accident. I happened upon the offering from Catalonia, which I thought was fascinating. They’d audiologically mapped a hundred sites along the Venice canals and set up a boat tour where one would wear a blindfold mask and just listen to the city. The exhibit HQ was staffed by blind people. Unfortunately the boat tour was offered only on Friday and I would not be in town that day. Too bad. That might have been an eye-opening experience, no pun intended.

I also experienced films and sound productions (one from the an art institution in Wales), read literature, listened to poetry and saw installations and audiovisual demonstrations of all kinds. A lot of them had peace motifs and others were focused on tolerance. Still others were about climate change. The refugee crisis in southern Europe came into play as well. You get the picture.

I got hungry and tried to find a place on San Pietro, but they directed me back across the bridge and I found a café on a canal where I had a meal of calamari and a carafe of white wine. I chatted with a couple of kids who were on an art tour from Bates College in Maine. What an eye-opening experience they were having!

Finally, I found my way back to the Grand Canal and hopped on a vaporetto heading eventually (I didn’t care from which direction) back to the Piazzale Roma where I’d catch my bus to go “home.”

Dinner wasn’t served at the hotel ristorante yet (the Italians, like most Europeans, eat late) so I sat outside and got into a conversation with a large guy who turned out to be a 70-year-old Scotsman, living in Amsterdam, who’d CYCLED here 1000 kilometers through the Alps! Incredible. Apparently he does stuff like that frequently, long distance cycling. So common and well supported is this sort of thing in Europe that he was about to abandon his bike here and take the train to see some relatives in Trieste while some Dutch company would come and retrieve his bike and deliver it back to his home in Amsterdam. Amazing.

We dined together, him more sumptuously than I, and agreed to meet for breakfast.

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