Sunday 16 March 2003

next part | Venice trip

Hotel Diana, Calle de Specchieri, Venice, Italy. We booked this hotel, and the whole trip, through which was recommended by Budget Travel magazine. Full cost to each of us for airfare and one week's hotel, $906. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the hotel's location was exactly as described: right next to Piazza San Marco. About 50 meters, in fact.

When we arrived at the Atlanta airport the first thing we discovered was that our flight was substantially delayed, enough we'd miss the second flight (a connection in Washington D.C.). All our flights were through United, but they happily put us on a Delta flight. So that's how we got to Washington - a short hop. Then an eight hour back-breaker (almost literally) to Munich. Left at 1740, arrived at 0800 ... As usual I didn't sleep at all.

We spent three quarters of an hour figuring out where our final flight departed from (and getting our passports stamped at "Passport Control") by which time it was time to board the puddle jumper. I use that term rather loosely: the plane was a prop plane that seated about fifty, and that's about as small a plane as either of us has been on. Not exactly a Piper Cub. The flight wasn't at all crowded, and the views from the windows were breathtaking. We flew over Innsbruck in the Alps with an almost cloudless sky (and at 5000 meters rather than the more typical 10000 m most of the jets fly at). And then the pilot gave usa great view of the lagoon and Venice itself on the way in to the airport.

There were no customs checks or anything on arrival. We made sure - and then we just ... walked out. We decided that the German stamp was our entry into the E.U., although all they really did was ask "Final destination?" "Venice," *stamp*. Not what we expect post Sept. 11, 2001. But no complaints.

Ten U.S. dollars will currently buy you about 9.00 euros. The boat ride ("Alilaguna"), the equivalent of the airport shuttle (for those of us that can't afford the 80 euros fare for a water taxi) cost 10 euros to get us to San Marco. It was pleasant, if slow. I was beginning to feel the effects of being up until 0500 - or 1100 local time.

We had to walk along the shore and through Piazza San Marco to reach our hotel. There were huge numbers of tourists - although I imagine it's considerably less than peak season in the summer. Fortunately, my "book learning" and the guide book maps served me well, and we walked almost directly to the hotel.

Calle Specchieri runs directly off Piazza San Marco, although its name for the first block is something else. I use the term "block" loosely - we quickly discovered that what would be ignored as an access alleyway between buildings in the U.S. or Canada is frequently a major thoroughfare in Venice. Calle Specchieri is a fine example: it's six to ten feet wide in front of our hotel and very busy, and the part of it off Piazza San Marco is only three feet wide. Our room is 106 on the first floor, one floor above the street. It's a small room, but efficient, clean, and nice. The window is very large and almost entirely useless - it has shutters which are entirely opaque because eight feet from your window is another wall with shuttered windows. And ten feet below you're looking down on the heads of those walking by on Calle Specchieri. The walls are thin, the window is thin, and the door is thin, but I don't think it's a big issue. We hear a lot of conversation, but no cars and no music. No cars! Think about that for a little while. We're so accustomed to their noises (and stink!) the quietness, even in the ravening crowds of tourists, is quite shocking.

The washroom at the hotel is interesting: it has a bidet, and the shower arrangements are just bizarre. The bidet has a sink-like drain: you push down a mushroom between the taps. But, the drain doesn't come up when you do that so we've refrained from trying it out. And the shower ... There is no curtain, just a two foot wide, four foot tall piece of glass at the shower end of the tub where a curtain might go. And the shower head pokes out at chest height. I did my hair on my knees.

We dropped our stuff in the hotel and headed off to Castello sestiere to check out a supermarket and pizza place recommended by the guidebook (after Edinburgh, it was pretty much guaranteed I'd pick the "Rough Guide," and it's serving well). We promptly ran into a classical Italian tourist problem: most stores, restaurants, and sites are closed from around 1200 to about 1530 - although our supermarket didn't reopen later. It is Sunday. We also found Cip Ciap, a recommended Pizza place on a busy thoroughfare. Then we wandered at random through some quieter sections of Castello, apparently residential. And back along the waterfront, by Piazza San Marco now following the crowds through the most popular areas, by Gucci and Fendi stores, and eventually over Ponte de Accademia (the Accademia bridge). Catherine wanted to see the Accademia di Belle Arti's attached Gallerie dell'Accademia. It has a truly spectacular collection of Renaissance art - which I find holds very little appeal for me. I'm very much a fan of the last century of art, and should thus enjoy the Guggenheim collection here more. Catherine burned through the collection at her usual blistering pace, barely breaking stride to examine the masterpieces of Tiepolo, Titian, and dozens of others. We walked to the north-east corner of the San Marco sestiere, where we crossed the spectacular, famous, and very crowded Rialto bridge. Over the bridge again, back to the supermarket (closed) and Cip Ciap where a couple take-out slices became dinner at about 1600.

It's unfortunate that this town is completely overrun with tourists. And I understood it intellectually. But now I really understand it - the place is amazing.

next part | Venice trip 
by giles