Wednesday 19 March 2003

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What makes this place unusual and makes me think I'm going to feel like I've missed a lot even after a week, is that I want to see every single back alley and canal because it's all beautiful. I have no desire to see the back alleys of Atlanta. The back alleys of Edinburgh's Royal Mile are somewhat interesting. Everything here is interesting.

The Colleoni is located next to San Zanipolo (aka Santi Giovanni e Paolo), our first destination in the morning. Seeing the Colleoni was a little disappointing because all the sun was on the horse's butt. Hard to photograph because it's on a very high pedestal. But great to see it.

San Zanipolo is immense. The interior is 90 m long by 38 m wide. For Americans, that's a little bit smaller than a football field. The construction is primarily brick. The interior appears to be mostly brick too, but closer inspection reveals that it's red and white paint on plaster. Quite convincing if you don't look closely. Awe inspiring arched and domed ceilings, an incredible abundance of sculpture - beautiful stuff. No pictures allowed. *sigh* Lots of gravestones in the floor, and the wall you enter through is tombs to the greater glory of the Mocinego family. Spectacular.

I took a couple photos of the outside, but the front was in shade and it's so huge even a 19 mm lens doesn't do it justice. In Venice, there's rarely any room to back up to take a photo - you back up and you run into another building.

A fine example of that exact problem stands right next to San Zanipolo: Santa Maria dei Derelitti (aka. Ospedaletto) faces onto a walkway 3 m wide. The facade is marble, 10 or 15 m tall and beautifully and fantastically carved. I took some pictures of pieces of it, but they're from such a low angle ...

The next stop was the San Marco Campanile just after it opened at 0930. €6 to take the elevator up to the top. Wow. I was disappointed to ride a lift instead of climbing the stairs (my interest mechanical engineering background - I wanted to see the internal structure), but my god, the views! Compared to most towers you'd pay admission to it's not very tall at all, but that's missing the point - it's the tallest structure in Venice by a wide margin, with an unobstructed view of 360 degrees. Bright sunny day. Perfect. I hope the pictures work.

We took a break after the Campanile to sit on some steps in Piazza San Marco in the sun, trying to warm up. It was windy and cold up top.

Given that there are 13,000,000 tourists a year through Venice, and guessing the average stay is two days, then there are roughly 72,000 tourists in Venice on any given day. Larger than the population of the city itself, 60,000. (Later statistics backed me up on this: about 80,000 tourists on any given day.)

We made a washroom stop at the hotel. There are very few public restrooms. There are signs to them, and they cost €0.60. From the hotel we went to the Post Office so I could send a couple postcards - and buy some nice stamps. They had a woman at the "Filatelica" counter whose English was good, and she understands collectors.

Then across the Rialto bridge, where we found a tiny little bar ("Al Marca") and sandwich place - 10 feet wide, 7 feet deep. Two guys running it. Despite the Indian proportions, the fit and finish was worthy of an old British pub: dark wood and glass. 10 or 15 red wines listed, same for white. Raboso was only 0.50 euros, as was Tokai in the whites. As we drank our very cheap wines, we decided to have cheap sandwiches too. They were quite good.

Then we wandered into the fish and veggie market where we took some pictures. We walked from there to Campo San Polo, which is beautiful. Quite a few benches in the sun. On the way to Campo San Polo, we stopped in our fifteenth or so purse and wallet store - it was also our second or third - and Catherine bought a wallet.

After some navigational difficulties, we made it to the Frari. Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari dwarfs San Zanipolo and the monuments inside are even more numerous and extravagant. Again, no photos, which stinks (especially after you pay to get in). I was speculating as to why they don't let you take pictures - maybe to bolster their postcard trade? I bought some for that reason, but they could have had a lot more money out of me if they had the stuff I was most interested in. What I took to be the choir seats had some of the most astounding woodworking I've ever seen: the marquetry in particular was breathtaking. Different patterns on every chair, and the back row of chairs had both a marquetry scene of the city and above it a carving of what I assume was a saint. Dozens of chairs, each unique.

From the Frari to the Guggenheim. Modern and Early Contemporary works. I didn't like much of it although there were four or five I adored. But the price of admission (€8) was worth it just to wander around inside a huge palazzo on the Grande Canal. The courtyard garden (with sculptures) was one of the larger open spaces we've seen in Venice, when space is at a premium. And of course there's the beautiful terrace on the canal. Wow.

We walked to a Zattere on the outside of Dorsoduro where we sat in the sun and wrote, waiting until dinner time.

Bah. We walked all the way out to the end of the tourist map of Dorsoduro, beyond all the other tourists to eat at a small cheap place with good seafood only to find it didn't open until 1930 (it was 1730-1800 then). We chose another "cheap good" place on the way to our hotel, but it was closed too. So we returend to the hotel and collapsed for a while (I definitely got us up too early this morning).

So we chose Al Mascaron Osteria, supposedly cheap. Not really - I got out a little under €20, Catherine didn't. We ordered the "Seppie" (aka "seppioline nere") spaghetti - baby cuttlefish cooked in its own ink. Decidedly unattractive - it looks like black pen ink all over the spaghetti, the only other ingredient of any quantity being the cuttlefish itself. The cuttlefish was incredibly tender and the flavour mild so I think it's extremely fresh (probably bought at the market this morning) but the flavour ... unique, but not to my liking. I wanted to try it because it's a regional specialty. I've tried it, I won't order it again. We're considering coming back (with me ready to deal with the price) because Catherine's sole was also astonishingly fresh. I got a grappa bianco, but I didn't like it as much.

I suppose the most unusual thing to us (socially?) is that many places that look like a small deli or take-out sandwich place will have wine and glasses behind the counter - and nowhere to sit. They will also have from one to eight people standing around with glasses and maybe a sandwich, chatting. To us it's just not what you do. The guidebook suggests it's either unique to Venice or much less common elsewhere.

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by giles