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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Miss Ginger's Venice

As promised, Miss Ginger has found time to continue her TravelBlogging, and today she's going to bring you up to speed on what she knows about Venice. The City of Canals may be the most unique place Miss Ginger has ever visited, and it truly is a must see! You might want to get there soon: Miss Ginger is told that the city is slowly sinking into the lagoon! In fact, in many of the buildings, the first floor is no longer used, since rising waters from high tide often fill them! The clever Italians are coping, however, and there are a couple of projects in the works to try to protect the city.

Miss Ginger arrived in Venice by train, which is probably the way most people arrive. Some cruise ships also call on the passenger terminal near the train station. There are no streets in Venice, so therefore no cars, and there certainly is no place to land an airplane in Venice proper! Italy's high speed train service, Frecciargento (Silver Arrow) calls on Venice's San Lucia station, and is fast, modern, and comfortable! This is in sharp contrast to Italy's Artesia Treno Notte (night trains) which are old, filthy, and miserable uncomfortable! The "faclilities" on those things are foul, and even though they appear similar to an airplane bathroom, the operation is completely different! Let's just say there's no swishy blue water, and there's no bottom in the bowl! If you ever find yourself in the Italian countryside, for God's sake don't walk on the train tracks!!
Ginger, MeeMaw, and Aunt Tonya shared a compartment, which was clean enough, but extremely tiny! Because the beds were already made, there was no where to sit in the cabin, so we did our best to go to bed early and sleep, but that proved to be futile for Miss G. Even though there was a power outlet for her to plug in her CPAP machine, everytime the train stopped in a station (every hour or so) the power would shut down for 15-20 minutes, waking her in a fit of coughing!

If you take a train, be sure to ride all the way to Venezia San Lucia. If you get off at Venezia Mestre, you'll still be on the mainland, and will have to take another train to the island!

Once you've arrived at San Lucia, it's easy to take il vaporetti to a stop near your hotel. Since it's impossible to dig tunnels for a
subway, and there's no streets to drive buses, the Venetians use a system of "water buses" that circle the island. Too large to navigate the small cross canals, the vaporetti circle the
perimeter of the island with regular stops. You can buy a "HelloVenezia" chip card for a very reasonable price and use the vaporetti to get as close a possible to your destination. Once you've disembarked at the vaporetti landing, you're gonna be hoofing it, so pack lightly! Venice is a fascinating, confusing maze of alleyways, canals, and footbridges that at times is incredibly fun, but wildly frustrating. You'll feel like PacMan as you wind your way through the alleys, finding dead ends, short cuts, crossovers, and all sorts of other obstacles! After dragging suitcases down countless alleys and over numerous bridges looking for our hotel, we finally discovered the best way if you're travelling with someone else. Have one person sit with the
luggage, while the other orienteers the area until the hotel is located! It's the best way to avoid dragging it all over the place, and some of the nicest hotels even have porters they will send back with you to collect the luggage. It's also possible to have a porter meet you at the train station and guide you to your hotel, which might be a good idea if you aren't good with maps, have trouble walking, or are just easily frustrated!!

Venice is not a place for point whores, as you will not find a Marriott, Hilton, or any other recognizable hotel chain anywhere around! The Venetians may well have invented "boutique" hotels, as most of the properties are small, charming, and well appointed. Another reason to pack lightly: the rooms are tiny! Use a reputable search service like Orbitz or Expedia, and count on
the star system to help you locate a property at the price and service level you desire. The city is small, so you don't have to worry about "good" or "bad" neighborhoods, and it's pretty easy to walk to and from just about anywhere. If you're concerned about too much walking, it might be wise to find a hotel as close a possible to one of the vaporetti stops.

We originally booked rooms at the Hotel Ca Dei Conti, which had a lovely lobby on a quiet canal, but that's all we know about it! When we arrived, we were told that a pipe had burst, rendering half of the property unusable, and that we would be accommodated at another nearby property. We were escorted by the porter to the Santa Marina, on a cute little plaza near the middle of everything. It was cute, spotless, and comfortable, and provided a nice little breakfast selection each morning.

Of course in place as touristy as Venice, small cafes abound, and the good news is that most of them are quite good. One would expect the ones near the Realto and San Marco to be more touristy, pricier, and of lower quality, so buyer beware. Throughout the city there are sandwich counters and pizza takeways for meals on the go, and lots of small, charming cafes with sidewalk tables. Walk until you get tired, then pick a place that appeals to you. Most have the menu posted, and most offer similar fare of pizza, pastas, and seafood. . Mussels are quite popular in Venice and were quite delicious. And please, for the love of all things holy, PLEASE have wine with every meal! The Italians joke that they don't have the same reputation as the French as wine exporters because they keep the best for themselves, and that may well be true! Many of the wines they create for domestic consumption are bottled without sulfites, and it makes all the difference in the world! Enjoy it there while you can!

As far as gay nightlife in Venice, there doesn't appear to be much. Actually, there's not a lot of nightlife of any kind there! According to the Damron Guide there is a bar in Mestre called Glitter, but we didn't leave the island to check it out. Most of the cafes, bars, and pubs close by midnight, and the city becomes quiet and serene.

Venice is a wanderers paradise, so ask your hotel for a guidemap that indicates your location, grab your camera, and go! Trying to follow a map in Venice can be woefully frustrating at times, but it's impossible to get truly lost since you can't leave the island
without getting on a boat or train! Once you've located the
and the Rialto Bridge and San Marco Square, you've pretty much found the "hub" of the city. In the square (the Italians call it "the piazza") be sure to check out the basilica and the Doge's Palace. The Scala d'Oro (Golden Staircase) is really breathtaking, and the apartments, courtrooms, and armory, are pretty fascinating.

You'll also get to walk across the Bridge of Sighs and see the prisons and dungeons that will give you some idea of just how
miserable the punsihment was for anyone who went against the Doge! The palace was undergoing renovation when we visited, but the bridge, one of Venice's top tourist attractions, was left exposed.

With her love of all things Mardi Gras and Carnival related, Miss Ginger was fascinated by the many mask and costume shops all around the
city. As Venice has become more and more dependent upon tourism to support its economy, it's shops have become flooded with all sorts of mass-produced reproductions of its many classic arts, much to the dismay of Venetian locals and artists. Papier mache mask-making is a
centuries-old Venetian art, and there are still some shops that sell unique, one of a kind masks, often made on the premises! We found Il Canovaccio, at Castell0 5369, and met a delightful young artist who makes a genre of unique animal masks that MeeMaw has begun collecting. After he spoke to her a bit about his collection, she showed us the mold on which she was currently working, and explained the process. It was one of those delightful finds that made our day, and we each left with more than one of the delicate masks, carefully wrapped to protect them during the rest of our journey!
A word of advice about shopping in Venice: if you find something you like, buy it right then and there! There are 2 huge risks in the thought process "I'll think about it and come back for it".
First, making your way to somewhere specific in Venice can be very difficult, and you may find it impossible to find the place again! In addition, Venetian shopkeepers are notoriously lax in their opening hours! Some are open only mornings, some only afternoons, and some only at the whim
of the shopkeeper! So if you like it, buy it! You may never see it again!

Nowhere is the effect of the import market on the spirit of Italian artists more evident than on Murano, the tiny island famous for its fornaces used for centuries to create beautiful handmade glass. With modern manufacturing and questionable labor practices, developing countries in Asia, Africa, and South America have flooded the market with high-quality, if not ubiquitous, products. Where galleries of true Venetian artisanal glass do exit, they are extremely pricey and are sold as fine art. Most of the fornaces have been turned into trinket shops, although there still are a few that operate the furnace and put on a show for tourists. It's easy to tell the purveyors of authentic Venetian glass, both by the uniqueness of their product and the conspicuous signs condemning imported impostors! If you bought a chipcard, it's about a 20 minute ride on the vaporetti to get to Murano.

Of course, the
quintessential Venetian diversion would be a ride on a gondola. Whereas the water buses and taxi chug noisily around the Grand Canal, the slim, man-powered gondola slip silently through the narrow canals and under the low footbridges. Gondola rides are expensive, but Miss Ginger is told there is room for price negotiation, especially during off-peak times. Miss Ginger chose not to spend her time on a expensive boat ride, and instead chose to enjoy watching them from the many footbridges that cross the canals.

So, Miss Ginger has saved the best for last! The best part of Venice? Well, that would be the gondolieri, of course! Here's the one piece of Venetian tourism not overtaken by the Eastern Europeans! Gondolieri must be Venetian, by law, and they are all male. And paddling a boat full of fat American tourists is pretty good excercize, so most of them are fit, friendly, and fine!! What's not to love about that?!


Anonymous said...

Great pictures and information. I would have to find some of Davinci's work if I made the trip. MBC

Kyle said...

I like Miss G's tour of Venice. Thanks for filling us in and giving us some great photos!


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