Wednesday was our only full day in Venice. We were content to spend much of the day wandering the maze of streets and simply watching life happen in the city. Our Pantalone Apartment (even though it is named after the Commedia Dell’Arte character, we called the it Apartment of the Pants) had an espresso maker, so we drank coffee and took our time with a lazy morning. Finally, we packed up the things we had purchased the night before: bread, the yogurt, some spoons and a knife from a drawer, water, and Manja’s honey (a gift in exchange for the honey we brought). We walked out the door into the amazingness of Venice.
I was stopped in my tracks while crossing one bridge, when I heard singing. Pedro was the thoughtful one and got a video. I just stood, mesmerized.
Before I came, when I said we would go to Venice, multiple people responded to me that the city we really needed to see is Florence. After approximately two days in Venice, I think anyone who encourages people to go anywhere rather than Venice is nuts. I could live there maybe. It’s incredible. The water everywhere, the old old architecture, the absolute maze of streets and unexpected plazas. Even before we had seen Rome, and did not know what to expect, we knew Venice was outstanding. What could Florence have to beat out the canals and the maze?
Things I want to remember from Venice: workers whistling on boats, or while pushing carts through the narrow streets. Oh, porters in Venice! Everywhere. Our Airbnb apartment must have been in a relatively less trafficked area, because when we did enter places where there were a bunch of tourists, it was surprising to us.
We went first to the Piazza San Marco, and saw the biggest crowd of people we had seen on the whole trip. We got nervous about it and began wearing our masks outdoors while in Venice. Some spaces in the city are just jammed with people, especially with the narrow streets. When there’s no room to spread out, what can you do? On arrival in the piazza, I simply stood there agape, sometimes taking photos. The opulence is hard to comprehend, even while looking at it. The Basilica of San Marco is mind blowing.
We moved around the plaza and took photos in every direction, then eventually moved toward the water, looking for a place to eat, but every place with a seat was occupied or in the direct sunlight and it was too hot for that. We moved to some steps but were told not to sit. So we walked to find a place, but it was seriously crowded and we walked a very long time. We wanted a place to sit with a view of the water, and not finding one, we looked for a nice piazza, but then we didn’t care anymore and finally found a doorstep to sit on, in a narrow boring alley across from a Louis Vuitton artistic foundation. A man came to sit near us and smoke. A young guy came out of LV and vaped for awhile. It felt normal (non-touristy) and was nice. There were almost no other people except occasional delivery people. Like I said, the porters were everywhere. One guy wearing a DHL jacket hurried his cart through, piled with boxes.
We went back into the piazza and bought a ticket to ride the lift to the top of the St. Mark’s bell tower. The original building was intended for a watchtower and lighthouse, and was built in the ninth century. It turns out that in 1609, Galileo viewed Jupiter’s moons for the very first time from that bell tower. It collapsed in 1902 (it was a thousand years old!) and was rebuilt, so we did not get to stand where Galileo stood, but close.
There was no line to speak of and we showed our CDC cards and paid a fee and stepped onto the lift. We were told to ditch our masks and switch to the ones they provided. The “duck masks” Pedro says, and we went ”Qua Qua” to each other. The ride was quick and soon we had an outstanding view of the main island of Venice as well as some other nearby islands. It’s clear how congested the island is when you see it that way. You can hardly even spot streets from up there, just houses packed like a game of Tetris. We stayed a long time. There was a pleasant cool breeze and it was pretty romantic and special.
Suddenly the bells went off! It was SO LOUD. We saw the large bells, hanging right over our heads, but they did not move so it wasn’t the clapper. In the video you can see that I focused on the ceiling and mechanisms in there, trying to discern where the hammers were. It wasn’t until I got home and Pedro showed me a hammer in his video. The bells were so loud, people covered their ears.
After the tower we began trying to find things to see on purpose, rather than a result of wandering. The first place we found was the Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta. As with most churches around the world, you can step right in. The interior was incredible. Jaw-dropping.
Then we found the Libreria Acqua Alta that Manja had recommended. On the way, of course, it’s like walking through a wonderland, and we could not stop taking photos. The “Bookstore of High Water” was super cool, with a very Portland-type kitschyness. The story of this place is that repeated flooding prompted them to store books in floatable vessels, like boats and bathtubs. Today it is tiny and crammed with books and thus there is very little room for tourists. There was literally a line to get into this extremely popular bookstore. But we went in, and enjoyed it, and even bought some souvenirs there. It reminded us to get souvenirs for Pedro’s kids, so afterward we started paying attention to shops, and when we found one I bought a couple things for my kids too.
Next we decided to go find Giulio the painter, who had been so delighted to meet Pedro the day before. Probably it made him feel closer to his fiancée to be talking with someone from her country. But how was it possible to find him when nearly every place we had been was a result of wandering around and getting lost? We did some sleuthing and used my camera to zoom in on a photo I took at the time, and found a street sign in the photo. Pedro used the street name to GPS us back to the location. Viola! He was there. We bought two of his paintings, one for each of us. He remembered us and gave Pedro a discount. At that point it was 7 pm and we were hungry.
Prior to our trip and during our trip, we had been advised not to eat at places that were near tourist spots because they would be low quality and expensive. During our last walk, we had passed a nice quiet restaurant that was nowhere near anything, and the people eating seemed mellow and possibly local. I insisted we find it again. So we circled a few times trying to find it. The thing is, when you are in a maze of streets, there are multiple ways to get anywhere. Pedro’s GPS was finding a new route for us each time. It was funny getting lost again, but we eventually found it. I take full responsibility, but this was our worst meal of the entire trip. Service and food was terrible. I didn’t even eat my scaloppine with lemon sauce, and had only my insalata mixta and some of Pedro’s pizza. As usual, after waiting 15 minutes after being completely finished, we had to track down a waiter and ask to pay our bill. Since we had not seen our waiter during our entire meal, this was the first time he noticed I hadn’t eaten, and he asked if everything was ok. I told him it was non molto bene and troppo limone, and he said, ”No no! The sauce has lemon in it!” He was trying to argue that the sauce was correctly prepared, but I didn’t have the Italian words to say, ”Sure, then you eat it, buddy.”
I don’t want to end on that negative note. The best thing about the place was that it truly was quiet. Almost zero tourists walked that street. Furthermore, the entire time we sat there, we were in Venice! And I finally got to use some more Italian words than good morning, and thank you, for a change. Scroll up and see that 99.5% of the day was one of the best days of my life. After we paid, we were both tired and full enough, and we found our way back to the Apartment of the Pants and despite sleeping till 10 that morning, we were ready to sleep again by 9 pm.