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Two Months in Italy – Venice

Author: Host Ciao
Date of Trip: November 2012

This is a multi-part trip report of my two months in Italy. This first report is on Venice. Look for the links at the end of the report to see my adventures in other cities.

I am in Venice. The sun almost came out today! When I arrived Saturday the fog was so thick that from one end of the Piazza San Marco I couldn’t see the basilica at the other end. It’s gotten better day by day.

Milan was fine, but expensive. Had a great walking tour with A Friend in Milan company starting with daVinci’s Last Supper and moving on to three other churches and museums. We go around on the tram so covered quite a bit of time. As planned I ate Thanksgiving dinner at Da Bruno restaurant and as planned had cutoletto Milanese (a huge fried veal cutlet or schnitzel). The Duomo was no longer covered in scaffolding as on my last two stops there, but the tower of the golden Maddonania was all covered with her standing above it. My guide said they wouldn’t dare cover her. She shines day and night.

However, one of my other favorite places, Castello Sforza is covered on the front for repairs, which are being paid for by, of all things, a woman’s underwear store called something like Golden Point. One more brief note and I am sending this. It disappeared again, and after several minutes of fiddling around, I got back to this somehow. At the Stazione Centrale in Milan they have marvelous escalators without steps, just moving walkways up and down I might not even hate this kind of down escalator. Didn’t have time to try it as I had to search for the office to validate my rail pass.

Tales of a finger and a knee
Raining in Venice today, no aqua alta, but lots of puddles! So for now we’ll head back to Milan. At St. Lorenzo church during my tour, the guide Silvia told the story of the Christian Roman emperor who decided to bring the bones of the Magi back from the East. They were being carried in a huge stone sarcophagus. Near the outskirts of Milan the tomb got stuck in the mud and couldn’t be moved. So a church was built. Along came the German emperor Fredrick Barbarossa. He decided that he should have the bones so he had them carried back to Germany leaving a hulking empty stone tomb.

The Magi now rest in the cathedral of Cologne, which I probably knew when I was in Cologne 12 years ago.

Anyway, according to Silvia Milan has been arguing and fighting with Cologne to get the bones of the Magi back. Finally Cologne condescended to send back a finger. Those of you who know me know what my question was–which finger? Silvia just cackled. I told her as an American I had to ask. She cackled some more. Anyway I have pictures of the tomb and the finger encased in silver and glass.

The knee story isn’t nearly as interesting. At the Poldi Pezzoli gallery I had paid for my ticket and was looking ahead at a fountain I knew was there. So, without looking where I was going I tripped on a low step and landed on my good knee–which is a good thing. I told the man who helped me up I was fine and kept walking. I figured that way it wouldn’t’ stiffen up–I was right. Stopped at a farmecia and bought breakable ice packs, Used one and am now carrying the other. Why lucky it was the good knee? Because it is fine, bruised but fine. The bad knee talks to me going down steps so going over the humpy bridges here in Venice I just put both feet on each step and try not to bend the bad knee. Ah the joys of age and humpy bridges!

Now I’m off to brave the rain, puddles and three humpy bridges to go have pizza for supper.

A Quest
The sun shone on Venice today. And I decided on a quest that I have considered in past visits. No I didn’t ride up and down the Grand Canal singing like the Man of La Mancha, but I did do a lot of back and forth on the Grand and other canals and on various calle and campos. Anyway I will tell you the object of the quest after tomorrow which is my last day to accomplish it. I hope in Florence I will find a regular computer in the hotel.

To back up a bit Sunday was a good day. I had two tours, one very good and one excellent, perhaps one of the best. The first one was the Secret Passages of the Doges Palace, which I had taken quite a few years ago, but found interesting again. Even learned why some of the huge pieces of wood in the attics are white looking. They were soaked in salt water for quite some time and then dried. The salt remained and helped stop fires by allowing them no oxygen. After the secret tour on which you learn a lot about Casanova’s time in prison, I spent a lot of time wandering the commonly visited areas. I consider this a must in Venice. Nowadays though they have lots of guards and no photo signs all over. I’m glad I have lots of pictures from when they were allowed. But, of course, I’d still like more.

I’ll continue this in the morning because nothing opens very early around here, and I seem to be going to sleep and waking up at the usual home times. At least breakfast is at 7am–and a great buffet, lots of fresh fruit, cheeses, meats, hard rolls, too much sweet stuff (and I don’t eat much of that; I go for the meat and hard rolls) hard boiled eggs, coffee and if that’s not enough choice, there’s cereal.
I’m off for a glass of Prosecco before dinner

Quest 2
I’m off to finish my quest today, but first I want to tell you about the excellent tour I took on Sunday. This was a tour of the Clock Tower, the cost of which also included a visit to the Correr Museum. There were only three of us on the English speaking tour which made it very nice. The guide was very energetic and told interesting historic facts and humorous anecdotes. We stopped on several different levels of the tower always led up the narrow circular stairways by the guide and always followed by the guard who had met us at the bottom.

We heard about the clock operators who were all of the same family until quite recently. They lived in the tower for most of the years. We saw the modern electric system that now operates the clock, and we saw the huge wheels that had to be turned by hand in the past. We were ‘introduced’ to the 3 Kings who used to go out every hour and bow to Mary and Jesus along with the angel who raised his trumpet as they progressed. Now they only go out twice a year on Epiphany and Ascension. And, yes, on those days every hour a human hand has to operate the mechanism.

Then we reached the very top where the two naked men stay to strike the hour. Actually one strike is two minutes before the hour, the two minute warning. And then on the hour comes the second strike of whatever the hour is. The face of one of the men is older than the other but no one knows why. The man who made them died before anyone thought to ask. We then had to go down one level to watch the men strike 4 pm. It was a fun hour, and I also enjoyed a wander in the Correr.

It’s now almost 9am, and no sun has appeared yet, so I guess it’s another carry-umbrella day–hope not to use it.

Yes, I finished my quest, but it was a close thing. My quest was to visit all 16 of the Chorus Churches in Venice. I can hear some of you–there she goes again, churches! But I believe what the Chorus Association of Venice says these 16 churches constitute the ‘Greatest Museum in Venice.’ The Chorus group has raised money and is working to restore these churches and in many the work is done. Some were already on my list and yesterday when the Vaporetto I was on presented the chance to see 4 or 5 more, I decided on this quest–believe me it’s something I have thought of at other visits here.

By the end of yesterday I only had one to go, probably the farthest from here, but I only needed one change of Vaporetto to get there. After all the beautiful sun yesterday, today was dark, windy, rainy, cold and high tide and high water (though not like the pictures of several weeks ago.) I headed to San Pietro, the original cathedral of Venice. After winding around several calles (walkways) I finally got there. There were 5 or 6 people standing outside, and I could tell they weren’t tourists. Also I could see a picture on the side of the church, which I knew looked like a funeral announcement. I headed into the church and took one quick picture. I could tell the Chorus desk was not manned. I found a small brochure and a young lady came up and said no visit, funeral. Just as I had figured. Of course, I left, but at least I got there and one picture. Consider some of the names–Tinteretto, Tiepolo, Titian, and too many more to go on. Indeed a great museum.

As I said, it was nasty today so my only other excursion was to walk to the basilica and climb some nasty stone steps to go up to the museum, home of the ‘real’ bronze horses and some other interesting exhibits. Had to walk on raised walkway under the clock tower, then down an alley and onto another walkway to get into the church. The foyer of church had a couple inches of water in it. Also the museum is the best place to see some mosaics up close from the balcony and, of course to take a surreptitious picture or two.

I have more to write about Venice sights, food, etc. But I have to stop typing. I’m off to have my sublime to ridiculous supper–a glass of Prosecco and then upstairs to eat my tonno e cippoline tremezzini. That’s two half sandwiches of tuna salad with small cocktail onions. My cheapest dinner too. 3.50E for Prosecco and 3 for sandwiches.

I promised to add some more about Venice. First a confession–I gave up on Padua and went straight to Venice. I wanted to see Padua again, but the thought of taking even my two small suitcases on and off the train an extra day was not a happy thought. In fact I fear I have to admit I get tired more easily. Ah well!

In Venice among the Chorus churches the Frari is a must. It is a huge church with a magnificent huge Titian Assumption as the main window, unfortunately being restored this year so I could only see parts of it. However, there is much more–one of Donatello’s first wood sculptures, one of St. John the Baptist; there is also a Bellini Madonna and Child with Saints that is considered one of his finest, a huge tomb for Titian, another huge monument for Canova, beautiful carved choir seats and more.

And when you are done their right around the side of the church is the Scuola di San Rocco, a building belonging to a Society of that sait. It is full of Tintoretto paintings and I am not exaggerating. The ground floor tells the story of Mary. The huge room on the first floor (our second) is also full. The ceiling tells Old Testament stories, and the walls stories of Jesus’ life. A side room has a huge Crucifixion. I can’t recommend this highly enough. They have mirrors to help you view the ceiling if you don’t want to bend your neck. There are several other scuola in Venice but my time ran out.

I stayed again at the Hotel Ala, a Best Western, and just a short narrow alley off the Vaporetto stop–no humpy bridges. Unfortunately my favorite restaurant and the one that staying in the Ala gives me a 10% discount was only open the first night I was there, then it closed for vacation. Anyway that first night since I didn’t realize it was going to close I ordered mixed fried fish figuring I could come back for fegato ala Veneziana, veal liver and onions to those of you who cringe at the word. The mixed fried fish was very good, but I have to tell you the truth, I only recognized two of about 15–shrimp and calamari. There was one that had the heads gone, but still had a back bone that I think was anchovy–nothing like the canned ones. Only one tiny, tiny creature still had a head. As I said, who knows. I am sure I saw most of them at the market when I walked there.

I only would have eaten at Da Rafaelle once more because it is sort of expensive even with the discount and the fact that I only had fish and wine–no sides. So another night I ventured to Tavernetta di San Maurizio, where I had eaten before and which is about 5 minutes from hotel. I had very excellent fried calamari (squid), one of my favorites. They had a special three course dinner, but I can’t eat that much anymore–at least I am getting that smart. So I decided to try them for fegato ala Veneziana, which I am quite fond of. Unfortunately it did not live up to the fried calamari. It was a tad too greasy. Maybe next time Da Rafaelle will be open.

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