Sunday, September 26, 2010

Venice Tips

Are you planning a trip to Venice? Here are my tips and recommendations.

Getting to Venice from the airport:
You have three options. 1) Take the bus, which goes to Piazzale Roma only. From there you can walk to your hotel. About 2.50 euros. 2) Take the Alilaguna water bus service, which stops at several water bus stops around Venice. One may be near your hotel. About 13 euros. 3) Hire a private water taxi, which will take you anywhere but is very expensive.

  • Venice is divided into six districts, or sestieri. Addresses in Venice give a number and a district. The street name is not used. So Paradiso Perduto is at 2640 Cannaregio. You have to ask around to find out exactly where a place is located.
  • Shopkeepers and salespeople help one person at a time. Be patient, they are not ignoring you.
  • The water buses are called vaporetti (plural) or vaporetto (singular). Getting on and off is very orderly. Wait until everyone is off before you get on, and don't crowd the entrance. Stay back.
  • If you want to buy something from a produce stand, point but do not touch. They will choose it for you. If you want something ripe to eat immediately, tell them it is "per oggi" (for today).
  • Vedova. The only restaurant I had to wait to get a table at. Close to Ca' D'Oro. With your back to the Ca' D'Oro vaporetto stop, walk straight ahead. Eventually you will walk in through the front door.
  • Enoiteca Mascareta. Try the Burrata di bufala caprese. In the Castello district near Campo Santa Maria Formosa. I think its on Ruga Giuffa.
  • Pane Vino e San Daniele.  2861 Dorsoduro. On Calle Lunga S. Barnaba near Ca' Rezzonico.
  • Al Fontego. In a corner of Campo Santa Margherita. A great lunch place with good salads, vegetables, and panini.
  • Paradiso Perduto. A lively place at 2640 Cannaregio, even late at night. On Fondamenta de la Misericordia.
  • Majer, for coffee, pastries, and arancini (fried balls of rice, ask for it "caldo" (hot)). Near Campo Santa Margherita on Rio Tera Canal.
They're all good, but the best gelato I found is at Il Doge on Campo Santa Margherita across from the Raging Pub. It's also around the corner from Majer.

Al Nono Risorto. I had trouble finding good pizza in Venice, but this was the best. Between Campo San Cassian and the Rialto Market.

Guinness Bar Santa Lucia, on Rio Tera Lista Spagna, near Campo San Geremia in Cannaregio.

  • The island of Murano, for Murano glass. You can also see a demonstration at any of the workshops. Murano glass is sold all over Venice, but I like buying it at the source.
  • The island of Burano for Burano lace. I didn't go to Burano, but they have been making lace by hand there for centuries.
  • Vizio Virtu is a chocolate shop that sells every type, from ice cream to candy to hot chocolate. It's all made on site. 2898a San Polo, on Calle del Campaniel near San Toma.
  • There are a lot of shops around San Marco and the Rialto, and they are very expensive. The further you get from these places, the lower the prices. If you want to stroll down a street and shop, try Strada Nuova in Cannaregio.

What to do:
  • You must tour the Grand Canal by vaporetto. Take the No. 1 (stops at every stop) or No. 2 (express) vaporetto either from Piazzale Roma to San Marco, or from San Marco to Piazzale Roma. Try to sit in the front, and bring your camera! One vaporetto trip costs about 6.50 euros. If you are staying more than a few days, you can buy a pass that is more economical.
  • You must go to St. Mark's Basilica (which is free) and the Doge's Palace (not free). They are both on Piazza San Marco and you can do them together.
  • You must sip a spritz con Aperol (sweet) or spritz con Campari (bitter) while sitting at a cafe or bar along the Grand Canal. I recommend the bar Bancogiro, near the Rialto Market.
  • You must stay at least one night, and you must see Venice at night. Wander through the streets to Pizza San Marco and listen to the dueling orchestras there. Dancing on the square is encouraged!
  • You must explore the back streets of Venice. Put your map away, pick a direction, and get lost. I can't stress this enough.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Last Day

I'm leaving tomorrow in the morning, so today is my last day. One last macchiato, one last goodbye to my classmates, one last museum, and one last look at Venice at night before I go.

The time here has both dragged by and flew by. At times, I couldn't believe how quickly the days were passing and how soon I would be leaving. Other times, when I was walking the streets alone or eating dinner alone, I wished the time would go quicker. I have discovered that I do not like traveling alone. I need someone with me to hang out with and share the experiences with. But as I have realized and as others at school (who also traveled here alone) have pointed out, when you are alone you meet more people and see more things, and you experience the city.

This morning when I stopped to get my usual breakfast at the bakery, I told Silvia that I was leaving. We said goodbye and she gave me three cannoli for free. She likes me :) She also wrote down her name and told me to add her on Facebook.

Today in school the mood was light. Most of us are going home tomorrow. We joked, played some games, and traded emails and took pictures. Elisa, my regular teacher, was back to day and I got my picture with her.

Me and Elisa
After class, Karen and I went to Ca' Rezzonico, an old palazzo on the Grand Canal that has been turned into a museum. It shows you what life was like for rich Venetians in the 18th century. The rooms are huge and lavish, with art everywhere, giant glass chandeliers made on the island of Murano, some furniture, and items like silver cups and serving trays. And, of course, there are pieces from famous Venetian artists like Tintoretto.

Then I walked around through the familiar parts of Venice. For the most part, I can get around without a map anymore, and sometimes I don't take it with me. Although I didn't lost today, getting lost in Venice is one of the best things about visiting Venice. You find yourself walking down the smallest of streets and you discover the most interesting shops or restaurants, or a dead end into a beautiful courtyard, or a small, serene canal, and above is someone's voice drifting out of a third story window. It's quiet and peaceful. Then after a few more turns you suddenly walk into a big square with a church, kids playing soccer, and women sitting on benches and talking. You're never really lost, because there are signs that point to major landmarks like St. Mark's Square or the train station. The island isn't that big. You can always find a way back.

Tonight after dinner I'll probably sail down the Grand Canal one more time. I want to see it at night again. Then tomorrow morning I'm on a plane back home. I'm glad I saw this magnificent city, but I'm ready to be home. Will I come again? Probably. But I want to see other places now. And when I come back here, I hope my Italian is better!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

School and Home

I had a great, relaxing day after class today at the beach on the island called Lido. It's just warm enough to still go to the beach here, but the water is chilly. Even so, I went for a swim and soaked up some sun.

I haven't taken many pictures of the school or people there, so here are a few:

Arianna, my teacher for the first session.
Andrea (a man's name in Italy) was our substitute teacher for the second session today. Our regular teacher is Elisa.
My classmates from left to right: Marga (Dutch), Claire (French), Monika (Austrian) and Amy (Australian).
I know some people are curious what the apartment I am staying in looks like. It's a small 3 bedroom apartment. Aside from the bedrooms there is a kitchen, a bathroom, and a foyer. No living room or dining room.

The foyer. My bedroom is on the left, and the bathroom is on the right.
My bedroom door. Each bedroom has this curtain so you can open the door and still have privacy.
My bedroom.
The kitchen. To the right are two sets of french doors that open to a small balcony.
View from the balcony.
The bathroom. There is a sink behind me.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

All in a Day

Here's a typical day for me in Venice:

Up at 7 a.m., shower, get dressed, and pack my shoulder bag with my guidebook, map, dictionary, notebook for school, bottle of water, and camera.

I usually walk to school. On some days I pass this cat outside the building. Look at his eyes.

Orange eyes!

On the way to school I pass a little bakery on a very narrow street. I always stop for breakfast -- something sweet like a croissant filled with marmalade, or a chocolate pastry. Everything there is delicious. The woman behind the counter is named Sylvia and she is very nice. Today I asked her for a picture, and she led me into the back of the bakery so I could get a picture of the bakers too.

Sylvia and the bakers.
Then I walk to Piazzale Roma. There are only 3 or 4 bridges that cross the Grand Canal, so if I want to walk to school I have to go to this piazzale to get across. The next closest bridge, the Rialto Bridge, is too far away. Then I walk to Campo Santa Margherita, where the school is. Classes start at 9.

Inside the school. Classrooms are on the left and right of the hallway.
At 10:50 a.m. we take a 20 minute break, and I usually go outside to get a macchiato. There are two cafes less than a minute away. I go to the one that also serves food -- pastries, cookies, slices of pizza, and my favorite: arancini, or fried balls of yellow rice stuffed with meat & cheese or vegetables. Delicious! At this cafe, there are no chairs. You drink and eat at the counter, the Italian way.

Classes start again at 11:10 and last until 1. Then I have lunch somewhere with classmates. That's the end of the structured part of the day. From 2 p.m. on I walk around and go sightseeing. I usually don't get home until after 7. Then I relax, read email, update the blog, etc. Then dinner, and possibly a drink or two afterward.

Today in class I told a story in Italian. It was really, really poor Italian, and I had to look up several words beforehand, but Marga (who is also a beginner) told me later that she understood it. I only know how to speak in present tense, so here it is in English as I told it. It's a true story:

Last night I go to a bar. The bartender's name is Enrico. He is my bartender. I give him may Euros and he gives me many beers. A dog comes to the bar. I say, "Enrico, your dog?" Enrico says, "Yes." I say, "The name?" He says, "Bigoi." I say, "What is the meaning of Bigoi?" He says, "Spaghetti in Venetian." I say, "Your dog is Spaghetti?" He says, "Yes." I order a panino. The panino comes. Bigoi ... (at this point I mime Bigoi sniffing the air). Bigoi comes here (I point to my feet). I say, "Enrico, I give a little bit of panino?" He says, "No, he's too fat!" I ... (then I mime sneaking food to Bigoi).

After class, my classmate Marga, who is Dutch, and I went to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. After all of the religious art I have seen, I was ready for something different. Peggy Guggenheim bought a palazzo (palace) here and spent a lot of her time hanging out with and cultivating artists like Jackson Pollock. Her personal collection is now on display in the palazzo, which was turned into a museum. On display are Pollock, Picasso, Dali, Kandinsky, Mondrian, and many others. Photos are not allowed inside, but here are a few I was allowed to take:

This tree, in her garden, was a gift from Yoko Ono. People hang wishes from it.
Peggy is buried in the garden.
Her home is on the Grand Canal. This is the view from her bedroom.
The anatomically correct The Angel of the City is outside the front door.
Also anatomically correct.
Marga and me in the garden.
After the Guggenheim, Marga and I went to a free exhibition we heard about of avant garde art. The exhibition was literally in the home of a Polish man who lives on a campo (square) and sets these exhibits up for anyone to see. You just have to ring the doorbell and be let in.

The entrance to his home.

This particular exhibition focuses on light and movement, and has a bauhaus influence. I am not an art connoisseur and know nothing about any of this, but I am going to list the artists in case you are:

Jesus Rafael Soto, Penetrable
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Ein Lightspiel Schwarz Weiss Grau
Werner Greaff, Komposition II
Carlos Cruz-Diez, Chromosatuation
Julio Le Parc, Continuel Lumiere Mobile
And some others. And now the art ...

You had to walk through this.

Three rooms

Various light boxes

Even though I have been here for 12 days, I am still awestruck by how beautiful the Grand Canal is, especially on a sunny day. So here's another shot, taken today.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Virgin Mary Overload

I've been to a lot of churches and museums and seen about a million paintings, statues, and other works of art depicting the life of Jesus. At least half a million of them were of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus in her lap. And I thought Southern Baptists were nuts about baby Jesus! They got nothing on Venice.

It's late and I am tired, so I'm going to post some random photos of stuff I haven't worked into the blog yet.

The church of Santa Maria della Salute.
St. Mark's Square -- and lots of tourists.
Church of Madonna dell'Orto.
One of the many old palaces facing the Grand Canal.
Italy summed up in one photo: Politics (comunista), religion (Jesus painting), the old (the men), and the new (cell phone).
Street of death!
Gondola on the Grand Canal
On the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, with St. Mark's Square, the Doge's Palace, and the Campanile behind me.
Venetian bus stop.
Beautiful canal.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Engrish Funny

Another beautiful day here. Unfortunately, it's also laundry day. I've got nothing clean left. So after school I came back to the apartment.

Marina has come back from her vacation, so I have someone to talk to while I am home. Her English is good but not great. Today she gently scolded me for leaving a light on when I left this morning. She said that after the Chernobyl accident, the Italians voted in a referendum not to have nuclear power. So everyone here must conserve energy. When my clothes were done washing, we hung them on a clothesline outside.  Marina laughed when I told her I have never hung clothes on a clothesline. She showed me how so I could "teach the people in my country."

Shirts and pants to the left, socks and undies to the right.

Three students left our class this week to go back home, and four new ones joined. We now have two Americans, one French, one German, one Austrian, one Dutch and one Australian. The Australian girl is completely lost. She's a total beginner and doesn't understand anything. I only understand about 10%-20% of what the teachers say, but it's enough that I get the gist of it. For instance, the teacher will say blah blah blah paese blah blah blah feminili blah blah blah plurale, and I can figure out that she is talking about how to make the plural of feminine words. We also do a lot of conversation practice. For instance, we will learn how to say "Where are you going today?" (Dove vai oggi?) And then we get up and ask all of the other students that question. You think of an answer and tell them. Then we sit down and the teacher turns to one of us, me for instance, and asks what Claire is doing today. Then I say Claire va a Piazza San Marco e il Palazzo Ducale (Claire is going to St. Mark's Square and the Doge's Palace).

Walking around, I have seen some signs in English that made me laugh. Here are a couple:

Wasted Pido and the what?
Explaining MILFs to Adelheid was not easy.
"Raging Pub," run by two polite Japanese girls.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Say What?

Two nice surprises today: 1) il sole -- the sun -- came out today!  It was a welcome sight after two days of rain. And 2) the Alps! You can see them off in the distance from certain parts of Venice. I only discovered that today.

It's funny how many people come up to me and say something in Italian. I thought that with my red hair and clothes, I would stick out like a sore thumb as un turista -- a tourist. But people have stopped me and asked me in Italian for cigarettes, for directions to a cafe, and how to use the ticket dispenser at the train station. Those were the things I understood. A bunch of other people have said things I didn't understand at all. Most of the time, after I give them a blank look, they quickly switch to English.

I am enjoying learning Italian, but it's a slow process. I didn't really expect to learn much -- I'm only here for two weeks. How much can you possibly learn in that time? But there's one drawback I didn't anticipate: When you say something in Italian, they respond in Italian. Oops! Mostly I have no idea what they say. But I keep trying.

I'm also starting to think (in English) with an Italian accent. It's very annoying.

While riding the water bus I heard someone with a very thick Southern twang talking to her husband. They were from Arkansas. I know I've only been gone for a week, but I sure was glad to hear it. When Italians speak English, you have to concentrate. It makes your brain tired.

Last night my roommate and I went to dinner together. Her name is Satomi, and she is from Japan. She speaks very little English, and I don't know any Japanese. So we were forced to speak in very, very bad Italian with each other. I think we did more gesturing and making faces than actual speaking, but most of the time we got the point across.

We went to Paradiso Perduto. It's one of the few places in Venice that stays open very late, so it has some nightlife. And it's less than 10 minutes from our apartment. We only went for dinner, but it was great. Delicious food, some music, some wine, and a very casual atmosphere. It's the kind of place that Americans would like, but many locals go there too.

Satomi and me at Paradiso Perduto.

It's very easy to find bad food in Venice because of all the tourists. Here are a few things that could be a red flag (but not always):
  1. The menu is in several languages.
  2. A waiter is standing in the door trying to get you to come in.
  3. They offer a "tourist menu."
  4. You are within sight of St. Mark's Square or the Rialto Bridge.
Today I went to the island of Murano, the island of glass makers. When the Venetians mastered the art of making glass, the glass makers were forced to move to the small island of Murano so their furnaces would not set Venice on fire.

This tower was built on Murano as a lookout tower for fires. Next to it is a giant glass sculpture.
They are still making glass there today and you can watch a demonstration. You can buy glass there or in shops all over Venice. The shops don't like people taking pictures of their glass, but this link should give you idea of what it looks like.

Making the glass.
Murano's "Main Street." The tower in the distance is on the island of San Michele -- Venice's cemetery island.

San Michele. You can see tombs on the left inside the wall.
I also checked out the Lido today, Venice's beach island. I love the beach. Since today is Sunday, I thought it would be busy. There were people on the beach but only about 5 in the water. I guess beach season is over. Well, I might go again tomorrow and bring my swimsuit anyway. Tomorrow is supposed to be 75 and sunny.

At the beach!
Remember when I said everything is done by boat? Here are a police boat and an ambulance:

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Must Love Dogs

You'd be surprised at how many dogs are in Venice. Not roaming around wild, but pet dogs. Almost every time I go out I see one or more. Apparently the city of Venice must love dogs too, because their owners take them everywhere -- on the water bus, in bars, in cafes. Sometimes the owners don't bother putting a leash on their dog. So if you're a dog, move to Venice. It's doggie paradise here!

Dog and owner in a wine bar I was eating dinner at.
Today was cloudy, windy, and cold. Che brutto tempo! (What nasty weather!) Not a good day to be outside. So I went to The Doge's Palace, a huge meseum that showcases where the leader of Venice (the doge) lived during Venice's heyday as a superpower.

The doges were really fond of showing off how wealthy they were and how wealthy Venice was, so the palace is full of lavish art and decoration. It's really a great museum and I highly recommend visiting it.

The palace is connected to the prisons by the famous Bridge of Sighs, where prisoners would get one last look at Venice through the windows on the bridge before being locked away forever.

One last view of the lagoon before being locked up.
Unfortunately there is some renovation going on, so part of the bridge is covered up. Here's what the Bridge of Sighs looks like from the outside.

Bridge of Sighs     
Today I saw every tourist's nightmare. A woman fell into one of the canals. I saw her after she had fallen in. She had made it back to the steps and was sitting there, trying to dry off the stuff she was carrying. She was soaked from head to toe, and her friends were trying to help her back up. It was cold, windy day, so she must have been miserable. All over Venice there are steps that lead into the water. Never step on them, even to take a picture! The steps are wet and slick, and some have algae on them. You do not want to be in that water.

By the way, the canals do not stink. They smell like a marina, but they do not smell like garbage or filth.

Everything is done by boat here. The buses are boats. The police and firefighters are on boats. FedEx is on boats. The ambulances are boats. And of course, there are the gondolas. Plus many locals have private boats. It has been this way in Venice for over 1,000 years.

Delivering produce by boat.
Today I also went to the church Madonna dell'Orto, which is like 30 seconds from my apartment by foot. The Venetian Renaissance painter Tintoretto lived nearby and did most of the work there, and he is buried inside the church.

Inside Madonna dell'Orto. Notice the huge paintings on the left and right. Most of there were done by Tintoretto.