Venice Untour, Spring of 2003
by Hope Atkinson, South Dartmouth, MA
Venice and the Domus Apartment
We have been home for 5 days and realize that the magic of Venice is beginning to wear off. Perhaps I can prolong it if I write about it.
May 6, 2003 finally arrived and after surviving four flight cancellations in the days just prior to our departure we were on our way. Idyll staffer Andrea had performed a masterful job of arranging new flight plans as cancellations kept being announced. We left Boston at 4:30 pm which meant that we flew very briefly in darkness before emerging into Europe's morning. Of course, this all meant that we arrived in Venice at an unusual hour for the regular Untour greeting. Denny, our girl in Venice, taxied out to meet us much earlier than was convenient and she and Paolo and Henrique carried our gear and settled us into Domus. At that point, any apartment would have looked good but Domus was a prize. Those who decide to go there will not be disappointed.
Day 2: We are a trio of ladies of a certain age one of whom is an art historian. The other two, my sister and I, are art lovers and so it is not surprising that we soon headed off to board our first vaporetto at the train station (Ferrovia) which is about a five minute walk from Domus. We embarked on vaporetto Number 1 with the intention of touring the entire Grand Canal. However, we cut the voyage short and got off at Accademia, the huge art museum right on the canal. It is here, Venice, and only here that one can see the huge works of Tintoretto and Titian and Veronese, Canaletto, the Bellini family and Carpaccio. Of course, these paintings depict religious scenes many of which are downright terrifying. Some have been restored to a degree but most are very dark with age. We got saturated at our first visit to Accademia and returned in our second week to catch up with some important things we had missed.
The Columbian sculptor Fernando Botero has on ongoing exhibit of his massive works in bronze placed at intervals along the canal edge. His specialty is of grossly fat nude women in various poses which, they say, contain many elements of pre-Columbian sculpture. Although we could find very little to admire of his efforts, he is becoming increasingly well known and admired as he exhibits world-wide.
Vaporetto travel is crowded, slow and noisy with the skipper seemingly abusing the engine and taking no pains to come into a landing at anything less than full speed ahead with a sudden and grating reverse of the engines and a bump and shudder at the waiting station. This old sailor was horrified. Unless one is lucky enough to be aboard an express the water bus makes frequent stops and progresses at about the rate of a Fifth Avenue bus. It is, however, a wonderful experience and the perfect way to get from one place to another in this city of waterways. The deckhands are pleasant and graciously lend a hand to any who seem to need it.
On Saturday we decided to attend a wooden boat/food fair at the Naval Institute at Arsenale. It took us the best part of a half an hour to decide which vaporetto to take to get us there. Our choice took us the entire length of the Grand Canal and out into the lagoon. We wandered around the interesting exhibits of all types of craft all morning and had lunch on the pier where they had set up tables and umbrellas for the occasion. We backtracked home via Vaporetto under an overcast and lowering sky. It started to rain just as we reached Domus. This, however, was the only rain we were to see until the last day when a rip-snorter of a thunder storm entertained us in the middle of the afternoon. The end of a lovely day.
Sunday we decided to walk to the Rialto Bridge. The many signs indicating the general direction got us there in good time without getting lost even once. Needless to say, the place was mobbed. It also surprised us by its size. For some reason we had expected something a bit more delicate. Probably we had seen too many earlier paintings of wooden versions of this historic bridge. The massive structure in stone is truly impressive. Its span incredible. How we wished everyone would just go away and leave it to us for a little while.
While we were at the Rialto we heard music coming from the Grand Canal and hurried to find a good view as a uniformed brass band playing stirring military music floated past followed by 75-100 gondola-like craft painted in bright colors and oared by four men dressed in white. We never did find out what the occasion was. It fits neither the description nor the date of the Vogalonga.
Undaunted by the crowds we worked our way to Piazza San Marco. Not only wall to wall people with long lines waiting to visit the Palazzo Ducale and the Basilica de San Marco but a blazing sun with no possibility of a shady spot. We vowed to return early another day and headed back towards Domus. We soon happened upon a pretty little garden restaurant under a canopy of wisteria. What luck! We all ordered the tagliatelle with shrimp and tiny bits of zucchini. Wine too, of course. Sorry to say, I doubt if we could find it again. It was just one of those nice happenings travelers enjoy from time to time.
Since the Scuola Grande di San Rocco is virtually right in the backyard of Domus we decided to stop on our way back to see the Tintorettos there. Wow! What a display. These paintings must be measured by the foot, the walls and ceiling are covered with them. Again, of course, the subject is religion. We spent considerable time here only to discover when it was too late that we had missed a side room that contained his extraordinary painting "The Crucifixion." A return visit was clearly in order for another day.
The next day we designated a "lay day" which is not to say that we lounged around the apartment and did nothing. My sister took off to find a place to make a sketch for a watercolor and Bonnie and I headed out to Campo Santa Margherita to the open air vegetable and fruit market. Bought some lovely fresh spinach among other things. We only got slightly lost getting there. We then walked back to Domus, put the shopping in the refrigerator and left to go the super mercato called "Pick Up" nearby.
We were astounded to note how the time had flown by even though we should have known by our rolling stomachs. Made ourselves tuna sandwiches which gave us a second wind to visit the Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari known simply as "Frari." It too is just around the corner from Domus and contains an ornate, massive Monument to Titian, a stunning altarpiece by Giovanni Bellini, a most moving sculpture of St. John by Donatello and a splendid altarpiece "Assumption Of The Virgin" by Titian. Imagine having all that right in your own neighborhood!
Took a little walk after dinner and laughed to see a man bringing home a boxed pizza. No, not Dominoe's.
Some observations :
Venice presents problems for those who are not able-bodied. The islands that make up the city are joined by stepped bridges. One must be able to walk and climb stairs. Doubt if cardiologists have much business.
The public AMAV WC's are fine. They have an attendant who keeps the place clean and neat. The charge is .50 eu.
Trash and garbage are picked up daily except Sunday. The streets are clean.
Opera glasses a good idea for viewing art from a distance. Wish we had some.
Early on thought I would include a compass next time but finally got my bearings.
In May every school child from miles around visits Venice on a field trip. Some bring luggage and spend the night.
No danger of getting run over by auto or motorcycle.
There are two gelato shops side by side just a short distance from Domus. One is always crowded, the other hardly ever seems to have a customer. Their gelato looks to be identical, one to the other. A mystery.
If you wish to take a gondola ride suggest you avoid those on Grand Canal and try the one that is moored at Campo S. Toma. Follow the little alley in the SE corner of the campo. Just a short distance away there is a gondola, maybe two, for hire. Traghetto also leaves from here. Suspect not as expensive as others might be.
Now it is Tuesday. We have decided that vaporetto stop S.Toma is the closest for us to go to the places we wish to see. We headed off earlier than usual to beat the crowds at San Marco. Although not quite first in line we certainly were successful in being there when the doors opened to the ducal palace. We wandered from room to room for about two hours admiring even more works of Tintoretto with some by both Titian and Veronese here and there. Walked over the Bridge of Sighs and through a portion of the prison and torture chambers. Once one starts to tour the palace one is pretty well committed to going the whole route. There is no turning back.
As we reached the end of the tour we noticed a sign with an arrow which said "Cafeteria." We soon found ourselves seated at a table with an enormous window looking out onto a little rio. From time to time a gondola would pass by after having passed under the Bridge of Sighs.
It was now time to tackle the Basilica. Although the line was quite long it moved steadily and we soon found ourselves inside this splendid church. We paid a small extra fee to visit the Treasury there. It is well named as it glitters with gold. Bonnie is not only an art historian but also a fine goldsmith and gem setter and this visit settled some "How did they do that?" questions she has had. The beautiful mosaic floors are buckling in some places and wavy in others. I take that to indicate something underneath is letting go. Will they ever stop wringing their hands while such treasures are ruined and settle on some method of taming the Adriatic? (Just read that they have indeed selected one of two plans under consideration.) Just in the nick of time I should think.
Had a beer at the little Snack Bar diagonally across the street from Domus and people watched. Smiled at the happy children going home from school. Have yet to see or hear a squawking or disagreeable child. All Venice seems happy. Groups of teenagers do not seem at all menacing at any time of day or night.
About the Grand Canal: The Grand Canal must be seen to be believed. I do not exaggerate when I say I could spend hours and even days just watching the traffic go by. Every type of water craft imaginable chugs or poles or rows along this waterway. There are lumber barges, sand barges, gondole, water taxis, plumbers and electricians, masons with stacks of plaster on deck, police patrols, ambulances and even a hearse bedecked with floral pieces. Not surprising when one realizes that Canal Grande is not only the main thoroughfare through town but the only one. There do not seem to be any rules of the road or aids to navigation (although at night running lights are displayed). Observance of nautical etiquette seems not to be necessary. We watched as all traffic, large and small moved at a good clip, getting to where they wanted to go, crossing the bow of others, backing down, yet I saw no near collisions. It is wonderful.
We are already at the halfway mark and Alessandra Zuchetta, our landlady, arrived today with clean linens. We had a lot of fun and arm waving with her as we tried to converse in our pathetic, nearly non-existent Italian and she with about the same English. She took some lessons once but the teacher went too fast so she quit. We THINK she invited us to Treviso on the mainland where she lives. She wanted us to go at 9:00 that night but we had to decline since we had tickets to a concert at Frari. She then offered the following night but that was the day of the Untour outing with Denny. Then again, maybe that isn't what she said at all. At any rate, she is a delightful lady. We promised to send her a picture of her that we took in the apartment.
This afternoon we set off to find Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo to see the magnificent equestrian statue by Verrocchio of the famous mercenary Bartolomeo Colleoni. The determined look on the face of the condottieri is worth the trip. We even managed not to be knocked down by the ball-playing kids in the square The route required negotiating the crowds at Rialto once more but after that it was quite easy. Next time I will definitely bring a magnifying glass for map reading.
Had a late lunch at Campo S Polo at an outdoor trattoria,-.the one at the far end of the square with white umbrellas not the one with green umbrellas. We all had different things...they were all delicious.
Tonight we attended a concert at Frari performed by a fairly large chorus from Germany. The setting took our breath away. The members of the chorus all dressed in black arrayed themselves under that incredible Titian "Assumption" which was lighted splendidly. The bright reds of the drapery in the painting were indescribably lovely. And then, what did we hear? An evening of sacred music with several works of Monteverdi whose tomb is located only a few feet from the altar. To hear Monteverdi in Monteverdi's church is a once in a lifetime experience.
Thursday May 15 This morning we did a little Christmas shopping. Found a nice little shop among others nearby that was a cut above the standard tourist kiosks and bought little gifts for friends. We will be so smug come Christmas!
In the afternoon we met Denny and the others to speed out to the island San Francesco del Deserto. Lying just a bit south of Burano the guidebooks say that one can find a local at Burano who might row you across in a sandolo. It is believed that Saint Francis ran aground here and that it is here that he tamed the birds. There is a small chapel built over the original established by St. Francis in 1220. There are only nine monks living here now. We were given a special tour arranged by Denny by a delightful friar, the oldest, a man of 80 years. He had a constant twinkle in his eye and we all agreed he was a bit impish. He has lived on San Francesco since he returned from China. Wine and cookies followed when we boarded the taxi for our return trip.
Instead of taking us directly back to the Grand Canal Chichi, our water taxi skipper, took us on a little rambling tour of some small rios before emerging at the Rialto. It was still mobbed. Once again we walked to Domus from there. The territory was getting positively familiar. This was the day Bonnie discovered that her wallet had been lifted out of her pocketbook. She lost a little money but worst of all her vaporetto ticket was gone. In the evening we enjoyed an espresso at a little pastry shop nearby.
Took the vaporetto from Ferrovia to Ca' Pesaro Venice's gallery of modern art. Most of the collection was by unknown (to us) Venetian artists. Some of their work was very fine indeed but the pièce de resistance was Klimt's Salomé.
Saturday, May 17 My sister and I walked to find the place where gondole are still made. We got to the right place but everything was locked up. Closed Saturday? However, all was not lost as we were provided our first glimpse of fairly open water where cruise ships tie up. As we watched an enormous ugly behemoth slid in. The multiple decks were swarming with new tourists. We got out of there as quickly as possible. Bonnie had gone to view the Peggy Guggenheim collection. When we got together later in the afternoon we were so envious of all the things she had seen my sister and I vowed to go early the next morning. So glad we did not miss this lovely, very select little collection which includes Picasso, Braque, Miro, Ernst, Kandinsky, Chagall, an entire room of Pollock and on and on. Quite a change from Tintoretto and Titian.
Since our plane reservations had been so chaotically made our return to Frankfort required a 5:00 am check-in at Venice airport. This would have entailed meeting the water taxi at 4:00 after having prepared, eaten and cleaned up breakfast. On top of that, the bus which runs from the lagoon to the terminal itself does not run that early which meant a 20-25 minute walk with our gear. We anticipated this as possibly in the rain (it so happened that it was raining that morning) and in the pre-dawn. There have been times in my life when I would have done this but we opted to leave Domus on Tuesday afternoon and spend the night "ashore" at the Ramada Inn. We think we made the right choice.
It is in a very nice neighborhood.
It is very large and clean.
The provisions provided by Sra. Zuchetta were very generous.
The water is certainly potable and tastes OK. However, it seems to leave a white deposit in cooking utensils. I would not be surprised if those who followed us at Domus reported unclean pots and pans but no amount of scrubbing would completely remove the residue. Sandpaper needed, maybe.
We have always had a routine of touring all day and eating in at night. A Compari aperitif followed by a quiet little meal is ideal.
If you have read this to the end you realize that our trio did not do and see many of the things that others consider a must. We have always preferred to slowly soak up the atmosphere and become, insofar as it is possible in two weeks, a part of the place where we are living. In this case, Serenissima-Venice. It is all an illusion.