Day 11 - Exploring Venice

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July 1st 2019
Published: July 2nd 2019
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Now that the cruse ships have sailed away, it's time to explore Venice in a little more depth. After a quick breakfast in the hotel, where we were pleasantly surprised that the eggs were almost cooked, and the bacon was almost crisp, we were ready to head off on a walking tour of Venice. In all fairness to the hotels, evidently eggs and bacon are an American thing, and not really a mainland Europe breakfast. All of the hotels have had scrambled eggs, though they mostly are pretty runny. And the bacon is always undercooked. Anna promised that if we visited Britain, we would be able to get "proper" bacon. The other odd thing, is that with all the wonderful sausage we have seen, breakfast sausage is always hot dogs, regular old American style hot dogs, but the pastries are always awesome! And they always seem to have pineapples which we both like.

So after breakfast we gathered up our Voxs and met our local guide Sylvia, a true Venetian, for a walking tour of Hidden Venice around the back streets. Sylvia was born and raised here, left for a little while after university, but came back to live because she missed it so much. She took us to some of the early "comos", which technically means fields since St Mark's Square was the only paved square in Venice. All of Venice is now paved, with very little grass, so these "comos" are just little squares, but each has a church and a cistern which used to collect rainwater for drinking. The cisterns are all closed now, as their water comes through pipes form somewhere in the Alps. Within one square she was able to point out buildings from as early as the 11th century with Byzantine architecture, along with examples of Gothic and Renaissance. Evidently early Venice had a high amount of Turkish influence. Venice also speaks a dialect of Italian that includes words from German, Spanish and Turkish. The buildings themselves are built on wooden pilings that are driven deeply into the soft sand. Pine is used as the wood as when pine is exposed to prolonged salt water it becomes petrified and makes a solid base. Limestone blocks are added to the top of the pilings to a point above the waterline as limestone is also impervious to salt water. Above the limestone, brick can be used as a construction material.

Since it was 9:00 in the morning when Sylvia was walking us around, and since we were away from the tourist areas and more into the hidden portions of Venice, we were able to see some of the mundane day-to-day activities that happen behind the scenes that keep Venice running. Instead of gondolas, the canals were filled with cargo boats bringing deliveries to the various shops. Boats were filled with food and supplies. One was even filled with toilet paper! The boats were manually unloaded and the goods were transported down the street with 2-wheel hand trucks. We also noticed a green garbage boat, that was picking up trash from the various places. Sylvia said that Venetians are not allowed to leave trash outside for pickup, so what happens is the garbage boat pulls up to the back of your house or business, and someone rings your doorbell to ask if you have any trash for disposal. Imagine garbage men ringing your doorbell for trash in the states! But it works great for them. She also told us that while each building in Venice has a unique street address, the numbers are not necessarily sequential, making giving directions difficult at best.

The walking tour ended in St Mark's Square with a visit to St Mark's Basilica. We had been told before that a church is called a basilica if it contains the relic bones of a saint, but Sylvia said that being called a basilica just means that a Pope has visited the church. I will need to check this out! Jody had been warned before we left that her shorts may be too short to allow entry into the church. Sure enough, just as we were entering, the "Fashion Police" stopped her a let her know her shorts were too short. They sold a paper long coat that covered both her shoulders and her knees for 2 euro, but the guy just told her to pull her shorts down a little and he decided it was good enough. So Jody escaped the punishment of the Fashion Police! The line to get into St Mark's Basilica was getting pretty long, but this was another case where we were able to skip the line and go right in. The church was beautiful! Most of the interior of the church was covered in glass mosaic. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take any pictures inside the church. According to Sylvia, there are 80,000 square meters of gold mosaic glass on the walls and ceiling of the church. By the main altar, there were a series of statues of the 12 apostles, St Mark the Evangelist, and the Blessed Virgin. All the statues looked a unique brown color, as if made from brown marble. It turns out the statues are actually white marble, it's just the soot of the candles below had turned the statues brown over the centuries. The Venetians like them brown, so they are being left as they are rather than cleaning them up. The floor of the church is one of the lowest points in Venice, and consequently the church has about 3 inches of water in it at high tide for about 240 days out of the year. A new series of pumps is being added in the hope to keep the flooding to less than 40 days per year.

Venice has always had water problems, as would be expected with a city so exposed to salt water, but rising sea levels is making everything worse. Sylvia also said that the bigger problem facing Venice is affordable housing. A 2-bedroom apartment in Venice now costs about 2000 euro per month when the average wage is more like 1800 euro per month making living in Venice unaffordable to the average Venetian. She said that many people are commuting from outside Venice but that since there are no cars in Venice, it takes about 40 minutes each way to get from the car park to the center of town. The government is trying to solve this problem with rent subsidies, but the problem has been exacerbated by the existence of AirBnB. We have heard this in other cities that we have visited. Landlords can make much more money by renting apartments through AirBnB, than they can by renting to local renters. This increase in rent causes shortages of rental property and astronomical increases in rent for the remaining stock.

Once the tour ended, we had the option to pay 5 euro each to climb to the top of the basilica and view the city from above and view the 4 horseman statues. We decided we didn't really need to climb to the top, as we would only be able to take pictures when we were outside. We spent much better use of out time checking out t-shirt vendors and some of the shops along St Mark's Square. A lot of these shops were not souvenir shops, but had things like silk and jewelry. The silk prices were reasonable, but the jewelry tended to be very high end, so we were relegated to window shopping. Fortunately, Jody did pick up some creative idea from the jewelry designs.

By 11:00 it was time to meet up with Anna and the group and do what we are supposed to do when visiting Venice - go for a gondola ride! We had 6 gondolas with 6 people per gondola riding through the canals of Venice. Our gondola was named Mermaid and also included Sean & Vicky and Russ & Julie which made our ride especially fun. John and Inga were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, so they got the gondola named Love Boat and the musicians rode in their gondola to serenade them. The ride through Venice on the gondola was much quieter than I had expected. But without the noise of an engine, it really is a quiet form of transportation. It is somewhat less stable than I had expected, more like the stability of a canoe rather than a boat. But it was stable enough for a wonderfully comfortable ride! It was another one of those moments when Jody & I would look at each other and think "We are really in Italy!" At the end, Anna met us in a coffee shop for some lemon or orange slushies to cool us off. At this point, it was about noon, and the rest of our day was free time.

Most of the people were planning to either do some shopping, exploring, or go back to the hotel and rest for the flight home tomorrow. But Jody & I decided that we had plenty of time to head over to the arts district and check out the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. We had spotted a few art museums along the Grand Canal on our trip last night, and thought that visiting one during our free time this afternoon was a better use of our time. We got directions from Anna last night, at least she sort of pointed it out on a map which is probably the best you can do in Venice. It mostly meant we had to find our way down to the Accademie Bridge across the Grand Canal. This turned out to be a little more difficult that it would seem, mostly due to roads ending at the water, dead end alleys, and not much signage. But, after a few dead ends, we managed to find our way to the bridge. Along the way were some of the more high end fashion shops to do a little window shopping as we went. Once across the bridge, we were in an arts district with several small galleries along the way. From there it was fairly easy to find our way to the Guggenheim, and in a few minutes we were inside enjoying the art. There are basically 3 sections to the museum: the permanent collection that contained art from artists like Pollack, Calder, Dali, Picasso, Chagall, Warhol, and many others. Of course, Jody knew them all, and was able to recognize the artist without even looking at the card. When the ticket lady asked if we wanted the audio tour cassette, it seemed silly to me as Jody was already giving me a personal audio tour. I thought I was doing pretty good after 20 years of being together, Jody has taught me to recognize a Dali, Picasso, or a Warhol. And I at least know who Pollack, Calder, and Chagall are!

The center part of the Guggenheim is a sculpture gallery with several large outdoor pieces. The third section is the temporary exhibit, in this case "The Nature of Arp", dedicated to the works of Jean (Hans) Arp who I knew nothing about, but Jody, of course, knew all about him. We both always like going to art museums, and we have visited many around the US. Jody especially loves art museums and has a real appreciation for what she sees. I, on the other hand, have learned to appreciate what I see, recognize what I like and what I don't and understand better when Jody is the expert, explaining to me what I am looking at, and why the artist is significant. At the end of our wanderings in the Guggenheim, we ended up in the museum cafe. There we sat, drinking 2 big bottles of sparkling water in the Guggenheim Museum Cafe, in Venice, in Italy, thinking what a great way to spend an afternoon!

The walk back to the hotel was much easier as we seem to be getting better finding our way around. We both can easily see why people love Venice. I only hope they can keep the buildings from crumbling into the sea, as Venice is a very unique city. We just rested in the room for a little bit, before we made our way downstairs to meet up for or farewell dinner. I thought we were just eating in the hotel, but we made our way a few blocks down the street to the Trovatore Hotel. The place was fantastic, another authentic Italian restaurant with a delicious multi-course meal.. The food was great with the lasagna course portion large enough for a full meal. The main course was whitefish with potatoes, evidently a staple of Venetian life. It was sad to see everyone go, as this has been a most amazing trip! Jody and I are already thinking about where we should go next year.

In the morning, the porters will bring the luggage down to the water taxi where we will ride the water taxi to the Venice airport and by midnight tomorrow we will be back in our own bed.

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