We went back through the maze we passed through in a daze last night and eventually found our way back downstairs. The breakfast area was beautiful! Continental breakfast again, but the choices were magnificent. A waiter came and took my order for a cappuccino; Clayton had regular coffee. They also had 3 types of juice – grapefruit, orange, and blood orange. I had to try the blood orange, and it was very, very yummy. There were also a variety of pastries, croissants (chocolate ones were delish), fresh fruit, cheeses, meats, yogurt, and cakes. We stuffed ourselves, went up to our room to freshen up and repack (we were being moved to a different room today), and headed out. We were not sure exactly where we were, since we arrived in the dark the previous night, so we headed toward we perceived Piazza San Marco was. It was still relatively early morning (8:30-ish), and businesses had not yet opened. We were amazed to see huge carts laden with food and other items for the shops being hauled up and down staircases to reach their destination. I had never really considered the nitty-gritty details of living in a city that has no streets. Garbage had to be hauled to the Grand Canal, to be picked up by a garbage barge. Any supplies had to be dropped off on the Grand Canal, and then hauled up and over a variety of small bridges to reach their final destination.
This is outside of our hotel (you can see the “Hotel American” sign in one of the pictures:
We walked past the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (museum), and hit a dead end. So, we looped back to where we started and found the Accademia bridge, which has a vaporetto stop. This would prove to be very convenient; we used the vaporetto system extensively to get around town. We decided to walk to St. Mark’s (Piazza San Marco); it was not far. Here are a few photos:
Our first view of the Doges’ Palace:
Hard at work, bringing in supplies. We were amazed every time we saw someone pushing these carts up and down stairs. Talk about heavy lifting!
We had a walking tour scheduled this morning, so we boarded the vaporetto to the Ca D’Oro stop. By now, we needed to do find a restroom. For the most part, there are no public restrooms in Europe, but we spied a McDonalds, and figured we could use theirs. Come to find out, you had to be a paying customer to use the potties, so we bought coffee and orange juice in order to get the code for access to the bathrooms. Their breakfast menu looked a little better than the one at home:
Next, we needed to get some change; all we had were 20 Euro bills, and smaller bills and coins were needed. We eventually found a bank (ATMs are everywhere; banks, not so much). I don’t know if all banks have the security that this one does, but to enter, one person at a time stepped through the door. You entered a “chamber” of sorts that was closed off on the bank side. The exterior door then closed, and the interior door opened. Then, you could enter the bank and transact your business (after leaving your phone in a cubby!). They were definitely security conscious!
We located the meeting point for our walking tour after wandering around a bit. We kept an eye out for a person from our Cruise Critic roll call; she had let us know about the tour. Turns out she looked very little like the picture she posted online, but we managed to connect anyhow! There were so many people that showed up for the tour that we had to be split into two groups. The tour was kind of a “backroads” tour, rather than a tour of the typical tourist sites. We learned about the three different types of Venetian masks, including the plague mask. Most of the masks that are sold in souvenir shops are not at all authentic; the vast majority are “Made in China”. The shop we visited had authentic masks, made by local artisans. Another interesting stop was at a bookshop. Outside the shop, there was a staircase made of books that lead to the Grand Canal.
We had lunch at a local café. The tour guide clued us in on some advice that served us well for the rest of the trip: rather than paying a Euro for a public restroom (which are often pretty nasty), buy a cappuccino or pastry, and that makes you a customer. Customers can use restrooms for free. So, we had a quick, standup lunch, and were able to use the facilities. There are different pricing structures in Venice: the cheapest is if you eat at a counter (standing up), next is being seated at a table, and the most expensive is dining outside. Definitely worth knowing!
We learned about how Venice floods, which is not really dependent on rain, but on tides. The flooding can be severe, in which case alarms sound around town. There are “catwalks” put up so that people can continue to go about their business. Yellow boots are sold to help protect your footwear if you get stuck there during this phenomenon. We were fortunate; we did not have any problems with this at all.
Our tour ended up at a Naval facility. There was a naval symposium going on, so many officers from different nations were milling around in uniform. We walked towards San Marco, which by now was very crowded! Along the main waterfront, there are souvenir stands galore. Scarves seemed to be the most popular item for sale. And, of course, masks! Our feet were getting a little sore, so we opted to hop a Vaporetto to get back to our hotel. We met some Navy officers from Washington, DC that were in town for the symposium. When we got back to the hotel, our suitcases had been moved to our new room, which was in a newer part of the building. It was a very modern looking room; a completely different style than the previous one.
After resting up for a bit, we took a Vaporetto to the Rialto Bridge. We had dinner at a cafeteria. I had a delicious lasagna (a continuing theme for Italy!); Clayton had a chicken dish. The following evening, we were meeting up with another couple that were going to be on our cruise for a Cicchetti run. Cicchetti are “small bites”; kind of like tapas. So, we thought we would scope out the area so we would know where we were going. Good thing we did; the streets of Venice are very confusing. They are very narrow, and, as we learned from our tour guide, many have the same name (if you can even locate the road signs). I had my phone with me, but for some reason, was unable to connect to Google maps, which was how I had planned on navigating. We spent a lovely evening wandering around. It was amazing how quickly you could get turned around. You would think you were on a street that paralleled the Grand Canal, but find that it veered off in a completely different direction. Fortunately, there were signs that would point you back in the direction of the Grand Canal, so you couldn’t get too lost. We never did find the place we were supposed to meet up the next night!
Back to the hotel for the evening; tomorrow, the Doges’ Palace, St. Mark’s Basilica and Murano!
After another lovely breakfast at Hotel American, we decided to go to the Doges’ Palace first thing, to try to avoid the crowds. This turned out to be an excellent decision! We didn’t have to wait in line for tickets, and the palace was not crowded at all. The Doge was similar to a king, but unlike a king, was an elected official. The Doges’ Palace was the seat of government, as well as a prison.
We passed through several very ornate chambers before entering the armory. There were some awfully wicked looking weapons! Very interesting to look at.
We found the prison area fascinating. The walls of the prison were about a foot thick, and the rooms were very short. Apparently, back in the day, people were much shorter than they are now. One of the things I found most interesting was the graffiti that was found carved into the stone. Of course, we passed over the “Bridge of Sighs”. Legend has it that prisoners would sigh as they crossed over the bridge into the prison, realizing that they would never again experience the beauty of Venice.
The remainder of the rooms in the palace were different chambers related to government. They were all filled with paintings (including on the ceiling); gilt was used extensively. I was interested in the books that were on display. They were huge! Definitely not “light reading”!
By the time we finished at the Doges’ Palace, we found a long line to enter St. Mark’s. There apparently had been some flooding the night before, because there were catwalks set up for us as we waited to enter. There are no backpacks allowed in the basilica; unfortunately, some folks didn’t find that out until they had waited in line. They had to then go check their bags, and wait some more! Glad we had read about this in a Rick Steve’s guidebook ahead of time! There was no photography allowed in the basilica itself, so my pictures are exterior shots only. Of course, there were people that did not follow the rules, and were taking pictures inside. . .
Next stops Murano, so we located the appropriate vaporetto stop, and waited for the next boat. The ride to the island of Murano was quite pretty. The water was a bit choppier, since we were no longer in the protected waters of the Grand Canal. There is a tourist vaporetto that goes directly to Murano; the regular vaporetto runs make stops at other places. We were on the tourist boat. All glass blowing is on the island; it is not allowed in the city of Venice due to the risk of fire. Incidentally, there are no wood-fired pizzas in Venice for the same reason. Some say that you can’t get pizza in Venice; what is sold there is not truly pizza! Anyhow, when you exit the vaporetto, there are many glass blowing studios lining the sidewalk. The proprietors will try to get you to enter their shop by telling you that you can see a free glass blowing demonstration. So, we picked a shop, and joined the crowd. We have seen glass blowing before, but since that is the main thing in Murano, why not? After seeing the demo, we were directed into the gift shop. Surprising, right? I had wanted to buy a couple of Murano glass ornaments for my children (it is a Christmas tradition; I have given them each a special ornament every year). However, the least expensive ornaments were at least 70 Euros each! Ouch! I love my kids, but that was a bit steep price-wise in my opinion. Besides that, I was scared that since we had a month of travel ahead of us, that the ornaments would break. So, we looked around a bit. The glasswork is truly amazing.
As I was browsing, one of the shopkeepers asked me if we would be interested in seeing the special glasswork upstairs. I assumed he was gathering a group together to see their special collection, so agreed. I was also a bit concerned that he would think we were interested in buying the high end art upstairs, so let him know that we would only be browsing. He assured me that his only interest was that we see the artwork, so that we would gain an appreciation of the incredible things that can be created with glass. So, up we went! We were very surprised to find that we were the ONLY two people that were allowed in this area. The art was indescribably gorgeous; I was scared to move for fear of losing my balance and falling into any of the pieces! We very briefly looked around, but felt quite uncomfortable since it was just the two of us. We did not stay long. . . I still don’t really understand why he picked us, but enjoyed the experience nonetheless!
We wandered around town for a bit until we found a place for lunch. Clayton had a tuna salad, I had a butternut squash/roquefort lasagna. It sounds a little weird, but was quite tasty. We had “Coca-Cola Light” (aka Diet Coke); it comes in a puny 6 oz. can; not quite enough to quench one’s thirst.
We headed back to the vaporetto dock. Some poor American woman had not thought to get a return ticket, and there are no ticket agents or ticket machines at the dock, so she was pretty worried about how to get back to Venice. We had purchased a 3 day pass ahead of time, so did not have that problem. Since there was no ticket booth, the ticketing was on the honor system anyhow, so I am thinking she probably could just hop the boat and hope for the best. For the return trip, we ended up on the non-tourist vaporetto, so had several stops before getting back to town. We met a couple that was going to be on our cruise, and chatted with them. We ended up running into them at many of the cities we visited! Funny how that happens.
After a brief rest, we headed out again; this time to meet up with our Cruise Critic friends for the cicchetti run. We did not have dinner first, assuming that we would fill up on goodies. My husband is picky eater; I was hoping he could find food that he would enjoy eating. I mistakenly had us get off at the wrong vaporetto stop, but wasn’t too concerned because I figured we could walk along the Grand Canal until we got to the next stop. Oops – no such luck! There is no sidewalk that parallels the canal, so we had to wander the back streets. Again, the streets don’t go where you think they should, so we got lost pretty quickly. Strangely enough, we ran into Gary & Nora, the people we were meeting! They had rented an apartment, and were on their way there to change for the evening. They invited us up to the apartment and offered us a limoncello. It was pretty yummy! We headed out together to our first stop of the evening, Cantina Do Mori, which is one of the oldest bars in Venice. I had a glass of wine, and went to check out the food. There were plenty of things that I would enjoy eating, but nothing that Clayton would like. Many of the cicchetti had seafood, and other than tuna fish, he does not eat seafood. Bummer. The bar got really crowded, and it was quite small. We were waiting for some other couples from our cruise, so hung out there for a while. The other couples never showed up, so we moved on to our next stop. Unfortunately, there ALL of the cicchetti there were seafood, so there was nothing at all for my hubby to eat. We decided to give up on the cicchetti crawl at that point, because one of us was not having any fun at all (funny how hunger will do that to a person).
We ended up at a restaurant by our hotel to get a late dinner. Shockingly enough, I had lasagna yet again! The next day was embarkation day, so we went back to our hotel and packed our bags. Venice is an incredibly beautiful city. We will definitely be back!