|Monday, September 7, 1998
Breakfast at F. Levi: Coffee, juice (orange or grapefruit), preserves, roll or factory-made, filled croissant, yogurt, muesli or cereal, fresh fruit (apple, orange, banana, kiwi).
We leave to change deutchemarks into lire and cash some travelers checks. Unfortunately, the bank (Banco Ambrosiano Venezia) limits you to $300 in travelers checks per day. And they charge L7,000 per transaction, or around $4.25. And they make you go through a doorlock to get in the bank (no knapsacks, please). And I wait on line for around 15 minutes before being waited on. Sheesh. Well, with the converted DM, we now have L674,000, which is around $400. There has to be a better way...
We catch up with the group at Piazza San Marco. Gene is giving an architectural overview of the governmental office buildings that surround the Piazza. Rick and Gene lead us to the Murano glass showroom, for a demonstration of glassblowing (a vase) and glass sculpture (a horse). The glass workers (and salesmen) seem a little bored. They should be -- they give the same schpiel and do the same demonstration every 10 minutes or so. After the demo, they hurry us to one of 3 identical showrooms, and the salesman explains the lay of the land, which pieces are more expensive than which others, how strong the glass is, the specially-priced package of the day, etc. The stuff is quite beautiful, especially some of the more "artsy" pieces. Unfortunately, the artsy stuff is incredibly expensive. After lots of looking, and hemming, and hawing, for some reason we decide to buy a small decanter and set of cordial glasses, with scenes of Venice stenciled in gold. In ruby red ('cause that's my fave color, that's why!). Thank goodness, they will ship it, with insurance, for $50. One less thing for the booty bag and customs.
On our own, we make for St. Mark's Church (Basilica San Marco). The "line" is just a slightly reserved mob. We get within 100 feet of the door, and notice that puddles are spreading at the entrance, and a few other places in the Piazza. After a little while, several people ahead of us take off their shoes in order to wade into the church. Then, suddenly, the main entrance is closed, and a side entrance opens. The line in front of the church disintegrates into a mob, reforming at the side entrance. Shortly thereafter, we are in. We are most impressed by the incredible mosaics, covering most of the upper interior of the church. The Palla d'Oro (golden altarpiece) and St. Mark's (yes, that Mark) tomb don't do much for me. We go up to the Loggia (balcony), which gives an excellent view of the now-very-wet Piazza San Marco. And Brig is fascinated by some 18th century choir books. The Loggia also offers some excellent close-ups of the mosaic work, and views of the basilica floor and crowd thereon. And, don't forget the much-stolen bronze horses, whose gold leaf coating has been mostly scraped off.
Here are some of the views from the Loggia:
After an abortive attempt to cross the piazza to get to the Accademia side for lunch (there doesn't seem any dry way to do it), we head toward the Rialto to seek food on a side alley. We eventually find a deli, and buy three portions:
We pick up some tee shirts near the Rialto Bridge, and shop at the fruit market. Fruit markets in Europe, so far, seem to be of the old style: Do Not Touch! You want some fruit? Ask the nice greengrocer. If he likes you, he will give you the good stuff. If not? You get a bag of figs, half of which are not quite ripe. We bought 1/2 kilo of figs for L1,500. He apparently didn't like us. Oh, well. Something else we notice at the fruit markets in both Munich and Venice: Water fountains are usually nearby, so you can wash your fruit and eat it on the spot. Nice touch. Some things are lost when you shop in supermarkets.
Back to Piazza San Marco, which has begun to dry out. We climb
the campanile for some spectacular views of the town.
By the time we return to the Piazza, we are both well and truly bushed. We skip the Doge's Palace and Accademia, and head back to the hotel for a brief respite. We administer mutual foot massages, grab a quick shower, and then back out the door to search for dinner. We need to eat and rendezvous with the group at 9 PM.
First, we roam the Accademia side, looking for a non-touristy restaurant. Hmmm. After three miles of hunting, (Brigid, in exasperation, eventually insists on asking someone. Women! Okay, so it turns out that Mondays are not a wonderful day to look for an evening meal in back street Venice.) we give up, and head toward Rialto. When the clock strikes 7:15, we choose Al Teatro Goldoni for dinner, in complete desperation. We order the menu turistico (L23,000), plus a 1/2 liter of red wine, a carafe of tap water, and a coffee for the end of the meal. The waiter brings the vino and an espresso (which is what you should expect when ordering coffee in Italy -- ask for caffe americano if you want American coffee) right away. No water. (By the way, the espresso was really very good. And I don't generally like espresso. It was very rich, but somehow, hardly bitter at all. One packet of sugar was perfect.)
Act I: Our waiter approaches and sets down a large plate of pasta primavera in front of me. Now, it looks delicious, but we didn't order it -- it's not even on the menu turistico. I try to alert the waiter. He approaches and I explain that this is not my order. (The sign and body language is very simple. Point at plate, shake head. What's simpler?) He leaves without the plate. Hmmm. I try again. This time, he gets the message, and puts the plate on the counter. (Five minutes later, he figures out who ordered it, and the poor patron gets a plate of cold pasta primavera.)
Act II: Our waiter approaches and sets down a plate with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes. Aside from the fact that the tomato slices are too pale to make the dish appetizing, once again it's not anything we ordered! Twice more, I go through the universal language bit. Twice more, the waiter looks at me funny, and moves on without taking the plate. So much for neurotic behavior, I pick up the plate and bring it to him. He's too busy, so he points me to the counter. (You guessed it. Five minutes later, he delivers the plate to the table next to us. At least this dish is supposed to be served cold.)
Either the waiter was drunk; forgetful; or he was recruited by his brother-in-law to pretend to be a waiter for the day. Or, perhaps we turned down a couple of freebie goodies! Nah.
Eventually, he brings us our thoroughly dry and overcooked meat courses. I had chicken. I don't remember what Brig had, but it doesn't matter. Neither was much good. I definitely needed the wine in order to get some of my chicken down. Perhaps the waiter had been trying to tell us something in the preceding farce?
We leave the restaurant (without bothering to tip the waiter) and hurry to Piazza San Marco, for the rendezvous. We're 20 minutes early, so we flit from music stage to music stage, enjoying freebie instrumental concerts. (You can, of course, sit down at a cafe table, and enjoy the show and a meal or a drink, for an appropriately elevated price. Perhaps next time.) The instrumentalists are good. Two stages specialize in pop music (show tunes, etc.) and one does classical music. Each is associated with a cafe. It's very pleasant, standing in the periphery of the outdoor cafe, in the moonlight, holding your amour, and listening to the music.
Then we join the group. Gene and Rick serve an Italian "champagne" (paso seco?) to everyone, and/or peach juice. (There is a famous bar nearby, called Harry's Bar. Gene apparently once had the opportunity to chat with Henry Winkler there. Anyway, Julie and Lora visited Harry's last night. They learned that Harry's' famous drink, the Bilinni, consists of peach juice and champagne. They also saw Peter Weller [you know, RoboCop?].)
We then board a gondola convoy, complete with accordionist and vocalist.
We cruised the canals for an hour. It was a lot of fun -- not nearly
as corny as I anticipated. (And NO DEANO SONGS, thank goodness!)
What a wonderful day.
Things to return to Venice for: