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Day in Venice

We started out with breakfast in the hotel, as usual, and it was the most elaborate spread yet (though not exceeding Hotel Mascagni a great deal, I'd say). The usual cereals and milk, yogurt, and bread rolls, then what I think were two variations on panettone (Christmas bread), and a flat ricotta cheesecake-filled pastry. Two types of scrambled eggs, soft and hard-boiled eggs, two sorts of small sausages, and bacon. I should have paid more attention when I read up on bacon styles during the recent Bujold list bacon discussion, but all I can say is it was one of the meatier styles, smoked, and not crisp. :) And very good. Then there was a selection of fruit, sliced and whole. Drinks included blood orange juice and prosecco, and the usual options of wonderful Italian coffee.

After that great start, we headed out into a gray day with light mist to go back to Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square), to get the daylight view and to explore over to the waterside--we only got halfway into the piazza last night.
First stop was in the SS Apostoli church very close to our hotel, which has a 24-hour clock outside on the tower. Inside is an elaborate altar with lots of marble and a large gold crown suspended over it, and a frescoed ceiling. (No art history background here, so I'll either give very general impressions or crib from guidebooks...). Onward towards San Marco, but we went a little astray and ended up at the huge church of San Giovanni e Paolo beside the city hospital. Picked another route towards San Marco, looking down narrow streets and canals, crossing little bridges, and catching views like a large motorboat tailgating a gondola down a canal only just wide enough for the motorboat. The mist continued, though, sometimes getting harder.

Before getting to San Marco, we stumbled across the most beautiful bookshop in the world--the sign said so. Instant attraction to us, not the claimed beauty so much as the books. It was a narrow cramped shop with piles of books everywhere, plus a liberal sprinkling of tourist stuff like postcards (nice ones, like sketches of cats in Venetian carnival costumes) and bookmarks. Two plump cats sat on piles of stuff near the cash register, and deigned to accept a few head scritches. Moving back, a gondola formed the center display, books piled in it, and narrow walkways on either side. Straight back led to a small patio and an invitation to climb the book staircase--indeed, old encyclopedia and other presumably unsalable books had been strapped together to form a set of steps and a small platform from which you could see into the canal at the back of the shop building. In another room, a freight door opened onto the canal, presumably for bringing in larger shipments. With no cars or trucks allowed in Venice, bigger items must move by water. As we were almost ready to go I discovered a little side patio leading to another building, so this shop is sort of like a Powells or Foyles, spreading into all available space in a building or more. We tried and failed to find a Batman comic among the Italian-language ones (continuing Batman jokes between the girls and friends, L had on her Batman sweatshirt today, a Christmas gift from A.L.), L. found Jonathan Livingston Seagull and a biography of Banksy in Italian, and I'm not sure what else was purchased.

After that we did make it to Piazza San Marco, and wandered to the water taking pictures and just sightseeing. Somewhere in there the rain started to come down a little harder, and in the distraction of that as we started toward the Accademia bridge over the Grand Canal, I missed stopping at what my guidebook says is the ugliest church in Venice. Ah, well....

On the way we stumbled across a small music museum, heavily focussed on Vivaldi, but with nice displays of historic instruments and a discussion of violin making. Then it was on to the bridge but not across it, as we needed to head back to the hotel for our lunch reservation. Not a hard choice, as it was raining lightly but steadily and everyone was various degrees of damp despite rain great.

Our stay included a "light lunch" on one day, and this had to be the day because of the timing of our arrival and departure. We made it back about 5 minutes before our 1 PM reservation. Lunch was served in their very small restaurant just off the lobby and with windows looking out onto the Grand Canal, not the same room as the breakfast rooms off the 2nd floor grand gallery. That gallery, incidentally, is quite impressive, and had various plaques to give the background on the Sagredo family, the building and its restoration, and on the art on display. Our light lunch turned out to be what qualifies for a full meal for us: one choice from the first or second courses, a dessert choice, and a glass of wine for those who wanted it. I had a "spicy chicken" dish (not at all spicy), which was a breast partly sliced and presented on a bed of tomato and little tiny green and black olives, some of them still on stems. Baby corn, carrots, and celery were on the side. The winning dish was probably the beef steak Robbie and A. L. got, perfectly cooked and served with polenta, though Brian's rare tuna was right up there. Desserts were luscious: I had the special panettonetto(sp?), which was a more cake-like panettone in a miniature size, served with a little scoop of vanilla gelato and drizzled with chocolate. B. got a trio of creme brulees (pistachio, coffee, and vanilla), a couple of people had a chocolate lava cake, and the others had tiramisu. Add in a nice glass of wine, cafe americano at the end, and we had a 2 hour+, lovely meal, for the cost of the bottled water we drank and the coffees. And the pricey hotel room, of course, but hey, it's Venice.

After a short break we hit the streets again, with the goal of crossing the Rialto bridge into the San Polo district and going to Santa Maria dei Frari (just called "Frari"), which would as I put it be our sole "art" stop for Venice. We just made it--we found the church and the correct door (it's a massive church) and squeezed in against a steady flow of people exiting at about 5:30, and my older guidebook said it was open until 6. However, someone soon told R. that it was closing. There still being a number of people still looking around, I decided to do the same, and grabbed the paragraph cheat sheet from a walking tour to use as a guide. So, I rather hurridly saw Titian's and Canova's tombs, Titian's Assumption and Pesaro Madonnna, Donatello's St. John the Baptist (wood carving), and a very elaborate choir screen. I see I missed the Bellini Madonna and Saints, and I don't know what the massive, age-dark painting was on one wall. It's quite a collection.

We punted tentative plans to walk further in San Polo or San Croce and returned to our hotel. No one was hungry at that point, so we all took a break, then set out (without Robbie's mom who had had enough up-and-down steps today) to a pizzeria/restaurant recommended by the concierge, Ca' Dolphin. The salads and pizza were quite good. Back at the hotel, Robbie, I, and the girls went down to the bar for a while. A.L. and I got prosecco which L. shared (both girls are legal to drink in Italy, which has a drinking age of 16), L. a cappuccino, and Robbie kept us company. It turned into a girl talk session, as Robbie and I told bridesmaid and wedding horror stories, among other topics.

I've now mostly repacked my suitcase, including the socks and underwear I washed out last night and let dry on the towel rack in the tub. Unfortunately the rack is only heated when you have hot water running in the shower or tub--we think the hot water is piped through the rack as it goes to the shower head. Tomorrow we'll catch the same Frecciaargente train we came in on, at around 2:30 pm, and go back south to Florence. That will be a 5-night stay, so we'll be able to settle in a little and not live totally out of suitcases.

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Fish-Fred
nlbarber
Nancy Barber

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