Saturday, August 10, 2013

Palaces, Towers and Dried Basil in Venice

Megan and I started out Thursday with our B&B breakfast in a sitting room just outside our door. Hot croissants, soft-boiled eggs and orange juice never tasted so good. 
This time around our room was a comparatively spacious apartment on the second floor of an ancient but pretty building that perpetually smelled of Grandma's old basement. The apartment was much larger and any of our previous lodgings and despite generally attractive features was highlighted with unusual features such as a bathroom sink accented with silver duct tape, more duct tape in the shower and an impossible to decode shower faucet handle. The building's front door had a sturdy but finicky bolting mechanism unlike any door handle I had ever seen. 

After breakfast we wandered through te backstreets
until we found our way to the Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square) to see the "living room" of Venice.

We had maps and learned to use them, but often it was easier to just follow the signs that said "Per San Marco" until you found another sign pointing you in the right direction --or more typically, the wrong direction and then we would turn around and go back the other way. 
One of my favorite parts of Venice was just wandering around the quiet back streets and enjoying the city itself.

We were greeted as soon as we left our B&B with the familiar burst of hot, humid air. We strolled around the cafes (yes, we heard live classical music outdoors at 9:00 am), the Campanile bell tower,
St. Mark's Basilica
and the corner of the Doge's Palace
and noticed that the line to go inside St. Mark's Basilica already snaked across the square (even though it had only just opened). So, in keeping with Versailles tradition, we got in the huge line, which thankfully moved much faster than the line to get into Versailles. 

We saw the church and the tomb holding the bones of St. Mark, encrusted with jewels and pearls-- the tomb, not the bones--and then browsed and shopped our way through the vendors lining up across the canal-side walk near the Doge's Palace. This was the first time in my life that I saw the possibility of a small folding fan being a useful, rather than merely decorative, accessory. Between copious amounts of sweating and fanning, a huge bottled water and finally a gelato stop,we barely managed to stay alive and ambulatory. Just before lunch we headed back to the hotel to meet up with Dave, who had just arrived on a flight from Portland.
After greeting Dave, we all set out across the Accademia Bridge to the Dorsoduro district. We stopped for some pasta for lunch
and then went to the Accademia museum. The Accademia was a lovely-- and quite enjoyable-- small art museum (a couple of Titians,
lots of Venetian art and an abundance of gold decorated altar screens),
but I will be the first to admit that all of these attractions were completely blown away by its greatest feature: AIR CONDITIONING!

Later in the afternoon we headed to the Doge's (Duke's) Palace.
We discovered that the Venetians have possibly as many councils and meetings as us Mormons and even more (and much fancier) rooms to meet in.
We crossed the famous Bridge of Sighs
to the prison and pondered whether the squalor of the prison would be outweighed by its cooler temperature.

At sunset we headed up the Campanile (bell tower)-- which even had an elevator to the top (blessed thought!!).
Somehow between lunch and dinner we had more gelato.

By this time we were more than ready for dinner so we began a repeat of our Paris skim of guidebook recommended places only to find most are closed during August. We finally just plopped down in a cafe on the picturesque Campo Santo Stefano near our lodgings for a very serviceable but un-memorable meal.

During our two less-than-memorable meals today we created a list of tip-offs for restaurants that may not be the authentic experience you are looking for. Warning Sign 1: Located too conveniently close to tourist attractions. Warning Sign 2: Menu printed in 5 different languages. Warning Sign 3: Pictures of the food on the menu. Warning Sign 4: Out-of-season tomatoes on the Caprese. Warning Sign 5: Serving powdered parmesan in a bowl with a spoon (even Olive Garden gives you the real stuff for crying out loud). Warning Sign #6: If they have someone standing out in the street stopping people and trying to get them to come eat then it probably isn't the best food in town. But the single most Unforgivable Offense we encountered: Serving caprese with POWDERED BASIL. This travesty of culinary justice we experienced mortally offended my food sensibilities but we were hungry enough that it didn't matter. We devoured and even enjoyed our much-Americanized plentiful pasta in spite of it all before collapsing in bed (in front of the air conditioning unit!) in exhaustion at the end of the day. 

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