Be Italian - Day Nine

After two train rides, during the latter of which we sat next to an adorable gay couple from Australia, one of whom could have been John Slattery's (from Mad Men) gay Aussie doppelganger, we found ourselves at last in Venice, the end of the road for our Italian sojourn. This stop was entirely for Dad's benefit, given the traumatic memories of bed bugs I have from my last trip here.

Outside the train station, we were compelled to buy 48 hour passes for the vaporetto, or water bus system, at the outrageous sum of 52€ for the both of us. It is, by far, the most expensive mass transit I've ever encountered, and a harbinger of what would quickly prove to be the priciest leg of the journey. Seemingly, the whole city operates a theme park: there's nowhere else to go, so they feel like they have the right to fleece you at every turn, plus, it's crowded and there's a line for everything.

I'll admit it: it's hard to take a bad picture of the place.
The vaporetto ride was pleasant (though it would have been more so if I hadn't had to manage my belongs on the boat) if maddeningly slow, and it took nearly an hour to get to the Piazza San Marco, home to the iconic basilica, a small nation of pigeons, and our hotel.

However, this was just the beginning of a new ordeal. When I was booking the hotels, my initial choices were uniformly dismissed as too costly, including the ones in Venice, where it seems like a room below 500-600€ a night is hard to find. As a result, I had to book us into a hotel more on the interior of one of the islands, not on the Grand Canal, where they are easy to spot, can be reached directly by water taxi (which ours can't, because the canals are too narrow), and often offer shuttle service on hotel boats to their private docks.

Hence, we found ourselves hauling all our luggage across the Piazza, which, coincidentally, was experiencing some of Venice's inexplicable high water, and was partially flooded, requiring all the hordes of tourists to travel along the same narrow, elevated sidewalk. We had to jockey ourselves and our bags onto and across it, hoping that we were in fact going the right way, because the hotel's directions were painfully vague, and Venice is notoriously difficult to navigate. We finally made it across, in the direction I vaguely remembered from Google maps, and an obliging store owner gave us directions for the rest of the way.

Our room wasn't ready when we arrived, so while we waited for them to make up the room, we headed out for an afternoon of sightseeing, starting with a delicious, Michelin-mentioned-but-not- starred seafood lunch at an outrageously expensive restaurant, costing some 150€, that set a new record for slowness on a trip where we've rarely finished a meal in under an hour and a half.

The amazing, amazing seafood risotto from lunch.
Despite being fairly full, we were tempted by some gelati before heading over to the Rialto Bridge. Like the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, I thought the Rialto was somewhat overrated. Better views can be had by taking a vaporetto down at water level, and the crossing was mostly packed with overpriced jewelry and junky souvenir shops. It did, at least, convey us across the canal, where there seemed to be a few less tourists.

The Rialto Bridge -- like the rest of Venice, I found it photogenic but overrated.
Making our way through the winding, enigmatic streets was an exercise in master map reading, on par with navigating through a corn maze. They say the whole point of Venice is to get lost and enjoy the hidden beauties you stumble upon, but when you are only here for a day and a half, there is stuff that must be seen!

Dad and I on one of the smaller canals.
Eventually, we were able to make our way to Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Fragli (named for the friars who initially built the church, but to me, it called to mind Fraggle Rock), a 15th century church with several paintings by Titian, one of the city's most famous sons. I was more impressed, however, with the choir stalls, elaborately carved with scenes from the city and images of the saints, and the incredible Gothic marble screen surrounding it.

I snuck this one only a couple yards from the ticket window. Suck it, "no photography" policy!

Having seen the church after walking a considerable distance to locate it, Dad was bushed, so we located a vaporetto stop to head back to the Piazza San Marco. The sun was starting to set, casting a beautiful light upon the city (which, despite the inconvenience, expense, and horrendous crowds is undeniably photogenic), and I was tempted to take the water bus the long way, circumnavigating the city, but Dad wanted to get back to the hotel, so we opted for the direct route, about three stops.

A rowing team practicing in the late-afternoon sunshine.
Back in the square, we found some particularly stunning lighting conditions, along with an overall decline in both the volume of tourists (the cruise-ship day-trippers having gone back to their floating hotels for the evening) and water levels, so I seized the chance to get my photos of the basilica, its campanile, or bell tower, and their environs before taking Dad back to the hotel for a rest.

The Piazza San Marco with about as few tourists as we ever saw in it.
Dinner was perhaps the most upscale of the trip, and again, insanely pricey, though the seafood-based options were once again delicious. Notably, the restaurant was so difficult to locate (despite being fairly close to the hotel) that they sent a waiter to our hotel to fetch us and guide us there. We were, however, on our own getting back, though my formidable map reading skills carried the day.

Thankfully, we only have one day left in this tourist mad house. Perhaps it would have been wiser to put Venice at the start of our itinerary, when we had more energy...

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