Monday, June 2, 2014

Campari spritz and other Venetian pleasures

Venice is a city made for exploration. Small narrow streets, beautiful little back lagoons that take you by surprise as you turn a corner, and morning drinks on a sun-warmed terrace. What a life.
I had been hesitant about coming to Venice after reading some travel reviews. But we are thoroughly charmed so far. I am reminded of old films and stories. With the sun shining it is a beautiful city.
Our tiny loft apartment is nestled behind the green dome of San Simon Piccolo Church, across from the train station. This building is actually part of the church, probably used for church functions in the past but now converted into apartments. You can see our little terrace in this picture. We awaken to the sound of pigeons cooing outside our window. Too bad I hate pigeons.

It is a pleasant experience to be in a city where there are no cars, no bicycles or motorcycles and where everyone walks. After dodging traffic in Italy's other major cities, this is very relaxing. Other than using the Vaporetto, the large boats that are the main mode of transportation here, riding up and down the Grand Canal, we are using our feet and trying to find places to visit away from the many tourists that crowd the most important sites. That is not hard to do as most people gather at Piazza San Marco and in the area around the train station, where there are many restaurants, shops and services catering to tourists. Even the large hotels have river taxis that bring the suitcases to the dock outside their premises. Most people just walk from the station to the hotel, dragging their bags over cobbled streets and up and over the many little bridges that pass over the canals. It is quite a sight.
Taking the Vaporetto along the Grand Canal is a great way to see the palaces and churches that are on this main thoroughfare. Merchants owned these old homes, using the bottom floor as warehouses where goods arrived and left by boat, coming from all the corners of Europe and Asia. They lived on the second floor, away from the water. Kitchens and servants quarters were on the top floor. Many of these old buildings are now government buildings, apartments or hotels. The bottom floor at water level is flooded and useless in many of them. We have learned that strict city rules prevent home owners from make many structural changes to the historic buildings so they live with them the way they are. 
The Vaporetto works on a ticket system whereby you purchase your ticket and validate it before boarding. There is really no one to check on board unless a ticket taker gets on at one of the stops. A ticket costs 7 Euros and is good for 1 hour, one way. Quite an expensive ride. It is a lot less for Venetians. We bought a pass that is paying for itself as we can hop on and hop off as we like. But yesterday we were witness to what can occur if you try to beat the system. An English speaking couple and their son were asked to show their tickets to the ticket taker that had boarded along with 3 of her colleagues. The family appeared to have overrun their hour and only had a printed bill rather than the requisite pass with a bar code. With the woman in tears as her husband berated the meter-maid, threatening to go to the police, we all watched. He finally calmed down and agreed to pay the fine......52 Euros per person. I guess this was a painful lesson to all of us on the boat. Be sure to buy a ticket and have it validated each time you board.

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