16 October 2016

2015 ITALY Venice 44 - The Way to San Marco Square

Stats: Venice is the capital of the Veneto region (northeastern Italy), located in the shallow Venetian Lagoon. It is made up of 117 small islands connected by canals and bridges.

The population is about 261,000 (2012 census) with about 60,000 living in the historic district. There are 20 million visitors per year, but only about half actually sleep overnight on the islands

This is the flag of Venice, a winged lion which was the symbol of St. Mark who is the patron saint of Venice. There are several versions. This is the peace time flag. In war time the lion holds a sword instead of the open book seen here. There are other flags as well--lion holding a cross, a scroll, or different colors. This peace flag seemed to be the most popular for sale to tourists.
Other nearby island towns are Murano (famous for glass-making), Burano (noted for colorfully painted houses and lace-making), and Torcello (oldest continuously populated area of Venice). If we would have had one more day, we would have taken a boat trip to see these islands. Alas, when time is limited you have to pick and chose. We chose to cover as much of Venice proper as possible.

So back over the Rialto bridge and on to San Marco Square. We had forgotten our trusty map, so signs helped guide us. They took us through some of the most high end and interesting shopping areas. Windows were not only advertising, but in many cases, works of art. Below are just a few fun storefronts.

Limoncello store with lots of shapes and painted symbols of Venice. Other stores had a variety of penis shaped bottles filled with this refreshing liquor. Not really sure what that was all about!!

Designer and one-of-a-kind lighting and jewelry shop. Much of it incorporating murano glass.
Shoe shops. Some really fabulous and high-style and high in height designs ... most of them I could not wear now or actually ever in my lifetime.  This model was 750 euros (or $822 US), but you did have a choice of loafer or sneaker!! 
Moncler, a French apparel manufacture and lifestyle brand established in 1952 by designer René Ramillion. Most known for down jackets and sportswear. What caught our eye here was the robot theme. Our brother-in-law is a robotics engineer, so this type of thing always jumps out at us. The two side robots reminded us of some of the sample size models Jim has given us over the years at Christmas.
Glove shop. Every color or pattern you can imagine. I'm thinking you could have them handmade to your personal style preference and size. Tie shops also displayed a variety of colors and styles like this. You would never catch Mike in a tie though (except his original Jerry Garcia tie purchased years ago before Jerry passed).
Button, jewelry, and accessory shop, again incorporating a lot of murano glass. Also mille fiori (many flowers) style items hanging lower right.

Murano glass shop for art pieces and decor. Apparently fish and owls are a big seller.
Leather, signet or letter seal stamps, and paper product stores. One store hand made leather and gold gilt covers for your favorite book.

Custom mask store. Get any theme or media combination that you could imagine and fit to your own face.

Of course the Ferrari store. We also checked out the Vespa store and got a souvenir for Mike's sis who has a anniversary-model Vespa back home in Columbus, Ohio.

And there were the food vendors. I wanted a taste at every one, but we controlled ourselves after a big breakfast at the hotel.

One of the most fascinating businesses was the "minnow eats dry skin off your feet" spa. I had heard about this kind of "service," but never had the opportunity to try it. It was 45 euros for 10 minutes, so I felt it was a little to extravagant.

Later I regretted it that decision. We really had not bought too many souvenir items for ourselves and that would have been a real treat to remember. Memories are often better than "stuff."

OK, on to the more historical side of Venice, San Marco Square.

15 October 2016

2015 ITALY Venice 43 - Dinner in a Pumpkin

Well, not really, but the name of our dinner restaurant was La Zucca (pumpkin in Italian) and we ate inside.
After our cat nap, we meandered our way to our dinner spot. It was recommended by our friends who recommended the hotel. They dined here twice during their stay and it offered lots of veggie options, which was wonderful for me.

The restaurant was quite a ways away. We had directions from Sunil (our hotel caretaker) and our trusty map. On our walk we crossed 13 canal bridges, admired age old architecture, and passed by many interesting stores. We browsed a bit, as we had given ourselves plenty of time in case we accidentally went astray.

Our niece who graduated from RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) with a Masters in furniture design, has turned us into "design" junkies. We especially oohed and aahed at the stores with Italian "design" products of any kind. Here are a few: scrimshaw carnival masks, glass sculpture, jewelry, and kids' toys. We saw cabinet makers and weavers at work in little storefronts. Even a cigarette machine caught our eye.

 In spite of all the twists and turns, we somehow arrived without much of a hitch. Outside were four tables and inside were maybe four more. We chose inside as it was a bit chilly. We had window seats, so we could watch the couples ambling by hand-in-hand.

The table was interesting, made from thick wood slates with narrow spaces in between. It was a unique shape to make the most of the odd corner area where it sat. Some of the walls were covered with the same slate effect.

We saw right off the bat why this place was highly recommended. It was cozy with a great menu. And throughout the evening folks streamed in hoping for seats, but none were available. They could wait an hour or so for a chilly outdoor table or have an indoor reservation for THREE days later.

As much as we wanted to try every veggie dish on the menu, there just was not enough room in our tummies. Each offering sounded fabulous, but we had had an ample lunch. Instead we mentally tortured ourselves with a reasonable dinner and that turned out to be a wise choice. You really cannot enjoy a great meal, if you are totally stuffed and still try to jam in more.

We had La Zucca's own brand of water and wine (although they had many wines to choose from). We started with an artichoke mousse appetizer covered in cheese and carrot "roses."
I enjoyed a hearty kale, carrot, and bean soup, served with wonderful warm homemade bread.
Mike had a pumpkin flan with cheese and sunflower seed topping.

Of course we shared gelato desserts--one strawberry and one lemon.

This eatery was quaint, wonderful, and unique. Even the bill came in a little pumpkin-colored envelope rather than a traditional slip of paper or pleather wallet. We would certainly pass along this great restaurant recommendation.

It was dark by the time we walked home. Lights reflected on all the waterways. The crowd had settled down to a whisper. Shadows gave the city a mysterious look, but no fears. We were glad to be in the queen of the Adriatic Sea, the canal city, the water city, the city of bridges, the city of masks, the floating city.

12 October 2016

2015 ITALY Venice 42 - Lunch on the Grand

OK, so we could not have lunch at one of the cafes in San Marco Square. Instead we wandered back toward our hotel and happened across Bancogiro near the Rialto bridge. When we walked in the front door of this "ordinary"looking osteria, we had no idea that we would be invited out the back door to an outside terrace with a grand view of the Grand Canal.

We spent a couple of hours eating and drinking, watching and whispering, feeling like we were part of an Italian movie. We shared a Caprese salad. Mike's entree was a regional specialty of onions and anchovies over bucatini (fat spaghetti with a hole through the middle). I had shrimp with black beans, Italian green beans, and tomatoes. We had a bottle of prosecco and a peach cocktail special to top off the meal. And caffe, of course. The bill was quite reasonable and we enjoyed every single bite.

The tide was part of the "movie." With the sun shining it was light teal blue (like the Caribbean). We all had to adjust our lounge chairs back twice in order to keep our feet dry. Gondoliers had rubber boots on hand. At one point an ambulance boat whizzed by at high speed and caused a big wave. That splashed a few that were closer to the water line. Claps and a roar of laughter came from the crowd, even from those that were now wet up to their knees. We were spared.
Across the water was the Ca' d'Oro (or Golden House), named for gilt decorations which once adorned its walls. It is one of the older palaces in Venice built in 1430 for the Contarini family. It was certainly wedding-cake-esque.

It is also a prime example of why most first floors of Venice's buildings are unusable, due to the tides creeping higher and higher over the years. No climate change??!!
We were in full view of the canal's fascinating activity. Right before us was a gondola "station" for tourists and locals. They came and went as people started or ended their journeys through the smaller puzzle of canals off the Grand.

Gondolas are flat bottomed "row" boats. Their black hulls are identical, but interiors range from very nice to VERY elaborate. Gondolieri wear tradition stripped shirts, black vests, neck scarf, and flat-topped straw hats.
Vaporettos, highly-varnished wooden speed boats (moving slowly), and personal transportation floated by on their way to somewhere. Delivery boats were prominent and an unloading dock was nearby. Those Venetians are great stackers! Big and small, dilapidated and fancy, old and new, all melded in a water ballet to get safely to their destinations.

Reluctantly we mosied back to our hotel for a quick nap and clean-up before dinner.

11 October 2016

2015 ITALY Venice 41 - Sleeping In

The next morning we got a late start because we could actually sleep in--no alarm, no tour, no group, no plane or train to catch. It was heaven! We got up casually just in time to catch the tail end of a light, but wonderful breakfast.

We started walking toward our two goals today--the Rialto bridge and San Marco Square. The first stop, however, was the fish and produce market, as it was on our way. It was fabulous!! I only wished I had a kitchen, so I could buy and try some of these wonderful items.

There were fresh fish and meat vendors, untold numbers of fruits and veggies (some that we had never seen before). There were carciofi artichokes, one of my absolute favs), peppers, flowers, packaged pre-mixed risotto combos, candies, you name it. Here is a small sampling and just looking at these photos is making my mouth water.

Huge variety of fish, mussels, shrimp, crab, anchovies, scallops ...

Eel. Sorry gourmands, but eeeehhhhwww!

Sun-dried tomatoes and soup mixes. 
To read more about castraure (or "castrated" artichokes, go to: http://www.libaliano.com/2010/03/castraure-castrated-artichoke.html#.V_05N6OZNUM

Late red radicchio from Treviso.

Risotto and soup mixes.
There was also a seed vendor and we bought some packets of Genovese basil seeds to take home for gifts. Later a friend brought a sample of the grown basil. It was the best ... much healthier looking and better tasting than any we had ever had before.

After that mouth-watering adventure, we continued on toward the Rialto bridge. Of course we crossed a number of canals. We had debated on whether or not to take a gondola cruise, but after seeing the hoards of packed gondolas we decided to pass.
Look at the "side-swiping" and line up in this second photo. It was a waterway traffic jam, just like the roadways and bridges of New York City at rush hour. And no romantic O Sole Mios being sung.
Maybe it was just the wrong time of day or maybe we just had food on our mind from just being at the market, but decided we would rather eat an extra seafood meal rather than experience this waterway tourist event.

Later that day we saw this wood constructed "Chris craft" type speed boat. It was like a blast from the past and you know Mike's need for speed. He said he would rather take a ride on one of these than be in a crowded gondola traffic jam any day.

The Rialto bridge was only a few blocks away. We just got swept along by the crowd and ended up in the right place. This shot is taken from the top step of the Rialto bridge. It looks down the bridge entry stairway and into the shopping lane leading up to it. There were many gold dealers (simulating the Ponte Vecchio in Florence), along with food vendors and souvenir shops.

The bridge was under construction, so we did not get a great photo. This shows half the real bridge on the right and a painted canvas on the left with construction going on behind it. On the opposite side of the bridge was a big Monte Blanc ad (Mike just loves those pens and we have a few Monte Blanc pens and mechanical pencils at home). Anyway, I think you get the idea of this compared to the Ponte Vecchio. Both stunning in their own unique ways.

This is a close-up of the outside of the bridge. Here you see the back of the stores. Store fronts face into the enclosed structure. Usually, I think you can walk across the bridge on this outside stairway without passing by the interior stores.
Today you could only walk half-way because of the construction. The white "peak" at the top is the center of the bridge with an archway leading into the interior line-up of covered stores. Of course, you can also enter the interior from either end of the bridge. Inside were high end clothing, leather, and jewelry shops, a Ferrari store, and souvenirs.

With our much-needed map we now headed to San Marco Square, our second major point of interest for the day. There are marker signs on buildings leading to the main attractions. But with all the curvy streets and hidden alley ways, we were not exactly crystal clear on directions even with the map and signs.
When we stumbled across on entrance to the square, we were stopped by high tide flooding. People were walking in the piazza on elevated walkways, just like you see on TV. The water was almost touching there feet. This is a regular occurrence depending on just how high the high tide reaches on any given day.
Mike did not want to wade through, but I had cloth shoes on that would dry eventually, so I ventured out into the square a bit. Restaurants were open, but had few diners. Waiters sloshed around in knee-high rubber boots.
The further you got into the square, the deeper the water. We would try again tomorrow.