Saturday, October 21, 2006

Friday, 20th October – Venice

After a leisurely breakfast chatting to fellow guests we headed out for a day of wandering in Venice. We hadn’t got past the top landing when our hostess said we couldn’t go out! The water outside was halfway up to our knees – there was an extremely high tide (Aqua Alta), and many of the fondamenti (streets along canals) were under water. She produced some waterproof boots in our sizes and we set off again. Our plan had been to head for a travel agent we had found the night before to book our train tickets to Florence, but instead we splashed our way to Piazza San Marco to see it under water. They had duck boards up for all the masses of people to walk along single file, while we got to walk straight through. We thought it was great fun, but I’m sure it’s a major pain for the locals. We felt like little children splashing about in our Wellies.

We eventually made it to the travel agent to learn that the “system is down” (a perennial excuse) and they couldn’t book our tickets. So that was a bit of a wasted trip – except that walking through the streets of Venice is fun, wherever you’re going. On the way back we visited the Scala del Bovolo (Snail Staircase) an unusual external spiral staircase built in 1499. Very striking, and unusual in that it mixes Gothic, Byzantine and Renaissance architecture.

After changing back into our shoes we headed back up the grand canal on the Vaporetto to a palace called Ca’ Rezzonico. Ca’ (short for casa = house) is what the palaces were called, because only the Doge (the duke) was allowed to have a Palazzo! Ca’ Rezzonico is now a museum of 18th century Venice and one of the few palaces you can see inside of. The 18th century was Venice’s hey day, when it was the richest city in the world, and the residents had too much money. The museum was full of ornate baroque furniture and incredible paintings and ceiling frescoes – a glimpse into the daily life of the rich and fabulous in Venice in the 1700s. It was one of the best presented museums we’ve been to, with a floor plan and a “you are here” in every room, directions where to go next and very informative multi-lingual descriptions in every room. Well worth the visit.

Back on the vaporetto (the Grand Canal looks even better in the twilight) intending to have dinner somewhere near the Rialto Bridge. We sat down and left two restaurants (too noisy, too touristy) and finally ended up in a very cheap & cheerful place on a small square off the main drag. The menu consisted of 3 types of pizza & 3 types of pasta but it was very tasty and very cheap, and we were entertained by a busker playing classical guitar in the square. We followed up with a coffee in a 250 year old café with lots of character - a perfect meal.