Italy 2014

  • May 1, 2014 – Verona

    “Two households, both alike in dignity,
    In fair Verona, where we lay our scene…”

    "...wherefore art thou, Romeo" Casa di Giulitta

    “…wherefore art thou, Romeo.” Casa di Giulitta

    After a short ride from Milan, Debb and I are in Verona.

    The weather today was perfect. I wore a t-shirt under my riding jacket and kept all the vents closed. Perfect. By the time we checked into our room I was getting a bit warm.

    We took secondary roads from Milan to Verona, going through Cremona and Mantua. Light traffic, good speeds, and only a bare minimum of traffic lights. Lots of roundabouts, of course. One missed turn took us into a pedestrian-only area and several folks on bicycles waggled their fingers at us. Oops.

    Our route took us through the heart of Emilia-Romagna, which certainly is the bread basket of Italy, and probably a few other countries as well. Beautiful, rich farmland watered by the Po River as well as many lakes and streams from the mountains to the north. This time of year it is the definition of verde.

    Today, May 1st is a holiday. Verona was packed! It is still packed at 9:45 PM local as I write this. About a mile or so from the arena is Casa di Giulietta, a small alcove off a small secondary street. You can Google it. It is, of course complete fiction, but it draws huge crowds. Even more amazing is the narrow street from the plaza that is lined with world-class retail shops. Every brand name you can imagine has a stunning showroom. Lots of Victoria Secret kind of places. (Tough job, someone has to.) I guess they hope the Romeo and Juliet attitude will help move the merchandise.

    Tomorrow a short trip to Mestre where we booked one of the last reasonably priced (FSVO) rooms that is in walking distance of the train to Venice.. Rain predicted for tomorrow, but nice beyond.

    My BMW turn signals have stopped working and the clock keeps resetting to 0:00. Stupid bike. To think I could have had “gear driven cams!” instead of some Ewan wannabe.

    Lovely arches welcome you to the arena

    Lovely arches welcome you to the arena

    This woman is following me again!

    This woman is following me again!

    I always enjoy the little details

    I always enjoy the little details

    Bruno Ruffo - 250 World Champion 1949, 1950, 1951

    Bruno Ruffo – 250 World Champion 1949, 1950, 1951

    "Over every limit there's no limit"

    “Over every limit there’s no limit”

    A beautiful sculpture that most folks walk right by

    A beautiful sculpture that most folks walk right by

    Lovely stone arches

    Lovely stone arches

    Evening on the arena plaza

    Evening on the arena plaza

    Verona arena in the evening

    Verona arena in the evening

     

  • May 2, 2014 – Mestre

    Travelling will bring you a wide range of experiences. It is why we go. Some days, like yesterday were as good as it gets. Perfect weather, excellent roads, great food, smiling people, an interesting destination.

    And then there are days like today. Every moment we were outside it was pouring rain. It rained so hard that several times my gps lost satellite contact and I had a blank screen while it tried to re-connect. A lot of today’s roads were very secondary and very much in need of attention. Some of today’s roads were brand new and my gps showed us zipping across a blank screen while it recalculated. Both Debb and I were soaked to the skin with our tankbags dripping. Anything not sealed in plastic was wet.

    Today was one of those days you have to just get through. And we did. We are here in Mestre, which is the mainland gateway to Venice. The train station to Venice is about 100 meters from our hotel.

    Our route took us south from Verona toward Legnano, then east to Monselice, north again through Padua (and I really mean through Padua. Complete gps fail.) , and finally here. We only went 96 miles but it took four hours.

    We stopped for a break in Isola Rizza at a beautiful modern coffee shop. We ordered lattes instead of our usual cappuccini. The server brought us each a glass of hot milk and a shot of espresso. Debb wanted a stronger drink so she went back with the espresso cups and asked for two more. We got two each. Our latte is now a triple tall. Plenty strong enough for us! Our bill? 3E. I left a tip. All the while it was pouring rain outside but that spot brightened our day.

    There are lots of big agriculture operations in that area. Fruit trees and nurseries and and lots of row crops. A lot of the fields were barely above water. It was also an area of very fine homes. Quite a lovely farming community.

    I had intended to go east to the coast and avoid much of the city traffic we ended up in, but as we travelled east toward Monselice, the thunder and lightning started in earnest and the rain became biblical. I told the gps to take us straight to our hotel. I guess it did its best, but what a slog it was.

    Dinner was kitty corner across a construction zone intersection at the only place we could see with a light on. An Italian couple about our age made us chicken salads and poured our drinks. We all knew about 10 words of the other’s language. Both of them were 5 feet tall and full of smiles.

    The owner was quite stern with some folks who walked in with umbrellas dripping on his tile floor. He made one girl go back outside. There was an umbrella holder near the door with a big pan below and if you didn’t see it you incurred his glare. Only by chance did I see it, so it was all smiles for us.

    The forecast is improving so it should be all smiles for us tomorrow.

     

  • May 3, 2014 – Venice

    Venice is quite a place. It looks exactly like all those pictures you have seen except for the throng of tourists the photos never show. It was not packed with tourists today, but there were plenty of places with long lines and the major bridges were very busy. I can not imagine coming here at the peak of tourist season. Like Verona, it would be madness.

    Typical morning canal traffic

    Typical Venice morning canal traffic

    There are a few other things I don’t recommend. I’ll explain with some photos.

    Our choice of hotel has turned out to very advantageous. It is just around the corner from a very inexpensive car park for our bikes, and the bus to Venice leaves 10 meters from the front door. E1.30 each way and it takes 15 minutes. A fellow from Columbus, OH was checking in this afternoon and told us he was charged E26.00 to park his car at the big parking garage in Venice. Ouch.

    The bus dropped us off at Piazzale Roma. We bought a map, available in your choice of 5 languages, and headed out toward St Marks. If you come wear your best walking shoes. Lots of steps up and down over the bridges and the only way to get anywhere is to walk or pay lots for a boat ride. Also, no moto I know of comes with luggage with rollers so staying in Venice on a bike will be a hassle. I can’t imagine lugging my bike luggage over all those bridges and down all those narrow passages. Boat taxi services are available, but pricey.

    We did make our way to Piazza San Marco and it is stunning in scale. The cathedral, like almost all we have seen is mostly covered in scaffolding so the total effect is only available in postcard form. Something else you may not want to do is eat or drink anything right there on the piazza. See the photos for evidence of this.

    The famous St Mark's Belltower

    The famous St Mark’s Belltower

    Reason #1 never to eat or drink on St Mark's Square

    Reason #1 never to eat or drink on St Mark’s Square

    A real gondola ride cost Real Money!

    A real gondola ride cost Real Money!

    I thought of all you WetLawyers when I read that the long building on the north side of the piazza was built to house all the St Mark lawyers. Talk is cheap until you hire a lawyer! Even less so if you need a building the size of an aircraft carrier to house them all.

    In the remake of The Italian Job, Donald Sutherlind and Mark Wahlberg are in a scene supposedly in front of St Mark’s. For the life of me I can’t see where that shot was made. Possibly not in this piazza, but I would think anyone seeing it would know it was wrong. I have lots of pictures of the area so I will have to view the movie again to see if I can figure it out.

    We worked our way west along the Grand Canal and after a light lunch on some backstreet away from any plaza, we crossed the Ponte dell’ Accademia. Very scenic views from the top of this bridge of the Grand Canal. Also, on this bridge is a tradition of buying a small padlock and locking it to the bridge on what I am sure must be specially fabricated stainless steel loops. Nearly every loop was jammed with locks, many with names and dates written in Sharpie on them. Are the keys tossed into the water? They must have crews come by every now and then and cut them all off. Very odd.

    Looking south toward S. Maria della Salute

    Looking south toward S. Maria della Salute

    Looking north on the Grand Canal from Ponte Dell' Accadamie

    Looking north on the Grand Canal from Ponte Dell’ Accadamie

    The area across the Ponte Accademia is called Dorsoduro. Was the Aprilia moto named after that area?

    By the time we made our way back to our starting point at Piazzale Roma, the sun was out and it was quite warm. Wear layers! It was quite chilly and sprinkling at the start of our day.

    Venice is wall to wall retail shops. Everything you can imagine and probably some you can’t. Local items include elaborate masks, Moreno glass, leather products, and of course, every major retailer of clothing and eye glasses.

    We got dinner reservations through our hotel clerk and he told me that all reservations were sold out after 9PM. We would have to eat at 8 and only have an hour. He acted as if that was a real imposition but I assured him it was not.

    We had some trouble following directions to find the place and when we finally turned the right corner and saw it our hearts dropped. There was a huge crowd standing around outside. As we got closer we realized everyone had a drink in their hand and it was just a friendly Saturday evening. When we left the crowd had grown all the way across the street. I made a rough count of over 100 folks waiting their turn for dinner. Only about 30 were eating inside with us. It was way too early for serious evening diners, of course.

    We arrived exactly at 8, our waitress took us to our place and again she apologized profusely that we would have to be finished at 9. There were names at all the places all listed for 9PM. It turned out not to be an issue when a reservation for 6 turned into a reservation for 4 so we had all the time we wanted. In Italy, and most places in Europe, once you are seated the table is yours for as long you care to sit.

    If not for the language and some of the artwork, it could have been a busy eatery in just about any place in the Western world. Lots of happy chatter, clinking of wine glasses, and servers hustling back and forth with food and drink. This place was decorated with the philosophy that no surface should go uncovered. It was a real grab bag of things, most of which looked like it came from years of garage sale Saturdays. Some photos and momentos looked to have been brought back by customers. The unusual bit was some of the art. There was a selection of very nicely done pen-and-ink drawings of nudes scattered here and there. One of these was a very realistic nude drawn from head to mid-thigh hanging at the end of a table at exactly eye height. Not something you expect to see quite so “up close and personal”, as ABC Sports used to proclaim.

    The food and service was excellent and the price very appropriate. Debb and I enjoyed a warm glow as we walked back to our hotel.

    Hosteria Vita Rossa

    Appetizer – Mixed Fish plate
    – mussels
    – shrimp
    – octopus
    – salted cod pieces
    – Anaheim pepper stuffed with crab
    – two little fish – about the size of my index finger and twice as long

    Dinner for Debb

    Chicken pieces in asparagus and mushroom sauce
    – basmati rice
    – grilled polenta squares
    – seasoned potato chunks
    – green beans with anise root

    Dinner for Phil

    Tuna coated with black sunflower seeds
    – grilled polenta squares
    – seasoned potato chunks
    – green beans with anise root

    Dessert

    Tiramasu and Limoncello

    House red wine
    Water

    Doesn't that look like Dustin Hoffman from about 30 years ago?

    Doesn’t that look like Dustin Hoffman from about 30 years ago?

    Just a sampling of many many masks for sale

    Just a sampling of many many masks for sale

    More masks

    More masks

    Something in a leg (or a boob)

    Something in a leg (or a boob)

    I never get invited to the kind of parties where I could wear these!

    I never get invited to the kind of parties where I could wear these!

    Neat idea! Make the construction cover look like the finished building

    Neat idea! Make the construction cover look like the finished building

    Fine detail work on this column

    Fine detail work on this column

    Gondoliers at work

    Gondoliers at work

    Leda and the Swan

    Leda and the Swan

    Our first view of S. Maria della Salute

    Our first view of S. Maria della Salute

    The young woman creating these 'name tags' was brilliant

    The young woman creating these ‘name tags’ was brilliant

    The official tail emblem of authentic Venice gondoliers

    The official tail emblem of authentic Venice gondolas

     

  • May 4, 2014 – Murano and Burano

    Another perfect day on a canal

    Another perfect day on a canal

    The short version:

    Breakfast
    Ride the bus
    Walk, walk
    Buy a ticket
    Walk, walk
    Ride the boat
    Walk, walk, walk, walk
    Ride the boat
    Walk, walk, walk, walk
    Buy a ticket
    Ride the boat
    Walk, walk, walk, walk
    Have dinner
    Walk, walk, walk, walk
    Buy a ticket
    Ride the bus back to the hotel
    Take Ibuprofin

    We visited Murano and Burano today. 10 points and a chilled beverage if you know what those places are famous for. I’ll wait here while you Google it. I knew one but not the other.

    Gondola rides here are stupid expensive, but a ride on the public boat system is quite reasonable and the view from the water is priceless. You can buy a boat ticket in 12 hour increments up to 72 hours so you can get on and off at your leisure. Tomorrow we are getting a 12 hour ticket and ride, ride, ride,

    Our first stop on the boat was Murano, world famous for glass. There are, of course a great many furnaces involved in glass production and back in the 1400’s they were all moved out of Venice to prevent more fires. They’ve been there ever since.

    Murano is Venice in miniature. It is a much smaller island and so not nearly as easy to get lost on. Lots of glass shops, lots of glass factories and they give lots of tours, but not so many on Sunday. We saw the tail end of one demo. It is not a huge attraction for us since we know folks in the glass business in Seattle. All the tools look the same to me. 🙂

    There are some stunning pieces. Chandeliers between three and four feet across and 3 feet high were running about 3500 Euros. Some breathtaking table pieces, brilliant red with ‘bubbles’ inside were a much more reasonable 2000 Euros. A stunning centerpiece dish in rich pure colors was shown for 400 euros. On and on. Debb bought a very nice… Oops, can’t say that one, the recipient may be listening. 🙂

    There are no photos of any glass. There are big signs all over about no photography, both on Murano and Burano. I’m sure I could have gotten some shots but it seemed better to be a nice guest. Just imagine the finest glass you’ve ever seen. Good.

    Lunch today was a shared plate of ravioli, a very nice dark beer and some chocolate lava cake. It was good. We chatted with the folks at the next table. They were from Dusseldorf and here for 5 days. “Come to Germany. there is lots of wonderful riding.” I thought maybe he was with the Tourist Bureau.

    More walking, more riding the boat, and then more walking on Borano. It is famous for lace. We saw a woman building something and it was going to take three days. It wasn’t very big, whatever it was.

    Both of these places look like they were built by movie set designers. Just to die for cute. Burano, especially is full of colorful houses. A rainbow down every canal. Very fun. Burano is even smaller than Murano and you can practically see the boat dock from everywhere.

    The boat ride back was chilly. It cools off fast here this early in the year, especially on the water. We got off the boat and walked toward the Ponte Rialto and then wandered the occasional side street looking for an early dinner. We found it and dinner was good. Not spectacular, tho Debb spoke to another table of folks from Louisiana who raved about the Veal. Maybe next time.

    While we were eating dinner an amazing scene took place in front of us across the plaza. All over Venice there are beggars, especially on the bigger bridges. They are practically laying down with their head almost touching the ground, all dressed in black robes and head scarves, with a cup in front of them. The cup has some religious pictures on in, both inside and out. They moan or make some noise every now and then.

    So while we were sitting there, two of these persons walk quite briskly up to a door across the plaza from us. Their brisk walk is what caught my attention. One goes in and comes back out and tosses something to the other. She then proceeds to remove her black scarf and black skirt wrap, take her hair down, and start brushing her very long hair. She is a fairly young woman. They all are! Another shows up, whips off her black scarf and skirt and starts using her cell phone. Another plugs in earphones. Eventually there are four sitting there on the ground in front of the door talking, checking their phones and fixing their hair. They were all quickly back into normal outfits. All of them walked away and all of them had scarves over their head ala Muslim tradition. One left with a man and they were arguing.

    What a revelation! Debb and I both looked at each other and said: That was their pimp! “All the world’s a stage…

    beggars

    Yesterday while coming back from St Marks, we happened upon a policeman. Tall, Debb thought 6’3″, and slender in a beautifully cut uniform. He was Italian gorgeous. His insignias were on the tops of his shoulders and about that large. He was probably in his late 40s or early 50s. He was just walking along near us, tall and erect when he noticed a “beggar woman” going down a street she shouldn’t. He said something to her in a stern authoritative voice and she immediately u-turned and scooted along. He watched her for a moment then turned and strolled back the way we had come.

    After dinner there was more walking. We managed to get turned around and took a bit longer to get back to Piazzale Roma, so the bus ride was a welcome break. We are now in for the night.

    Tomorrow instead of walk, walk, walk it will be boat, boat, boat.

    Scenes from Murano

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    Scenes from Burano

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  • May 5, 2014 – Venice, Day Two

    We played serious tourist today. A lot less walking and a lot more riding the boats. We certainly got our money’s worth. It can’t be overstressed; buy a long-term ferry ticket as soon as you arrive. Everywhere you want to go you can take a boat and then walk around to your heart’s content.

    Another thing we didn’t realize was that you can buy almost any bus ticket as a round trip. No point standing in the ticket line any more than you have to.

    We started a bit later today than before and stayed out to watch the sunset and catch some of the magic hour light for some photos. We’ll see how we did.

    One of my friends related his experience here about 10 years ago. Making dinner out of lots of different tapas plates and a glass of wine at a number of little bars. He estimated each tapas and glass of wine was about $2. Well, times have changed. Ten years ago a Euro could be had for $0.95. Today it is $1.45. Tapas plates averaged E1.80 – E2.75. A glass of wine is typically E3.00.

    When you realize that every thing you see, eat, or drink has been hauled out there by boat and then handled by at least 3 or 4 people to get it from the dock to your plate, I am amazed it is as cheap as it is. We saw lots of goods being unloaded today. A boatman, two or three haulers and then the folks in the trattoria to cook and serve. I can’t imagine organizing a serious construction operation and there are lots of them going on all over. Not far from St Mark’s they were replacing some gas lines. Just getting the big stone pavers up is a major operation. The hodge podge of pipes and “stuff” under the dirt is quite something. Every construction site is an archeology dig!

    So when you come to Venice, pack light! You will be dragging your stuff a long way and it ain’t flat!

    Tomorrow we will follow the Adriatic coast east and south. The weather forecast is perfect. Stay tuned.

     

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