June 17, 2003:
We got up today at about 9 a.m. and went down for our complimentary breakfast at the hotel. All of our hotels — save the one in Florence — have included breakfast with the cost of the room, and the quality of the food and ambiance has varied widely. In Rome, the breakfast room was like a sauna (to me, at least), and Kish swears that the same food was put out on each of the three days of our stay. In Assisi, the breakfast buffet was much more complete and was served in a nice large area of the hotel restaurant. In Siena, the buffet was even more extensive, and we ate in a fine, shaded garden at the rear of the hotel with a wonderful view of the surrounding countryside. Here, the breakast room is a small back room of the restaurant next door, with a less extensive food selection and more of a diner-type atmosphere. At least the room is cool!
This morning I also received my requested “report fax” from Janie, my secretary, notifying me that all is well on the work front, which is good news., I have to say that I have had no trouble getting away from work here. It’s impossible to think about work when you are navigating medieval streets or driving through the Italian countryside.
After breakfast we headed to the Piazza San Marco to see San Marco Basilica. Our guidebooks had said men could not wear shorts, so we had required the boys to wear long pants. When we got to the church, of course, they were allowing people wearing shorts to enter. C’est la vie. San Marco is an impressive church, and it definitely seems to have more of the eastern, Byzantine influences that you would expect from the principal church of the principal city on the eastern coast of Italy, and one that was a maritime trading power for centuries. The church features gold frescoes and a stunning gold screen, but it is a bit too eastern for my tastes.
We returned to the hotel so the kids could change into shorts, then went off in search of different vistas. We walked to the Chiesa della Salute, which is one of the spits of land at one end of the Grand Canal. It takes a while to get there — there being no direct routes in Venice — and we were thwarted in our effort to get to the tip of the land spit due to construction. Nevertheless, the view was good and the church located there was nice, too.
We walked back for lunch near the Accademia, then Kish went for a rest at the hotel while the boys and I searched for some t-shirts. Richard and I bought some at reasonable prices (for Venice) and then the kids decided to take it easy at the hotel, too. I elected to strike out on my own and visit two more churches — Chiesa dei Frari and San Giovanni e Paoli. Chiesa dei Frari is a neat, beautiful church with an extraordinary altar painting by Titian. Strolling through that church gives a very strong sense of Venice’s history and past glory. The walls are covered by monuments and tombs to past notables, and the floors are covered with marble insets marking the final resting spots of other worthies.
They say you must get lost in Venice at last once, and I got lost after receiving the Chiesa dei Frari. Before long, I found myself in some unknown, sparsely populated neighborhood, and in my search for wall signs to provide some direction I stepped in some dog droppings. So, I backtracked, found a fountain to wash off my shoe, and eventually got my bearings. San Giovanni e Paoli is another stunning church, located next to a hospital. It apparently was the preferred church of Venice’s elite, and has the tombs of a number of Doges. By this time, though, I had experienced church overload, and was ready to return to the hotel.
When I got back to the hotel, Kish and the kids were ready to head out again. We walked to Piazza San Marco via a very circuitous route and had outrageously priced drinks at one of the trattorias along the Piazza. You pay a pretty penny for the ability to watch pigeons being fed by tourists, but it is an entertaining sight. Why some people are attracted to pigeons is beyond me — they are filthy! But, some parents let their kids buy the bird food and then stand in the middle of the piazza, with pigeons on their arms, heads, and hands. Ugh.
We found a nice, moderately priced place for dinner. Kish continued her poor luck in dinner selection, whereas the boys and I had fine meals. Poor Kish — she always tries to order something healthy, and then ends up with a pizza that appears to be covered with grass, or something similarly strange. After dinner, Richard and I sat at a cafe next to the Grand Canal, then we turned in for the night.
I have enjoyed Venice very much. It is a languid, old, interesting place — well worth visiting. Unlike Florence, it does not seem to make much pretense, and it therefore becomes all the more enjoyable. We saw dogs walking the narrow streets, a gondola with a full-throated singer accompanied by an accordion, a mime dressed totally in white and standing on a box so that he looked like a statue, and other points of human interest. What a remarkable place!