Waterworld

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We arrived in Venice at night – after a forty minute delay when Serena, the Nuvi GPS girl, decided to lose the satellite connection right as we were approaching our exit – and found a totally magical water world.  Light shimmered off narrow canals in long streaks and candles glowed like jewels off of tables at ubiquitous outdoor cafes.

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And unlike many things where the night masks something hideous, when daylight came that wonderful water world was still there, sunlight gleaming brightly off of whitewashed stone and innumerable delicately arching bridges over water boulevards, streets and lanes.

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That’s not to say that what everyone had told us about Venice isn’t true.  Yes, its very crowded with tourists – and we were not even there in the crush of high season – and yes, there is an unpleasant odor that seems to emanate sometimes from the stagnant canal water.  But none of that was enough to dampen my boyish exuberance for this amazing liquid city.

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Francesca and I had booked a modest, but comfortable hotel room overlooking a canal in the Cannaregio district a few minutes from the main thoroughfare that connects the Ferroviaria train station to the tourist Mecca of the Piazza San Marco.

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On our first afternoon in Venice we joined the throngs making the twenty minute pilgrimage to San Marco and then sat on a concert riser in the square, eating sandwiches, drinking a bottle of white wine and engaging in one of our favorite travel games called “guess what country the tourist is from”.

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Its usually pretty easy to identify the Europeans from the Americans, but if you’re good you can guess their specific countries.  We took photos this time so you can see if you agree with our guesses.  Here are just a few of them.

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We’ll start off with an easy one.  These folks above are from the good ol’ US of A.  No doubt. First of all the baseball cap is pretty much a dead giveaway as few other countries rock the b-cap like we Americans do.  Second, the loose fitting jeans and untucked t-shirt are telltale signs of an American.  Not too many adult tourists from other countries would wear an oversized, untucked t-shirt.

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Here’s another relatively easy one.  These folks are decidedly French.  The father-son’s matching sweaters tied around the neck and the painted on jeans for the younger man are a classic French look.  They are also very crisply dressed which speaks to French fashion sensibility (ie not dressed like slobs like most Americans).

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This one might have been tougher if the guy hadn’t been wearing white sunglasses which no American man would do.  I thought maybe Australian or New Zealand, but after reconsidering I’m pretty sure the bone colored down vest over pastel colored t-shirt makes him a hip Swiss guy or, more likely, a Scandinavian, probably Swedish.  Hey and a shout out to Rosie, Steve and all my relatives in Sweden.  That one’s for you! 🙂

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Okay, now they are getting a little tougher.  This guy could be either American or European, but with the black leather, front facing money pouch and short sleeved patterned button down shirt with pen in the pocket I am going to say European.  Getting more specific I would have been inclined to go with Swiss here but for the light colored leather jacket which makes me ultimately have to go with Russian (or one of the former Soviet Block countries).

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This is the toughest one so far.  In corduroys, a v-neck sweater with shirt and tie underneath this guy could be some nerdy American traveler, but its doubtful as we tend to dress down when traveling while many Europeans are decked out in their finest.  Plus the daypack over the above mentioned attire is, while not unheard of in America, certainly frowned upon enough to swing the odds in favor of him being European where that look is considered less….dorky.  The wife is not offering many clues either other than what appears to be a denim on denim look which I’m not sure anyone should be sporting regardless of your nationality.  I tried zooming in on the man’s guidebook to see if I could tell what language it was but I could not get enough clarity when zoomed in close (plus that would be cheating and I would never do that).  Same goes for their backpack brand which might have offered some indication of nationality.  So I’m going to go with European, but that’s about as far as I can get it.  Anyone out there want to venture a guess?   I’ll set it up as a poll to ensure your anonymity.

Well anyway, there you have it, just some good harmless fun and just in case you think we are thinking ourselves as defying stereotype, I am quite sure any other tourist or local there would have been able to peg us easily as Americans.

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I have been waking up before my alarm clock frequently on this trip which has provided me the opportunity to snap some great sunrise photos.  I also enjoy seeing a city as it wakes up, before any of the tourists have rousted themselves and the streets, or in the case of Venice, the canals, belong solely to the merchants opening their shops or setting up their tents and the vendors delivering them daily supplies.  In Venice I decided to combine my early morning photo safari with a run.  While Francesca and I had instituted a daily workout regimen (pushups, situps & squats) to try and keep somewhat fit I had not gone for a jog in probably over a month (since before I left New York).  I ran from our hotel to St. Marco Square and snapped a few photos along the way.

Early morning Run

That night we decided to venture off the main road and into the back alleys in search of a less touristy restaurant.  We had heard about a place called Alla Vedova where supposedly the gondolier drivers eat, but when we poked our heads in it seemed every bit a full on tourist eatery so we backed out and went further off the beaten path until we found a quaint bistro called “Diana’s” on San Girolamo along a small canal well off of the main drag.

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The owner seated us himself and was nice enough to let us drink the bottle of wine we had brought with us, which I admit may have been a little gauche, but it was a nice bottle of Barolo that I had bought as an early birthday present for Francesca (she has always wanted to try a Barolo) and we had a flight the next morning and would not be able to bring it with us so it was then or never.

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The food was excellent and the prices very reasonable.  There was a lively bar nearby where local twentysomethings were practicing their pick up lines.  I wanted to go check it out after dinner, but sadly, it was closing down when we walked by.  The “Diana” owner apparently owns that too as he waved to us as he closed the gate down on that establishment.

Feeling sated and rested after a long two weeks driving through Italy, the next morning would be our first plane flight since we left New York City three weeks (and 4 countries) previous.  I could have stayed longer in Venice, but was looking forward to a change of menu and Budapest held a promising answer.

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Country Stats

Official Name: Italian Republic

Native Language: Italian

Country Name in Native Language: Repubblica Italiana

Population: 60,157,214

Capital City: Rome

Government: Parliamentary Republic

Current Leader: President Giorgio Napolitano, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi

For more information on Italy click here.

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Follow up note:  In my posting on Florence I mentioned an SNL skit with Dan Aykroyd, but could not find the link.  My friend and former colleague Seth Cutler came through with a link to the skit on Hulu.   Unfortunately those of you who, like me, are not in the United States will be prevented from watching it (but you might as well try), but the rest of you enjoy a good laugh.

E. Buzz Miller Art Classics (SNL)

Disclaimer:  Since I have not been able to view the clip, if it is NOT the SNL clip, but some other sordid trash that Seth may be viewing on his own time, I take no responsibility for it.  🙂

In Retrospect (November 13, 2010):

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that Venice isn’t a spectacular place.   Yes, it’s overcrowded with tourists (like you and me and the people telling you it’s not a spectacular place because it’s overrun with tourists), it’s smelly (although I didn’t think so my wife certainly did and I trust her olfactory senses).

We never went on a gondola – although I wanted too, in the end we both felt it was just a bit too touristy (and expensive!).

Francesca was fond of the Italian men…..

I feel like we didn’t even scratch the surface of Venice so if any of you readers out there have been and want to drop some recommendations here it would be greatly appreciated.

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