Monday 17 March 2003

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I didn't wake up until 0730 - nearly 13 hours of sleep. It's at least partly the shutters on the windows - you can see light around the edges, but they don't let any in.

The hotel gives us breakfast - all bread products, but it's free.

After breakfast we visited the San Marco Basilica. I found it astonishingly ugly on the inside (no photos allowed). The floor is gorgeous - a hugely varied array of fine tile work, most geometric, some animals (including gryphons). But the ceilings ... an incredible amount of gold leaf, black lettering, religious paintings. Catherine's comment was "Very Byzantine."

We visited the hotel for a restroom break, then found a bank to exchange a big chunk of money. From there we went on to the Rialto market. Lots of fruit and veg, a little meat and cheese. No fish, which I wanted to photograph (it turned out that was closed on Mondays). Through the difficult-to-navigate San Polo sestiere and over the Scalzi Bridge (by the gorgeous Scalzi church facade) on to Gam Gam, where we had lunch.

Gam Gam is an Israeli place in Cannaregio recommended by the guidebook. A little more expensive than we wanted. The proprietor there (who wears a yamulke) had an irritating habit of whistling out of tune, out of time, and loudly along with every pop song on the radio.

The "Israeli Platter" was a very tasty sampler, the spicy fish on cous cous was decidedly unimpressive.

After lunch we wandered around Cannaregio. First to the train station (my curiousity) which has nothing to recommend it but strikes me as being both usable and clean. It does have a very large (by Venetian standards) plaza on the Grand Canal, and it was nice to sit on the steps in the sun.

Catherine has some friends nearby in Italy, so we did a 15 minute €2.50 stint in an internet cafe. They want to meet, so she said "call us" and gave the hotel number.

We had some gelato, which was cheap and excellent. My first inclination was to think we were lucky, but the prices are the same everywhere and I'd guess the quality is pretty uniform.

We missed Scalzi church as it's closed from 1200-1600. We visited San Geremia, which the guidebook didn't like but I did.

Then back along Rio Terra San Leonardo, Rio Terra Maddalena, and Strada Nova. Like other major avenues, they were cluttered with tourists, but I liked the area. It's obvious from the stores that residents actually shop there - clothes, supermarkets, beds ... And I liked the area just because the streets are fairly straight. Catherine enjoyed the maze-like qualities of our trip across San Polo in the morning, but I was more irritated than amused.

On the way back, just across the canal from San Geremia, we stopped in a very small bar (which also sold gelato and sandwiches) and bought a glass of grappa. The choices were white or yellow, and I chose the latter since it was described as slightly sweeter. I think it's about 30% alcohol. I said to Catherine it was like a cross between a whisky and a liquer. I think it's made from wine, but it's much thicker, slightly syrupy. Catherine loved it, but I was indifferent. I might have liked the drier one better. He had waved the bottle at us, and we saw it at a grocery store later. I noticed the label said "Aqua Vita," not grappa. And also that it was €18, more than several of the grappas. Are they the same? Interestingly, it was served in a small fluted glass poured to hold more than twice your average "shot," and he charged us €1.80 - a very good deal by North American standards. The guidebook says an "ombra" is the way to drink wine here - small cheap glasses.

We relocated to Al Vecio Penasa in Castello - a small bar recommended in the guide book. And we're drinking Prosecco (light, sparkling white) and Toser Raboso (red, not very strong in flavour either, sparkling). Catherine really likes the Raboso. I don't know that I've ever encountered a sparkling red before.

Now I have a white grappa. That was funny - I asked the Indian-looking bartender if he drank grappa, and he said "Yes - grappa, local drink." I said "yes, but do you drink it?" "Oh, no. I don't like it." Pause. "I don't like alcohol." I said "Does he drink it?" indicating the other equally young (but probably Italian) bartender. They chattered in Italian and pulled in the young woman at the bar. Another yellow was recommended, but I took the drier white - and I do like it better. As he said, not as much flavour (as we know, I usually prefer strong flavours) but very nice - Conte di Cavour Grappa Bianco. Apparently the yellow is aged longer.

Gah! They gave us a small sample of their yellow grappa (different from the one we had previously - this is Moscato) which Catherine liked and I really disliked. There was a flavour to it that I found quite unpleasant. But true to the guide, "friendly staff."

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by giles