Tuesday 18 March 2003

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It's occurred to both of us this must be the most photographed city in the entire world. What can you do that hasn't been done before? Nothing. So it's a personal record - which is all it was anyway, but the dream of taking unique and special pictures is gone.

0800 is when the guys with hand trucks are trundling around the city, delivering food and goods to the restaurants and stores. Before the tourists become too dense to get a handtruck through.

You hear a lot of languages spoken here. Most common is Italian (somehow I was surprised to learn that this is a very popular destination with Italians), then German. French or English may be next (usually with a British accent) but I can't sort out the Oriental languages. My first assumption was just Japanese and Korean, no Chinese - very few people in mainland China have the money or political ability to travel - but then I thought of Hong Kong. Haven't seen any Asians in this hotel, but there are large groups here. Very few Africans or African-Americans, although one of the staff here is African - he says "Ca va?" when he sees us.

We visited the Doge's Palace, aka the Palazzo Ducale. €11 each to get in, but quite spectacular. The ceilings in particular - ornate gold framing everywhere surrounding hundreds of Renaissance pictures, some quite huge. The collection of armour and weaponry (particularly the latter) is spectacular. An unbelievable number of swords in a number of styles - most notably to me fencing weapons and huge double handed long swords. They also had dozens of muzzle loading guns - long and short barrel.

We stopped in the Sala del Maggior Consiglio. Probably the biggest and most impressive room. Just as importantly, it has chairs we could sit in.

Tourists or not, this is just a cool place to be. The Doge's Palace was fabulous. Among other things, we walked through "The Bridge of Sighs" a couple times. An interesting contrast to its elegant exterior which is one of the most famous views in the city. The interior is just as unattractive as you'd expect the passageway for convicted criminals to be.

We looked for bars to eat at in Dorsoduro, but eventually decided on Cip Ciap in Castello because it's nearby and good. But apparently today is their closed day. Guidebook back out ... hey! Al Vecio Penasa has "great" sandwiches! So that's where we went. This would have been the cheap way to eat in Venice if we hadn't sat down: three small crustless sandwiches each stuffed with various stuff costs €4 plus a drink, but the price doubles when you sit down (instead of standing at the bar). The sandwiches were very good, but we paid €20 instead of the €10 we were expecting. This is a common practice in Venice, but not one we were familiar with at the time.

We headed over to Dorsoduro to see the Guggenheim Collection and Santa Maria della Salute. Unfortunately, the Guggenheim is closed on Tuesdays - in fact, we'd noticed that in the guidebook the night before, but managed to forget it.

Everywhere is closed at least one day a week, and there's no particular day ... We visited several churches, ending up at Santa Maria della Salute. There was actually a mass going on at 1615 when we entered, but they hadn't barred tourists. The place is so huge and the congregation so small - but I would still think it would be distracting.

Dorsoduro was attractive and quiet and relatively tourist-free.

One of the most fun things we did today was riding the traghetto, both to and from Dorsoduro. It's €0.40 per person one way to cross the Grand Canal in a stripped Gondola. It's as close as we got to a "real" Gondola ride. It was a lot of fun. The guidebook claims they're one of Venice's best kept secrets, and it's no wonder: no advertising, they dock among regular gondolas, and they're run by gondoliers (who play a round of cards with their buddies before they take you across).

We had dinner at Barbanera. We decided to give it a try despite the hawker on permanent duty outside (we've passed several times). Reasonable prices. The food was very plain but quite fresh. I wouldn't rush back here, but it was okay. Hawkers outside restaurants aren't common, but they aren't unheard of either. I think it's a disgusting practice: we went to Babanera because our hotel clerk recommended it.

We had our third round of gelato after dinner. When Catherine first suggested we buy some at one of the very common stalls around Venice, I was pretty negative. I thought it wouldn't be any better than what's available in the U.S. Well, no. We've had three superb and cheap servings. A two scoop cup or cone is usually €1.50, a better deal than in the U.S., and the flavours are substantially different. Flavours are strong and not as sweet, they really get your attention.

Seems Bush has declared war on Iraq. He would claim he hasn't, but he gave Hussein and family 48 hours to exile themselves or he sends in the troups. Since this is a record that Customs and Immigration might read I'll keep my opinions to myself - except to say I wish he hadn't done it while I was out of country.

Catherine and I just figured out that the Colleoni is here, and that the Colleoni is one of my father's favourite works. He has a gorgeous miniature of it, really an excellent piece of work, and I'll be very happy to see the original. The story surrounding it in the guidebook is both fascinating and hilarious - in short, Colleoni was a mercenary in the city's employ. Hardly deserving of such a tribute, but he willed them 700,000 ducats if they put a statue of him up in front of Basilica San Marco. They didn't like that. The city court re-interpreted the will and decided in front of Scuola di San Marco was essentially the same. Verrocchio was given the commission for the work and began casting. He heard someone else was working on it, smashed up his work in anger and went back to Florence - followed by a decree threatening him with death if he returned to Venice. But they made nice and he was working on it again when he died in 1488. Leopardi finished it up.

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by giles