Days 13 to 15: From Venice to Rome to Home
*As always, select images from the trip are available for purchase. They can be found here.*
Day 13: Exploring Venice
Well there was another night of BAD sleep. Unlike our stay in Tuscany with a barking dog, our interrupted sleep in Venice consisted of some drunk guy yelling "Thomas!" "Thomas!" "Thomas!" Lucas yelled something at him at one point and he said "Oh, Sorry!" Then started yelling all over again. Out came the white noise app again. The hotel we were staying at most definitely had air conditioning, but apparently they don't turn it on until May. No matter what the temperature is in April. So, this unusually hot April was very uncomfortable without the window open. But you can't sleep with the window open with a drunkard yelling outside. Bah.
We woke up and were ready to go with about an hour to find where we were going. This morning we had a "Secret Itineraries" tour planned at the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace). This is in Saint Mark's Square. Lucas had our route mapped out so he could figure out exactly which roads and bridges to turn on. I really wanted to veer off that path just a couple feet to stop by Tonolo's, a bakery that had been recommended to us by the hotel staff. So, of course, he let me have what I wanted:) The pastry I chose, for both mornings I was there, of course was filled with ricotta but this one also had yummy raisins. Of course the pastries were fluffy and perfect. How do they do this over here? America has to figure this out!
So I was following Lucas along through corridors and over bridges, enjoying my pastry, in my own little happy ricotta-filled world. I noticed he was grumbling about something, but hey, I have sweet gooey yumminess to attend to here. Plus, I really have a child-like trust in his navigational abilities. I finished, and started to pay a bit more attention, only to figure out that we were hopelessly and utterly lost. This was obviously my fault because I made us veer a few feet from his pre-planned path:) We stopped, finally found a street name, and found that we were about a centimeter from falling off the edge of our map. We readjusted, and booked it back toward St. Mark's Square. Did I mention that it was drizzling rain? We had our rain coats on, but really it wasn't enough to get worked up about. However, these narrow little streets were now FULL of umbrellas. Those things can be deadly in tight spots. So we speed walked over bridges, through alley ways, dodged umbrellas, hurried across Accademia Bridge, through Piazza San Stefano, and finally into St. Mark's Square. Sweaty and 15 minutes late. The poor lady at the Doge's Palace must be used to those of us who are definitely not venetian and who get hopelessly lost in the maze. She graciously rescheduled our tour for the 12:30 time.
While we waited, we explored this very busy square. Unfortunately, there weren't any street artists because of the rain. Plus, the open area of the square was filled with chairs. We found out later that there was to be a graduation for the university there in Venice. So, Venice was actually busier than usual. We stuck to the outside of the plaza going from shop to shop. These were gorgeous, crazy expensive shops. Lucas decided he was going to look for a watch. He is much braver than I, because I would never walk into one of these stores and ask how much a watch costs while wearing my ballcap, blue jeans, and rain jacket. His answer was normally that the cheapest thing they had was $4000. That's the cheapest. Needless to say, we went home without a watch. There were also shops filled with Venetian specialties like jewelry and chandeliers made of Murano blown glass, marbled paper, and Carnival masks.
We went back to the Palazzo Ducale about 15 minutes before our tour started, just in case.
This is the pattern on the side of the Doge's Palace. It's called Venetian gothic and you see this same pattern on lots of the buildings around Venice.
See the hole in the mouth of that guy? These used to be found all over Venice, but many were lion's heads. These are to denounce the secrets of our neighbors. If it was found that you knew of something that happened and DIDNT report it in one of these boxes, you were also held responsible for the crime that occurred. That's one way to make people rat on each other! I believe all the lions were removed when Napoleon came along.
The tour starts in the courtyard, then heads up the golden staircase.
This is the ceiling of the golden staircase - gilded with gold of course.
At that point, you are no longer allowed to take pictures. We were taken through a door that is off limits to people who don't take this tour. From there, we could see the back rooms and offices of the judges in the Council of Ten, and of the main guy in charge of documenting and keeping the Republic's secrets. We were also taken to the torture room, where they would tie someone's arms behind their backs, then hang them in the air by those arms while questioning them. There were rooms along the second floor where other prisoners would be put to wait for their own torture. Since they could hear and watch all those before them, they often were ready to talk long before they ever actually had to be tortured. They showed us old jail cells where they would make the doorways and walls very short, just to inconvenience the prisoners. One of those prisoners, was Giacomo Casanova. We got to see the cell where he was kept, and the one that he escaped from. He and another cell mate that assisted him were the only 2 to ever escape from that prison. 15 years after he escaped, he was actually employed by Venice to work for them as a spy. I guess they were impressed! After our "backstage" tour, we quickly toured the rest of the palace.
Here's a view of the domes of St. Mark's Cathedral from inside the palace.
A view of the canals from the Bridge of Sighs. This bridge connects the area of the palace where prisoners stood trial to the actual prison cells. This was where they could get their last glimpse of the outside world, and presumably sigh about it:)
Then we took off to find somewhere for lunch. What does Lucas find? The Hard Rock Cafe.
Kinda weird to see it mixed with gondolas huh?
At this point, we are getting pretty worn out and he is ready to go home. So, a taste of home isn't a bad idea. The Hard Rock Cafe it is. It was so strange getting a taste of America while in Venice. They gave us a pager and we had to wait for a table to be open. We ordered our hamburgers and fries. BUT, they still asked if we wanted our water "still" or "with gas":) And, it came in a pretty bottle not from the tap. The waiters were so much more relaxed, they were talking and joking and singing. It's nice to not be so formal all time. The best part? Good ol rock'n'roll. All over Italy, all I ever heard was pop music. It was all familiar, and in English, but it got old fast. It was so nice to hear some real music.
After our very American lunch, we made a loop around Venice to go over the Grand Canal via the Rialto Bridge. This bridge is much busier than the Accademia bridge. It's covered with shops on either side, that were a little more affordable than in the square. We explored the shops, then went into the Rialto Market. We caught the end of the market, but were able to buy and eat some fresh strawberries. The fish market was totally shut down by the time we got there, maybe a good thing since we didn't have to smell it.
My idea of a good time in Venice would be to get hopelessly lost and have to find our way back. I didn't want to plan or have a destination, I just wanted to explore. This goes against everything in Lucas's bones. He is a navigator and doesn't want to get lost. He doesn't enjoy that loss of control like I do:) I think being almost off the map this morning may have worried him a bit. So, he finally said I could just wander wherever I pleased. So, I did. And we would turn and go whichever way looked the most intriguing. Apparently, Lucas was tracking us on the map the whole time, but hey. I felt lost, so that's all that matters!
I have lots of images from our wandering. Here are my favorites:
These are their street signs. This one is directing you to how to get to a water taxi stop.
That little water pump is a public water fountain.
We wandered back around toward our hotel, because we wanted to go for a gondola ride. I really wanted to stay in the smaller, quieter canals so we were hoping to find a gondolier off in a side canal. We did find a gondolier in his blue and white stripped shirt. His gondola tour would be an hour, and take us through side canals as well as the grand canal. While he wasn't a singing gondolier, he did whistle a little as well as tell us when we were passing by important palaces (palazzi).
We passed this cat in the window. We decided on this trip that Italians LOVE cats. There are art prints and pictures of them everywhere! So, I thought this was a perfect opportunity for me to join the trend.
The Grand Canal was hectic. There were boats everywhere!
More canal-side palaces with Venetian gothic décor
This is coming up on the Rialto Bridge. A very very busy area.
It was funny that all the gondoliers new each other, and would talk and joke as they passed each other. These guys are so good at what they do. This guy maneuvered his gondola through narrow canals and around water taxis like it was nothing. He had just one paddle that stays on one side of the gondola. He makes it look easy.
My favorite was definitely the little canals as they were peaceful.
Each little canal has its own name, like a road, and so does each bridge.
Apparently, only gondolas or personally owned vehicles are allowed off the Grand Canal into side canals. You can only bring your personal craft into the side canals if you live in that area. I can't image how crazy those narrow canals would be otherwise.
We wandered our way back to the hotel and rested for a bit, and I went back up to the terrace to take in the scenery.
For dinner, we went to Cafe Improntu. We did have to wait and come back since we didn't have a reservation. So, we decided to wander while we waited. We came into Campo San Margherita and stumbled upon some sort of college hazing ritual. There were college kids reading large papers on the wall. We looked at one, and it looks like a cartoon version of that student along with pictures of them, and facts about them. They were all drunk, and wearing the goofiest outfits. They were all having to do different things. I assume whatever their peers told them they had to do. One girl was in a tutu, covered in flour, trying to read off her paper. Another guy was also coverd in flour and the other guys kept smacking him!? They were all laughing and having a good time with it. There was a HUGE collection of liquor in the middle of the plaza that they were helping themselves to. Another guy was coverd in flour (seems to be the trend), and had to wear a octopus on his head. A real one. He was also covered in hot sauce. As one of the graduates passed by, this guy ran out and gave him a huge hug. In his brand new suit. The graduate didn't seem at all fazed by it. In face, he put the octopus on his head for pictures.
Lucas snapped a pic with his phone.
We couldn't get a good explanation of what the purpose was for all this, but someone did tell us it was third year students. Any ideas?
Cafe Improntu was definitely not traditional Italian food. It must be considered modern Italian. They gave us various breads and crackers to try which were not the traditional bread we had been given. I ordered the friend angler with ricotta. It was basically gourmet fish sticks. I was a big fan:) Lucas tried duck. It was all very good, and it was nice to try something new and different. What we were most impressed by was the waitress. She'd walk up to our table and talk to us in English, then she'd go to the next table and talk in Italian, then the next and take an order in French. When we asked, she said she could speak Spanish as well. Wow.
We topped off the night with some gelato from Grom. I had heard about this gelateria before we came to Italy. They are supposed to only use very fresh ingredients, and it's supposed to be very good. And it was. I ordered fragola (strawberry) in a cup, and it was definitely real strawberries. I hate that fake strawberry goop that some places use.
Day 14: From Venice Back to Rome
We started the day off with a walk back over to Tonolo's for a yummy breakfast. This time, I also picked up a Canolo, since I had been in Italy for 2 full weeks and hadn't had any canolli. We only had a few hours in the morning before we had to catch a train back to Rome. It was another rainy, drizzly day but I had hoped the rain would hold out long enough to allow some street artists to come out. I had been collecting art in each of the cities we visited, but hadn't found any in Venice yet. We wandered our way back toward St. Marks.
On the way, I stopped in a little coffee shop for a capuccino. I had also gone 2 weeks in Italy without trying ANY of their coffee. I'm not a big coffee drinker, but that has to be a crime. Yeah, it was coffee. Nothing to write home about (and yet, I am!). The coffee shop was so weird. It was so small, it looked like you should only be able to order drinks to go, however, when I ordered my capuccino, they gave it to me in a cup and saucer. Other people were standing at the counter space, in front of those trying to order, sipping their coffee so I did the same. It definitely rushed the experience, and wasn't very comfortable. I'm not sure why they had it set up this way, but the Italians seemed to act like it was normal.
We spent the morning looking in the little shops, and I did end up buying some art that I found in a nearby shop. On our way back to our hotel, we stopped in a little nearby chocolate shop, Viziovirtu. In this shop, there's a picture of Juliette Binoche. She apparently showed up for their grand opening seven years ago. It's that kind of chocolate shop. The kind where the lead actress from Chocolat shows up because it's that amazing. They have truffles, chocolate bars, even artisan gelato. I finally decided on a bag of assorted chocolates. Lucas bought a caramel chocolate bar. I think I made that bag of chocolates last about a week. I was rationing them. There were dark chocolates, white chocolates, milk chocolates, chocolate covered espresso beans, and ginger chocolates. I may go back to Venice just to get more of their chocolate covered espresso beans. That stuff was AMAZING. I'm not going to lie, I've looked online and you can order them for only 14 euros...with 55 euros for shipping.
We said goodbye to the beautiful little Venice, and hopped our express train back to Rome. When we got to our assigned seats, there was a young Venezuelan couple in the two seats next to the window. I motioned to the girl to see if she'd like to sit next to her husband, but she said she was fine. So, I sat down next to her husband and across from Lucas. Kind of weird, but ok. They spoke Spanish, so we didn't really carry on a conversation. We're pretty sure they are newly weds, just by the way they were acting and laughing. They would listen to their headphones together and both kind mouth the words together. It sounded like it was latino music of some sort. The girl got up to walk around, and the guy instantly changed the music to what sounded like Korn. I laughed a little and thought it was funny. Then, Aerosmith came on. Not just any Aerosmith, "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing." Forget mouthing the words, he had both headphones in now, and he was reaching for those high notes as best he could. Lucas and I just looked at each other and tried SO HARD to not bust out laughing. There was a mother and child on the row next to us, and she looked over really quickly too. None of us could look at each other. We managed to keep it together, and when his wife came back he was quiet again. Free entertainment.
Arriving in Rome felt a little bit like coming home. It was actually nice to get off the train in a familiar place. We no longer had to try to figure out a new city and orient ourselves. We caught the metro back to our stop in Prati, then walked back to our hotel, A Peace of Rome. We had caught a train that was an hour earlier than we had intended, but I was hoping someone would be there to check us in. Unfortunately not. The company owns few different locations, and apparently the staff was not currently at ours. We had no way to call, so we sent an email and hoped they'd check it. Instead of waiting in the train station for an additional hour, we ended up waiting on the hotel steps. It's really our fault for not telling them. We weren't mad, but it was inconvenient to be so close yet still have to wait. Simon came as quickly as she could, very apologetic, be we told her it was completely understandable.
This day was April 21, Rome's 2766th birthday. Blows America's 521 years out of the water huh? Of course, that means there was a huge celebration and TONS of people. It seemed like most of the festivities would be occurring near the Colosseum. There were supposed to be fireworks, but I never could figure out where they would be or what time. We decided to steer clear of the craziness. Since we had already seen everything we wanted to in Rome, I picked a restaurant I wanted to try in an area we hadn't explored, and headed that way. The area was off the Spagna stop, near the Spanish steps. That area was busy before when we were here, and now it was about 10 times as crazy when we came back through. We walked with the crowd down the Via Del Corso, then veered off to find our restaurant. It was down several back streets and alleys, then in this little area off by itself. Unfortunately, not open on Sundays. There was a restaurant nearby, however, that would be opening in 30min and it looked promising. We explored side streets and went into art galleries, waiting to eat.
When 7:30p finally rolled around, we returned for our final real meal in Italy. The restaurant was called Bacalas. This place had a really cool atmosphere. It was small, and off the beaten path in Rome which is hard to do. The man who ran the place didn't look like any other Italian I had seen. He looked like he was a tattooed hipster, which is something I hadn't seen since I left the US! For an appetizer, we got ricotta with truffles. We ate it spread on our italian bread. For the main course, shrimp spaghetti with pecorino and truffle sauce. Wow. I mean. Wow. The shrimp was so fresh, and pecorino was my favorite cheese, so pecorino sauce? Get out of town! To finish it off, we ordered what sounded like some sort of dessert with layers of cake and cream. It was called something that looked like "Millfoil," which, if you are from around the Tennessee River area you know that's the green algae stuff that they have to spray for every year. Although that didn't sound like a good name, we ordered it anyhow. Turns out, he said "flake" not "cake," so we got this tiny plate of pastry flakes, cream, and chocolate. Hey, it was good. Not very big, but good.
It was a beautiful night, and we ended up walking around and enjoying it. We walked back down the Via del Corso all the way to Piazza del Popolo. Lucas missed our turn for the Spagna metro stop, and I wanted to walk so wasn't too concerned with pointing it out. In the Piazza, there was a huge concert going on celebrating Rome's birthday. We listened for a few minutes, but didn't know who the artists were, so we decided to keep walking. We ended up walking all the way back to the hotel instead of taking the metro. It was our last night, and it was nice to just relax and enjoy.
Day 15: Traveling Home
The next day was a full 24 hours of travelling. Literally. We started at 6:30am in Rome, which is 12:30am in Chattanooga and didn't get home til right at 12:30a that night. We went by Noemi's for our last pastries and caught the metro back to Roma Termini. This time, we purchased the correct tickets for the Leonardo Da Vinci express train back to Fiumicino airport. At the airport, there was about a 10 step process to go through customs, check our passports, hop on a tram to another check-in, to a bus to another terminal. At one point, there was an armed guard on the second level lazily resting her semi-automatic weapon on the rail...and pointing it straight at us in the process. We were talking about it, and the lady in front of us said, "I don't know about you, but I was always taught that you don't point it at anything you don't intend to shoot." Exactly.
We spent the rest of our few remaining Euros in airport stores. In the process, I bought my first Kinder Bueno candy bar. I can't believe it took me til the last day to taste one of these. It's basically a Nutella candy bar. And an amazing one at that. Fortunately, I bought a pack of 3. It's hazelnut, milk chocolate, and wafer all rolled into one. SO good.
We finally got on our flight to Chicago and got ready for an 11 hour flight. Sitting for 11 hours after walking at least 5 miles each day was mind numbing to say the least. One thing did stick out to me. We Americans live so differently than Italians. We expect others to speak our language and don't go out of our way to accomodate those that don't. There was a man behind me that spoke Spanish. He was trying to fill out a customs form and the stewardess wouldn't pay attention to him long enough to figure out what language he was speaking. She just assumed Italian. She would bring him something, then run off before he could even try to explain. Before I could, someone else next to him was able to speak to him well enough to help. They ended up working it out. Before we left, I heard the stewardess say to him "Bonjourno! See I learned something!" She learned all of one Italian word. And he doesn't even speak Italian. Two nights ago, I was sitting in a restaurant with a waitress that could speak 4 different languages just to accomodate her diverse guests.
When we landed in Chicago, the walls were decorated with art including a stained glass window from 1880. 1880? That was not at ALL impressive. It's all about perspective huh?
We had delays in Chicago. After we boarded the plane, we were told there would be a 10min delay because of missing screws in the wing. Then 10min later we deboarded because the screw holes were to rusted to replace the screws. About a 1.5 hours later, after a crazy unorganized reboarding procedure in a much smaller plane than we had originally, we were headed toward Atlanta.
We landed, waited, got luggage, waited, caught the shuttle to the hotel where are car was, then took off toward home. We finally did that McDonald's stop that Lucas has been dying for the past 2 weeks. We pulled into home at almost exactly 12:30a. A full 24 hours of travel.
Italy was amazing and wonderful, but there are some things that just can't be beat about America. My own home, my puppies, my loving funny family, my good friends, driving my car with the windows down on a beautiful day listening to rock music, sitting on my porch swing and watching the sun set over the farm, and yes, even McDonald's sweet tea and french fries. Not, however, their burgers with american cheese. Blech.
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