Monday, July 17, 2017

12,000 steps around the city of Venice

The first time I saw Venice I arrived by canal and I could not believe all those people  walking back and forth, up and down the bridges along the waterfront   The appearance was of an ant colony.  I had never thought to see Disneyland size crowds, a silly naive idea of what I expected.   When the cruise boats unload, it is greatly overwhelming.   (In fact, the townspeople of Venice have protested against the cruise boats, even going to the lengths of swimming and boating in their path to stop them in protest.)  

St. Mark's 
From the boat dock you walk  towards St. Mark’s Square bulging with  lines of people waiting to get into the many famous structures.   You will see people who have brought bread and seeds to feed the pigeons.  The result of this is that those flocks of pigeons get excited and in retaliation show their respect by relieving their little digestive systems on tourists as they fly over.   (Beware!)

You stop and  just gaze at the beauty of the front of St. Mark’s Church.  It’s covered in paintings of gold.  Next to the church is the famous tower, Campanile di San Marco,  which has been copied so many times all over northern Italy.  You can also find it out of Italy, for instance,  the city of Denver has a smaller one, which used to be the tallest building back when I was a kid.   Called the  Daniel and Fisher tower, it opened in 1910, is now towered over by tall buildings of Denver.  The original, in Venice, was  rebuilt after the collapse in 1912.   No one was actually hurt in the collapse as it was early in the morning.  You can safely go to the top of the new one  for an exceptional view.   

Campanile di San Marco in Back
When in the piazza I especially like to look up at the rooftop on the building on the left side of St. Marks.  There are two actual sized men of bronze called "Mori"  who use hammers to strike the bells for time.  There are plenty more things to see here and you want to take your time and have a camera.  Come back when it is dark for more great photos. 

I recommend not sitting at one of the St. Mark's piazza side restaurants or bars as they are quite expensive.   If you feel real snooty you can visit the  famous Harry’s Bar,  which is nearby on the waterfront.  They have a dress code making sure no low life types get in.  I didn’t make the cut as I had on some nice bermuda shorts.   I am the first to admit I am a low life.  The place was empty, maybe for the same reason, or maybe because of the high prices you pay to have the experience of embibing where Hemingway hung out.  

One thing I might mention.  If you visit the museum called the Accademia you will see some paintings that were made after St. Mark’s body was brought to Venice.  A close look at the procession and the many people who were there and were placed in the painting, you will see that there were NO pigeons. My belief is that they were on the dining table.    Venetians did not eat a lot of steak, then and even now.
In my local supermarket I can find quail, rabbit, donkey and horse meat which might be strange to a tourist, especially one from the US.  

A famous view used by many
artists who painted in
You do know the story of bringing St. Mark’s body to Venice, don’t you?  The Venetian rulers saw that other cities were getting the tourist trade with all the people making a pilgrimage to see famous relics, such as a piece of the cross of Jesus, or the tooth of a saint, or hair of the Mother of Mary.   There were so many pilgrims wandering all over Europe to see these relics, thus to  relieve their sins.   The Venetian rulers put their heads together and conjured up the big idea of sailing down to Egypt and kidnapping the body of St. Mark during the night.  They had the boats and the navy and they controlled the seas so, no problem.  A sneaky plan had them arriving during the night by boat and  grab the disciple’s body, and carry it their flotilla.   (This should be made into a movie, if it already has not.)   A faster boat was sent ahead to announce the big hornswoggle (a word you don’t see much anymore).   You can imagine the big hoohaw this stirred up and the sizeable plans made for the arrival of the big catch.  Everyone was dreaming to line their pockets with tourist cash.  Plans were made for a big procession with all the flourish, costumes, music and the important people of the time.   Nothing was left out.  The bigger, the better, what a great advertisement this would make for them.   Pilgrims and  tourists!  You can see this in the paintings in the Academia.  This is where the pigeons come in or don’t come in.  Look!...   No pigeons…Dinner Table.         My personal opinion is that the tourists became the pigeons, but that is another story.

The white is mozarella, with artichokes,
spicy meat and mushrooms
I want to mention pizza.  I know that you are probably used to a pile of stuff on top, a thick crust, and plenty  of cheese.  What you need to know is that Italian pizza is a very thin crust, and a lot fewer additions.   No pineapple, sorry for you weird folks who go for that.  You also won’t be able to eat much of it by hand as it will be floppy and make a mess.  We use forks and knives here.  It won’t be covered with mushrooms, the crust is visible through the sauce.  There is no such thing like a Chicago deep dish pizza.  Italians prefer to taste each ingredient one at a time.   Some of my friends here don’t like mixing things, this means one or at the most two items on top.  My jazz piano playing pal likes to just put  only sliced zucchini on top, or have a basic margarita pizza.   He gets a lot of razzing from me on this.   I miss my old ways sometimes.

Pizzas are called names that all Italians know.  The menus will have them listed by these, but  will list  what will be put on them.  Forget about ordering “pepperoni and mushroom”.  You will have to find the name of one that has that on the menu.   (Pepperoni is not a meat here, it is a bell pepper)
Mozzarella is a luscious white soft cheese, placed on the pizza near the end of its cooking.  Mozzarella cheese in Italy  is not the hard, stretchable kind, a cheese that you could bounce off the floor.  And real mozzarella, called bufala, oh, how amazing, how soft, and creamy.  No teeth needed, just taste buds.  You will never look the same at hard mozzarella again.  Pizzas come with a bit of a blackened burn on the rim.   Don’t think they forgot your pizza and served it to you anyway because you are gullible tourist.  That wood fired oven is plenty hot, no one complains of a little black scorch mark.  

Here is a handy breakdown of some of the items so you can make a good choice.  
funghi…. mushrooms, pomodorro…..sliced tomato, pancetta…..bacon, salamino piccante… meat, salsiccia….sausage, gamberetti…small shrimp, prisciutto crudo…..sliced cured pork, melanzane….eggplant, pattatine fritte….french fries, porcini…a kind of mushroom, pepperoni….sliced red bellpepper, cipolla…. onion,  acciughe….anchovies, capperi….capers, radicchio….purple cabbage, carciofi….artichoke pieces, cavallo…horse meat, speck… smoked priusciutto, tonno…. tuna, wurstel… hot dog, fagioli….beans, sorpressa…salami, chiodini…. small and slimy mushrooms, salami piccante… spicy meat, salmone…salmon, stracchino… a better than Philadelphia cheese,  Scamorza… smoked cheese from Sicily, acciughe… anchovies, zucca….zuchinni.

Everybody gets their own because pizzas are one person sized.  Almost always, there is no small, medium, large or huge sizes.  One size fits all.  Expect to pay in Venice about 8 to 9 euros each.  It is one of the cheaper foods to buy.  

I hope you noticed that pepperoni is not a meat in Italy, and that Italians have a choice of beans, hot dog, french fries, horse meat, and slimy mushrooms (order funghi freschi to get fresh ones)  Look around and see what they are eating, always interesting.   You will see people eating fries on a pizza, seriously!

Italians are firm on believing that the way grandma does it, is how it should be done, no tweaking of the recipe allowed.  Spaghetti has little sauce, it is all about the pasta for them.   Sauce will not be spicy in the north of Italy.   There are white sauces, developed here in the north because they had fewer tomatoes available than people in the south. 

Menus will probably feature some English.  Most waiters have gone to school to learn their trade and the course work include  foreign languages.  This will help you and remember no tipping here.  They are paid a living wage, have health care, and a retirement through their job, unlike the U.S.  

Don't Miss The Bridge of Sighs
The last view for condemned prisoners
through those windows above
The further from St. Mark’s you get the better the prices.  Never sit down to eat your  breakfast roll and coffee in a bar.  They charge you to sit.  Stand up at the bar like an Italian. Be Italian.  You will feel crowded, this is the custom, the way of life.   We sat down once as we were very tired, two cappuccinos and two rolls, 10 euros!  In comparison, in my village I pay 1 euro for a coffee americano.  Venice is expensive.  Stand up!  

Try to relax and realize that the high prices keep the city afloat, they have trash, sewer, electricity, police (in boats) fire (in boats) and all the administration of a regular city but on water.  You are in a living and breathing Disneyland.  A million visitors leave a lot of trash, it isn’t cleaned up for free.   Also, the winter is not a good tourist season, so to make it through the year their prices are high like all resort areas over the world.    It is worth it because your visit to Venice is like walking and boating through a living museum.  Yes, walking, as there are lots of walk ways between the canals, and bridges to go up and over.  We usually walk at least 12,000 steps easy, even with a boat ride back to the train station.  You need good shoes, leave the sandals and the thongs in the suitcase!

Some other honorable mentions, a church in Venice that has the tomb of Gabrielli, a famous composer known to all music majors and especially brass players.
You can even walk on top of the old guy.  I love playing his music, it is always so energetic, happy and logical.  His brother was also in Venice, but is not buried in the city.  Igor Stravinsky is buried here on another island.  His burial site is quite understated in comparison to his gift to music, sad to say.  

The pavement in the St. George church across the canal from Venice is interesting in that it is an optical illusion.  The Venetian Hotel in Vegas copied this pattern.  Try to visit this church and take the elevator ride to the top of the steeple for a great view.

It is a totally flat floor

Lastly, try to visit the market in the early morning.  It will be closed in the afternoon.  The vendors do not mind  too much being photographed, and the sea gulls put on a show in the fish market.  You are going to see items there that you have never seen before, so don’t miss it.  


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