Venice – March, 2011

Stewart Halperin (leader), David and Melissa Billingsly, Ingrid Borecki, Rita Chiu, Cathy Ebbesmeyer, Bud and Jeff Hirsch, Jim Molitor, Val Snyder

Venice – March 6th and 7th: Left St. Louis about on time around 10:30 AM and got into JFK near 1:00. All nine of us for the trip were on the same flights. JFK terminals are like a giant shopping mall with tons of stores and restaurants. We ate at a place we could sit down and talked for a while. The trek to the gate for the Venice flight was a long one. And we had hours to wait. The plane was supposed to leave around 6:40, but didn’t pull away from the gate until after 7:00 PM.

The flight is about 8 hours. Even though the seats were roomy enough and the food fine and the fact that I took a sleeping pill, I didn’t sleep much at all. Fifteen minutes here and there. Coming across Europe, we crossed over the Alps and it was totally clear. Gorgeous.

Stewart met us at the airport and took us to a water taxi. The airport is on the mainland. We were taken over the water, around Murano, around Venice, and over to Lido, where are our hotel is. We all went into Hotel Panorama for some coffee and to check in. Stewart had told Jeff and me and another person that we were going to spend one night at another hotel until our rooms opened up. So, we walked over to the Ausonia Palace Hotel, a recently renovated lovely place with lovely rooms. And there was an Asian spa for massages, but we didn’t have time for that, drat!

Lido is one of the barrier islands around the lagoon that protects Venice and the other islands there. So, Jeff and I walked over to the side of Lido that is the beach and the Adriatic. Lots of pictures along the way and at the beach. Then back to a restaurant on Lido to meet the rest of the group. After lunch, we took a vaporetto over to Venice and got off around St. Marks Square.

It’s hard to relay the scene. Today and tomorrow are the last two days of Carnivale. There are over 150,000 people a day that come to Venice during Carnivale! And most of them are around the biggest public places like St. Marks Square. There are lots of people in costumes some of whom are professional actors and others who are wearing gorgeous costumes and full face masks. I have never seen so many expensive digital cameras. People gather in huge clumps around the people in costumes to take pictures. The actors pose nicely for you. We were there around an hour and a half.

Then we met our guide, Luisella Romeo, and spent several hours with her getting the history of Venice and wandering far and wide through alleys, across bridges, through squares. The alleys are narrow; you have to walk single file through them. I thought at that time unless you get your bearings from where the Sun is, you’d be entirely lost. I learned later I could wander regardless of the Sun and know where I was.

We took a vaporetto back to Lido, downloaded pictures (I took over 500 today), and tried to stay awake. Met all for dinner at Gran Viale on Lido where I had carpaccio, spaghetti with clam sauce, and almond cake. Local wine. All good.

Sensory overload today. Really beautiful. Tomorrow we plan to dive into the crowd again, but also wander off and get good and lost. It’s THE way to see Venice.

Venice – March 8: Got up at 7, dressed, and downstairs for a really nice breakfast in a sunlit room. Rita joined us (she was the other one at the alternate hotel for one night). Meats, cheeses, eggs, bacon, yogurt, cereals … and the ever-present coffee/espresso/cappuccino machine. I had two double espressos.

We packed up, wheeled our luggage over to the hotel where all else were staying, put them in storage, and headed out with the group around 9:00. We got off the boat near St. Marks. Looked at the Bridge of Sighs again as we walked … really looks strange to me remembering how it’s supposed to look. Now it’s wrapped in huge canvas sheets covering the restoration – but the sheets are giant billboards advertising the sponsors.

In St. Marks, we were all loose from one another for about a half an hour in which Jeff and I took lots of pix of costumed figures and the hordes of people taking pictures of costumed people. From here, we walked over to the Rialto Bridge, crossed the Grand Canal, and went to the open air market. While it is a bit reduced given Carnivale week, it still had wonderful stalls of veggies, fruit, and seafood. Stewart had asked us to not just take pictures of food, but to look at everything from new angles and see what we could do. After about 45 minutes in the market, we made our way to a lunch restaurant. Stewart is good at almost finding things even when he’s been there several times before. After a few missteps down wrong alleys, we found it.

Lunch consisted of a huge buffet of salads, meats, hot and cold stuff, things with fish or chicken in them, etc. followed by pasta, dessert, and espresso. Glad we’re walking so much. Our next task was a mission of futility. We were going to the Opera House, La Fenice, to see if we could get tickets for Boehm. Stewart had a map and asked directions several times, but we had to backtrack many times before, after around an hour of walking, we found it. No tickets for any performance except ones where you can hear the opera, but cannot see it. Really? Yep. Hey, but they only cost 10 euros. We declined.

We worked our way back to the St. Marks. The crowds were wall-to-wall thick. We had the idea of taking a boat over to another island where costumed people seem to gather late in the day. Since no one was over there, really, we stayed on the boat and went all the way around Venice, even past the cruise ship docks where I saw a ship so big (Magnifica) that it should be outlawed. The circumnavigation took about an hour. Now it was late and we were tired and cold. So back to Lido for downloading. Jeff and got into our room (208) and opened the waiting bottle of prosecco. After sticking cards into readers to download, Jeff took a nap while I wrote this.

We met downstairs at 8:00. We walked around the corner to a local pizza/pasta place. I had a farro soup which was wonderful and split a seafood pizza. Pizza here are served uncut. And the crust is thin, but soft. The toppings are not heaped on like they are in the US. After dinner, we went next door for gelato. We had planned to go into Venice for a midnight flotilla with candles on the Grand Canal. But many of us (including Jeff and me) opted out due to how cold it was. Jeff and I worked on pictures until midnight. Then to bed.

So, crowds and crowds and costumes and food to see and food to eat and only 700 pictures today!

Venice – March 9: Got up about 6:30, breakfast 7:15, and off into Venice a bit after 8:00. Took boat to the city and walked over to Academia. Luisella met us there and we were mesmerized by her description of the art of Venice. In the hour-and-a-half we were with her, she took us through the history of painting in Venice up until the time of Titian. Huge canvases, all religious in nature. She’s fascinating and we’d follow her anywhere!

We walked from there over to the yard where they repair gondolas. Each is crafted for its owner since weight and height count when standing on the back and using a single oar. Then along the waterfront of the lagoon near where we saw cruise ships docked yesterday. Luisella left us for another engagement and we walked across the city to the place where we were going to catch a boat to Burano. Along the way, we stopped at a café for espresso (my fifth and sixth of the day). Then onward to the boat.

It’s an hour out to Burano. The island is as wonderful at the pictures we’d seen of it. There was a crowd there today, which Stewart did not expect. So, the restaurant was full and, even though they had expected us, it took over a half an hour to clear people out to set up a table for 10; we wandered and took pictures of the colorful houses, reflections in the canal, etc. Lunch was slow slow slow, but delicious. Excellent fish. It was about 3:30 when we were done, but that’s a good time as the light was changing from midday.

Jeff and I walked around the city and took scads of pictures. I took around 600 pictures today. My sampling shows this very photographic island. We all caught a boat back to Lido and arrived around 7:15. After an hour in our room downloading pictures, some of us went out for dinner a couple of blocks away. Nice tortellini soup followed by seafood risotto. Got back to our room a little after 9:30 and worked on pictures until after midnight – better than last night when we didn’t get to bed until after 2:00 AM.

Another day jam-packed with sensory delights. Tomorrow it’s on to Murano to see the glass masters at work.

Venice – March 10: We got up around 7:00, worked on our computers, had breakfast, and took a water taxi over to Murano about 10:00. We went to the Marco Polo glass factory (which you can only get into with an appointment) and watched the men make parts for gorgeous chandeliers. The glass blowing techniques are the same as in the US, but these are masters of design and color.

After seeing the men at work, we went across the passageway to the gallery. I’ve seen Murano glass before, but this was more than I ever expected in scope and quality. I looked at several very pretty pieces, thought about them, and then went in a back room where they had works by Ermanno Nason, one of the great masters who is now retired in his 80s. Jeff and I looked over about three or four pieces we both loved, narrowed it down to two, and then I chose one (with great help from Jeff). As Jeff said, the pieces are so beautiful, they move you to tears. Prices are negotiable. The man working with me quoted what was list and what was the “factory price,” which was about half of list. When I decided on what piece I wanted, I made him an offer below the factory price which he accepted. Either I made a good deal or paid too much, but I’m thrilled.

We walked over to the main canal of the island and had lunch. As always, wonderful. Several courses for the fixed-price lunch, wine, water, some after-lunch strawberry wine and cookies. We’re eating this way every day, two meals a day. I excuse this by all the walking we’re doing!

Rita, Jeff, and I took a vaporetto back to Venice while others waited until later to take the water taxi back. Jeff and I spent the next several hours wandering around the city, turning into alleys one way and then another. It’s very easy to find your way around even though you cannot see outside the alley or street you’re on to get a landmark. We had no problems. Went into a wonderful church with sculpture lining a whole wall, open private chapels, great marble flooring. Since we have crisscrossed the city several times following either Stewart or Luisella, we knew where we were most of the time.

We ended up crossing over the Academia bridge, finding the Peggy Guggenheim museum, and ending up at Santa Maria de la Salute, a huge white domed church. And a vaporetto back to Lido was right there!

Worked on our computers/pictures for a while. Met to walk to dinner … same place we’d eaten at the first night: Gran Viale. Jeff and I ordered a first course of spaghetti with lobster. It was a full half lobster that came with the noodles. Yum! And then I had sole, Jeff salmon.

We spent from 8:30-11:30 with Stewart going over a sampling of about 30-40 of each of our pictures. We had a digital projector and met in the breakfast room. Very nice. Very affirming. And you learn quite a bit seeing what others take and how their eyes see things. I was falling asleep during part of it, had to stand up. Got a second wind. And it was 1:00 before we went to bed.

So, amazing glass, really good food, great group, fun to see each person’s work.

Venice – March 11: Up at 7:00, worked on computer (of course), breakfast and then out the door around 9:00. There was a 24-hour strike today by the people who run the boats. So, what you can take and where is very limited. We got over to the city and walked back in the direction we had come from to Garibaldi street, which has a whole section that is wide, a sure sign it was a canal they filled in hundreds of years ago.

This is more of a residential neighborhood with local shops. Good pictures of laundry! The women who put it out make great art. As you move up the street past the entrance to the main park (Garden), there is a canal. One boat has a full open market. There are some stalls and stores for meat and for fish along the way. At some point we stopped for an espresso and bathroom break So, we walked and talked and took pictures until midday. Another wonderful restaurant, good pasta, good fish, wine.

After lunch, we walked the length of the Garden out to the end that faces Lido. Then back along the waterfront and Grand Canal into the center of the city. Stewart had given us an assignment to take pictures with bigger aspects, not close up ones. While both Jeff and I had been doing this as part of what we took every day, we did more of it today.

Back near St. Marks, our objective was to find a boat to take us over to San Georgio so we could see the main church and go up in its bell tower for views of the main city. After waiting and no vaporetto coming, Stewart hired a water taxi and we all piled aboard and went across the lagoon to San Georgio.

The church is stunning and the view from the bell tower is terrific. After many pictures, we came down, took some more in the church, and got a vaporetto to the city and another one to Lido. Then we took a gelato break! Our plans were to go into the city to do some night shooting, perhaps to eat in there. With the boat strike, that was not possible. So some of us went to a pizzeria where we had eaten a few nights ago. Then back to the room and the computer and iChats, and bed after 1:00.

Nearing the end of the trip. It’s been really fun and fascinating. I could not have asked for a better group to share this with. Of course, being with Jeff is the supreme treat.

Venice – March 12: Normal breakfast, etc. and then to the boat, but this time to San Michele or Cemetario, the main cemetery island of Venice. No pictures allowed. It has the same visual effect on me as the big Paris cemetery, but it’s totally different since it’s an island and flat. All sorts of different areas. Flowers everywhere in little urns … some people come out and bring fresh flowers daily. Very moving, especially the grave of a 19-year-old who had been a ballet dancer. It has small ballerinas and toe shoes on top. Many of the graves have a photo of the deceased imprinted into a tile, which fades over time.

Took the boat back to Venice, near the hospital, and walked over to the square outside St. Giovanni y Paulo, the church Jeff and I had been in a couple of days ago. Had an espresso break and then into the church. Afterwards we walked to Rialto and over the bridge, grabbed some lunch, ate standing up, and met Luisella near San Roco. She took us inside and we saw the many Tintoretto huge paintings and what this particular “guild” did … help victims of the black plague, and invest the society’s money in art and real estate. As usual, Luisella made it all come to life for us. She’s one of the best guides I’ve ever had.

She then took us on a walking tour of various parts of the city. When she had to leave us for another appointment, we all broke up to go our separate ways. Cathy, Jeff, and I headed back to St. Marks where Cathy bought a wonderful piece of glasswork by Seguro. He is mentioned in “City of Fallen Angels,” regarding the fire at La Fenice (the opera house). We walked along the waterfront, stopped in a shop to buy lovely scarves, and then took the boat back to Lido.

Later, we all took the boat into Venice, got off at Rialto Bridge, took some night shots, and then went to Al Paradiso for dinner … one of the best meals I’ve ever had! The rest of the evening until about 11:30 was spend doing night photography both around the Rialto area and at St. Marks.

Home to the computer until my face was dropping on the keyboard around 1:30 and to bed.

Venice – March 13: Our last day in Venice (well, really it’s tomorrow, but that’s just to fly out). Some of our group went back to Burano, but others (Jeff and me included) went around to a neighborhood we hadn’t seen (not frequented much by tourists) (Canareggio) and then into the old Jewish ghetto. Iain joined us as well.

Stewart had asked each of us to pick a story to tell with our photos today (besides others we wanted to take). I chose shoes/boots/people walking, standing, getting around by foot. So, there is a collection on Flickr showing my story.

We got off the boat and walked along a canal and took pictures per usual plus those for our “story.” Then into the ghetto. This was a very moving experience. Just being there caused me to cry. But we did learn that that word “ghetto” originated in Venice … was a mispronunciation of the word for metal foundry. And we learned that the Jews were protected in Venice … that the people were first and foremost Venetians in their loyalty.

We took the tour of the ghetto and saw three different synagogues. The guide took us through the history of the area through WWII. Now, only a few Jews live there with the rest dispersed throughout Venice, Lido, etc. There are some bas-reliefs showing the Holocaust. They are hard to look at since they display torture and death.

Next, we walked all the way back to near the Rialto Bridge, where we got on a boat going the wrong direction. We were supposed to meet the rest of our group in St. Marks Square at a certain time. Taking the boat the wrong direction meant going all the way around Venice, which takes about 45 minutes.

At St. Marks, we toured the Doge’s Palace (including walking through the Bridge of Sighs), into St. Marks itself where we saw the original four horses (since the ones on the outside are copies) and viewed the inside of the cathedral. Jeff and I went up onto the balcony over the square for views and pix.

The whole day had been overcast, but it didn’t start raining until about 3:00 or so. When we were finished with St. Marks, we took a vaporetto back to Lido, worked on some pix, packed, and met the gang around 7:00 to go to Gran Viale one more time. Nice dinner, per usual.

We actually got to bed a little after 10:00, which was about three hours earlier than usual. Up at 6:00 the next morning, water taxi to the airport, then nine-hour flight to JFK, five-hour layover, and two hours to St. Louis. Got to bed around 24 hours after I had gotten up.

A fabulous adventure with wonderful people, who now are my friends. What a treat!

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