Archive for April, 2012

Vienna: Churches, the Albertina, and the Giant Wheel

Word count: 0 Step count: 14,639

After the same breakfast as yesterday, we went out into the local neighborhood in search of a few practical things: shampoo, a better map, pens, expectorant (“schleimloesend” = “slime solvent” in German). We wandered into some interesting little shops, including book shops, and found most of what we needed and a few other things. Made and ate sandwiches in the apartment while we marked up our new map with the places we would like to visit.

We headed out to the Minoritenkirche to see the full-size mosaic replica of Michelangelo’s Last Supper. On the way, we stumbled across the Theseus Temple, which was built to house the sculpture of Theseus and the Centaur which is now on the main stairway of the Art History Museum (we saw it day before yesterday) and which currently contains a plaster cast of a 2000-year-old olive tree. Then we wandered through a district of monumental buildings which were once part of the administrative and cultural center of the vast Austro-Hungarian Empire. We crossed the street called Dr.-Karl-Renner-Ring, which I insisted on calling “Carl Reiner Ring” and of which I said “didn’t the police break up a Karl Renner Ring just the other week?” Kate said “why don’t you ever inflict these puns on your blog?” so here it is.

Eventually we found the Minoritenkirche and the mosaic, which from ground level is so fine you almost can’t tell it’s a mosaic. Apparently Napoleon intended to capture the original and commissioned this mosaic as a placeholder, but he never got around to finishing the job so the placeholder remains here We then wandered through incredibly crowded shopping streets, where shops formerly By Appointment to the Emperor now serve anyone with more money than sense, to the incredibly baroque St. Peter’s Church, with a tromp l’oeil dome and a massive sculpture of the martyrdom of St. John of Nepomuk, showing him being thrown off a bridge in Prague.

Next we visited the very large and impressive St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which was also extremely crowded. Did not climb the 450-foot tower, but instead paused for coffee and pastry in one of Vienna’s many fine cafes. We’d intended to visit the Imperial Crypt next but, realizing we’d seen it on our last visit, decided to give it a pass this time. Then we visited the Albertina, an art museum famous for its Durers, though sadly only a small portion of the permanent collection is on display at any time and currently none of the Durers were to be seen. However, they did have an excellent collection of Impressionists from Monet to Picasso and a large display of Klimt’s sketches, so it was well worth the visit.

By then it was time for dinner, so we went to Le Bol (Neuer Markt 14), a casual French restaurant, and ordered a couple of very nice salads (“Salade Provenciale: Knuspriger Parmaschinken, gebratenes Gemuese, Tomaten, Gurken, Radieschen auf Vogerlsalat” and “Salade Oscar: Gerauecherte Entenbrust auf Ruccola, Honig, Orangen, Nuesse, Aepfel und Croutons”). Reading a menu that described French dishes containing Italian ingredients in German rather broke our brains; I think we may have ordered in Japanese. On departing I said “merci, vielen dank” and the waitress replied “thank you.”

Having eaten a fairly light dinner containing actual vegetables, were were sufficiently energized to tackle the Riesenrad, or Giant Ferris Wheel. The Prater amusement park in which the wheel is located reminded me greatly of the Fun Forest of sainted memory in Seattle. There were two smashed-penny machines nearby, but they were both, unfortunately, completely jammed. We had about a 30-minute wait for a 20-minute ride on the wheel, together with about a dozen other people in a car about eight feet by twelve. Many of the interesting things to be seen from the wheel were other amusement park rides, including the rare experience of looking down on a normal-sized Ferris wheel. In the gift shop after our ride, we found another penny machine, this one working, and another working machine at a souvenir stand on our way out of the park. We considered stopping at a cafe for coffee and dessert on our way home, but it proved to be too smoky.

Nice to have a fairly relaxed day like that every once in a while.

By the way, many people have commented on my photos. Thank you! I think the most important lesson is that to get good photos you have to take a lot of photos and throw the not-so-good ones away. I took almost 200 photos today of which these are the very best.

Schoenbrunn Palace

Word count: 78 Step count: 14,334

One of the good things about having an apartment instead of a hotel is that you can have whatever you want for breakfast. One of the bad things is that you have to buy and prepare it, and clean up after yourself. It took longer than we expected this morning to walk to the store and buy a few basics, also we were embarrassed when we did not know (or forgot) to weigh the bananas before checking out. And what did I say as the cashier handed me my change? “Gratza” (half way between “grazie” and “danke”), oy. Despite this tic, my German is much better than my Italian and I can communicate quite well. I notice that some (not all) of the people we pass in the street have distinct Austrian accents (imagine someone sounding like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s non-body-builder cousin). I could fake such an accent in English but I’m not sure I could do so in German.

After breakfast (Greek yogurt with banana, chopped walnuts, and honey), we used the amazing “qando” app (really, if you are coming to Vienna you must have it) to plot out our transit route to Schoenbrunn Palace. It worked like a charm. The palace itself is overwhelming, the grounds incredibly vast… allees wide as a football field… sculptures that would be the highlight of some small museums just acting as side pieces on larger works… a 45-minute walk to the Glorietta, a small (by comparison) building high above the rest of the grounds, with a great view of the palace and the city.

We had coffee and lunch at the Glorietta cafe (whose decor features a frieze of cow skulls): Schinkenfleckerl (“pasta with ham Austrian style”) and Gulaschsuppe. A bit on the expensive side, but really very good for a cafe inside a tourist trap, and the waiters were not college kids but older men, very professional. We wandered through the palace’s two (!) hedge mazes before touring the palace itself. Wow.

Only 40 of the palace’s 1440 rooms are on the tour. San Simeon shows what you can do with effectively unlimited money, but this shows what you can do with taste and effectively unlimited money. The only downside of the tour was that the rooms were decorated as they had been in a variety of times, leaving me with a completely muddled idea of who was emperor when.

Our ticket also included the Crown Prince’s Garden, but by the time we finished the palace tour Kate was all out of spoons (her knee is doing better but it still takes more energy than usual for her to walk) so I shepherded her home for a nap. While she napped I ran a load of laundry, updated my notes, checked finances and phone usage, etc.

I wanted schnitzel for dinner. We looked online, found nearby Schnitzel Sisters that sounded fab, but after much wandering in its supposed vicinity we determined to our satisfaction that it had been replaced by a sleazy-looking Asian restaurant. Alas. Another online search found “Zu den 2 Lieserln” (Burggasse 63), which was also recommended by our host at the apartment. It looked closed, but a small sign led around to the side where we found an airy courtyard under two trees. We had Almdudler (an “herbal soda” that reminded me somewhat of Irn Bru though not so orange), Wiener Schnitzel, goulash, potato salad, sauerkraut… OMG YUM. We really shouldn’t have eaten all of that, but just couldn’t stop!

Too pooped to tourist any more, we went back to the apartment by way of an ATM (they don’t seem to give receipts here). The apartment is equipped with a DVD and VHS player, so we looked at the video collection and found Go Trabi Go, a 1980s East German film we saw at the Portland International Film Festival and would love to see again, but it’s unavailable on video in the US. This was a non-subtitled VHS tape so we didn’t get much of the dialogue, but it’s a pretty broad comedy so it was still enjoyable. We watched about half of it before heading for bed.

Bologna to Vienna

Word count: 134 Step count: 12,880

Awakened by alarm at 7:00 after Very Strange Dreams. Washed up, packed up, mailed postcards, checked out, had breakfast (sausages replaced with some kind of yummy cheese-egg-polenta-pesto thing, plus scrambled eggs). I made a complete sentence, with a subjunctive verb and everything (“Vorrei un cappuco”), which I’m overly proud of though the server knew what I wanted before I said a word. Now I can forget Italian again for another few years.

Cab to airport, checked in for flight, through security, all painless. The Bologna airport was very recently renovated; the security lines were equipped with a return thingie for bins, like the ball return at a bowling alley. I had hoped to make a blog post at the airport, but though my phone had a strong signal from the airport’s free-with-SMS-authentication wifi (amusingly, the network name was “Marconi,” a local boy and the name of the airport), my computer only had a weak signal from a password-controlled airport network. I’ve never seen such a difference between the two devices; I wonder if the “Marconi” network is somehow limited to mobile devices. I could have blogged with my phone, I suppose, but there are limits to what I’m willing to do with that little keyboard. Spent the time going through my Bologna photos, anyway.

Took off on time and had a lovely flight with great views of Venice, the Alps, and Vienna from the plane. We had little sandwiches from Trzesniewski at the Vienna airport for lunch, then spent about an hour at the airport all told, getting bearings, calling the owner of the apartment we’d rented to arrange a rendezvous, and determining the best way to get there. We wound up buying a Vienna transit/discount card at the airport TI, then took a cab (saving 10% on the cab fare with the card).

As the cab entered the city, driving past huge ornate building after huge ornate building, I was inversely reminded of our Eastern Oregon trip last year when each town we visited was smaller than the one before. Venice has a lot of history, but it’s really quite a small town even by comparison with Bologna, never mind mighty Vienna.

We waited at Cafe Wirr with free wifi, a cappucino, and a “Bio Krainer mit susser Zenf” (organic sausage with mustard, and a crusty roll) until the apartment owner’s mother showed up to let us in. Then we had to look for a bank machine so we could pay the balance on the apartment in cash. Then the Guys came to replace the water heater, which just happens to have failed right before we arrived, and someone had to be here until they were finished. I could not get on to the apartment’s wifi with the provided password, but an Ethernet cable to the router worked so I was able to make a blog post that way. Unfortunately I had to sit within two feet of the router to do so, and there’s only one electrical outlet there so I couldn’t have Internet and charge the laptop at the same time.

While I was posting, Kate was researching, planning, and plotting as she does. Eventually we decided to go out, have dinner, and hit the Kunsthistorisches Museum (open late on Thursdays), so we called the owner’s mother to come and watch the Guys. His fiancee also showed up; I asked her about the wifi, also another key, and she said she’d look into it.

We headed out in search of food… looked at the nearby Schnitzelwirt but somehow it didn’t appeal… wound up at Dots Experimental Sushi (Mariahilfer Strasse 103) where we had an expensive but very intriguing dinner of shrimp chips with an onion dipping sauce (unfortunately similar to Lipton French Onion Soup dip); mango salad; and three “experimental sushi” rolls: rainbow roll (“unbeschreiblich gut,” said the menu), spicy duck roll, and green chicken roll. All three rolls were very good; I think the spicy duck was my favorite.

German is so much more comfortable than Italian even for me, and for Kate it’s like slipping into a warm bath. But I’m appalled to find myself saying “grazie” (etc.) to Germans… I could barely remember Italian in Italy, but now it refuses to leave!

During dinner we used the restaurant’s free wifi to download some Vienna-specific apps, including a transit app (qando) that told us how to get to the museum. The first thing we did when we got there was to see the Klimts: in honor of Gustav Klimt’s 150th birthday, the museum has erected a scaffold so that you can climb up and get a good look at some wall murals he’d painted back in the 1890s, 12 meters above floor level. Then we wandered through the picture gallery, seeing lots of well-known favorites including a bunch of Breughels (particularly cool to see his Tower of Babel), several of Archimbolo’s faces made of vegetables and such, and a whole room of Durers. There was far more than could be seen in an hour and a half, but we left satisfied.

The qando app, Vienna card, and Kate’s memories of the Munich transit system got us home in good time. When we arrived we found our requested extra key, the correct wifi password, and a working water heater, yay.

Tomorrow, Schonbrunn Palace!


Word count: 0 Step count: 13,753 + 14,091

Tues 4/24 – Venice-Bologna

Awake 6:00, and Kate had been up since 4. Packed up, ate, made little sandwiches of the breakfast rolls and the cheese we bought the other day, then paid up and checked out (3 euros per person per day Venice city tax must be paid in cash, because our host has to put it in the slot at City Hall every day in cash. “Boca de leone,” I said (referring to the ancient Venetian tradition of dropping anonymous denouncements of fellow citizens in the mouth of a carved lion) and got a laugh.

Dragged our bags through rainy and increasingly crowded streets to the train station. We were way early for our 10:52 train and thought we might be in time for the 9:52, but alas, there is no 9:52, so we waited. Tried to use the bathroom, paid 1 euro to get in, found it full of women, scrambled out in terror; I think the men’s was under construction and both sexes were using the same facility, but the signage didn’t help at all.

Slept most of the way to Bologna. We took a cab to our hotel (it would have bene a 30 minute walk otherwise). Our room wasn’t quite ready but we were offered cappuccino while we waited, which we accepted gladly. How civilized! After settling in (the room accessed via one of the most claustrophobic little elevators EVER),we headed out to get our bearings. Highlights of our little walking tour included: many cool old arcades (most of the sidewalks in the old town are covered with these medieval porticos; see photos below); courtyard of University of Bologna, one of the Western world’s oldest, with crests of doctoral students and subjects of their theses; enormous San Petronio basilica (5th largest church in the world) with Cassini’s Meridian (an extremely long sundial that was once used to calculate the distance to the sun) and many amazing/appalling artworks, also a Foucault pendulum; streets of classy shops; and a cool old deli and other food shops. The weather was sunny but unfortunately cold and very windy, the city much noisier than Venice, and of course there are cars. We tried to scope out a place for dinner but the places we checked weren’t open yet or we couldn’t find them. Back to room, fell over until 6:30.

When we awoke from our nap, we asked the front desk clerk to call some of the better restaurants we’d identified for a reservation. The first one he called didn’t answer their phone, and the second was fully committed… but then they called back a minute later and said they could squeeze us in at 7:30. Yay! With 45 minutes to kill, we checked out a nearby church with 2 gazebo-tombs (!?) outside. We also walked past Drogherie della Rosa, a very highly regarded restaurant in a former pharmacy which we hadn’t found before. They were open and gave us a reservation for tomorrow night, yay! Then, on the way to our restaurant for tonight, Kate tripped on an uneven bit of sidewalk and bruised her already-bum knee. Bummer.

Osteria al Quindici (Via Mirasole 15)’s decor was heavy on owls and the number 15. The owner offered us the choice of an English or Italian menu; Kate asked for one of each, but apparently the Italian menu is him, so we got two menus in something resembling English. We managed to order and get ice for Kate’s knee. The meal consisted of a pre-appetizer (we didn’t ask for it, it just came) of white beans on crostini; an appetizer of fried bread (2 kinds, puffy (crescentine) and flat) with ricotta and caramelized balsamic vinegar; tagliatelle with ragu (the classic Bolognese dish); garmigna (“hipster-earring-shaped” pasta, unique to Bologna) in a sausage-based sauce that looked like the Bolognese but tasted distinctly different — this is the real dish of which Chef Boy-Ar-Dee is the shadow eaten by the people in the cave in the story of the people in the cave by the Greek guy — green salad (it’s a vegetable, it comes after the pasta); a very simple grilled steak, very rare, with rosemary & peppercorns. I don’t think that last was what we ordered, but damn it was good.

Limped back to the room about 10:00, poor thing. Very tired, no wifi, so no writing and no blogging.

Weds 4/25 – Bologna

Woke up about 8. Had breakfast in the hotel’s basement breakfast room, with a similar selection to Venice but laid out for a crowd (with additions: pain au chocolat, sausages, cold cuts, cereal, fresh fruit, yogurt, etc.). Could not avoid conversation with Americans at next table; American accents seem so harsh to me now.

Today is a holiday, so some places were closed, there were buskers on the sidewalk, and more pedestrians than yesterday. Went out looking for a cane for Kate, but when we found an open pharmacy, one of the few open on the holiday, it was too crowded to deal with, so Kate just decided to hobble along as best she could.

We visited the Museum of the History of Bologna at Palazzo Pepoli: very new, huge, packed with interesting info… all in Italian, but we could puzzle a lot of it out. We left there in time to catch the transit of the sun at Cassini’s Meridian at 13:15, but we stopped for gelato on the way and when we arrived the church was closed for lunch (we arrived at 13:13 and the posted closing time was 13:15, but they might have closed half an hour before that… we’ll never know).

The first place we tried for lunch was booked up, but a place down the street called Clive T. (Via Clavature 17) looked good and was: pumpkin tortelloni in a balsamic reduction was fabulous, cotoletta Bolognese (breaded veal cutlet with ham and cheese) and grilled vegetables were not as amazing but still good.

After lunch we visited the city’s two famous medieval towers, half-covered in scaffolding but still impressive. Then we went to the San Stefano church complex but found it closed for lunch until 3:30 so headed to the Archaeological Museum with a brief stop at a bakery on the way. Passing through Piazza Galvani, I wondered if the statue on the pillar might be him, and indeed it was, holding a pair of frog legs and all. At the Archeological Museum we found that the entire second floor (Etruscans and Romans) was closed, but we saw a great collection of plaster casts of Roman sculptures and a lot of plundered Egyptian artifacts (“provenienza ignota”), but somewhere around the 5th Dynasty Kate admitted she was too pooped to go on.

On the way back to the hotel we passed gelateria Cremeria Funivia (Piazza Cavour 1/de). Noting the line out the door and well into the street, we decided that this would probably be a good choice for our last gelato in Italy. It was tough to choose flavors; Kate’s choices of chocolate cake and strawberry were better than my coffee and “Contessa” (almond and amaretto) but they were all good.

We napped until about 6, then visited the hotel’s roof terrace (under construction, but no workmen today on account of the holiday) and a bookstore before our dinner reservation at Drogheria della Rosa (Via Cartoleria 10).

As soon as we sat down we got the question “flat or fizzy?” (meaning: of course you will be having mineral water, do you want still or sparkling), which we expected, but then two small glasses of white wine and a “piccolo antipastini” of mortadella, prosciutto, and salami appeared, which we’d neither ordered nor expected. The waitress then asked us, in English, if we knew what we’d like to order. We pointed out that we had no menus and she said “I’ll be your menu.” (My guess is that the menu at Italian restaurants in Italy is consistent enough that many people just walk in and say “I feel like tortellini con pesce today” and the restaurant either can make it or can suggest something else, so there are no printed menus except for the tourists.) In any case, we had tortellini in brodo, eggplant ravioli with tomato and basil, a roast Guinea hen, and slices of very rare steak with salt and rosemary — all fantastic, and accompanied by roast potatoes and mixed vegetables. A sweet dessert wine then appeared unbidden. For dessert we split an orange semifreddo with candied hazelnuts and a strawberry sauce, which was divine. Three different people then asked if we wanted coffee, wine, or grappa. We told them all no, but the last one (the owner, I think) came by with two tiny glasses of the house special grappa, with tiny strawberries floating in it, which was flavorful but too powerfully alcoholic for me to finish. We finally staggered home around 10:00. What a meal!

Again, no writing nor blogging, as we had to rise early the next morning. This entry was not written until we arrived in Vienna, but that’s a tale for another blog post.

Venice: Basilica San Marco, Canaletto, Frari Church

Word count: 128 Step count: 13,708

The host at our hotel blamed her husband (“men!”) for failing to pick up yesterday’s breakfast things, the same (as yet unseen) husband who failed to write down the reservation, though it was her name on the confirmation email. I theorize that there is no husband; Madame and her “sister” are actually lovers and the supposed husband is, like our friends’ imaginary French maid Fifi who never, ever does any work, a nonexistent being whose purpose is to be blamed for things (nb: I do not really believe this).

Walked to the train station to get tickets for tomorrow’s train to Bologna. Wound up with a ticket from the machine, but not a reservation. However, a human being assured us there would be no trouble getting a seat. Hope so.

Proceeded from the station by vaporetto to San Marco (after standing in a longish line at the vaporetto ticket booth, along with throngs of tourists just arrived by train). There we used a trick we’d been informed of by our walking tour guide: usually after you wait in the long line to get into the basilica, if you have a suitcase or backpack you are shunted off by the guard to the bag check a block away, then you return and are let in. So if you have a backpack, you go straight to the bag check, check your bag, and walk in without ever waiting in line. Rick Steves also suggests this trick, and it works, though I’m a bit uncertain it’s ethical.

Once inside the basilica, we immediately turned right and went up the stairs to the balcony with the bronze horses (5 euros extra, and well worth it) before viewing the interior of the basilica itself; as we walked, we listened to Rick Steves’s basilica-tour podcast for some background info. The main body of the basilica was crowded, crowded, crowded with a glacially-moving horde of tourists, most of whom were ignoring the signs about no photography, but it was still very impressive. We left right at noon and, after flailing around together in a futile search for lunch, decided to split up for the afternoon.

I wanted pizza, and went to a nearby restaurant that was supposed to have good pizza, though my online sources couldn’t quite decide whether it was a pizza place or an Irish pub. It turned out not to be either, but I still got a quite nice panini with turkey, brie, and peppers. I still don’t know the name of the place; many establishments here have no visible name at all.

After lunch I proceeded to Palazzo Grimani for the Canaletto exhibit. They had several dozen pages from his sketchbooks, about a dozen paintings, and two of his camera obscuras — yes, he cheated, he traced his research sketches using a camera obscura. But he did design and build the instruments himself. This exhibit made it plain how much of a commercial artist he was, kind of like Thomas Kincaid in some ways; he painted what his wealthy clients (mostly English) wanted, and many of his paintings were nearly identical to each other. But I love his architectural details, and it was way cool to see three-hundred-year-old views of places I’d been myself just yesterday, not looking very much different. I stayed in the Canaletto exhibit until, to my surprise, the museum closed at 2:00, but I dashed through the rest of the palazzo on the way out and it was quite intriguing.

I headed off from there in search of the only penny-smashing machine in the city of Venice (there’s one other on the mainland) and, somewhat to my surprise, actually found it, at a shop specializing in Beatles memorabilia that I’d passed several times before, all unknowing. After I’d smashed a couple of two-Euro-cent coins for Janna, it had begun to rain and, after considering my options, I decided to take the vaporetto back to the hotel for a nap. I texted Kate on the way to find out where she was, and she said she was near the Rialto bridge. Just then the vaporetto stopped at the Rialto station and I got off, and through the exchange of many texts we managed to find each other. Kate took me to a very good coffee shop (Cafe del Doge) and pizza place (Antico Forno, Ruga Rialto 970/973) she’d found for an afternoon pick-me-up. Somewhat refreshed, we went off in the rain for some shopping, but I don’t think we wound up buying anything. We also passed by the Frari Church, for which we had another Rick Steves podcast audio guide, and stopped in. Glad we did — it was packed with amazing art and architecture.

We had an… unusual… dinner at a place called Taverna Capitan Uncino (Santa Croce 1501), where Kate had “pizza fantastica” (it was okay) and I ordered “tagliatelle alla Buzzara” which I thought the waiter described as “shrimp with brown.” I envisioned shrimp meat with brown butter, but what I got was tagliatelle with two enormous prawns in the shell and a half-dozen mussels likewise. On the principle of “eat the thing with eyes” I attacked the crustaceans with my fork and managed to get a decent quantity of meat out. The sauce was spicy and quite tasty, the tagliatelle perfect, but all in all that meal was more of an adventure than a satisfying culinary experience.

Back to the hotel around 9:00 for notes, writing, etc. Tomorrow we depart for Bologna. We’re not quite ready to leave Venice — there’s so much we haven’t seen yet — but I’m getting rather tired of seafood.

Venice: missing details

I just realized that I have been remiss in posting the names and addresses of the places we’ve been eating for others’ reference. Here’s the missing information, and I’ll try to do better going forward.

Our hotel (it’s been lovely): B&B Aquavenice, Rio Tera S. Leonardo 1371.

Thursday dinner (seafood risotto): Trattoria Misericordia, Fondamenta Misericordia Canaregio 2515.

Friday lunch (ravioli with pumpkin): Osteria da Carla, Corte Contarina San Marco 1535

Friday dinner: a variety of chicchetti bars including All’Arco (yummy eggplant thing), Do Collone (bacala), and ProntoPesce, Pescheria Rialto San Polo 319 (smoked swordfish mini-sandwich).

Saturday dinner (broccoli flan): Osteria Da Rioba, Fondamenta della Misericordia Sestiere Cannaregio 2552.

Sunday dinner (pistachio-crusted lamb): Anice Stellato, Fondamenta de la Sensa Sestiere Cannaregio 3272.

Venice: backstreets tour and Accademia

Word count: 199 Step count: 14,527

Got to bed at a more reasonable hour last night, then rose refreshed at 7:30 for an 8:00 breakfast before our 9:00 walking tour appointment. Alas, there were no fresh baked goods in our brekfast, due to the store not being open that early, but we got hot chocolate instead of the coffee, and also had yummy Greek yogurt (from Greece!) with honey and walnuts, which we’d bought at the store yesterday.

We walked and took a traghetto (stand-up cross-canal gondola ferry, 50c per person) to the rendezvous point for our “backstreets” walking tour, hosted by an expat American who escaped her crazed US lifestyle and now gives tours to fund her slower Venetian life. Interesting contrasts with yesterday’s Venetian native; this one knew less about the city, more about what we’d find different about it. Highlights of the tour included the original city center with its “pillar of trvth;” a gondola-building yard (the building looking rather Swiss, due to the shipbuilders all coming from the Alps where the trees are); St. Trovaso church with two nearly identical entrances, built to keep two feuding families apart; Ponte dei Pugni bridge nearby, featuring marble footprints where battles between those same two feuding families traditionally began; the canal Katherine Hepburn fell into in the movie Summertime, and the little shop nearby that featured prominently in that movie; erased family crests over the doors of wealthy families’ houses were ground off by Napoleon’s soldiers, but if you see a ground-off winged lion, that was a sign of participation in a coup and was removed by the families themselves; “aqua alta” (exceptional high tide) comes up through the sewer grates and floods the streets, but if there were no grates the flagstones would just come up instead.

After the tour, had a very nice lunch: I had an extraordinary selection of vegetable antipasti and very light “gnocchi gigante. We then toured the Accademia, which our guide told us is free this week, and saw some really extraordinary paintings (especially some Bellinis of amazing color and clarity), until we got overwhelmed by the repetition of the same Biblical subjects over and over. We took the vaporetto home about 4:30, for a change returning to the hotel before we were completely exhausted. The views from the vaporetto were really cool and distinctly different from what we’d seen on shore. After taking Kate to the hotel (we have only one key), I ran to the store for more yogurt, then came back for a nap.

For dinner we had an 8:00 reservation (we’d asked our guide on the chiccetti tour to call ahead for us) at the other restaurant that had been fully booked on Thursday, so we have triumphed completely over all the restaurants that taunted us that day. We split the following dishes: an assortment of fish and vegetable chiccetti, the highlight of which for me was tandoori-style tuna; tagliatelle with a sauce involving ground duck; juicy lamb chops crusted with ground pistachios; rosemary-roasted potatoes; sesame carrots; tiramisu (a strange, rather liquid version that our waitress claimed was especially authentic); and cappucino. Got back to the hotel at 10:30, where I wrote a couple hundred words on the novel and got to bed by 11:00.


Word count: 161 Step count: 16,140

Stayed up until midnight again — we’ve got to stop meeting like this — before a 7:30 alarm for 8:00 breakfast. Breakfast was the same as yesterday, but without the corn flakes (did they read my blog?).

Walked to Fundamento Nove where we caught a vaporetto (boat bus) to San Michele cemetery, a completely square island where all Venice’s dead are buried… at least for a while, until they are dug up and the bones interred in a common ossuary. Saw some interesting monuments in the Orthodox section.

From there we took another vaporetto to Murano, the island of glassmakers. First we visited the church there, which claimed a Bellini triptych which we never found (the light was terrible in any case). By then we were hungry and stupid, so we snagged a couple of panini, then went to the Museum of Glass, with a special exhibit of the work of the Ercole Moretti studio and many other beautiful pieces dating back to antiquity. What is it about glass that makes so many glass sculptures resemble sea creatures?

After the museum I spotted a little park and we rested there for a bit under a wisteria arbor. A kids’ birthday party was going on, with Blindman’s Bluff and other screaming jollity, under a banner reading AUGURI (“greetings”).

We wandered around, stopping into various glass shops, and bought some beads for our friend Janna and an Ercole Moretti plate for ourselves. At the Mazzega glass factory, we ran into our tour guide from yesterday, leading another tour. She told us “you must come upstairs to see Paradise” and unhooked a chain to let us upstairs to the private showroom, an area as big as the rest of the establishment put together and filled with marvelous glass… huge pieces, some probably worth tens of thousands of dollars, including three-dimensional representations of some Picasso pieces. Wow, what a delightful bit of kismet!

Very tired and sore then, we went back to our hotel (Google’s walking directions across a body of water included the usual “kayak across the Pacific Ocean” instruction, except that in this case the referenced ferry actually existed) with a stop at a fabulous-looking bakery for a lovely light piece of cheesecake (a nice bit of protein, given that a panini was the only thing we’d eaten since a fairly light breakfast) and a grocery store for cheese and yogurt to add to tomorrow’s breakfast.

Fell over for an hour, then headed out for dinner. The pizza place we’d had in mind got bad reviews on TripAdvisor; the next place we tried sounded great but was “closed for maintenance.” Then we tried one of the places that had looked wonderful on Thursday but was booked solid, thinking we might have a shot because it was earlier in the evening. They did manage to squeeze us in, barely, and we had a fabulous dinner: carrot, green apple, and leek soup; broccoli flan with Parmesan fondue and poppy seeds; five-color ravioli with prawn cream; and a very nummy vegetable lasagne.

Finally, back to the hotel to sort photos, do laundry, write, and blog. A great day.

First full day in Venice

Word count: 163 Step count: 18,572

Awake around 7:00 after 7 solid hours of sleep. We seem to be on Venice time, though still a bit tired and low on brain. I refuse to credit the homeopathic anti-jet-lag pills that our friends Bo and Don recommended (though I did take them), because I don’t believe in homeopathy even if it works.

We were a bit disappointed to find last night that there were no blinds on the windows. This morning I realized: we are in Venice, so there are shutters instead (they are green, of course). Also should have remembered before I did that the pull string in the shower that doesn’t seem to do anything is actually an “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” switch that triggers an audio alarm outside. I hope it was only audible in our room but, if not, I’m sure they’re used to it by now.

Breakfast was delivered to the room right at 8:30: coffee, steamed milk, croissants with powdered sugar on the outside and apricot jam on the inside, cute little crusty bread rolls, several kinds of packaged rusks, some packaged cookies (?) that we didn’t open, butter, jam, honey, Nutella. Continental breakfasts are not tidy; we wound up with powdered sugar and bread crumbs everywhere. There was also one small packet of corn flakes (though no bowl). I ate them in my coffee cup, with hot steamed milk, an experience I do not intend to repeat. There was also a largish clear plastic tumbler which is, I think, intended as a trash basket, and sugar in two varieties: “classico” (white) and “tropical” (brown).

After breakfast we wandered in a generally southeasterly direction toward an antiques-and-beads store Kate knew about, with many a diversion along the way. One highlight was the church of Santa Maria Formosa, where the portrait of kindly San Giovanni Bosco had offerings of cactus and amaryllis and plug-into-socket devotional candles (1 euro). At some other altars you could pay 50c to flip the switch on a preinstalled electric candle. S. Maria Formosa also featured an impressively large (adult-sized) baptismal font which we dubbed the “holy hot tub.” Every altar was decorated with many many ornate silver hearts with “GR” and other initials; no one could explain these. Morning snack: panini “club rustico” with speck (ham), mushrooms, cheese. Found a lovely little hidden garden between Piazza San Marco and the lagoon, with grass and trees and benches, an oasis of tranquility just steps from hordes of tourists. Nearby was a hotel(?) with a covered gondola dock and a drawbridge that obviously hadn’t been closed in years. When we did find the antiques shop it was closed, alas.

“Eat the thing with eyes” and “embrace not knowing” are our watchwords.

The famous Piazza San Marco was extremely crowded, with big lines to get into the basilica and campanile, but nonetheless we had to stop in. Then we headed to tucked-away-in-a-back-street Osteria da Carla, recommended by the “TapVenice” app, for lunch: cichetti assortment, pasta with zucchini & scallops, ravioli with pumpkin — yum. After lunch we visited Teatro Fenice (Phoenix), an ornate opera hall that has lived up to its name, having been destroyed several times, most recently by a 1996 fire, and rebuilt each time. The building was impressive, also the original architect’s model from 1790, but the audio tour was interminable, being delivered exceptionally slowly and with repetitious redundancy that repeated itself a lot. We theorized that the English-language audio was made exceptionally clear, so that it might serve for all those whose native languages were not covered, at the cost of brevity for native English speakers. Came out of the theatre to discover we’d missed a downpour (excellent timing!) and decided to head back to the room for a nap, with a brief stop at St. Stephen’s to view the impressive ship-like ceiling.

After our nap we met our tour guide for a private “chicetti crawl” we’d booked online ahead of time. Chicetti is basically Venetian tapas, an assortment of small dishes. We visited four or five different chicetti bars, sampling various small and delicious things on bread and drinking prosecco and “spritz” (a popular Venetian aperitif combining Aperol, white wine, and sparkling water), chatting with our guide about Venetian life and history on the way and finishing up with gelato. Had a bit of difficulty finding our way back to the hotel as the sun set, but being lost is just part of the Venice experience (and it’s an island, how lost can you really get?).

Portland to Los Angeles to Paris to Venice

Word count: 161 Step count: 10,015

Stayed up until 1 AM the night before the trip dealing with various issues (mostly ebook-related… paper books weigh more, but they don’t crash) and woke up at 5:00 with mind spinning, so started this long long day with 4 hours’ sleep.

The good news is that we did this flight in business class on Air France. We cashed in every Alaska frequent flyer mile we had, and then some, to do it, but it was well worth it — long-haul upgrades are your best air-miles investment. On our first leg, from PDX to LAX, a fellow business-class traveler was Claire Coffee, the actress who plays the Hexenbiest in Grimm.

At LAX, getting from our Alaska gate to the Air France lounge took an entire hour (including a brief visit to Alaska’s lounge, bus to the other terminal, check in at the Air France ticket desk, and getting through security) which didn’t bode well as our layover in Paris, also involving a change in terminals, was only a little more than an hour all told.

Our five-hour layover in the Air France lounge went really quickly, mostly dealing with various computer issues and some email — including an agent rejection, alas. The agent liked the book but “I just don’t believe I could sell this. There aren’t really any YA editors with any understanding of hard-ish SF, and even if I found someone, I can’t see this getting through acquisition somewhere.” Argh.

On the LAX-Paris flight, I watched Mission Impossible 4 (silly fun), slept about 6 hours, did a little reading. Air France’s food in Business Class was actually delicious, and we made it across huge DeGaulle airport (1.52 miles’ walk, according to my pedometer), through passport control and security, and to our gate with time to spare. Whew! Hearing the babel of languages at CDG reminds me that travel forces us to question our assumptions (“of course everyone talks like me, eats like me, dresses like me, lives like me”) — you learn that there are other ways to do things that you had never even realized you were doing at all.

Another excellent meal (technically a snack – it was small and cold – but it had 3 courses and it was delicious) on the plane to Venice. We never did get looked at by Customs; I think I saw some guys in Douane vests talking with each other at CDG as we walked past. It was raining when we arrived, so we decided to take the bus (quick and cheap) into Venice rather than the boat (slower and more scenic, but not so nice on a gray day). The walk from the bus stop to the hotel was a bit of a slog, especially with wheelie bags over those picturesque stepped bridges, but WOW we are really here at last!

The hotel was a bit surprised to see us (our host muttered darkly about her husband not writing down our reservation in the book; I suspect those two will Have Words later) but they did honor our reservation and set us up in a charming little room with mini-fridge and bidet. We threw down our bags, brushed our teeth, and went out in search of dinner. We found several really nice-looking, popular restaurants but they were Fully Committed; most of the rest were either too touristy (multi-lingual menus, obnoxious touts) or too underpopulated or both, or else chicceti bars which we didn’t have the brain power to deal with. The good news is that the search gave us a lovely walk and I got to appreciate the way the character of the light changed minute by minute as the sun went down.

We wound up at a restaurant on a side street, with a multilingual menu but decently crowded and had a nice vibe, where we had a very nice dinner of tomato and onion bruschetta, grilled veg antipasto (Kate had sardines as well), seafood risotto (tentacles!) and a lovely assortment of fried seafood (Italian tempura). We did let ourselves get upsold into a pretty pricey dinner but still a lovely start to the trip.

Tomorrow, we tourist in earnest.