Friday, April 24, 2015


Ryanair's cheapest flights leave extremely early in the morning or very late at night. So we had to be at the Malta airport at the ungodly hour of  5:30 am for our flight to Venice. We managed it easily, by having everything ready early the evening before, getting to bed at a decent hour and arranging for a taxi to pick us up in plenty of time to get to the airport. But we were still not firing on all cylinders when we got there.

We were thrilled to be offered the chance to check our bags for free, but it wasn't until all the bags had come off the plane and ours wasn't with them, that I bothered to give the baggage claim a good look.

GOT. Gothenburg. Never heard of it. A quick Google search clued me in. Our bags had gone to Sweden.

No one was at the lost luggage desk when we got there, but when the nice young woman showed up a several minutes later, we passed on the information.

"Sweden? How do you know they went to Sweden?"

I showed her the baggage claim ticket and told her of my search. "Well, that makes my job a bit easier."

She was very relieved we weren't angry about our bags, but we explained that we'd been looking forward to coming back to Venice for so long that it would take more than that to bother us. We
believe that our courtesy to her brought our bags back sooner than they might otherwise have returned. Because I checked the flight schedules, it wasn't a straightforward return trip. And it still took two days.

Which meant we spent time shopping for necessities that we would much have preferred to spend sightseeing. But we did what we could.

Of course, we went straight to Piazza San Marco. Of all the sights in Europe, this landmark most symbolized our goal to make this trip. Venice has always been one of Martha's most favorite places, more than mine, but I seem to have discovered a new found appreciation for it this time around. Sometimes, I guess, third time really is the charm.

Still, I had dreamed of having a nice meal at one of the restaurants in the Square, so it was a very real
disappointment to find they mostly served just sandwiches. Maybe it was the time of the day, but we were never there in the evening to find out. We have been out of sync with restaurants opening for dinner at 7:30 or 8 quiet a few times on this trip. There was one I always saw from the water, but never got to try.

We got two days worth of waterbus passes, and I thoroughly enjoyed going up and down the canals looking at the local architecture. There is something about commuting on water, rather than land, that I find very relaxing. Even when it's so crowded that I have to stand the whole way.

Our hotel had no elevator, and our room was on the fifth floor, so we tended to just go all day and
into the evening so we wouldn't have to make that trek more than once. On our second night, though, we wanted to see the Venice Casino. So we did have to go up and change before going out again. We went out to dinner and then found our way to the casino.

Personally, I found the Casino a little creepy. And it's not because we are used to the glitzy Vegas casinos. I'd been to the casinos in both Nice and Cannes many years ago, and found them both fairly lively places to be. This casino in Venice was very quiet, except for one irritatingly loud slot machine. And while the d├ęcor was quite elegant upstairs, it had a very faded glory atmosphere. Anyway, that was just a weird experience, we didn't stay long.

But it was the latest we'd ever been out in Venice, and seeing the streets so dark and almost completely empty was very strange. At times, even on the way to the casino, it was a bit scary. Still
beautiful, but at one point, kind of reminded me of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney. That very dark atmosphere on canals, broken only by a few lights.

I took so many photos in Venice, and few convey the fabulous views I was seeing. I'm just not nearly up to doing justice to such an incredible place. Particularly in the Basilica itself, I just couldn't get all the vastness into my little iPhone camera.

View from Bridge of Sighs
Same thing with the Doge's Palace, but I can tell you this: I may just be a little too imaginative or fanciful, but the Bridge of Sighs - the last place prisoners got a glimpse of the outside world before entering the dungeons - definitely seems to hold a sense of desolation. Martha got a full blown case of claustrophobia right at the entrance to the dungeons and made a quick turnabout back to the Palace, but I was more than willing to follow her out.

The rest of the Palace was very impressive, but it was also a bit strange, because I clearly remembered the Doge's chair as being an ornate type of throne chair and there was nothing like that on display. Still, there was plenty of other stuff to look at.

One thing Martha noticed, which we both thought was pretty wild, was this armor for a horse that included a spike - presumably meant to be used as a type of bayonet. I can't help wondering if the horses were trained to impale, or if the rider just managed that bit of business on his own.

I think I liked the walk along the water to Piazza San Marco from the waterbus stop even more than being inside the Square itself.

But my favorite thing in all of Venice turned out to be something I hadn't seen on either of my previous two visits: The Museo Correr. It is a museum housed in the building at the back of Piazza San Marco, that you don't often hear about. At least, I never had. But there was so much in there that was interesting that I'm giving it its own post.

In any case, Venice is all that we hoped it would be. Except for the food. I can't even begin to express my disappointment with the food all over Italy. The sandwiches are usually the best things around, but the pasta dishes have all been completely unremarkable. They certainly aren't bad, and the portions are filling. But no matter if I've ordered a red sauce or white, there has been practically no flavor whatsoever.

White Clam Sauce, no flavor. WTF?
And it's not that we're eating in big tourist areas or cheap restaurants. We make a very concerted effort to eat away from famous tourist spots. And if we can't, then we try for a more upscale place.
None of it makes a difference, and it's not just pasta, it's pizza, too.

We watched our sausage pizza being made in a wood fired oven right before our eyes, and could not believe how tasteless it was when we finally got to eat it.

Pastries, too. Martha got the most beautiful chocolate covered donut topped with nuts and, though I would have said it was completely impossible, it had absolutely no taste whatsoever. It was like chewing air. She let me taste it, and I still can't figure out how something like chocolate and nuts can have no flavor at all.

This is the biggest mystery, and disappointment, of the trip. We are not foodies in its commonly accepted sense, but we grew up in an area where food was a huge deal, with both French and Italian heritage. It is one of the things we were looking forward to.

Fortunately, there have been more than enough other things to make up for it. We are still loving our trip and are still excited about discovering new places. News of Cinque Terre and Siena coming up soon. Stay tuned.

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