Sunday, September 23, 2007

Venice and Florence

Here comes our train from Padova to Venetia, on a crystal clear, sunny and mild, perfect day (the first train to come by and a much easier task now that we had done it before). The station is better looking in daylight and we knew which side of the track to stand on. We are in good spirits and trying not to let the incident of yesterday affect our vacation too much. As I said, mixed emotions, with some anger in there as well as other things.

Deciding to follow the advice of Rick Steves (one of the few books we took with us) we boarded the #3 boat to St. Marks square. This whole boat thing in Venice is like the Metro, the signs tell you how many stops and the end point is the name of the boat, so it is intuitive. The advice that Rick also gave, but we neglected to pass on to Edward was to beware of the “slow count” the boat ticket sellers are notorious for. Ed looked a little puzzled as he joined us on the boat and shortly after we left the dock verbalized that perhaps he didn’t get the right change for his 20€ note when he bought the tickets. We told him about the aforementioned practice but he didn’t find that as funny as we did for some reason. We told him that he bought the special 10€ more-than-posted boat ride. By the look on his face I think he was wondering if the water in the canal was too cold and dirty for a swim.

What a wonderful ride, and the quintessential Venice experience. Sunny, warm and clear as a bell as we watched a huge luxury cruise ship being towed into the harbor. Where are they going to put all these people that are disembarking from the various boats tied about the lagoon? Life flows on the canal. There are the gondolas, water taxis, water busses, and even the water police boats working their ways past these beautiful old mansions, and under our Rialto bridge. It is breathtaking.

The crowds are fierce for so early in the morning, all nationalities and dress. I forget sometimes that Venice is a city for the world to explore, not just American tourists. We did walk through the square (keeping an eye on the pigeons both above and below), saw some tourist must sees, and after some doing (getting lost), finally found ourselves outside the Teatro Fenice, one of our “must sees.” We read a fascinating book by John Berendt last year, City of Fallen Angels, about the destruction by fire and rebuilding of this famous theater. Not much to look at from the outside, but the inside is said to be spectacular, so we felt good that we had found it. Around each corner there is a picture postcard view just waiting to be captured. Edward took a great picture outside this building with the sun beaming off the gondolier’s white shirt and the colors a swirl in the canal.

We didn’t spend much time in the city, but enough, making the return from St. Marks square a pleasant walk against the oncoming pedestrian traffic. It seems there is a never ending stream of tourists making their way
over the bridge from the station. We grabbed the 12:09 train back to Padua, drove the now familiar route to the hotel, where Christina (Stefano’s wife) could not have been more helpful or nicer. We had an uneventful time leaving Padua, and headed to Firenze. It’s a longer ride than expected, and you can’t help but get a little snoozy on a pleasant summer afternoon.

Since you cannot drive into the center we followed Rick’s advice and drove to Porta Romana, found a very nice parking spot, and jumped onto the #11 bus into the center. Once you get the hang of it the public transportation is pretty good. While waiting for the bus we met a nice young lady from Philadelphia who was attending college in Firenze. She gave us a few tips (she had only been in country for 3 weeks) and sure enough, we hopped off the bus just around the corner from the Duomo. We quickly made our way up to the Academia. The line was long, but the kids were determined to see the David, so Kat and I made our way back to the Duomo to do what we do best, which is to relax and watch the world go by.

The line the kids were in was for “no reservations” and when we left they were doing their best to seem interested in a conversation with the people in front of them, a retired couple from Florida, who wanted to talk about their kids. Better them than us. We were glad we had left them in line but concerned that they wouldn’t get in, as the building closed at 18:30 and we left them there at 17:00 with the line not moving at all. As we sat on the church stairs we watched the people noting particularly a women who was nicely dressed but wearing some POINTY
elf-worn gold shoes. What would Clinton and Stacy say (TLC’s What Not to Wear hosts).

To our surprise,
the kids met us at 18:00 and they had in fact been able to get in and see the David. Excellent. Kat had a lot of things on her to-see list for Florence, and we realized another trip, another time, was needed to see them. I think a little disappointment there.

We stopped at a little store across from the church to get a couple of David aprons for the owners of Brick Alley Pub. Never did get to Santa Croce for the leather boxes. As always when travelling, changes happen and the boat ride in Venice was spectacular. Just too much to do in one day.

We took the same #11 bus back to Porta Romana, but like the novices we were didn’t realize that if you pick it up where you got off you have to continue the remainder of the loop, so when 20 minutes later we ended up back at the Duomo, but on the other side of the street we arrived wiser than we left. We had gone the wrong way and the worst part was saw nothing of interest, just some back streets and traffic.

It was just getting dark as we headed south from Firenze to Siena and when we reached the city limits, started our 1 and ½ hour back road (I mean really back road) search for our hotel: the Yee Arkee (or Gli Archi in Italian). We went up some dusty one lane farm tracks (couldn’t with a clear conscience call them roads) following our helpful (NOT) navigation system, all the time turning and backing (after a number of usually unuttered swears on my part as I tried to get that (expletive deleted) gear shift lever into reverse.)

We almost stopped at what was clearly a private farm house, “It must be number 98” piped in Alicia from the rear seat, and it indeed might have been, but it wasn’t OUR number 98 for sure. We pulled into the front drive of one place and an Englishman stuck his head out the window (after we banged on the door for 5 minutes) to tell us that he had a hell of a time finding his little “apartment” so bad in fact that he and his taxi driver searched for an hour before finally arriving, and so sorry but the proprietors were away from the property, and he had no idea where he was, never mind us. Cherio.

We went up and down the same roads over and over again, through this damned one lane old stone arch (the one I am now sitting next to as I write this) who knows how many times and never thought to connect “arch” with
Gli Archi … hello … any brains home? Dope.

At 9:30 (about 3 and ½ hours later than planned) we were greeted by Sylvia, who was at least a little irritated with us since we hadn’t called her, and I felt like telling her not to feel bad, we hadn’t called anyone. However she had received 2 calls from Richard (my brother) and Lucy (his wife), who were "just down the street" in Siena, and wanted us to call them (hardly likely given we didn’t have a phone, or we would have called Sylvia), and meet us for diner. (Ha, ha, ha. Tension was at least a little thick right about then. Sylvia and her friend were clearly not happy about waiting for us to show up and were rather snappy about getting our passports, and credit cards, etc. and all the interminable things inn keepers in Italy do. We think they live in the building right next door, but we are sure we probably put a crimp in their night in front of the TV watching soccer or whatever they watch in Italy).

Sylvia using her cell phone, dialed a number, talked for a minute and then handed it to me. On the other side was my younger brother inquiring as to our whereabouts and asking in his inimitable style how long it would take us to meet them for some dinner in Siena. At that point, I was incapable of rational thought, had no idea where we were, no idea where they were, but we knew where the damned arch was (just outside) and we were going to hang onto that knowledge like grim death. So I told them we’d meet up next time we were in Italy together.

After relating our "Farmlands of Tuscany" story, Sylvia and friend lightened up and showed us to our apartments. They were large, well decorated, clean and comfortable, a real find at the price. They also gave us directions to a restaurant about ¾ of a mile away that we "couldn’t miss" … right. So we went to “I Gabellieri” at about 10:30, right on a main street, just down from another arch, this one recognizable as an entry arch into Siena In fact it is the Antiporto di Camollia, and if you are interested there is an interesting Wiki article about it. We parked in a little parking lot behind the restaurant, tired after a long, long day. I had an excellent pasta and a fair amount of wine, sitting outside, glad to be there, arch in the background. We backtracked to our hotel, no problem and at about 12:15 hit the sack looking forward to, and undaunted by tomorrow's challenge: laundry day.

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