In search of the winter sun.
Ask Nez where she likes to travel and without fail she would respond:  “A beach destination or somewhere warm.”  This being winter in Europe, there are very few places with warm beaches.  Nevertheless, conventional wisdom dictates heading in the southerly direction for a respite from the cold.  We have both been to Spain but Nez has not seen Italy, and any further south and we would be in Africa proper.  So, we ticked off a few names – Venice, Rome, Sicily – and inexplicably threw in Krakow for good measure because Poland seemed like a nice, exotic winter wonderland and Riot was afraid he would miss the sub-zero temperature.  And that was how we arrived upon our quest for the December sun and winter fun.
Holga Photos
See Venice in a different light:  It’s a whole new perspective on film. 
Be sure to check out the Holga photos of our trip!
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Venice:  In search of the illusive.
VENICE – 20 December 2009.  Like a bad habit that we can’t shake, once more we stayed up all night packing and getting ready for our winter trip.  Although, this time, we had the added excuse of having to prepare the apartment for the vacation renters (who would partly subsidize our own trip).  At around the hours before sunrise, when our eyes were tired and our patience a bit thin, we were reminded of similar memories from the late night/early morning before we quit San Francisco for Paris.  We both shuddered at the thoughts but were comforted with the knowledge that on this occasion, at least we did not have to clear out everything like we did then.

  Transportation with a view:  That is the Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore through the waterline window of the Alilaguna airport-to-city ferry.



  Recently awaken:  We nodded off as soon as our bodies hit the comfortable benches of the Alilaguna ferry.


Because our discount easyJet flight departed at 7 a.m., there was no reliable and convenient mode of public transportation that would get us to CDG by 5 a.m.  (Ever since Nez came into the picture, the arrive-two-hours-in-advance routine had been faithfully observed; no more racing through the concourse to beat the closing cabin door.)  So, we resorted to taking a shuttle (54€ for two, which sort of negated much of the savings on airfare).  (Tip: Wait by your front door for the shuttle because while the driver might honk, he might not necessarily call you as the website assured that he would.)  Our shuttle wandered through the deserted Parisian streets in the southerly direction, which got us a bit worried because the airport was to the north of the city.  We need not have worried though, there were just more passengers to be picked up before the final push to the ultimate destination.

  Hotel room with a view:  Each morning we woke up to the tolling bells of the nearby St. Mark’s and while we got ready the bells of this smaller tower would follow suit.



  Another square, another church, and another tower craning into the beautiful blue sky, stirring the clouds.


At the airport, the easyJet terminal was a poster child of disorganization and inefficiency.  There was no rhyme or reason to the boarding process (so, save money and skip the Speedy Boarding upgrade) but eventually everyone got on.  The flight itself was not even full. We nodded off as soon as the crew started doing the emergency demonstration and did not wake up again until the plane was descending over Venice.  Overall, it was a decent flying experience.  There were no horror stories to tell and it was one heck of a deal: 91€ roundtrip per person from Paris to Venice.
  Reflection of the neighborhood bell tower in our hotel window.
  The playfulness of pastel-color buildings under a fragile backdrop.
From the arrival terminal of the Venice’s Marco Polo Airport, it was a long stroll to the Alilaguna ferry that would take us into town.  Along the way, we saw intermittent signs announcing the lengths of wait (e.g., 1 hour from this spot, 30 minutes, etc.).  Because it was the end of December there was no wait and we proceeded directly to the boat that had just arrived.  We caught the Linea Oro (12€, approximately 1 hour) that took us directly to the San Marco - Giardinetti stop, right at the watery edge of Piazza San Marco.  The sitting area of the ferry put us at about eye level with the water surface, which gave us a pretty interesting vantage point from which to view the outside world.  The boat lumbered along at a seemingly snail pace and rocked now and then from the wake of other, faster boats.  The path we took was a vast open body of water and not some expected picturesque Venetian canal.  All the same because once more we quickly drifted off to sleep.

  Frontal view of the Basilica di San Marco:  Contemplating a quiet blend of architectural and decorative styles on a late December afternoon.



  Another view of the Basilica:  Dwindling crowd meant fewer souvenir stands and more walking space.


As soon as we hit dry land, we instantly congratulated ourselves for packing light.  We dragged our bags across the cobblestone surface, through the largely empty Piazza San Marco as we headed for our hotel.  The directions were as follows:  “Under the clock tower, first right, second left after the McDonald’s.”  They were all we needed.  We found the Best Western Hotel Monte Carlo (see Review) in a small alley the width of a pair of outstretched arms.  It was a nice and clean area (in the days to come, we could not get over how relatively clean Venetian streets were), and was very centrally located.

  The Campanile as seen from under the arch of one of the buildings that flank Piazza San Marco.



  No one’s drawing room:  The famous Piazza San Marco with fewer tourists, fewer pigeons, and more table choices for a still-pricy cup of coffee.


Though the inviting bed of the hotel room almost ended our first day in Venice before it had even started, we fought the tremendous urge to sleep and went exploring instead.  Like Paris, Venice was made for walking (and riding on boats in the canals) and getting lost before being found.  We followed the spray-painted scribbling and official signage to the Rialto Bridge and got cannoli along the way at Bar Aperol (see Review).  Crema for Riot and ciocolatto for Nez, both were a nice treat but a bit sweet.  We were on a mission to find a restaurant recommended by the New York Times.  The December 3, 2006 feature (yes, we did realize that it was a bit dated), “36 Hours in Venice,” suggested:  “Start at Naranzaria, which serves sushi by day and hearty dishes like polenta with minced duck by night.”  We don’t know why we went in search of sushi in Venice for our very first meal (other than we really love the stuff).  But go we did but Riot’s mental map was not quite up to the task.  He knew it was in “that area on the other side of the Rialto Bridge” but had not remembered the name of the restaurant; we had left the print out back at the hotel.  Perhaps we were hoping to see a sushi bar but there was no such thing in sight.  There were, however, many locals enjoying what seemed like a merry midday drink at the various establishments ringing the square and the nearby outdoor produce and fish market.

  That’s us in the metal frame of the window as we hungrily gawked at tasty-looking cannoli.



  Father and child in a playful moment by the Grand Canal.  No one ended up in the water; it was too cold for that.



  Only one square in Venice is called a piazza, this empty one, where Nez did a little hop, is either a campo or campiello.


Hungry and aimlessly drifting down one lane to the next, we decided that we needed to eat something, anything, before we saw two red lanterns.  It wasn’t Japanese (and Naranzaria, when we did locate it a few days later, wasn’t Japanese either; it looked more like a hip wine bar that served sushi for appetizers) but rather Chinese.  We turned to each other and thought, “It’ll do.”  The food we had at Tian Jin (see Review) was competent but not excitedly so.  We ate in an oversized dining room (almost wedding-reception size) and spent a fraction of what we would for the same experience in Paris.  This would not be the last time that we would arrive at the recurring epiphany:  We chose one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in on a budget.

  The laws of supply and demand dictate that the blue tarps go on when the tourists leave town.



  There ain’t nothing romantic about riding a gondola through the canals on a very cold and windy day.



  A view of the Grand Canal from the eastern end of the Rialto Bridge during a rare moment of light traffic.


With our hunger sufficiently squelched, we retraced our path back across the Grand Canal, through the noticeable crowd of people out shopping (Christmas was only a few days away) and walking, over little raised bridges where gondola drivers in their puffy blue jackets propositioned every passerby, and through narrow streets flanked with large display windows of well-known and little-known brands.  We repeated, “No, grazie,” to all the nice and not-so-nice gondola offers because we were on yet another mission:  gelato.  On the eve of this trip, Riot had repeatedly told Nez that “they have gelato everywhere in Italy” and raved about how delicious all of the many, many flavors were.  But now, with feet on the ground in Italy proper, there was no open gelato shop to be found.  As the pedestrians thinned out the further and further we got from the main stretches, we got a little worried.  What would we do about dessert?  In the end, we only saw two places serving gelato; at one, we got a scoop of creme del doge and one of tiramisu.  Both were unsatisfying and we had to comfort ourselves with the steadfast belief that there must be better gelato out there somewhere and we just had to track them down on this trip.
  Everything seems to be falling apart here:  There is more than just distortion in this picture, that tower is actually leaning over the canal.
  One could walk straight into the canal through this unguarded opening:  “Pretend you’re falling,” said Nez and Riot complied.
With all of the eating out of the way, we retreated to our hotel room for a quick nap before dinner.  The planned wake-up time: 6:30 p.m.  At 11:59 p.m., Riot jerked awake in bed, looked over at the digital clock by the TV, and thought, “Oh well, there are always snacks in the minibar.”  He promptly went back to sleep, missing the tolling bells of San Marco’s at the stroke of midnight.  He joined Nez who had been out the minute her head hit the pillow because she was additionally feeling under the weather.  We both desperately needed the sleep.  The clanging bells of St. Mark’s woke us up at 7 a.m. the next morning; we were both ready to go again.

  A passenger just missing his boat or a boss uttering a reminder to his departing crew?  We couldn’t tell because we didn’t understand a thing in Italian.



  All bundled up on the Rialto Bridge:  Nez realized that beautiful, sunny weather did not necessarily mean warm, sunny weather.


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Dine | Italy  Sleep | Italy

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