Italy – Day Six – Venice – Tastes and Tours

DSC04261Hotel Junior, where we stayed in Padua, was the only hotel to actually provide breakfast (regardless of the ones who offered, even at an extra cost). Breakfast is served from 8-9:30 daily and consists of rolls with butter, cheese, jam and Nutella along with a cup of coffee and/or juice. Sunday morning we got to the breakfast room at 7:45 but were still welcomed with genuine Italian family warmth. We ate hungrily then grabbed a smaller bag (it was nice not to have to take our backpacks for the whole day) and headed out.

Back in Venice, we had been debating what to do. There are three nearby island neighborhoods, Murano, Burano and Torcello, which are often grouped together for half day exploratory tours. Often, they’ll be called “islands” but that’s not accurate – not anymore accurate than referring to Venice as an “island,” since they’re the same idea, grouped mud DSC04265islands with connecting bridges, close enough together to make them a unit but far enough from Venice proper to keep them separate. Each area has something to recommend it, Burano is known for lace and brightly colored houses (so drunk husbands could find their way to the proper home), Torcello has some old churches and Murano is known for glass making/blowing. We thought about doing the tour but with meeting up with new friends at noon and wanting to take the free walking tour at 3, it wasn’t practical. Besides, something I’d recently figured out, it was possible to do your own tours and trust it would all work out okay. This is something I keep having to remind myself every time I take a cruise and get excited about overpriced excursions – it’s almost always possible to do it on your own for a better experience and often much less expensively.

So that’s what we decided to do. Getting off the train in Venice, we made our way to the tour office and found out the best water bus to take (and buy a €7 tourist ticket – residents pay €1.30 for the same thing) then headed out on our own to see the one thing we wanted to see — Murano glass.

Now, to be fair, we’d already seen a bunch of Murano glass. You can’t walk in Venice without passing a souvenir shop and you can’t pass a souvenir shop without seeing some sort of Murano glass (also carnival masks and feather and glass pens) but these were the home of the factories where they had demonstrations.

DSC04257We made it to our bus and headed out. Landing on Murano without a tour group meant we were on our own finding a glass blower to show off his skills. We wandered into one factory, which had beautiful sculptures on display, but wasn’t really set up for tours. Then we saw a bunch of people heading into a building so we followed – and inadvertently joined a Korean tour. We didn’t understand anything but we could see the glass blower do his thing, which included blowing a bud vase and then making a horse by sculpting the molten and pliable glass. It was fairly impressive (I’ve done some glass work in the past and it’s not easy) so we applauded and moved on.

The next “furnace” we stopped at was offering narration in both English and French so we were able to follow along while the artist did exactly the same thing (In fact, we stopped at one more furnace, where they were charging €5 for the privilege of watching their artisan show examples of blowing and sculpting… the same demo yet again). Here, though, we were able to ask a few question and found that because it was Sunday, we couldn’t see an example of how colors or glass rolling was done to make the elaborate, colorful designs. They only worked with clear glass on these days because they could reuse it (a fact brought home when the artist grabbed the horse he had just made and tossed it back into the furnace to be remelted). On the way out, we thought we saw a good deal on some gifts so we stopped to buy some. While looking (after the woman had offered to help us) I bumped the table and broke two horses. After that she looked at us with disdain. I offered to pay for them but she just shook her head, wrapped our actual purchases and sent us on our way. Before catching our water bus back to Venice we wandered a bit more and saw some more absolutely brilliant applications of glass sculpture.

Back in Venice, the bus dropped us in front of the train station. We had about 30 minutes to IMG_2841_2get ourselves to the Rialto Bridge to meet our new friend Robert. No problem! There were even a couple of stops I wanted to make on the way and I figured we had plenty of time. I was wrong. For the first time this day we realized how BIG Venice is when you’re trying to get across it in a hurry. Ultimately, we arrived at 5 past noon, not late enough to be rude, but still late when I thought we would be early (I didn’t even make my stops, had to do them later).

Robert and his friend were waiting for us and we popped into a nearby cafe for a coffee and chat. It was a nice conversation, about travel and magic and work and dogs in cafes and a rather delightful way to spend the beginning of the afternoon. Eventually we said our goodbyes, and Rasa and I headed off to the Museo Correr, back in St. Mark’s Square. This was part of the museum ticket we got yesterday when we went to the Doge’s Palace so it made IMG_2844_2sense to at least have a bit of a walk through.

The museum itself was okay, a bit of history and archeology mixed in with the art and architecture of the building. There were a couple of great sculptures, including one of Daedalus convincing young Icarus to “come on, try the wings.” When we looked at the clock IMG_2846_2and realized we needed to get out of there to make our next appointment, that’s when the fun really started. Even though we followed the exit signs, there really was no getting out of there without following the proscribed route. It was like Ikea! They were going to march you right to the gift shop past every exhibit whether you wanted to see it or not!

We got out but before we left the area, I wanted to get a picture in front of Harry’s Bar,  a famous watering well-frequented by Ernest Hemingway (among others like Truman CapoteCharlie ChaplinGuglielmo Marconi and Orson Welles) back in the day. IMG_2848_2had to get almost all the way back across the island for the walking tour. Again we discovered just how big the island is. Every turn we figured was the turn to take us to the piazza where we were supposed to meet up. When it wasn’t, we knew it had to be the next one. We must have said this 27 times as we speed walked through crowds of tourists and locals hoping to not miss our appointment.

I’ll spare you the suspense. We made it. We actually made it with enough time to have a quick cup of tea before getting started. The Venice Free Tour is definitely worth whatever you donate to your guide at the end. Our guide was Jackie, a German student who had been living in DSC04270Venice for three years while studying. She definitely knew the city, and obviously loved it. Her tour (and I gather each guide kinda does their own thing within certain parameters) look us through the west and southern areas of the city, away from the more heavily traveled tourist areas (until the end, when we finished up in St. Mark’s Square). She’s the one who told us about the gondola mafia I talked about yesterday as well as lots of cultural tidbits about life in Venice, both historically and modern day. She took us around for almost 3 hours, offering laughs, photo opportunities and recommendations. (geek alert: DSC04273one of the highlights was seeing the exterior of the “Venice Library” where “X” literally marks the spot in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade)

At the end, she mentioned a bookstore which used boats as shelves to protect the merchandise from rising flood waters, but unfortunately, when we tried to find it in the dark, we failed miserably. We figured, since the sun had gone down and the air was getting chilly, dinner was in order. We found a restaurant and ate (it wasn’t very good, to be honest, and the host was rather.. not rude, but not pleasant either) then leisurely made our way back towards the train station. We stopped once, to get stamps, which were incredibly expensive. Italy has a strange postal system where they sell stamps which don’t work with the regular post (they don’t even have prices on them) and you can’t mail things through the letter boxes you find on the street corner. Instead, post cards must go into the special boxes in the convenience store where you bought the stamps. Very strange. But we sent notes to family and got back to the train station, just in time to buy tickets and run for the next train to Padua. 

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