Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Day 66: Homeward Bound

Back online at last, as we sit at the Venice Airport waiting to fly home. Absolutely amazing to think that last night was our last sleeping on the road. Two more sleeps in airplanes and then what LK calls the best bed in the world. (I still think it's way too high.)

I tried to keep a diary of our five days in Venice, and this is it. A bit long, but us retired folks have time on our hands.


Had to leave the ship early and knew our room wouldn't be ready for several hours. That's all right. We took the water taxi to the hotel, stored our luggage and headed out. Is there a better city to walk around for a few hours than Venice?

Well, today the answer would be just about any city in the world with the possible exception of those in Albania. Venice is in the middle of a massive day-long rain. The canals are slopping onto the pavement at high tide; St Mark's is flooded in places, and the skies are rumbling with the sort of thunder that makes you want to rush to confession and try to wipe away 40 years of being a bad boy.

We went for our walk, anyway.

We were assuming we'd find a place to sit down and have some coffee, but even coffee shops open up kind of late around here. After about 20 minutes, we finally wandered up to the Rialto Bridge and found a place where we took a table under the awning to sit. By then we were both pretty wet, and feeling tired from getting up earlier than we have in weeks. I was also starting to get a bit chilly.

Linda - ever the observant one - explained that was because I was wearing shorts and a light jacket while everyone else was bundled up because it was really cold and raining hard. C'mon, I argued. There must be other people in shorts. After about an hour, LK and I had spotted three other guys wearing shorts among the thousands who walked past us at one of Venice's busiest places. Those three guys looked cold, too.

We had decided it was better to kill some more time at the coffee bar and wait for the rain to subside. I ordered a second double expresso, and made believe it was making me feel warmer. LK stretched out her American coffee with hot milk by sipping slowly as she read the tourist guide. She noticed that many of the hotels had little red heart symbols before their name. Her initial thought was that Venice is for lovers, and these hotels must have some romantic packages available. Until she read the fine print, explaining that hotels with red hearts are those with defibrillators.

Which is actually helpful information, because after two double expressos, I didn't care if the typhoon was ever going to abate. Had to move.

By the time we got to the hotel again, my jacket was soaked through. My calves, knees and the bottom of my thighs were really chilly. And our room still wasn't ready. We sat in the lobby for a further 90 minutes, dozing off once in a while as we warmed up and in general making the lobby look like a refugee camp for old guys in shorts. And once we got to the room we did what we have done pretty much since we got to Europe. We took a nap.

By nighttime, the storm clouds had cleared. We went to dinner. I didn't take any chances. I wore pants.


LK suggested we could go to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, one of Venice's most important museums specializing in modern art. The weather was brilliant and the sun was shining.

"Which water bus do we get on?" I asked after buying our 3-day passes. Maybe this one, LK said, but does it matter? It's a beautiful day and there are worse things than riding up and down the canal.

So we jumped on this water bus (kind of a passenger ferry that makes lots of stops like a bus). After about four or five stops, I suggested we were nowhere near the museum. LK agreed. We got off at the next stop and took a return water bus to our starting point.

This time Linda asked at the ticket window which one to take. Jumped on the Numero Uno, and relied on our memories of last year, positive we would see the Peggy Guggenheim Museum as the water bus approached. We had not counted on scaffolding covering the front of the building. Six stops after the museum stop, we realized we had missed it and got off. Got on the return water bus and knew now which stop to get off at.

Only problem, for some reason or the other, the water bus approached the stop, the driver blew his horn, lots of angry yelling, and eventually he took off without docking and went to the next stop. Which was the first stop where we had started our journey. Twice.

I need to explain that in hindsight we now know that the museum stop is the first stop from where we boarded the water bus. One stop.

We took two water buses well past it. Took two others back to Point A.

After 1 1/2 hours of riding the (very crowded) water buses, I suggested we should forget the museum and buy ourselves a beer. LK agreed, although she maintains now that it was her suggestion. Anyhow, after a beer she said, "You know. It would have cost us 12 euros a piece to see the damned Peggy Guggenheim Museum, and I can't stand the crap they have on exhibit there."

She then added, "I think I would rather shop today."

We set off on our new mission, and she didn't miss a stop.


Another beautiful day, bright sun shining and temperatures warm but not stifling. We decided to take the water bus cross the Grand Canal and wander around over there, since we had never really explored that part of the city. It was a wise choice. Nowhere near as many people as mob the area between St Marks and Rialto, and quite a bit more shade.

We popped into a church, looked in on several shops and, arriving at the entrance to the Peggy Guggenheim museum, made it official that we were not going to visit it. We weren't too concerned about where we went or wandered because we could always find the Grand Canal and jump on a water bus to get back if we got tired. Well, that's what we thought, but of course after an hour or so, we had wandered into an area and had no idea which way led to the water buses.

I trusted my instincts about where to go and eventually remembered why I had bought a GPS for this holiday. But the good news is that when you're on an island and have a map in your pocket, you eventually figure out where you are and where you need to go. For us, it was the church of St Rocco. (And honestly, I never even knew there was a St Rocco, but he is now very high on my favorite list.)

When we saw that church we were able to locate ourselves on the map and figure out where to go next, but we were pretty thirsty and a little hungry so we stopped at a sidewalk cafe to have a pizza, a green salad and a beer. It was only when we were drinking the beer that I realized this was a Chinese restaurant, but to be honest the pizza was OK. The salad was a little odd, with kernels of canned corn in it, but it just felt good to sit in the shade for an hour and get some liquid down our throats.

Having figured out how to get back to the main island, I now guided us to the Rialto Bridge. (It wasn't hard. By now we were close enough that every corner had a sign pointing out where to go to get to the bridge.) And as we crossed the bridge, I discovered that LK has more faith in me than common sense would dictate. God love her, but when I said that I thought we could go a different route back to the hotel and avoid the crowds, she said OK and followed me.

Even when we ended up in a cul-de-sac courtyard, she didn't suggest we might fare better with the crowds. And I again trusted my instincts about which direction to go.

This time my instincts led us into a section of Venice that was quite remarkable. In a two- or three-block area, we encountered perhaps no more than 7 or 8 tourists. And every single one of them was looking at their map, trying to figure out where they were. Which, by now, I was too.

We finally crossed one of those little bridges and LK saw a map in a storefront that said "You Are Here" in four languages. At last, I was able to figure out where we were. And we weren't all that far off the mark, even if I can't take much credit for that. I figured out the way back to the hotel, made only two mistakes - both of which I corrected within a block - and made it back.

Tired. Hot. Very thirsty. And the longest walk I think either of us has taken in many years. That's OK. We slept well that night.


Our legs ache. Our feet ache. This week we have walked much more than we are used to doing.

LK suggests a day of culture (which is to say, less walking) - the Venice Biennale international art exhibition. A leisurely stroll around the gardens, stopping at the various country's choices.

I don't know art, but I know what I like. After today I have decided that most of the artists here probably don't know art, either, and they certainly don't know what I like. Most of what we saw was like looking at the final show of a high school art class - pretty cool ideas (if you're 17 and haven't read very many things in your life) and a brave decision to use revolutionary technique (because, frankly, it is waaaay too hard to master genuine technique).

I liked the Spain exhibition, wanted to torch the Belgian. And in the main hall, I saw so much inane and poorly done stuff that I looked around for the hidden cameras to see if they were trying to film people who were stupid enough to ooh and aah at this crap for Candid Camera.

Which led me to the exhibits of my two home countries. The United States of America chose a 69-year-old artist who thought it was way cool to have a room-sized mobile of rubber-cast heads hanging off the various rods. In another room, he had 15 rubber pairs of hands on podiums. And he had a video loop continually running showing hands being washed in a grungy sink.

Spare me, Lord. The US of A decided this claptrap was the best they could present to the world to show the current state of play for their art world.

So let's skip on to Australia. Their hall was a little difficult to find since it was kind of behind most of the other halls. I don't think that is an artistic statement, but more of a comment on what crappy negotiators the Aussies were. Anyhow, doesn't matter. When we got there, I felt great pride in seeing that ours was the only art exhibit with a car parked outside. And it was a Mad Max 3 kind of car, with fuel drums in the back. Cool. We already had the USA beat, even if inside was crap.

Once in there, we saw that our contribution to this year's Biennale was mostly a bunch of videos. I especially liked the five TV sets showing people spinning around (a woman on stilts dressed like Marilyn Monroe, a guy on a skateboard, a street dancer spinning on his back, a guy twirling a roadblock thingy, and a guy spinning on a utility pole). At least they were all spinning in the same direction.

But the main part of the exhibit was a large room showing a wall-sized video of road kill. Trucks roar by, and eventually a Mad Max look-alike shows up on his motorcycle, stops and picks up the dead roo, caresses it and shows it the kind of love that - quite frankly - most roadkill never sees even before it becomes roadkill. I don't know what the artist was trying to convey, but I for one could not stop thinking of how bad that kangaroo corpse must have smelled sitting there in the desert while the camera crew set up and waited for trucks to pass by.

After the scene with the kangaroo, the film cut to another scene with what I think was a very dead dingo on the roadside. Once again Make-believe Mad Max stopped to check it out, and gently swatted away the flies gathered on the roadkill. I figured I got the point, and suggested to LK that it might be a good time to go. Good thing I did. When we read the literature later, it turns out the piece was called "Apology to Roadkill: I - VI". Don't think I could have handled four more scenes of roadkill belatedly feeling their love.

We left Biennale after watching that video. Went directly to a fantastic restaurant, and had a wonderful rest of the afternoon eating sardines and stuffed artichokes, followed by jet black risotto made with cuttlefish, which is in season right now. We washed it down with a gorgeous pinot grigio and followed the meal with cheese with truffles and a gorgonzola slice and a glass of red.

Now, that is art.


Sunday is a day of rest, so we rested. Took a walk up to the Rialto to check out the fish market, which is supposed to be quite interesting. Only it's not open on Sunday. To compensate for her disappointment, LK bought a necklace. It's made from Murano glass beads, and it's quite pretty. And it doesn't come in a Tiffany blue box, so it's a lot less than certain other necklaces I am aware of.

Oh, and we bought another suitcase because, despite LK's assurance that we have not bought anything much since getting to Europe, our possessions seem to require more space. Maybe my clothes are getting fat in sympathy with me?

It was noon when we brought the new bag back to drop it off in our room, and we decided that the walk had made us thirsty. So we went back out and walked a couple of blocks to sit in a narrow, shaded street to drink a beer and watch people walk by. Then we decided to go to the outdoor cafe across from our hotel entrance and share a pizza, have another beer and watch more people walk by.

Sunday may be a day of rest, but there were thousands of people bustling about today because five different cruise ships are in port. And believe me, some of these people had to be seen to be believed. It was much more fun to watch them than, say, seeing the rest of the Biennale.

This is the last night of our trip, and we celebrated it by going to the rooftop terrace on the hotel and having dinner while we watched the crowds down below and the boats on the Grand Canal. After dinner, we felt committed to watching a little TV to get rid of the last bits of our booze.

Getting tired of CNN and BBC as the only English-language TV stations, we decided to try watching an Italian-language show. I am happy to report that Funniest Home Videos works in any language because, quite frankly, a guy getting hit in the privates is funny no matter how he says ouch.

We are getting ready to fly to Frankfurt to connect to Bangkok, where we pick up our Sydney flight. And on the 23rd our wonderful trip comes to an end.

No comments: