Deep Travel Discounts, An Unexpected Meeting With Peggy Guggenheim Plus The 6th Highest Acqua Alta!
There's no place in the world like Venice.
|Arthur - Midnight in Piazza San Marco|
I traveled to Venice in November with my friend Bud Santora to do research for my upcoming novel, Aqua Alta. The title in Italian means high water and refers to the annual flooding of the city that occurs commonly between September and February. I was hoping there would be an aqua alta while I visited and boy, did I get what I asked for. More about that later. But two of the perks traveling off season are...less people and it's less expensive.
|Riding In Private Water Taxi|
The exact same trip - four nights out of JFK - if booked on my own came to approximately $1,593.33 per person. Booked through Gate 1 it came to $794.60. Everything was in order and went smoothly and exactly as planned. But if at anytime there is a mix-up, you have direct contact with Gate 1 who will help you. (No, I don't work for them but I'd love to buy some stock in their company.)
(Note to self: When flying for long periods of time, never ever wear comfortable nylon shell workout pants on a plane. All night long during the flight over I kept slipping out of my seat.)
|Yes, That Tower Is Leaning!|
|Katharine Hepburn - Summertime|
When we touched down at the airport in Venice there was a man waiting for us, checked that everything was in order and with one other couple we walked a short pathway to our boat. Total cost to take us to our hotel and back again to the airport when we were leaving was about $62 for both of us! $31 a piece/$15.50 each way. It was so worth it. And the boat was a beautiful wood paneled type you see in the movies. Think The Tourist with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. Actually, don't. It's a terrible film. The movie you should watch is Summertime with Katharine Hepburn. Directed by David Lean in 1955, the story is a bit silly but everything is shot on location and Venice still looks gloriously the same today.
|A Room With A View|
|Room # 303|
We spent the first day getting our bearings and soaking up
|Bud At An Outdoor Cafe|
We had a glass of wine, a walk through the Piazza San Marco and then weaved our way over to the Rialto Bridge.
|Osteria Al Sacro e Profano|
These establishments are where the locals hang out and Julia shared tons of history and interesting anecdotes about Venice and its people. I really enjoyed Osteria Al Sacro e Profano. Run by a brother and sister team, it embodied the true spirit of a Venetian osteria. And across the alley way above our heads was this amazing little fresco of a gondola. This food and wine crawl changed our whole perspective of Venice.
Day two we strolled over to the Venice Biennale. This year marks its 55th season. A triumph
A late lunch at a cafe clinging to the side of a canal and we were off exploring again. In Venice, just walking around is like being in a museum. But I had never been to the famed Peggy Guggenheim and really wanted to experience it. But as we approached the Accademia Bridge to cross the Grand Canal, it was Bud who noticed
|We Had Palazzo Cavalli To Ourselves!|
|Bertil Vallien Murano Glass|
|Peggy Guggenheim Museum|
She not only collected stunning artwork by Alexander Calder, Jackson Pollack, Max Ernst and many others, but she was also lovers with several of them, not to mention Samuel Beckett. If interested to know more about this extremely eccentric woman, read Edmund White's City Boy who was friends with her in the 60s and 70s.
In fact, after soaking up as much art and culture as I could, I went out into the garden courtyard and sat on a stone chair to gather my strength to walk all the way back towards our hotel. I pulled out my iPad and started to read chapter 11 in Edmund's book. He says that Peggy wasn't lazy, but bored. The only passion she had in her life was to make sure that she and her beloved Lhasa Apsos could be buried in her garden. Well, it's against Venetian law not to be buried in a cemetery but Peggy said she'd donate her palace and priceless artwork to the city if they could be buried underneath her stone Byzantine chair. And they were.
Oh. My. God. I'm sitting on Peggy Guggenheim!
|Peggy And Her Beloved Dogs|
The Sixth Highest Acqua Alta, Opera In A Private Palazzo And A Movie-like Ending!
There's no place in the world like Venice.
We had gone to sleep the night before knowing that an acqua alta would most likely occur the next morning. Common in Venice between November and December, the flooding happens when a full moon coincides with a storm. And the next day it was predicted that we would have gale winds coupled with extreme barometric changes. (Not a great thing for any of us who live with balance disorders. Breathe, remember to breathe.)
Early that morning, it was a vaparetto that was banging against the Arsenale stop desperately trying to dock, that woke me up. Right after that, an emergency siren screamed out to all of Venice that the acqua alta had arrived and this was what I saw out of my window at the Hotel Bucintoro.
By the time my travel partner, Bud Santora, and I had made it down to the first floor for breakfast, the Baltic Sea was literally climbing up the side of our hotel.
This is probably the only time you're not going to see pigeons in San Marco Square!
Not knowing what was going to be open or closed (everything was open), we bought tickets for a matinee performance of a show proclaiming they perform 365 days of the year, the Teatro San Gallo. It was a musical telling of the history of Venice. (No small feat in less than two hours.)
Although it was informative, entertaining, and funny, it was a little awkward to have the entire cast playing to the eight of us in the audience who were sitting in about an inch of water. But I understand the small turn-out...we had just experienced the sixth highest acqua alta in recorded history! If you've never been to Venice before and/or need to catch up on some history, this is actually a great show to see at the beginning of your visit.
Luckily, we stumbled upon a French couple who were also lost and they had GPS tracking on their cell phone. If we hadn't met up, I'm certain we'd still be in Venice. Hmm, that doesn't sound too bad. Walking GPS apps for iPhones and other apps are a godsend, but check with your phone carrier to see what their fees are. We chose not to activate our phones in Europe because of the crazy high cost. (Note to self: Don't leave hotel without map. Ever!)
On our stroll back through Piazza San Marco we decided to have a nightcap at the Gran Caffe Chioggia. Like Caffe Florian, it's way overpriced and touristy but we're in Venice! And we lived to tell the world that we survived the acqua alta! A parade of people marched by to avoid some of the aftermath of the flooding in the square but as soon the drinks arrived they started playing none other than...
The last day of our trip and I wanted to explore the city with my camera. It's amazing how your whole perspective of an environment will change the moment you see it through a lens.
In Venice, everything is beautiful.
The masks and the costumes...
the catch of the day...
Refreshed and revived, we revisited the Basilica San Marco (on different trips we had both seen it before) but also went up to the top of the Campanile di San Marco - which was a first for me.
Originally it was a lighthouse but in 1902 it collapsed. Rebuilding began the next year and now the bell tower offers stunning views of the city once again.
For our last evening in Venice I bought tickets to experience Musica a Palazzo. Performed in the 15th century Barbarigo Minotto Palace you can choose between seeing one of three operas or a collection of love duets. (We chose the duets.) And allow time to find the palace, it's a bit tricky. Once you go down a dark alley, you ring a buzzer and enter a majestic
After the performance I had made late dinner reservations at Caffe Centrale.
The design is chic, eclectic and is located near the opera house, Teatro La Fenice. We shared an appetizer of hot round bread topped with mozzarella, mushrooms and prosciutto. A scrumptious gooey mess! I had broiled mixed seafood and Bud, the filet mignon with potato mousse. D-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s-!
While heading back to the hotel I reflected back upon this trip to Venice. Revisiting a city can often be a letdown. But not this time. If anything, Venice was more exciting than I remembered and at every turn I found something that creatively inspired me. I felt I had so much more insight into what my new novel, Acqua Alta, was going to encompass. I just needed that final moment - that perfect ending. And then it happened. I walked out onto the Piazza San Marco one more time and found myself completely alone at the stroke of midnight.
My ending found me.