Tuesday, September 8th and Wednesday September 9th
As you can see from the title of this page, today we went to Venice. Astute readers will note that that Jenn and I have been there several times before; We were going back for several reasons: 1) Asmir had never been, and had expressed a strong interest in visiting, 2) Miriam had only visited as a kid, and she had some negative perceptions that we/she wanted to wash away, and 3) Venice is such a great place to visit, with so much to see, that going to see it even tens of times would be no hardship at all.
The Hotel Montepiana
We drove into the shoreline city of Mestre, which is opposite Venice, early in the morning. We had booked ahead on-line at a hotel which had a reasonably-priced 4-person room for us, and which was within walking distance of the Mestre train station. Having visited Venice several times now, we knew that the most economical way to visit was to get a decent room in Mestre, leave the car at the hotel, and take the 1 Euro / 15 minute train ride into Venice.
We stayed at a modest but clean multi-story hotel called the Hotel Montepiana (recommended, link here
). The lady at the front desk was extremely cheery and helpful, and had no problem with us parking our car in the hotel lot for the day, even though our room would not be ready until the afternoon. It took us only a few minutes after that to reach the Mestre train station and buy our 1 Euro tickets.
The train left Mestre and travelled across the long Ponte della Liberta -- the causeway that connects the island of Venice with the mainland. Just off to our left, we could see the long line of wooden posts that marked one of the 'water roads' of Venice, and occasionally we would see a long open boat carrying goods of some sort or other.
After a somewhat long wait while some train traffic was resolved, we finally edged into the Venice train station, disembarked from the train, and out into the large plaza in front. With a wide view of the Grand Canal, the Ponte Scalzi, grand old churches and waterside buildings, it is a fitting place to enter the different world that is Venice.
Gli Scalzi Church
We first wandered into the first ornate church you walk in front of as you leave the train station. I've walked by this church many times but never gave it much attention. It is called the 'Gli Scalzi' church, and is a dark and very ornate place. A dramatic transition from the modern mechanical-ness of the train station to this.
The usual throng of people were coursing down the most direct way to the main sights of the city. We decided to do what we often do when we come to Venice: pick a direction off the beaten path and wander off, seeking to get a feel for the nooks and crannies of the place and to leave the mass of humanity behind. We would of course still be going to the most iconic of places in Venice -- the Piazza San Marco -- but we would do it without the jostling and hubbub of thousands of tourists.
Quiet Backstreet in Venice
We wandered through quiet streets, across numerous little bridges over canals, through small squares. We'd stop to examine some particularly interesting or dark side passage, or at times we would backtrack as we incorrectly chose one of the countless little dead-ends that are scattered about.
Soon lunchtime was on us, and we decided to simply stop at whatever sidewalk vendor was most convenient. We chose a small cafe right underneath the shadow of a major Venetian church - the Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. The food was decent enough, but nothing special, and I was slightly annoyed that many of the items on the menu they displayed to passers-by were not actually available. That display menu was [partially] why I chose the place!
S. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari
After lunch, it was time for more exploring. We happened upon an interesting spot: an exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci's machines, which we spent an hour or so touring. I had seen this display some time ago already near Florence, and it is quite interesting.
Up to this point, we had wandered through several of the western sestieri, or municipal districts, of Venice on our walk: the Sestiere Santa Croce, San Polo, and Dorsoduro. We now started to angle towards Venice's signature center -- the Piazza San Marco -- and to do this, we had to cross over the Grand Canal at the Ponte Accademia bridge.
The scenery here (where one crosses over the Grand Canal at P. Accademia) is especially good, with grand and sumptuous classic Venetian-style buildings lining the water's edge and a wonderful view down to the Santa Maria delle Salute -- one of Venice's most beautiful churches. The view from the middle of the Ponte Accademia is not to be missed!
Beautiful Grand Canal View
Grand Venetian Waterfront
View from Accademia Bridge
We happened upon another interesting musuem: this time, the 'Museo della Musica' (music museum, housed in an old church), which contained a very interesting array of historic (some very historic) musical instruments (oh, and this musuem had free admission).