Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Venice Finale

It's a lazy Sunday in Venice and we are, frankly, a bit spent after three weeks of constant go.  Yesterday we spent the morning and afternoon cooking with Venetian native Patrizia at her beautiful palazzo near San Marco (see liveblogging video footage) and followed that up with a walking tour that called itself a "pub crawl" that was in reality a historic walking tour of this ancient republic.  All in all it was a very worthwhile couple of hours, even if it resulted in sore feet.

So Sunday saw us rise late with no appointments or obligations until late afternoon.  We took advantage of this rare lull and caught up on some work, enjoying the view over the Grand Canal from our room even as the previous days' beautiful weather deteriorated with clouds and occasional showers.  This is our first stay in this hotel, the Palazzo Barbarigo, located on the Salute side of the Grand Canal near the San Toma vaporetto stop.  It is a hip, trendy hotel, with cool furnishings and low lighting, a spare reception area and a large attractive bar and lounge area on the second floor, complete with a small terrace overlooking the canal.  Our arrival on Friday was by water taxi to the hotel's canal entrance, which made for a grand and impressive welcome.  Egres by foot, however, requires you to walk down an impossibly long and even more impossibly narrow alleyway that makes three separate right angle turns, with nary a doorway or entry along the way, before emerging onto a main street just off a large square.  The entrance to our private alley is unmarked save for a small red heart that someone, probably not the hotel, has painted on the entrance.  Thank goodness for grafitti artists.

Suzy and I make a single excursion from the hotel, a leisurely lunch at a touristy nearby pizza restaurant.  Despite the churning at the restaurant, when it became apparent to the staff that we were tucking ourselves in for an extended meal rather than the typical eat and dash of this place, they warmed to us and slowed the pace.  It was a relaxing way to spend a lazy afternoon even if the food was mediocre.  Pete and Nancy, meanwhile, bravely ventured off to Murano to explore the island's glass makers and had what they described as one of, if not the best fritto misto on this trip.  And that is saying a lot.

Our big adventure for the day was a private water taxi tour of the Grand Canal, arranged by our newest bestest friend Alessandro.  He picked us up at the hotel in an immaculate glimmering wooden launch captained by, as he described him, the best taxi driver on the lagoon.  It was only later on in the tour that I overheard him asking the driver "come ti chiama" (what is your name).  Oh those Italians!

Watch your head!
In any event, seeing the palazzos and the churches from the water and gliding under some of the city's 400 bridges rather than limping over them and fighting the hordes of tourists, texting, photographing, wheezing and generally clogging, is a great way to see the city.  I would highly recommend it, particularly in the early evening hours when the light is at its most beautiful and the commercial traffic on the canal is at its minimum.

Our tour ended not back at the Barbarigo, but rather at the ultra luxe Hotel Cipriani on the Giudecca, an island across the canal from San Marco, reachable by vaporetto, private taxi or the hotel's own private launch.  Alessandro and what's his name deliver us to the hotel's private dock where we are greeted by a uniformed attendant who offers us an arm to step from the taxi to the dock.  With that one step we are transported from the ordinary to a fantasy world of perfection.  We have arrived in the world of Cipriani.
Home, James.
We have a dinner engagement with a relative of mine who has the great good fortune of being able to summer here at the Cipriani.  She has agreed to let us into this world and for the next several hours we inhabit a magical world.  The Cipriani sports an enormous swimming pool that is the envy of Venice, it has the best views of San Marco and, as if on cue, the inclement, cloudy weather of the day clears, treating us to a miraculous sunset visible from the hotel's beautiful restaurant, acclaimed as one of the best on the island.  Pete, our resident chef who just earlier in the day proclaimed his Murano lunch spot as having the best fritto misto of the trip proclaims this the best meal on a trip that has seen us dedicate most of our time and resources to eating.  It is an unforgettable conclusion to our Venetian odyssey, an atmospheric evening whose feel, if not details, will become part of our Venice lore, as will the triumphant return to the main island on the Cipriani private launch.

We stop by San Marco for a final drink and to listen to the dueling combos that play at the outdoor caffes in square, the music washing over us like a coat of sealer that will preserve the memories of another visit to this magical, mystical city.

We alight from our vaporetto and make our way to the secret alleyway that will wind back to the Barbarigo, nearly getting stuck in the narrow passage, perhaps a warning that fantasy and reality do not always coexist so well.  But that is a lesson for another day.  Tonight we will sleep soundly dreaming of the fantasy world that is Venice before heading off to the island of Ponza.

Ci vediamo!
Bill and Suzy

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