Home > Travel > Mysteries of Space: Venice

Mysteries of Space: Venice

November 29, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

This post is intended to be a complement to my Mysteries of Time: Venice post. Like that one, it may have more to say about my stupidity than about Venice. But if it’s Venice you wish to learn about, there’s no shortage of better places you can turn to. So let’s continue to focus on the minutiae of our recent trip.

In the earlier Venice post, I described our 9+ hour, three-train journey from Grenoble through the Alps and across northern Italy to Venice, followed by our general confusion at the train station as we tried to get vaporetto three-day passes and board a #1 vaporetto in the right direction. We arrived at last at the Santa Maria del Giglio stop, rolled our bags through the narrow passage that leads from the stop to Campo Santa Maria del Giglio (the square named after the eponymous church, Chiesa di Santa Maria del Giglio), walked to the center of the campo and looked back toward the campo’s wider opening to the Grand Canal, at the end of which was our hotel, the Hotel Gritti Palace. Walking toward the canal, we found the pedestrian opening and entered. It turns out that the grand opening, as one would expect, faces the Grand Canal itself rather than the campo. The way to arrive there is to take a water taxi, which we had chosen not to spend the money on, given how pricey they are.

I now need to explain that the way we booked all our Italian hotels, as well as our Paris hotel, entitled us to free room upgrades, if available. They would be available in Rome, Florence, and on our return to Paris, but we soon learned that an upgrade wasn’t available at the Gritti. I had gambled a bit on this one, and lost. When booking with the agent, I was given three options. The first category had a king bed and plenty of space, but it was the basic choice. A step up was the Venice 700 category, which was about the same size, but had some special decoration. And the next step up was the canal room, which I understood would face the Grand Canal. Mind you, we had never been in Venice before, and it wasn’t clear to me how urgent a Canal-facing room was, but it was a lot more expensive in any case, so I figured we would go for the Venice 700 room and take our chances on an upgrade. When we were told one wasn’t available, I was disappointed, but just glad to be in Venice and not too concerned.

And then we were taken to the room. It was dreamlike. I wish I had taken photos. The wallpaper and curtains were all one in their rich, decorative patterns. The room was beautiful, dream-like, mind-boggingly colorful and lavish. It was also claustrophobic, oddly enough. From the hall, one enters a small passageway with the bathroom to one side and the bedroom at the end, through a second door. Once one walks into the bedroom and shuts the door, the decoration is so seamless that that door, the closet doors, and the window coverings all blend together, giving one the feeling of being in an enclosed box. And a hot one at that. The heat was on and it was suffocating. We were shown the thermostat, which I couldn’t figure out how to use to shut the heat off, since the little lever had broken off. As our host rattled off other amenities, I pulled the curtain aside and opened the window. That’s when I saw that we were facing a small interior courtyard through which a loud ventilation-system noise was blasting. I thought — I can’t stay here. Even if I figure out how to shut the heat, we would need the window open, and we couldn’t sleep with that noise. It pained me to give up the room’s beauty, but I asked what else was available.

Our host called down to the front desk, then brought us across the hall. The Gritti’s layout is complicated, with floors shifted from other floors by half-stairways, as the portion of the old palace facing the Grand Canal seems to have been connected to other buildings that run perpendicular to it away from the canal, forming a rectangle around that noisy courtyard. The premier rooms would be the ones facing the Grand Canal. Then imagine the two wings that are perpendicular to the Grand Canal wing. One, the one we were in, has the courtyard to one side and the campo to the other. The room across the hall faces the campo. It was larger, with a double-sized bathroom and lots of closet space. It was also very plain, lacking all the decorative niceties of the first room or any niceties at all. And it had twin beds. Plus the possibility of people walking just below our window. I asked if there was anything else. We were then led to the wing that runs perpendicular to the Grand Canal wing on the far side of the courtyard. One set of rooms in this wing would be on the courtyard. We were shown a room in the other set, on the other side of the hall. And this set faces onto a small canal that runs into the Grand Canal. The bathroom was small, like the original one. We had a king bed. We were up higher. And when you open the window, there’s this wonderful small canal or canaletto. I was sold. If we couldn’t have the Grand Canal, at least we could have a canal. Gail wasn’t as excited by our luck as I was. She couldn’t quite believe we were giving up the first room. But she agreed that the options of heat and noise that the first room presented were not tolerable. So we accepted the canal room.

We headed out to find dinner, stumbling first past a fancy shopping district and then into Piazza San Marco before we chose a restaurant. After dinner, we wandered around some more, had gelato in San Marco, returned to the room, and unpacked. I continued to wonder if I had made a stupid decision, but it still seemed like the best of the three options we were offered. And I enjoyed looking down at our intimate little canal, with gondolas and water taxis occasionally going by.

So that was Saturday night. Sunday morning, before the rains came that would plague us for the rest of the trip, I again enjoyed the sights and sounds of our canal. We had a lovely day. (Short version: breakfast at the Gritti, but unfortunately not out on the patio on the Grand Canal, perhaps the Gritti’s most famous feature, because it was too cool; walk; go to Murano and look at glass; buy glass; back to Venice; long walk, totally lost much of the time, until I figured out how to match map features with the little canals and bridges, then finding our way successfully to Chiesa della Madonna dell ‘Orto, where we intended to see Tintoretto’s Last Judgment, only to find that the church was closed on Sundays, in contrast to the information we had that it’s open in the afternoons; zigzag from there to Campo del Ghetto Nuovo, where we found our way to the Museo Ebraico di Venezia; see the museum’s exhibits while we wait for a synagogue tour; take the last synagogue tour of the day, seeing three of the five synagogues in the ghetto; long walk without map consultations as we tried to get back to the Grand Canal, succeeding at last but finding ourselves back at the train station, much farther from the hotel than we anticipated; long vaporetto ride again, return to hotel, rest, out for dinner, more walking, retire to room.)

Now we get to the “good” part of the story. This is Sunday night. We go to bed. And then we discover the joys of sleeping above a small side canal on a working day. I don’t know when it all started, but at 5:30 AM I finally looked out the window to see what the heck was going on below us. A working boat was moored below, with some guy throwing bag after bag into it. I later realized it was the laundry boat. It pulled away. The next boat was directly under the window, and two big doors were open at canal level on the other side. One guy was throwing food items from the boat to another man in the boat, and he would toss them to a man in the doorway. Loaves of bread. Greens. Fruit. It was something to watch. Real-life, working Venice. But I’d rather have slept.

Still, this was just a warmup. For next was the garbage boat. It was raining steadily now. One guy stood in the stern with a gray NY Yankee cap on. He just watched, or maybe kept the boat steady. I don’t know. Another guy through bag after bag after bag after bag of garbage into the boat from the walkway. And another would roll a cart up every so often. It took an hour before I got it — the boat doesn’t move down the canal, the way garbage trucks drive down streets. The boat stays fixed and the garbage comes to it, rolled along in these carts. Just imagine a garbage truck driving into a giant apartment complex, setting the brake, and waiting as mini-dumpsters are wheeled from every building in the development to the truck. That’s what was happening. Plus, like a garbage truck, the garbage boat has a compactor. Every few minutes, it would be engaged, compacting the garbage in order to open up space for the next load. Meanwhile, a second boat had pulled up. I don’t know if its captain wanted to pass, but he just waited behind the garbage boat and they talked a little. By 8:30 AM, after 3 hours of continuous noise, we gave up and got going for the day.

After breakfast, we stopped at the concierge desk so I could ask how often garbage day is. The concierge was busy with another guest. Another guy asked if he could help, and his English didn’t seem up to understanding my question. I had to wait for the concierge. When he was free, he smiled and assured me that every day is garbage day. He then brought me to the check-in desk to see if we could change rooms. I explained that we had been due an upgrade if available, and we would gladly take one now, for our one remaining night. The man at the desk was the same one who greeted us two nights earlier. He said of course, he would take care of us, but we would have to pack. We said yes, certainly. We went up, packed, came back, told him the bags were ready, were assured that he would take care of us, and headed out for the day. (And what an extraordinary day. The Basilica di San Marco. The vaporetto a few stops down so we could walk to I Frari. Drats. Lost again. And it was raining hard. But we found it at last and its Titians and assorted other masterpieces. Then Scuola Grande di San Rocco. Amazing, with all the Tintorettos. Chiesa di San Polo with Tiepolo’s Stations of the Cross. We were now fairly soaked. We made our way back to the vaporetto stop and returned to the hotel,)

On our return, we were brought up to a magnificent room facing the Grand Canal, with spectacular views. It was glorious. Well worth the trouble of packing up, all the more since we could anticipate a decent night’s sleep. The photo at the top was taken by Gail from the room. See also the photo below, from the Gritti’s website. Notice the three windows grouped together along the center of the upper floor. Our room had the two of those three windows to the left. Kind of hard to beat that location.

Once settled in the room, we went back down for afternoon tea in the bar, returned to the room to enjoy our new quarters, then went out for our final Venetian dinner. We slept well. The next morning, as we came down the stairs to have breakfast in the dining room, we were greeted by a flood. Business as usual for the Gritti staff, but a surprise to us. They had set up platforms that met the stairway a few steps up from the floor. They wandered around with boots on, but we used the platforms to stay elevated about 18 inches from the floor. The water was maybe 1-2 inches deep, depending on the location in the hotel. Breakfast was moved from their main dining room to one farther back, on higher ground.

We had realized the day before that our local church, Santa Maria del Giglio, was not to be missed, with its Tintoretto and Veronese and Rubens. Once we were all packed, we went off to see it. Then we brought our bags down, asked the concierge to get us a water taxi to the train station, and checked out. Despite our initial reluctance on arriving to use a water taxi, this time we figured it would be worth the cost, both because we didn’t really want to drag our luggage through flooded passageways to the vaporetto and because the time it saved us is what allowed us to see the church. When I went to the checkout counter, I was met by the unusual sight of the hotel cashier sitting calmly at his desk in two inches of water. He got up, came over to the counter, and I towered over him, since he stood on the floor and I stood on a platform.

The water taxi came, we boarded, and off we went on a lovely 25-minute ride to the station. Because of the flooding, he couldn’t pull into his usual place, as we would have had to get out in standing water, so he dropped us at the vaporetto stop. We entered the station, got some sandwiches, awaited our train, boarded, and headed to Rome, leaving Venice way too soon.

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