View of Grande Canal from Pallazzo Barbarigo Minotto
After a perfectly dreadful day in Milan with everything going wrong I was peevish when I reached Venice on my birthday facing five days in what some consider the ultimate tourist hell. But there are some things that even hoards of tourists, horrible heat, high prices, and bad food can’t spoil. It’s just one of those miracles. Like Gaudi’s Barcelona, there’s nothing on earth like this place.
The first two days, I practically killed myself with exertion during the heat of the day. On the first day I went on a two hour walking tour that turned into a six hour walking tour (a few of us die-hards just continued to follow the poor guide, Francesco, a native Venetian, until he’d led us to every “secret” non-touristy bizarre spot in town.) Francesco ended up paying for our water taxi ride and buying us all drinks, the incomparable Aperol “spreetz” (although I learned to love the Campari spritz as well.) The Venetians drink this stuff all day more or less the way Americans drink ice cold beer in hot weather.
A walking tour with a character like Francesco is a real treat. There are so many goofy things about Venice history, e.g., the fact that the bone relics of Alexander the Great have almost certainly been revered by Venetians for centuries as the bone relics of St. Mark (San Marco the Evangelist.) The merchants stole the bone relics from Alexandria and hid them on the ship under dried pork because the muslim inspectors wouldn’t touch the stuff. Then of course there are the antics of Casanova including his daring escape from the dungeon of the Palazzo Ducale. The kookiness just goes on and on. The mayor of Venice and thirty-five of his subordinates were arrested for corruption on my first day in town. No one seemed to think it was a big deal that the city was under a military government for ten days.
“Hidden” Pallazzo called “the snail” from walking tour.
Ancient used book store with winding stairs made of old books to a balcony with a view – from walking tour
The second day, I took the Vaporetto to the Lido and wallowed in the genteel setting of Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice”. Of course, the Grande Hotel des Bains was closed for renovations so I wasn’t able to indulge in my spritz there but I did have a good fish dinner (head and tail on) at the beach. All I can say is that the Lido is a fabulous break from the crazy noisiness of Venice. Everyone should spend their second day there, renting a cabana and riding hired bikes (there’s almost no traffic.)
Now let me say this. When you walk twenty miles in the heat of the day, you can forget about seeing Venice in the evening (sunset around 9:00 pm in May.) I was dead on my feet by five and spent my evenings in bed with my feet propped up watching movies set in Venice on You Tube. These included Death in Venice (the male lead dies in Venice), The Comfort of Strangers (the male lead dies in Venice), Don’t Look Now (the male lead dies in Venice), and the Casino Royale sinking pallazzo scene (the female lead dies in Venice.) I realized that trekking around in the day with a bunch of European and Asian tourists, I just wasn’t appreciating the gothic aspect of Venice with all the “momento mori.” Like the old sections of New Orleans, you have to experience it nearly empty in the cool evening.
I made a firm resolve to force myself to stay in bed during most of my third day and rest up for a long evening out starting around 7:30 p.m. Around that time, I had a brilliant idea. I had heard about the “Musica Pallazo” opera concerts held in various rooms (rather than changing scenes on stage) of one of the most fabulous pallazzos in the Veneto, the Pallazzo Barbarigo Minotto.
Pallazzo Barbarigo Minotto (Musica Pallazzo opera concerts)
Trying to find this place was like going to a speakeasy. You just have to be in the know or you will never find the back door. Fortunately this was one time Siri was an angel and didn’t try to make me swim or base jump. The Musica Pallazzo only allows about forty spectators into the concert but I was lucky in that apparently they can always manage an extra folding chair (I had no reservation) for a single supplicant ($100 but worth it!) The evening was thrilling. Sometimes the singers would hand the audience glasses of champagne as if we were guests at the heroine’s party in Paris in the first act. Often they were inches from our faces.
Pallazzo Boudoir where Violetta dies in La Traviata
It was Saturday, the night they do La Traviata and in the final death scene of Violetta, the lady sitting behind me fainted or had a seizure and they had to briefly stop the performance for her friends to get her out. One of the musicians from the orchestra was on the vaporetto after the performance. I asked if people often fainted during their performances. He joked that “it was a double tragedy!”
The view of the illuminated Grande Canal at night was enchanting but only because I was standing on the edge of the packed vaporetto. I could breathe the cool night air (it was midnight) and see the people partying in the hotels and bars although most of the pallazzos seemed to be vacant and abandoned. Again, a woman swooned because she was in the center of the crowded vaporetto with no air!
The next day, I didn’t have much choice about staying in during the day. It was the day of the famous Vodalonga (longboat) race ending on the Grande Canal so the vaporetti weren’t running most of the day and it was rather hot and crowded on the streets and bridges with people cheering the international rowing teams (one was from the “Republic of California.”)
Vodalonga Boat Race – Grande Canal, Venice, Italy
Still, later in the day, I was able to trek to the Scuola Grande and Church of San Rocca, an incredible art museum and church, a true Tintoretto pig out (one art pig out in Venice is obligatory.)
Scuola Grande and Church of San Rocca
Scuola Grande San Rocca Second Floor Interior
My five days and nights in Venice were complete. One day less wouldn’t have been enough and one day more would have been too much. Still, I never did really get to see gothic Venice in the dark and empty of people. Maybe that would be worth an autumn visit.