Venice After Our Star Princess Cruise

By John F. Rooney

When John Lazzatti and I reached Venice at the end of our Star Princess cruise, the ship sailed majestically up the lagoon past San Marco Square, and was the biggest structure in Venice while it was there. It docked south of the city, and we went back and forth to San Marco on a shuttle vaporetto. We spent the first night in Venice aboard the ship.

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For our fist afternoon in Venice while still being housed aboard ship, we quickly found our hotel and headed for Harry’s Bar. We had two martinis each served in very small glasses. We tried one straight up and one on the rocks. There’s a small bar and a sprinkling of tables in a not very large room. I bought a copy of Arrigo Cipriani’s book called “Harry’s Bar, The Life and Times of the Legendary Venice Landmark.” The book was nineteen Euros and the four drinks were sixty-nine Euros, total $132.00. A later visit with one drink each cost us 56 Euros or $84.

For five nights we stayed at the Best Western Albergo San Marco for 583 Euros (about $874 each). We had separate rooms. The hotel was a few steps away from San Marco Square. In contrast to the breakfast in Rome, the breakfast provided was very basic-no hot food and a very limited amount of other offerings which were undistinguished.

We ate lunches and dinners in small places which were very reasonable. Often the restaurants called themselves pizzerias, but had a full menu of Italian food. House white wine was uniformly good, the breads were delicious, and at lunch we often had tasty pizzas. We never sought out or needed expensive restaurants and were always satisfied by the places we found just roaming around the streets. Most of the help were non-Italians with a number of Bangladeshi in some places.

We wandered alone in various sections of the city, starting around ten and then rejoined each other for lunch at two. Often we’d get lost, but that was the fun of it, getting lost in the maze and labyrinth that is Venice, and making all sorts of serendipitous discoveries: a new church, a beautiful campo, a fish market near the Rialto Bridge, or a coffee shop with tempting pastry. John L. discovered the Coin department store near the Rialto and found some good buys.

We were in Venice from November 8, 2007 to November 14, 2007, and we had, at times, very cold weather, bone-chilling and penetrating dampness at night, but the city made you forget the cold with its beauty and uniqueness. Late October and early November are good times to go because you avoid the huge high season hordes. One piece of advice to the city fathers: stop selling pigeon food in the Piazza San Marco and cut down on those thousands of pigeons. They fly into people, leave droppings, shed feathers, and are a nuisance.

Venice is a magical city of dreams, unreal and ethereal. We’ll remember scenes at night along the canals, the Bridge of Sighs, the Bacino, gondolas, the Rialto Bridge, reflections of the sinking houses on the canals, the Grand Canal, colonnades, baroque churches with great art, quiet secret gardens, cloisters, the stone wells that are everywhere, the lion symbols, and the Doge’s Palace. We toured the Doge’s Palace and actually crossed the Bridge of Sighs and saw the prison cells. Two glorious churches among a hundred are Santi Giovanni e Paolo and La Basilica della Salute (the dome presently covered in scaffolding).

Venice is a drowning city, but its glories live in your memory forever: the library in the San Marco Piazza, the marble statuary, the palazzos, the campos, Carnevale items in stores with scary costumes and masks, magical sunsets, the shimmering city where life is more unique than in any other city in the world. People started sipping espressos at the Caffè Florian in 1720.

We went to the Lido by vaporetto and strolled along the beach in front of the hotel where von Aschenbach pined over the Polish boy of fourteen in Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice.”

A bookstore Libreria “Acqua Alta” with used books spread out over two large rooms advertises itself as the most beautiful bookstore in the world. In addition to all the shelves, in one room is a full size gondola loaded with books and in the other room another large boat replete with books.

One day I visited the Vivaldi museum, crossed the Accademia Bridge and went to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. It is housed on the Grand Canal in an unfinished palazzo which is a work of art in itself. In the beautiful sculpture garden Peggy Guggenheim is buried alongside fourteen of her beloved dogs; their stone gives their names and dates. The museum boasts several Jackson Pollock canvases so I bought a tie there with a Pollock motif on it.

An interesting art gallery near her museum is the Bac Art Studio where you may be greeted by the owner’s Jack Russell who insists that you toss a ball for him to fetch. You’ll get worn out before he does. I stupidly asked the owner if the dog spoke English, and the owner replied that he understood English but didn’t speak it. “I don’t think dogs in America speak English either,” he quipped.

In Venice we discovered the Inishark Irish pub where we met British and Irish tourists. It gave us something to do in the evening since we didn’t want to attend operas at La Fenice or string quartets at various venues.

Many years before I had arrived and left Venice by train which is a fairly easy maneuver since vaporetti stop at the railroad station. This time we had arrived in the city by ship, and we were to leave by plane. We wondered how were going to manage this with our heavy bags. On the morning of our departure we ordered a water taxi. A bellman pulled our two big bags behind him and led us across San Marco Square to a water taxi pier right outside of the Hotel Baglioni.

A water taxi docked and our bags were loaded aboard. We sat in a comfortable cabin that could easily hold twenty persons. The boat was a mahogany-like speedboat resembling an old Chris Craft. We zipped up one canal, then another and came out on a big waterway behind Venice. It took us a half hour with the throttle wide open to reach a dock outside the airline terminal. The trip was 100 Euros and we tipped the boatman an additional twenty, for a total of $180.

At the boat landing a sign said that you could wait for the shuttle bus or take a seven minute walk to the terminal entrance under a covered walkway. We walked pulling our wheeled bags behind us. We had seen Rome, enjoyed a cruise on the Star Princess, and feasted on the visual delights of Venice. Now it was time to head home by way of JFK. Ciao, Venezia.

John (Jack) Rooney’s latest novel is “The Rice Queen Spy.” His first book was the thriller “Nine Lives Too Many” featuring his series detective Denny Delaney pitted against the arch-terrorist Felix the Cat. That was followed by the suspenseful “The Daemon in Our Dreams” a blend of the naturalistic and the paranormal. His work schedule includes “Clawed Back from the Dead” a new Delaney effort.

He was born and educated in Springfield, Massachusetts (Classical High and American International College), went on to receive a master’s degree in English from Columbia University, and finished course work for his Ph.D. at N.Y.U. He has written book reviews, and feature and travel articles for newspapers and magazines. He served in the U.S. Army as a military policeman in AWOL apprehension and in Times Square and Vienna, Austria. Rooney’s website is [http://www.senneffhouse.com]

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