Travel to Venice and the Veneto in Italy – Amateur Traveler Episode 182 Transcript

categories: europe travel

Venice

This is a transcript of an episode of the Amateur Traveler focusing on traveling to Venice and the Veneto in Italy.

Chris: Today the Amateur Traveler talks about canals, food and really puts you in touch with Shakespeare as we talk about Venice and the Veneto.

Travel to Venice and the Veneto in Italy - Amateur Traveler Episode 182

Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host Chris Christensen. Before we get into this weeks interview, I do have three news stories for you.

The first one: if you’ve ever been to Four Corners, that part of the United States where you can put a hand or a foot in four different states at the same time, if you’ve ever had your picture taken there. Not so much. It turns out that a new survey has discovered that the spot you were at is 2.5 miles away from where it should be.

And then in airline news, United is one of several airlines that has quietly raised their change fees. Theirs have gone up to $150 a ticket. And I’ve also run into this week, Hawaiian with change fees of up to $200 a ticket when you change them and that was each way. So double check before you book, what the change fees are for your particular airline because that could cause some problems later on.

And the other thing that United did this week is they are clarifying their policy that if you are overweight, you will have to buy a second seat. They’re not going to pay the cost of that extra space you may have to take up and they don’t want that passenger next to you to pay the cost either. This is kind of a bad week to be overweight, as some stories also came out that being obese contributes to global warming. For links to those and other stories, check out the Show Notes at amateurtraveler.com.

I’d like to welcome to the show, Ira Bernstein from Dallas who’s come to talk to us about Venice and the surrounding area. Ira, welcome to the show.

Ira: Well, thank you. I’m happy to be on it. Long time listener.

Chris: Well, that’s always fun because for one thing you know the way this works. So I said Venice and the surrounding area because I wasn’t going to jump right into. What do we call that whole area?

Ira: It’s Veneto. And it’s a region, which corresponds in America to a state. So Tuscany is a region. Piedmonte is a region. Veneto is a region.

Travel to Venice and the Veneto in Italy – Episode 98 Transcript

back to page 1

Travel to Venice and the Veneto in Italy – Episode 98 Transcript

back to page 1

Chris: And when we say it corresponds to a state, in our size scale, more like the state of Rhode Island than the state of Texas?

Ira: No, I think it is probably bigger.

Chris: In terms of size.

Ira: Well, in between the two, yeah.

Chris: Ok. And you have been going to Venice a couple of times here.

Ira: We debate whether it’s now going to be 16 or 17. We started about 1994 when I went to a conference in Padua and then went to Venice, which is two train stops away.

Chris: And you actually knew the countdown till your next trip. So this is an annual event at this point?

Ira: It’s five weeks from today, but who’s counting.

Chris: Now, there are many other nice places to go in the world, why do you keep going back to Venice?

Ira: Well, one thing, it’s not like taking a trip anymore. Because we have friends that we see. Actually two different groups: One we see in the Milan touring area which is up north near the Lake District and the other we see in Florence. It’s almost like it would be an insult not to see our friends.

Chris: Ok, but while you are there, you spend some time in this fabled city of canals and the surrounding areas. So lets talk about the two areas separately. First, a little bit about Venice because I think most people have some desire or at least many people have some desire to see Venice. But don’t know what they’re missing in the surrounding areas. So the draw of Venice, obviously, the canals, St Marks Square. What should we do when we are in Venice? What should we see?

Ira: Well, the one thing I would say would be, although you certainly do want to go to St. Mark’s Square, and if you’ve never been there, let me emphasize, by all means go to Venice. We don’t stay in Venice anymore when we visit that area. We love Padua. We have a favorite hotel there. And we stay in Padua and generally make a day trip to Venice, but that’s our idiosyncrasy. In Venice itself, I think the thing that you want to keep in mind is that there is much, much more to Venice than St. Mark’s Square, as captivating as it is. People will have different interests and things so I’m going to be a little bit idiosyncratic. One place we always go to, and I would recommend this for anybody whether or not they’re Jewish like we are, and that is the ghetto. Very interesting historic spot. Wonderful, wonderful tour.

Travel to Venice and the Veneto in Italy – Episode 98 Transcript

back to page 1

Travel to Venice and the Veneto in Italy – Episode 98 Transcript

back to page 1

Chris: And what part of Venice is that in?

Ira: Ok, Venice is divided into six areas called sestiere, which is the sixth version of a quadrant. It’s in the area known as Cannaregio, which was an old foundry district until the 15th century. Actually to get there, basically you’re there if you get off the train at Santa Lucia Station. Get off and by the way it is really, really a shattering, earth shaking, wonderful experience, if you come in by train, as a lot of people will. Get off the train, walk right outside and you’re facing the Grand Canal. Since she’s not here to defend herself, our daughter really got emotionally shook up saying, ”My god this is just like it is in every picture you’ve ever seen” and you haven’t done much more than walk down a flight of stairs and look straight ahead. Ok, you’re on a street called Lista di Spagna and if you turn left along this street actually you’ll pass some hotels, some are very nice. The Principe was a hotel we stayed in the first time we went. Keep on going and cross over a very small canal, go over a bridge, turn left and you’ll see a kosher restaurant and that’s the entrance to the ghetto. Now if you’re a bad speller you will love Venice. The reason being is that Venetian dialect allows things to be spelled pretty much the way our ancestors did, namely any way you want to. As you see the ghetto, you’ll see it spelled with one “t” in some places, two “t’s” in another and sometimes facing one another. Along the way, unfortunately you run into all too many of the downside of Venice which are the tourist shops but some of them have some nice stuff and if you’re not planning to take a trip to Murano for glass, if you’re selective there are some nice things. But the point is, you go across this small tributary, go left and then go right into the ghetto itself. And it’s a historically important, actually, pair of areas. You have the new ghetto and old ghetto but understand new and old are really relative terms and the new ghetto is actually older than the old ghetto. Go figure that one out.

Chris: Now you are on a street Lista di Spagna. Was this ghetto formed from Jews who were expelled from Spain?

Ira: A lot of them were. Yes, and in fact, we have a friend who owns a glass shop who has his store in the ghetto. David’s Shop. Very nice guy. Runs it with his sister. They were saying they were of Spanish extraction. And they had only lived there like 400 years. They’re kind of newcomers.

Chris: Just in passing there we mentioned, “If you don’t get out to Murano”. Why would one go out there?

Ira: It is kind of fun. You can go out to one of the glass blowing plants. You’ve got to be very careful because a lot of the trips you get are sponsored by hucksters who will push you into their shop, which won’t be necessarily the best one. And sometimes you’re better off spending a little bit of money and paying for the vaporetto. The vaporetto are the water taxis. Vaporetti are the water taxis, get it plural. But you go there and it is an interesting experience. You probably will want to get at least some small token to bring home, like a glass or something like that. Or if you want to get something larger. If there’s anything in the world they know how to do, it’s to ship things without breaking them.

Travel to Venice and the Veneto in Italy – Episode 98 Transcript

back to page 1

Travel to Venice and the Veneto in Italy – Episode 98 Transcript

back to page 1

Chris: And one thing we found when we went there is if you do get one of these sponsored trips, what our trip was – it was sponsored to there – not back. So on the way back we were finding either a vaporetti or we were finding the waterbus. I’m trying to think of the name. The name is escaping me for the moment.

Ira: No, the vaporetto is waterbus. It’s a large boat and it will hold large numbers of people and it’s one of the routes they have is to Murano. By the way there is also a lace island called Burano, which we have not been to, but if you like lace, you can go there too. Again it is another route.

Chris: So we’re in a city here in a swamp built on stilts. I don’t know if everybody realizes that that if you look under a building in Venice, you find lots and lots of pylons. What else stands out for Venice? I mean Venice is an interesting and unique city. What stands out for that city for you before we leave it?

Ira: The art. Venetian art has a very, very distinctive quality to it. I’m hardly an expert on art so I’m just reciting what I’ve read and what I’ve been able to catch by seeing. For example, one of Venice’s outstanding painters was named Tintoretto. Venetian painting is marked by its beautiful use of color as opposed to the Florentine school, which is the skill was mainly graphic.

Chris: You mention that you don’t stay on Venice. One thing we should say to people is that … and we stayed on Venice when we were there. We stayed, I was going to say on the island, but we stayed in the city. But it can be a very expensive city to stay. I think we were one bridge away from St. Mark’s Square, and St. Mark’s Square, where St. Mark’s Cathedral is with all the stolen relics from Alexandria. I believe our hotel was $400 a night with the shower and the toilet sharing the same physical space and not a particularly large room and this was probably more than 10 years ago. So not an inexpensive city if you’re staying especially any place close to where the tourists are staying.

Ira: Yeah. There’s some nice places, as I say in Cannaregio near the train station. You have to be fairly careful but those were much less. Again we haven’t stayed there in 15 years, but 15 years ago we didn’t spend nearly what you had to spend. St. Mark’s Square is really fierce. Another problem, by the way, is if you go during the summer, which is the only time a lot of people can go, it will smell – the city.

Chris: Right.

Travel to Venice and the Veneto in Italy – Episode 98 Transcript

back to page 1

Ira: And by the way we can talk more about where to stay if you don’t stay in Venice. And again let me emphasize if you’ve never been there before and you can pony up the bucks, stay there so you can see Venice at night and do things that you can’t see when you’re commuting – although the trains run fairly late. A very popular spot is Mestre, which is the first train stop out of Venice. In fact, it’s know called Venice-Mestre, they are kind of capitalizing on it as opposed to the main train stop which is Venice Santa Lucia, but again we can talk about where else to stay besides Mestre. Mestre doesn’t have that much to offer. Venice does, but you are going to pay for it.

Chris: And the other thing that I was thinking of that I was trying to say earlier, there’s the vaporetti, which is the kind of the waterbus, and there are also water taxis, which are motorboats, which are an individual, you just go where you are trying to go. Which are much more expensive. I believe you’ll often be told as you get off the train there especially if you’re new, no you can’t get there on the waterbus, you need to take the water taxi. That’s not necessarily true. So know your route before you go.

Ira: If your retirement was not invested with Bernie Madoff, you can also get a gondola, which is a very famous site. The first time we went there, I had been married 35 years. We’re now closing in on 50, so the gondola is like we haven’t really done that bit.

Chris: We did the gondola and we enjoyed it. And the one thing for people who are trying to do it more inexpensively, there are also a much shorter gondola ride that’s used just as a ferry across the Grand Canal.

Ira: Exactly, exactly. Whereby tradition you stand.

Chris: Right. And that’s something that’s much less expensive, but it’s not the same thing as going through all of the back canals in Venice. Which is a wonderful experience, wonderful especially as a photographer.

Ira: Yes.

Chris: So now. Getting out of Venice. A lot of the people who work in Venice don’t even live in Venice anymore.

Ira: Yes. I think the majority of them do because it’s very difficult to afford. It’s like so many cities where you have some very low-end housing and very high-end housing without much in the middle.

Chris: Right.

Ira: Let me mention an area. It’s an area that I‘ve just seen very briefly, but to get a side of Venice that’s not tourist, besides the sestiere of Cannaregio, look for the one that’s right next to San Marco, which is called Dorsoduro, which means “hard back”. And that’s kind of a native living area with food that you’ll find that’s not the commercial stuff and again as much as I’ll talk positively about Venice, I’m not going to talk that positively about the food there. It’s much better off the island.

Travel to Venice and the Veneto in Italy – Episode 98 Transcript

back to page 1

Chris: Ok. That being said, I don’t know we found a bad meal in Venice when we were there. I think we had one meal that was right next to the Vatican when we were in Rome that was clearly a tourist restaurant, but I didn’t find it hard to find a good meal . Now a better meal is a different discussion probably. So what are we missing if we just go to Venice?

Ira: Well, there are some wonderful and historic sites. Our favorite place by a long, long shot is the city of Padua. Now again this is in part my idiosycrisy because I’ve been a university professor all of my working life. And it is the second oldest University in Italy at Padua and it has the best tour. The oldest one, oddly enough, Bologna, I don’t even think has an organized tour. And it’s very spread out, but you can see the main campus or the old campus at the Piazza del Bo in Padua and if you do go there, whether a day trip or if you stay there like we do, have your hotel arrange a visit to the University at the Piazza del Bo.

Chris: Anything else in Padua that stands out?

Ira: Oh yeah, oh yeah. It is very famous for its Scrovegni Chapel. I want to give at least equal time to church art. That’s a little bit tougher to get a tour of. The Basilica of St. Anthony, being very accumenical, where you can buy St. Anthony medals which are supposedly guaranteed to help you to find things. And my wife bought one for herself and I pointed out that maybe less than effective with us and I think she lost it. But we brought those back as gifts for our friends. The people who seldom don’t really ask you anything about your religious affiliation when you buy them.

Chris: I’m sure they are very accumenical in their…

Ira: And the food there is magnificent. We have a favorite restaurant called the Vecchia Padua, the Old Padua. We’ll eat most of our meals there when we’re staying there except I think it’s Monday night they’re closed. And there’s a restaurant across the street from our hotel. We have been in debate, I think it is the Ariston, my wife doesn’t agree, but we stay at a hotel called the Igea. And to make you eat your heart out, last time we were there which was three years ago, the three of us spent like under $100 a night. Cheapest hotel we have in Italy. Very nice. A little bit Spartan, but nice ample room and the people there are lovely.

Chris: Now you mentioned food and restaurants. We’re in northern Italy.

Ira: Yes.

Travel to Venice and the Veneto in Italy – Episode 98 Transcript

back to page 1

Chris: Especially for those of us who are listening from the US, a lot of the Italian food that we get here is southern Italian food.

Ira: Well, a lot of it isn’t even Italian.

Chris: Or Sicilian.

Ira: It’s not even Sicilian. Oh no, no, no, no. I would never insult Sicily by saying that Sicily is not part of Italy. Although a Sicilian would probably claim it. No, I mean there are an incredible number of things that are very good. I enjoy very much, they happen to not to be found in Italy. Like for example, my favorite being, if you ask for a pepperoni in Italy. Peperoni is spelled without the double “p” means large pepper. You don’t get the sausage-like affair. And I could go through sauce Alfredo ain’t Italian.

Chris: Well, that one was invented in Rome.

Ira: I think it was invented by a Roman but not in Rome. I think it may be under debate. You don’t find it…

Chris: Well, Alfredo had two restaurants the last time I knew: one was in Rome and one was in Epcot.

Ira: Yeah, yeah.

Chris: Although I think they closed that one. I think they’ve replaced that with something else as I recall on our show we did on Epcot.

Ira: But let me just make a couple of generic comments, if I could about Italian cooking. Number one: Italians are magnificent when it comes to your mangling their language. I can speak a little bit of Italian. I try not to speak to Italians in a way that makes it look like I can speak Italian. But they’re very, very forgiving. It’s hard for most Americans to roll their “r’s”. But whatever you do, if you are in an Italian restaurant, do not, repeat, do not ask for cheese on a fish dish. They will come after you with a vengeance. I’ve seen that happen. Do not make anything that’s considered disparaging. They are proud of their cooking. Language they’ll tolerate, cooking they won’t. The restaurant we told a friend of ours, near bloodshed that occurred. They made the mistake of doing the same thing and as we say in science, “Some phenomena do replicate”. Oh yeah. Also, if you’re going to Italy, please learn the food of the region you’re going to.

Chris: Ok.

Ira: Do not, for example, if you’re in Venice, ask for a cannoli. A cannoli is a Sicilian dish. Very delicious, but not Venetian. Tiramisu – that’s Venetian. Oh, excuse me. I wanted to mention before we leave Padua, part of the trip will be to the medical school, which had the first autopsy site. They’re not going to put one on for you but…

Travel to Venice and the Veneto in Italy – Episode 98 Transcript

back to page 1

Chris: That’s all right. That’s an interesting transition from food to autopsy. But ok.

Ira: That’s the beauty of editing.

Ira: You can see Galileo’s lectern. I was there with a group of maybe 15 of my colleagues and the same thought went through our minds when it was pointed out to us and our host quickly said, “I’m sorry we will not let you deliver a lecture from there.” Galileo got his weight in gold for coming to the University of Padua from Pisa. According to one story he’d even been denied tenure at Pisa, but he was given this offer he couldn’t refuse and until he had an affair of the heart that took him into Florence where he ran into all sorts of trouble, he always said the best years of his life were in Venice. Although he was Florentine and wouldn’t marry the mother of his children because she wasn’t. But see all the memorative plaques they’ve got. The tour from the Piazza Del Bo is simply unbelievable. It’s as good as any tour we’ve had in Venice. Matching the ghetto tour in terms of importance to us.

Chris: Are there other cities that we want to hit in the region besides Padua?

Ira: Yeah, one that you are much less likely to have heard of, but that’s a lot of fun and it’s about an hour north of both Padua and Venice. Padua is almost, well about 20 to 40 minutes depending on the train you get, pretty much due west. But if you go north you’ll come to the town of Bassano del Grappa. Now if you don’t know what grappa is, a taste should be a part of your tour. I actually like classic grappa and I’m not remotely Italian. To most other people, it is a taste cultivated like drinking gasoline. But actually there are all sorts of types of Grappa, some of which are like sweet liquors. There’s a blueberry grappa that my wife likes and she’s not a drinker at all. But Bassano del Grappa, you go up there. It was originally Bassano for many years and the Chamber of Commerce added the del Grappa. It’s near Monte Grappa, which is the site of a very famous battle. There’s a beautiful bridge, the Ponte degli Alpini, the Alpine Bridge, which is just beautiful and it is conveniently located right next to the grappa distillery, which yes, this is Italy, you do get free samples.

Chris: If I go to the Veneto, what’s the biggest surprise that I’ll run into? I think I know Italy, what’s going to surprise me?

Ira: Well, that probably everything that you’ve ever read about Venice is true. So many places you go to and everything is inflated in terms of how good it is. But Venice is really a magnificently visual city.

Travel to Venice and the Veneto in Italy – Episode 98 Transcript

back to page 1

Chris: I had the impression that if you drugged me, knocked me out, put me in a sack and I woke up in Venice, it wouldn’t take me any time at all to figure out where I was.

Ira: Yeah, that is correct. Oh, by the way, let me add one more city before we get into another topic and that is Verona.

Chris: Ah, ok, ok.

Ira: Verona is a little bit further west. We were only there for a day a couple of years ago. It’s got a beautiful arena, which is actually much more intact version of the coliseum in Rome. And they still stage events there routinely.

Chris: Gladiatorial combats, you mean, killing Christians, that sort of thing?

Ira: Actually, I think more Shakespeare.

Chris: Ah, ok.

Ira: Now a days. A little bit tamer. No, we do the executions here in Texas.

Chris: I thought most of the taming happened in Padua?

Ira: Yeah. The shrew got tamed in Padua. Definitely. Shakespeare, who is it? John Grisham who has been doing the books lately on trips in Italy so he can write off his trips. Playing For Pizza. Well, Shakespeare I think did the same thing. What was it, Three Gentlemen from Verona?

Chris: Two Gentlemen from Verona.

Ira: Two Gentlemen. I added one.

Chris: Well, inflation. It’s been awhile.

Ira: But he knew the area apparently fairly well. The Piazza del Bra is a kind of fun spot to just kind of hang around and people watch. There’s an old bridge and a river and we were just watching people in kayaks practicing for the Olympics. And having a lot of fun doing it. So that’s another site. Vicenza we’ve not been to and someday we will, but it’s famous for its architecture. There’s a lot to see in the area and I think the message is: Don’t just stay in Venice as wonderful and tempting as it is.

Chris: And as long as we are doing Shakespeare also, Merchant of Venice, of course.

Travel to Venice and the Veneto in Italy – Episode 98 Transcript

back to page 1

Ira: Of course.

Chris: And What New Upon The Rialto. The Rialto, the first bridge across the Grand Canal.

Ira: Yes, indeed.

Ira: By the way, speaking of bridges, don’t forget the Bridge of Sighs.

Chris: Oh, sure.

Ira: If you’re at St. Mark’s Square, it’s right there.

Chris: Well, and do you want to tell people what the Bridge of Sighs is?

Ira: Aaaaah yes. This was the last sight that people who were sentenced to jail would have and they would supposedly sigh about the thought that they would not have their freedom anymore. They might have been sighing that they wouldn’t have to pay the high hotel rates, but it’s where the prisoners were led away. I don’t think all of them were condemned. I think…

Chris: Right, it may have been minor crimes, exactly.

Ira: Yeah, various crimes.

Chris: But basically between the court house, the center of the civic life in Venice, which is right there next to St. Mark’s Square, and then the jail, which is just across one of the many canals. In fact, that’s across the canal where we stayed actually, on the same island as that jail. The first time you went to Venice or to that region, I don’t know if you can remember that far back, what do you wish you had known? What do you tell your friends that no one told you before you went there?

Ira: That’s a tough one. We did not see enough of the variety of Venice. Previously I mentioned seeing Dorsoduro, which we still have not seen, but Rudy Maxa on his show really made it look very appealing. We made, I think, the fairly typical mistake of concentrating on just a few of the tourist sites. Later on we did the better thing of simply wandering around and getting lost.

Chris: Getting lost. Yes, I highly recommend getting lost in Venice. Fortunately, it’s easy to do.

Ira: Yeah, it doesn’t take any… Oh. Excuse me. Let me mention one more thing and this is going to take some editing. We go back to Verona and I have to mention Romeo and Juliet is from there. Again Shakespeare knew how to get a good tax write off. You have to see the phony balcony and it’s about as tacky as you can get. You’ll see the balcony, which dates all the way back to the 1920’s and I think they’re starting to make it more publicly open. But you then go downstairs and if you’re into such things, excuse me for mentioning this, you get to rub Juliet’s breast. And you can see which breast to rub because one is very shiny.

Travel to Venice and the Veneto in Italy – Episode 98 Transcript

back to page 1

Chris: One is shiny and one is not.

Ira: I mean, if you are into shiny metal breasts, you can go at it and not have any problems.

Chris: And I’m going to guess this brings you good luck?

Ira: Yeah, it brings you good luck. Good luck in Italy is defined as getting back and spending some more money next year.

Chris: Oh, ok. So this is like throwing a coin in the Trevi fountain in Rome here.

Ira: Yeah, every place has got someplace you can donate an Italian coin because what the heck, an Italian coin, how much is it worth? Some of them actually float by the way, I heard.

Chris: I have not heard that.

Ira: They had an old one-lira coin, which was worth some infratismal fraction of a penny. Apparently it floated. I never saw one so I can’t vouch for it.

Chris: As we go to start to wind this down, what’s the best day you had in Venice or in the region?

Ira: Well, I’m going to be very tacky and simply say, “Any day I had in the region or Venice.” Probably the single best thing would either be the trip to the ghetto, not that I’m into masochism that much, but for its history. I love to know about history and always find paradoxes interesting because it was Napoleon who threw down the gates to the ghetto and that doesn’t make him very popular there. They thought he was an interloper. Or the trip to the University in Padua. That was magnificent.

Chris: Ok. You really know you’re in Venice when —-what?

Ira: When you step outside of the train station. That was easy. Oh, let me mention one other thing about food. Be very careful when you read American reviews about Italian restaurants. Please approach Italian food the way an Italian would. I mean the very simple thing is we’re used to seeing ads for pizza places that have 19 toppings. You go to an Italian pizza restaurant and at most you’ll have one and in some places you won’t even have that. You’ll have the margarita or the marinara, which really has no topping other than the sauce or in the case of the Margarita, the cheese. A place had been recommended not in Venice but it had gotten all sorts of fabulous reviews and it was every Americans image of an Italian restaurant, but it wasn’t any Italians view of an Italian restaurant.

Travel to Venice and the Veneto in Italy – Episode 98 Transcript

back to page 1

Chris: Interesting. Yeah, I think when we get to Italy probably the fanciest our pizza gets is quatro formaggi or the four-cheese pizza.

Ira: That’s good and always the right amount of sauce on anything you get, whether it’s the pasta or the pizza. That’s another critical feature. But the most important is anywhere you go, its fresh ingredients. That’s why the food is regional.

Chris: That’s right. Exactly. As we go to wrap this up, if you had to summarize Venice and the surrounding area in three words, what three words would you use?

Ira: Well, if I can elide magnificent and scenery and elide magnificent and food for the region, not for Venice itself and variety.

Chris: Ok. Ira thanks so much for coming on the show and sharing your love for Venice and the Veneto.

Ira: And I can do a lot of other places, so sometime in the future perhaps next year in Bologna.

Chris: Thank you very much.

with thanks to Cindy the Amateur Traveler intern for the transcription of this episode

Share this:

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast, and a co-host for This Week in Travel podcast.

Leave a Reply

Tags: , , , ,