Touring the Doge's Palace, and an evening canal tour with Laguna Eco Adventures
14.05.2013 - 14.05.2013 69 °F
Prior to leaving, we had pre-purchased tickets for the "Secret Itineraries Tour" of the Doge's Palace, as well as a tour of the clock tower, the L'Orologio. We missed our reserved slots for both tours due to our flight cancellation, but on Tuesday morning, I head over to the Correr museum in Piazza San Marco, to see if anything can be done.
They are actually quite sympathetic to our situation, and rebook us for the Secret Itineraries tour immediately, and for the L'Orologio on Wednesday morning. I couldn't ask for better treatment than that. We're able to immediately enter the grounds of the Palazzo Ducale while we wait for our tour to begin.
We're as powerfully drawn to the beautiful architecture as we are to the tasty pastries in the coffee shop. We have learned to keep our priorities in order.
The Secret Itineraries tour takes you on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Doge's Palace, into areas that require the presence of a guide. Our guide speaks highly accented English with a bit of an overly dramatic flair, and is justifiably concerned about the tendency of her tour group to touch things they shouldn't be touching.
Although photos are permitted in the open air portions of the tour, once we get past the "Golden Staircase" all cameras are put away, so, unfortunately, no photos of the tour itself. We do, however, receive a comprehensive tour of the offices of various officials, the interrogation room, complete with pulley and rope, and the cells for the political prisoners. We venture into the rafters that support the ceilings of the grand halls below, and we hear the story of Casanova's escape from the prison, and see the prison cells and chambers involved. It's chilling to imagine an interrogation by candle light in these gloomy, oppressive rooms. It's a great tour.
Once it's complete, we are free to explore the rest of the palace, which includes an astonishing display of weaponry. The gallery traces the evolution of both armor and weapons, and is really quite amazing. Of particular interest are the weapons that appeared around the development of firearms. Apparently, the thought was that any weapon could be improved by adding a gun barrel to it, thus resulting in such bizarre combinations as crossbows that also fired bullets, and the combination hatchet/gun. The itinerary leads, eventually, to the Bridge of Sighs, where civil prisoners got their last glimpse of Venice before passing into the adjoining prison cells.
Once we exit into the sunlight, it's time for me to get my cell phone situation resolved, so we begin our hunt for the TIM store, which we know is somewhere in the Rialto district. Addresses in Venice are virtually meaningless, serving only to get you to a general vicinity, and asking for directions is akin to trying to sort out a plate of spaghetti. It's a good thing panini sandwiches are so plentiful to keep us nourished during our search.
We finally find the TIM store, and the clerk speaks no English. Fortunately, I have enough Italian that I can explain the problem. He examines my account, and discovers that Telestial never actually funded the card with the €15 I paid for, so it has been deactivated. It takes a little doing, but he's able to get me operational. At last, I have phone service!
TIP: If you're using TIM, you can buy a weekly data plan for your phone, allowing you 500mb per week of 4G data for €6. Other data plans for lower cost are also available, and I think it's a great bargain, allowing you access to things like Google maps and navigation while you're out and about.
We decide to head back to St. Mark's to see if we can get in to the Campanile, the bell tower. It's a short wait and €8 to be whisked to the top of the tower by elevator for stunning views of Venice.
We head back to the apartment to refresh ourselves before our 7:30pm meeting with Marco, our guide for our evening tour of the canals. Unfortunately, it doesn't occur to either of us to grab a jacket while we're at the apartment.
Laguna Eco Adventures advertises a 2.5 hour tour of the "back streets" of Venice by "traditional boat", including a romantic bottle of Prosecco and something called (sic) "Tipical Biscuits". The website shows photos of their fleet, all of which are charming vessels.
We meet Marco, as arranged, at 7:30pm at the Rialto Mercato vaporetto stop. The "traditional boat" is actually a small skiff with an outboard motor. It's equipped with a hard wooden bench seat, and little else. Not exactly what we were expecting, but we're willing to go with it. Marco explains that he uses an outboard to allow us to visit all of the sestiere of Venice in the allotted time, something that's impossible to do with a rowed vessel, and, true to his word, we putter through the narrow canals behind the elegant piazzas through each of the Venice districts. It's an enjoyable tour, though the conversation (as it does many times during this vacation) veers toward the political and economic situation in Italy.
As the sun goes down, so does the temperature, dramatically. We have no jackets, and Marco has no blankets or other amenities aboard. In fact, he admits he doesn't even have the Prosecco or the biscuits. This isn't at all what we had pictured when we booked the tour.
2 Hours later, shivering, thirsty, and hungry, we part with Marco at the Rialto Mercato. Although we weren't thrilled with the trip, I give him the money we had set aside for the tour (€120) as well as a €20 gratuity. I'm quite surprised when, 20 minutes later, he sends me a text to tell me I had shorted him €10 on the price of the tour. I check my pockets, and find that he's correct...I must have given him the wrong packet of cash. While I'm tempted to tell him to just take it out of his tip, to make up for forgetting the refreshments, I wind up agreeing to meet him back at the Rialto Mercato to give him the missing €10. He certainly keeps us waiting long enough before he returns to retrieve it.
If you haven't guessed, I really am not giving a good recommendation to Laguna Eco Adventures.
We look at the restaurants near the Rialto, but they seem very touristy and expensive (you pay for the view in Venice), so we head back to our neighborhood for dinner. We're surprised that at 10pm, most of the restaurants are closing. We wind up grabbing a couple of porchetta paninis from a bar, and purchase an €8 bottle of Sicilian wine to go with it, to eat back at our apartment.
I'm not a wine connoisseur, so perhaps Sicilian wines are supposed to taste like green olives. Somehow, I don't think so.
Tomorrow, we'll visit the L'Orologio, and take a trip to some of the islands in the lagoon.