Friday, December 19, 2014

Venice - The Doge's Palace

Near the end of our visit, we went to the Palazzo Ducale, or the Doge's Palace.  For those who don't know anything about Venice, the Doge was the leader of Venice for centuries, from around A.D. 700 until Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Venice in 1797.  Needless to say, as the center of power for one of the most powerful city-states in the world, it's a pretty nice place.

Here's another picture of the exterior.  The place is right on St. Mark's Square, near where one would traditionally enter Venice from the sea, which was the only way to enter it for most of the city's history.

As you would expect, the interior was just as nice.  My favorite part was the armory.  Dude had a LOT of swords.

The Golden Staircase.

Statue of Hercules near the Golden Staircase.

This is why it's called the Golden Staircase.

A moderately sized room.

Pretty much all the ceilings were done like this.  Never miss a chance to bling things out.

If I remember correctly this is the Council Room.  The description said that there were secret doors in here.  I tried to find them but failed my roll.

Crazy revolving door that allowed people to enter the Council Room next door.

This was the slot through which you sent messages slandering your enemies and trying to get the Doge to have them arrested.

I think these are cool because there were many, many racks of the swords you see fanned out at the bottom.  They were all of very similar, although not identical, design.  I am guessing that this was the standard sword that most palace guards got.  There were a heck of a lot of them.

I love me some maces.

There were several rooms just full of this kind of thing.  The Doge was well protected.

Hey, do you think you might need to shoot someone, and then club them?  You do?  Well great, we have the weapon for you!

Or, you could shoot someone and then stab them.  I can't believe these really worked well.  It seems like the gun part would throw the balance of the sword off.  I bet the guy that owned it thought it was badass, though (and he was right!).

OK, we're just going to go with shooting, then?  Cool.

That, my friends, is a chastity belt.

I really liked the giant two-handed swords.  These things were close to six feet long.

This is the hall where the large body of nobles met.

Is me looking out the window on the Bridge of Sighs.

Prison bars.

Prison door.   The prison was large and dreary.  So large that T and I got turned around when trying to get out, and T is not one who gets lost.  It was also lunchtime and we were hungry.

This is the view out of the window on the Bridge of Sighs.
Overall, the Doge's Palace was a great tour.  I wanted to get the optional "Secrets" tour, but we got there too late.  Oh well, I'll get it next time.  Even the base palace tour was a lot of fun.  I highly recommend getting the audio guide, and it contains a lot of useful and interesting information.

A few more random pictures before I go.

This store near our apartment sold 1.5 liters of house wine in a plastic bottle for only 5.30 euros.  I don't know much about wine, but I thought it was fine.

A bell in the main bell tower on St. Mark's Square.

This says that Galileo demonstrated the telescope to the Doge of Venice from this tower in 1609.

From the Naval Museum.  These are listed as 'boarding sabers.'

This is a gun targeting computer from a WWII-era battleship.  It's considerably larger than a fridge.

View of Arsenale.

As you might expect, there are a lot of beautiful boats in Venice.

This was the ceiling of our living room (one of them) in the apartment.

At one time there were shoe makers on this street.

This is one of only two bridges left in Venice without guard rails. This one is exempted because it only goes to a private residence.

A square in Murano.


The view up the Grand Canal from Rialto Bridge.

Once an important entrance to the Doge's Palace.  Mars (L) and Neptune (R) presiding.  Look, I don't want to tell Mars his business.  I mean, he is the God of War and everything.  But I don't know, maybe some armor?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Food in Venice

Just a quick note on some of the food we had in Venice.  If you read guidebooks, you will hear that it is easy to find bad, or at least mediocre, food in Venice.  I have no doubt that this is true, as the number of tourists that visit there makes this likely.  We were very lucky, however.  Aside from some mediocre pizza we had the first day, the food we had was very good.

As a quick aside, here are some general rules to follow to find good food on vacation.  These apply particularly to Italy, but I'm guessing they work about anywhere.   The rules are as follows:
Avoid any restaurant that...
1. is next to or very close to a major monument, the largest square in town, etc.
2. has someone outside asking you to come in. If the restaurant was good they wouldn't need to do this.
3. has a big sign outside with pictures of the food.  Seriously, learn a couple of Italian food words.  It's not hard.
4. has English menus.  Actually, English menus are not always a bad sign, particularly in places that get a lot of tourists.  What you want to avoid are places that have big signs outside telling you they have English menus.

Good signs include...
1. restaurants in out of the way locations.  Seriously, the cool stuff in Venice (and most of Italy) is down the little alleys.  Wander, get lost, the smaller the alley the better.
2. restaurants that don't have a sign outside at all, even one giving the name of the place.  These are almost always good.
3. lots of locals eating there.  Is the place full of tourists?  If the answer is yes then it probably sucks.

Here are quick rundowns of some great places we ate.

We visited the islands of Burano and Murano.  We had visited Burano specifically to eat at a famous place called El Gatto Nero (The Black Cat.)  This place is famous for their seafood risotto.  I love risotto, and was very excited about eating here.  Unfortunately, it was closed.  That's Italy.  As I tell friends, if you have no patience for things being closed, things going slightly wrong, etc. perhaps Italy is not for you.  Try Switzerland.  That place is run like a clock.  Expensive, but everything is on time, everything is clean, things work as expected, etc.  I don't know how they keep the place so clean.

Burano is famous for lace and it's brightly painted houses.  It was beautiful, but the prices made Venice look cheap.  I'm talking 700 euros for a scarf expensive.  Worth a trip to see (it is charming) but wow.

After walking around Burano for a while, we hopped back on the waterbus and went to Murano.  As you probably know, Murano is famous for glass.  We went to a restaurant there that I had found on TripAdvisor named La Perla Ai Bisatei.  This place was great.  The food was good and the prices were reasonable.  It was full of locals (we were the only tourists there until a couple came in at the end of our meal) including people obviously coming in on thier lunch breaks.  There was also a big birthday celebration going on.  The prices were great.  A liter of house wine was 7 euros.  The food was also very good, and the service was friendly and helpful.  The waiter even brought our party a couple of free vegetable sides.  This may not have been the best meal we had food wise (although I don't mean to denigrate it, it was still very good) but it was probably the most fun meal we had on the whole trip.  It's hard to find, on a small square with no sign, but it is great.  If you are on Murano, seek it out.

Another excellent place we ate at in Venice was Osteria Ae ScontiThis place was fantastic.  It's not cheap (little in Venice is) but wow was the food amazing.  The gnocchi I had there was probably the best thing I ate on the whole trip.  Everyone was very pleased with what they had.

Another great place we ate was Ristorante Rosa Rossa.  This place had a great atmosphere, and the food and service were both excellent.  Most of our party had pizza, and everyone was very happy.  Johnny Depp had been there, and signed the ceiling in the room we were in.

One really good place in Bologna we ate at was named Ristorante de Nello al Montegrappa.  We ate there on the recommendation of our hotel because it was not easy to find places open on Sunday night.  We were not disappointed.  The veal cutlet L had was just outright amazing.  We also had an amazing bottle of wine selected by our buddy T, who accompanied us on the trip and knows wine.

I'll post more about food later.  Till then, here are some more pics.
The main street in Burano.

El Gatto Nero in Burano.

View of canal in Burano.

More Burano.