DM and MM's Italy/France 2012 Diary

Day 15 - Rialto, Peggy Guggenheim

Saturday, 12 May, 2012

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22:25

We are on the overnight train from Venice to Paris. The train left Brescia a few minutes ago, on its way to Milan where it stops again to pick up more passengers. We've had an... interesting dinner on board in the dining car, and are now relaxing in our cabin before we get ready for sleep.

This morning we slept in until about 08:30, then rose and had breakfast in the hotel for the last time. The muesli ran out and wasn't replaced so instead of a second bowl I had a small bread roll and a couple of slices of heavy rye bread with cheese. Then M. and I split an apple from the fruit bowl.

We returned to our room and had showers to freshen up for the day and night ahead before packing our luggage and checking out. We were out about 20 minutes before the checkout time of 11:00. We left our large bags in the hotel foyer and went out for our final day in Venice. The plan was to hit the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, but being nearly lunch time we decided to take our time walking over to the gallery and get lunch on the way just before going in.

Fruits of Venice
Vegetables at Rialto Markets

We took a route through San Polo and the Rialto Markets. These were bustling with activity, with dozens of fishmongers selling scores of different types of fish, shellfish, octopus, cuttlefish, prawns, scampi, and so on. Beside these were fruit and vegetable stalls, where everything looked good, from the ribbed tomatoes to the zucchini flowers. We bought two pink lady apples from a seller for later in the day. Then there were some butcher shops nearby, as well as cheese vendors and flower sellers. The food market slowly morphed into tourist trinkets as we neared the Rialto Bridge. We passed this heading south into Dorsoduro.

No, that one!
Mercato del Pesce

We found a suitable place for lunch called Bar ai Nomboli, which the Lonely Planet described as having fantastic sandwiches, and which was not far from the Peggy Guggenheim gallery. Indeed they did, with a sandwich menu five pages long, containing plenty of intriguing combinations. M. had an "Italy", which was normally made with olive bread but which we requested with pane normale, and had her favourite combo of tomato, mozzarella, and rocket. I picked a "Paolo", which was tuna with capers, Gorgonzola, and some other things, plus another sandwich I forget the name of which had prosciutto, rocket, dried tomatoes, and chili. The woman looked at me incredulously, asking if we really wanted three sandwiches, but I was hungry and scoffed the lot. They were all really good.

From there it was a shortish walk to the gallery, where we rested in the shade of Peggy Guggenheim's garden and ate our apples. The day was again hot and it was good to get out of the sun. We paid the €12 entry fee for the gallery and left my camera bag in a locker. The ticket seller said we could take photos without flash, but later on signs indicated that no photos were allowed in the inside part of the gallery, thus restricting them to the sculpture garden. This was the first place we emerged into after passing through the entry gate. It held works of bronze, stone, and other media by various 20th century artists. There was also an olive tree presented to the gallery by Yoko Ono, which had paper tags and a pen by it, asking you to write your wishes on the tags and place them on the tree. Dozens of tags were on it, written in various languages.

Some sort of baboon?
Sculpture in the garden of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection

Moving into Peggy's house, this was where the paintings and the less robust sculptures were kept. We saw works by Picasso, Dalí, Max Ernst, Klee, Chagall, Braque, Pollock, and various other giants of 20th century art. There were also two sculptures by Brâncuși, including a bronze Bird in Space, a sculpture which had formed part of an art project I did in high school on animals in art. We got to go out on to Peggy's private patio looking out on to the Grand Canal, where a couple more sculptures were kept. Her house was really beautiful and you could see why she chose to live here. She was buried in the garden, next to her beloved dogs, not far from Yoko Ono's olive tree.

Art on the canal
View of Grand Canal from the Peggy Guggenheim Collection

We left the gallery and walked home, retracing mostly the popular route through Dorsoduro to Santa Croce. Then we turned towards the Ponte degli Scalzi, which we crossed to walk a bit down Rio Terra Lista di Spagna, so M. could check out some shops quickly before we left Venice.

In particular, M. wanted to try a hot chocolate at a place she'd seen earlier, on our first day in Venice, not far down from the bridge, which had lots of biscuits and sweet treats. It was called Dal Mas pasticceria and cioccolateria, founded in 1906. So we went in and she ordered the hot chocolate, while I got a glass of fizzy mineral water with a lemon slice. The woman went out to a back room to make the hot chocolate and finished it off at the coffee machine. It arrived in a large cup, hot and thick like mud, and intensely dark. It was so thick, M. started eating it with the teaspoon, and the holes she dug stayed there for a while until they slowly oozed back to make the surface level again. We're not sure how they made it, but it seriously looked to be at least 80 or 90% pure melted dark chocolate, mixed with only a tiny bit of milk. I had a few spoonfuls as well, and it really tasted just like molten chocolate. Delicious!

Best hot chocolate ever
Italian hot chocolate at Dal Mas

After some last minute tourist shop browsing, we walked back to our hotel to rest for about an hour before leaving with our bags at 19:00 to catch our train to Paris. It left at 19:57, so we made sure we had plenty of time to walk to the station with our bags. I wrote some of this diary while we rested, then we headed off for our last walk over the bridges and by the canals of Venice. We decided to walk via Piazzale Roma and the new bridge rather than over Ponte degli Scalzi, figuring it might be a bit quicker, and would certainly avoid the swarm of hawkers trying to flog cheap handbags and junk on Scalzi. As we climbed the first bridge, a man stopped to help M. with her suitcase. We said thanks and then walked on to the next bridge, where the same guy had also walked, and he stopped to help again. We said we'd be okay, but he took off with the bag and we had to almost run to keep up with him. I started to think he might take off with it, or maybe demand money for carrying the bag, so we stopped him and firmly told him thanks but that we'd be fine. In hindsight, it seemed he was just genuinely trying to be friendly and helpful, but one can't be too careful in situations like that.

Anyway, we handled the bags ourselves, taking them up over the new bridge, in the process catching up to a group of a dozen or so police armed with what looked like riot gear, including batons, tasers, body armour, and clear plastic riot shields. We walked behind them all the way to the station, where they joined a group of a dozen or more Carabinieri, similarly armed. We guessed they may have been planning to move what looked like a small group of protesters who had apparently set up a tent camp right in front of the station. We'd seen that there the day we arrived and it hadn't moved at all, but maybe now was the time. But the armed officers didn't do anything and merely assembled in a loose group as we entered the station.

Boarding for Paris
Boarding the train at Stazione Santa Lucia

Inside, our train wasn't yet on the departure board, but we didn't have very long to wait as another train pulled out and the board updated. It announced our train would depart from platform 4, so we walked over and the train was ready and waiting. Our car was near the front, so we had a bit of a walk down the platform. Then we got on and found our cabin, which was good, except that it was very hot inside the train, so hot that after putting our luggage in the cabin we went back out to stand on the platform with everyone else who had the same idea. We figured the air conditioning would switch on when they started the locomotive. We waited about twenty minutes until this happened, then went on board as cool air started flowing from the vent in our cabin. However, the lights in our cabin still weren't working.

Santa Lucia sunset
Sunset as the train is about to depart

Before we knew it, the train started moving and we watched as we got our last view of Venice from the rail bridge to the mainland as the sun set on a beautiful day. A woman came around to the cabins offering to unlock the windows for us, with a square key. We had ours unlocked, which gave us the ability to open and close the window. We left it open to get some more cool air into the cabin. We showed the woman that our lights weren't working and she looked surprised, talked into her walkie-talkie in French, then told us she'd come back.

We decided we needed to get some food from the dining car, since we'd failed to obtain some bread from a bakery during the afternoon as we'd hoped to do. The dining car was about four cars back along the train, and it was still very hot and humid in there. We looked at the sit down menu, and both decided to get the salmon dish, only for the waiter to apologise and say that no hot food was available because of power problems in the kitchen. As we watched, a small group of engineers arrived and started mucking about with a huge power board in the wall right by the kitchen. As they did so, the entire lighting in the dining car went off and on several times.

We tried looking at the take away food, but all of the pre-made sandwiches had meat on them, as did two of the three salads, and the third was an eggplant salad which M. doesn't like. So we sat down in the dining car again to decide what to do about dinner, when we noticed a woman in there had a basket of bread. So we asked for just some bread for M., while I ordered the Niçoise salad. The waiter, who was very apologetic and friendly about the problems, said he'd bring the bread and after determining that M. was vegetarian said he'd bring her some salad. We hoped it would just be tomato and lettuce, but it turned out to be one of the eggplant salads. M. took the tomato and lettuce and made sandwiches with the bread, while I added the eggplant to my own salad.

As we ate, the car became more and more stifling. The power problems were obviously affecting not only the cooking but also the air conditioning in the dining car. And despite the engineers vanishing off somewhere else, the lights kept going off and on repeatedly. We shared our amusement with some Americans in the dining car, as we all fanned ourselves and compared the room to a sauna. I'd also ordered a beer, and the couple across from us ordered some too, and it came out cool at best (the Americans said it was "warm"), because the refrigeration wasn't working either. By the end of our meal, we were dripping with sweat it was so hot, and were keen to leave as quickly as possible to escape the heat.

Thankfully the rest of the train was much cooler, though our cabin lights still weren't working properly. All we had were small reading lights above the bunks. I sat and typed up some diary as we watched the Italian countryside and towns go past outside, lit up since night had now fallen. At one point we must have passed a large animal facility of some type, because the distinctive smell of concentrated farm animals pervaded the cabin and only slowly faded as we continued on into clearer countryside. A bit later our cabin lights finally came on. Presumably they'd managed to fix the power problems on the train.

Eventually we prepared for bed and climbed into our bunks. The problem now was that when I closed the window to block out some of the noise of the train, it kept flopping open. So I had to produce a makeshift square key out of our luggage lock keys held together and relock the window so it wouldn't keep opening during the night. The other problem I had was that my feet overhung the end of the bunk slightly, which in itself was not a problem, but the were right over the air conditioning vent, which meant they had cold air blowing right on them. Even covered by blanket, my feet felt so draughty that I couldn't sleep. Eventually I tucked the blanket right around my feet to keep them warm.



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