Friday, September 27.
Our group starts out for Venice around 7:30 a.m. Another early start.
We pile into a water taxi and head for Giudecca Island, where there’s a glass-blowing factory, as well as a small gondola yard.
Our guide around the facility gives us a brief overview about gondolas, including cost (one can run in the neighbourhood of about 20,000 – 30,000 Euros), and a brief history lesson (for example, why all gondolas are black, and the fact they used to have “lids”).
We’re then herded into the showroom, where our host explains how colours are added to stemware, why good quality glassware – or at least the ones made here – won’t chip or crack when plopped onto a table (they WILL still break when dropped on the floor – it is glass, after all), and how to find the marks of authenticity and of a maestro’s good work (he will only add his signature to the best work, not to seconds).
It’s not cheap, either. A small gilded cup might run at least 70 Euros, depending; even really nice glass jewellery might run around 120 Euros at the very minimum. I come across some small stud earrings with various patterns embedded within the glass, for about 10 Euros each. I end up getting several pairs, for a small deal (plus a glass bon-bon I don’t have much use for). I’m pleased that I finally make my first purchase of the trip.
We’re put back on the boat and whisked back to Venice, where we’re let loose for free time. And so the challenge of finding things to do – and getting Mom (who just wants to get back to the hotel) to do it – begins.
Sitting on some marble steps just behind St. Mark’s Square, guidebook in lap, I suggest we go visit the Gallerie dell’ Accademie. We get just enough time to figure out our directions on foot, before we’re booted off the steps by a woman in an orange shirt. We can’t sit on the steps. (As we would see later on, it’s a recurring theme in Venice.)
The walk there is … interesting. There will be signs pointing us in the direction of the gallery, and then they’ll disappear along the way. This happens a couple of times, forcing us to stop and re-direct ourselves slightly, but we eventually find it.
There is a LOT of commissioned religious work (as seems to be the norm in a lot of European cities) – portraits, paintings, stained glass, and a handful of sculptures. How many times can the Madonna and Child be painted? You have NO idea.
There’s also an exhibit dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci, which Mom opts to sit out.
There are some of his sketches, but a lot of the work on display is by other artists influenced or inspired by him. I do see his sketch of the Vitruvian Man, which is cool.
We exit the museum sometime after 1 p.m., stopping by a snack place for something to eat. I have a mediocre hamburger; Mom gets a pork sandwich, with no cheese and not much of anything else.
We continue our return trip back to St. Mark’s Square, going off course at first. But we get some help from spray-painted graffiti directing us towards the square, when “official” signs disappear.
We reach the square at around 3 p.m. I suggest to Mom that perhaps we should check out the Doge’s Palace. (It’s also known as the Ducal Palace. No, it’s a real place. And no, this is not the “doge” I mean.)
Perhaps it’s just me, but for the first time this trip, Mom seems to hesitate.
Perhaps she’s just tired, but it all of a sudden I feel as if I am making all of the decisions of what to see and do.
This irritates me a little. We’re supposed to be mother and daughter, travelling as tour companions, not me playing tour guide, picking which direction to walk, or what sites to see, while my mom feebly agrees to go along with whatever I decide.
We approach the Doge’s Palace. First, there’s some hesitation/confusion over where to find information on the hours of operation and ticket pricing. When we find out tickets are 16 Euros a person, Mom balks at the price, then worries about what I’m going to eat for dinner, and how I am going to pay for it, if we do the tour.
Now, I’m fully irked. I need a time-out, and I have nowhere to go.
I’ve been in a foreign country, and haven’t been more than 50 feet away from my mother for the past eight days. Yes, I fully accept that this whole trip – the idea of spending time with my mom – was my idea in the first place.
But perhaps between the lack of proper sleep, my mother’s fretting over money (she wasn’t prepared – and to a lesser extent, neither was I – for the cost of excursions and incidentals on this trip), the sheer number of excursions, Mom’s dietary challenges, as well as her back (which she threw out some 10 days before we left) …
We may have both hit a wall.
The frescoes in a number of the rooms are intricate and massive.
But I spend half our visit in the palace feeling angry for dragging my mom around Italy (seemingly against her will), wanting some distance, and getting irritated at aaall the other tour groups clogging up staircases and the various rooms on the tour. I shouldn’t feel this way. But I can’t help it.
We manage to kill enough of the time remaining to cross over the four bridges leading back to our meeting spot just before 4:30.
Rationally speaking, she just wants to keep close because she’s in a foreign country and no one she recognizes is around yet.
But part of me – perhaps the overheated, overwhelmed part – can’t help but feel a bit suffocated by the close proximity. I just want a few minutes of space.
The others eventually appear, so there are others to talk to. We board our boats at 5 p.m. While making small talk with the others over how we spent our afternoon, our fellow Canadian traveller Else asks my mom how she’s doing. Mom admits she’s really tired and just wants to go home.
And, there it is.
How do you now enjoy a trip with someone who just wants to go home? And the best parts of our journey haven’t even happened yet.
Back at the hotel, in the silence of our room, Mom eats a banana. I can’t take it, and for the first time since the start of our trip, I pull out my iPod and phone and fiddle with Instagram and Twitter to pass the time, like a very sulky teenager.
Around 7:15ish, Mom asks if I’m going to the pizzeria. Yes, I reply. Do I want her to come with me? Again, I reply yes (sullenly). Off we go, down the road and across the bridge, to the pizzeria.
While I wait for my take-away order, Mom – seemingly out of the blue – mentions how she’s recently been thinking of her aunt (the last of her father’s surviving siblings, and the youngest, although she would now be about 99, if she’s still alive). She last saw this aunt about seven years ago.
The topic of conversation then veers into family history. This piques my interest, and I’m a little less grumpy then when I entered the restaurant. But not by much.
We return to the hotel, and I eat my pizza in near silence, hoping this irritability will pass.