Seeing Venice at 100

By: George Mueden
This article appears on page 26 of the October 2017 issue.

At age 100, I returned to, saw and was conquered by Venice. My legs and eyes were not up to the tasks I had in mind, and if I go again, I will stay near an “all points” vaporetto (canal bus) stop. The small wheels on my walker were not suited to the rough pavement.

However, during my one-week, April 2017 visit, I saw the “Treasures of the Wreck of the Unbelievable” exhibit at the Punta della Dogana, went to the Museo Correr, had a look at the Piazza San Marco and had pleasant visits with authors Erla Zwingle and Cat Bauer.

My transfer from the airport to the hotel was arranged by an agent at TravelBound (New York, NY; 800/808-9541, www.booktravel bound.com).

I was transported by wheelchair and van from the airport exit to the dock. However, for the ride on the boat to Venice proper and from the boat to the entrance to the hotel, I made the transfer not in a wheelchair but reclining in a wheelbarrow with my legs strapped to the handles, unable to see anything! It was the same thing going back, with me lying in the wheelbarrow on the floor of the boat’s cabin. Never again, no way!

The cold breakfasts served at Hotel Firenze (San Marco, 1490, 30124 Venice, Italy; phone +39 41 5222858, www.hotel-firenze.com) were first-rate and served in a well-furnished room with thermal windows attractively decorated. The staff was helpful.

The furnishings in my room included a folding baggage rack and a hang-up-only closet but no drawers or shelves. However, with my bag left open on the bed, the bed was big enough for both it and me.  

Nightstands were on both sides of the bed, with a phone on the nightstand farthest from the desk. There was a well-stocked fridge, for which I was grateful.

Osteria da Carla, aka Petro Panizzolo (Corte Contarina 1535, San Marco, Venice), which I mentioned in a previous letter (“Bits of Venice,” Dec. ’16, pg. 50), was no longer a gracious place. The style has gone commercial — very busy up front, with a display case obscuring the view of the kitchen. I do not recommend this place anymore.

Nota bene: Unlike New York, Venice lacks directional signs and signs of identification, and museum exhibits need them too.

Stores with big display windows have no signs at eye level identifying them. For those getting off the boat at Giardini, a signpost is needed pointing one way to the Viale Giuseppe Garibaldi (promenade) and the other to the Biennale (the international art exhibition, this year from  May 13 to Nov. 26). Twice I boarded the wrong vaporetto and was lucky to have good help getting me back to a restarting point. Signs are needed both on the dock and on the boat. 

The vaporetto ticket window often hides around the corner, and the validation devices don’t stand out in contrast to the surroundings, nor do exit signs in the museums. At the “Treasures” exhibit, I was not told that an audio guide was available.

The civic museum websites are “elderly unfriendly” in that when the headings are enlarged, they take up most of the screen and don’t scroll up out of the way. (Many Venetian websites, official and unofficial, do not ask for feedback.)

I would like to go to Venice again, but finding an elderly-friendly hotel may be a problem. To be listed as “elderly friendly,” I say a hotel must be very close to a vaporetto stop (100 meters), have a handrail at each set of steps and have toilet seats at a height of at least 44cm.  

On my direct flights between New York and Venice on Delta Air Lines, I upgraded to business class both ways, but this wasn’t all to the good. There was no way to talk to a neighbor, so I found the seating arrangement unfriendly. 

The planned drinks-and-meal service was fine, but there was never a “roamer,” someone asking if there was anything anyone needed, so I never got help with the earphones on either trip.

On my arrival at New York’s JFK, a “suit” escorted me to my car, communicating with the driver by cell phone. The meet was perfect. Delta deserves a big ‘Thanks!’ for that being so well done.

GEORGE MUEDEN

Providence, RI

ITN sent a copy of the above letter to TravelBound but received no reply.