August 19, 2013

LOVE Venice. Hated Hotel Alcatraz.

After three terrific weeks traveling on our own, we turned ourselves over to the care of the Regent Line when the rest of the family joined us for the Venice-Barcelona cruise. I’ve been very pleased with every accommodation we selected for our independent travel. But I was very disappointed with -- even angry about -- the hotel into which I'd been booked here.

Since I’d reserved four staterooms for this cruise -- and had also used Regent for my solo Alaska cruise in June -- my travel agent told me I was entitled to a hotel upgrade now. My hotel would be "better" than the one reserved for the rest of the Schappi clan. When she told me I was getting a Hilton, I immediately expressed misgivings. I find Hiltons pretty much the same all over the world, with little local charm. But she assured me that I’d be pleased with the Venice Hilton.

The Alcatraz Hilton
Ha! I was transferred by water taxi from the Venice airport where we turned in our rental car. As we approached the huge Hilton, I thought it looked like a restored prison or insane asylum. I was close. It had been a textile factory. This sunset shot makes it look almost glamorous:

Then I learned that the Hilton was on another island, Giudecca . . . and separated from the main part of Venice. In earlier visits here, I especially enjoyed wandering around in the maze of streets and small canals, getting lost, escaping the crowds around St. Mark's Square. There was now a major inconvenience for me: Hilton guests had to take a shuttle boat to get to Venice proper. The shuttle docked at "St. Mark’s Square," but there was a long walk on the hot waterfront mobbed with tourists. Needless to say, I only made this trip once.

The shuttle made an intermediate stop, which angered me even more. Next to this stop was the lovely little Pensione Seguso, where I’d stayed once before. I loved it there.

It was fun walking around, seeing familiar sights:

Venice Remains a City Devoted to Art
After sulking over my “upgrade” -- and being apart from my family in their convenient "mainland" hotel -- I escaped the Alcatraz the next day and revived my spirits. I took the shuttle boat to its first stop near the familiar Pensione Segusto. It was a bright, warm Sunday. Lots of Venetians and tourists were out and about.

The Venice Biennale 2013 was in full swing. The main location for this renowned art festival is Venice’s Arsenal, but I decided to just wander around my old neighborhood. I kept coming across exhibits associated with the Biennale. I stopped at an interesting video exhibit by two Palestinian artists, then noticed a large garden in the back devoted to another art (?) exhibit. The garden was filled with stacks of cardboard cartons like this:

I was encouraged to design and assemble my own carton contribution to the exhibit, but kept walking.

Peggy Guggenheim Museum
I headed for something more familiar – the museum American heiress Peggy Guggenheim created from her house on the Grand Canal. The museum -- in a spectacular setting -- is a must-see for modern art lovers.

Peggy was an interesting character. She ran with an artistic crowd, was married to Max Ernst, and had multiple affairs -- including one with Jackson Pollock. But her real love was her dogs; she is buried beside them in the sculpture garden.

I’d visited the museum before but this time I took the audio tour, which was packed with interesting information. One story concerned this sculpture on the terrace at the back of the museum that looks out on the Grand Canal:

On earlier visits, I’d wondered about this sculpture and its prominent placement. It’s by Marino Marini  and titled “The Angel of the City.” The museum’s catalog explains it conveys “affirmation and charged strength associated explicitly with sexual potency.” 

The audio tour added this tidbit: the prominent body part was once detachable. Peggy would remove it for religious holiday processions on the canal. But she finally tired of other people pulling it off on their own, and having to reattach it. It is now permanently affixed.

See the valuable information you learn from museum audio tours?

I didn't mind checking out of Hotel Alcatraz. But it's always tough saying goodbye to Venice.

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