A Trip to Venice

I went on a trip to Venice, Italy, in March-April 2001. My goal was to take part in a calibration & validation exercise for several orbiting remote sensing instruments, including ASTER on the TERRA satellite, EO-1 and LANDSAT 7. Most of my daytime was used up working, but I did get to spend some time as a tourist as well. This page gives a synopsis of my activities, and links to the pages where I show off a subset of the 586 pictures that I took, using my Sony Mavica digital camera. I went with Mike Abrams, also of JPL. We brought with us an automated solar radiometer, and a radiosonde system. At the airport we had one case (the radiometer) that was too heavy, and we had more pieces of luggage than they wanted us to take. We got away only after paying for the privilege of not traveling light.

Friday & Saturday, March 30-31, 2001
United Airlines flight 932, scheduled to leave LAX at 4:30 PM actually lifted off the runway at 4:37 PM on Friday, March 30. The flight to Roissy - Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris took 10 hours and 25 minutes, only one minute longer than the 10h 24m predicted by the pilot at takeoff. Not bad. After a 3 hour layover in Paris, the flight to Venice (Air France flight 2026) took only 1 hour and 15 minutes, setting down at the Venice Marco Polo Airport only 14h 40m after takeoff from LAX. From there, it's a water taxi ride into Venice, to the Hotel Marconi on the Grand Canal. By the time we got checked in, it was Saturday evening, March 31, in Venice. We wandered around a bit, and went to dinner at Antico Panificio Pizzeria, near the Basilica San Polo. It was my first pizza in Italy, and was notably different from the southern California standard in that it's thin crust reminded more of lavash than anything else. I tried some night pictures along the Grand Canal in front of the hotel, but they did not come out in spectacular fashion.

Sunday, April 1, 2001
This was the only day we had to recover from the long flight, and act like tourists. On Monday it's off to work. We stayed at the Hotel Marconi, right next to the Rialto Bridge, the heart of touristville. We wandered around Venice, visited the Accademia di Belle Arti de Venezia (an outstanding art museum), and the Piazza & Basilica San Marco. The interior of the Basilica is covered with gold. I didn't take any pictures inside, as photography was not allowed. But the link to Philip Greenspun's pictures shows the interior, at about the same light level as the eye sees it. That night we took a bus-boat over to Lido island, to dine with the Italian scientists at the Ristorante Artigliere, on Via Sandro Gallo. Dinner for 9 (or were there 10 of us?) cost just over 637,000 Lira (about $318), and included pasta, salad, soup, a grilled fish, and lots of wine (which I did not drink).

Monday, April 2, 2001
We got up and met for breakfast at 8:00 AM. Italians don't seem to eat breakfast the way we do. If you find a cafe open in the morning, all you will get is a roughly one-ounce cup of Italian coffee (a lot stronger than American coffee, that one ounce or so is all you need) and a croissant or two (or few). But the Hotel Marconi caters to foreign tourists, and they have a breakfast buffet (included in the room charge, which was about $100 per night). From there it is only a short walk from the hotel, to the grounds of the Istituto per lo Studio della Dinamica delle Grandi Masse - Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, where we were to work with members of the Oceanography Division, led by Dr. Luigi Alberotanza. On this day the Italians would be making ground emissivity & reflectance measurements of grass on a golf course at the south end of Lido Island. Our part of the exercise was to set up our automated solar radiometer, so as to compare the results from our radiometer with theirs. However, the "automated" part didn't work, so we had to point the radiometer manually and wound up with less data than we expected. After that episode, we took another boat ride, this time to the Aqua Alta Research Platform, 12 nautical miles east of venice, in the Gulf of Venice, at the north end of the Adriatic Sea. We would be using the solar radiometer, and launching radiosonde balloons from the platform (a converted oil drilling platform), over the next two days. Today's trip was to transfer the instruments to the platform, and look it over. We got back late that afternoon and had time to wander around the area west of the Rialto Bridge, and wound up in the piazza around the church at San Giacomo D'al Orio. There we had dinner at the "Taverna Captain Uchino" ("Captain Hook", or so it seemed, but I can't find "uchino" or "utsino" in an Italian disctionary, so I may have gotten the name down wrong). It was a pleasant 3 or so hours eating outside, watching the piazza crowded with kids playing ball, and adults walking their dogs and gossiping.

Tuesday, April 3, 2001
To catch the boat to the platform, we had to get up and out before the hotel breakfast buffet was open. So we found a local cafe, downed some Italian coffee & croissants, and headed off to the Institute. The day was spent fiddling with a contrary sonde system that seemed to do everything wrong. First the receiver seemed not to work, then it worked. The computer worked at first, then it quit. One sonde got off, but quit shortly after we launched it. It's my guess that, amongst other things, there was too much electronic noise from instruments & transmitters on the platform; we could not get a good signal from the sondes even after they launched and got away from the platform. We left on the return trip that afternoon, had a meeting in the Institute to plan the next day's activities, and wound up dining with the Italian scientists at Da Sandro Pizzeria, just outside the gate to the institute, in San Polo on Campiello di Meloni.

Wednesday, April 4, 2001
This was satellite overflight day. We took the morning boat out to the platform, but the weather was uncooperative. To many clouds made using the radiometer too much of a problem, with no automated drive, as it would compete for attention with the contrary sonde system (besides, the platform has an automated CIMEL radiometer working, that we were going to compare with). We wound up launching one sonde, and recording the data by hand since the recording computer didn't work. It was quite a hassle, but at least we got something. After the return trip, we got together with the Italians on Lido Island again, this time for dinner at Al Passatore, not far from the bus-boat station. We stayed out much too late, eating & going over the day's activities at the several sites. We got to bed nigh on to midnight, but we had to meet the water taxi outside the hotel at 5:30 AM to get to the airport.

Thursday, April 5, 2001
Time to go home. We met the water taxi at 5:30 AM and rode to the airport. It was 8:16 AM when we lifted off for the flight to Paris (Alitalia flight 368 scheduled to take off at 8:05 AM), where Mike met his family for a vacation in France, and I caught the flight back to L.A. with all the equipment (United Airlines flight 937). The plane touched down at LAX 17 hours and 31 minutes after takeoff from Venice.

This was my first trip to Italy, and of course I have no idea when or if I will go again. I think the thing that impressed me the most quickly was the Italian approach to food. It was good everywhere, in big & little restaurants, and in local taverns. Furthermore, nobody ever asked if you were done, and they never brought a check to the table until & unless you asked for it. You can go into a restaurant or tavern in Venice and sit there until they close, and nobody really cares. I guess the most pleasant example of this was Monday evening at Captain Hook's. We sat there for hours, and just watched Venice go by. The experience seems to be what I would expect in a small town, rural environment; the people were all quite sociable, and you could tell they were all used to the routine.

As cities go, Venice itself certainly seemed exotic compared to Los Angeles. You have to remember that the canals are not just a tourist attraction, but really are a large part of the "streets of Venice". There are no cars, so you either walk or ride a boat. The boats on the canal come in the same variety as do cars & trucks on any street. There were taxis, private boats, gondolas for the tourists, delivery boats (we saw the mail man & the milk man), and I saw one ambulance boat on an emergency run. Around the Grand Canal it seems roomy enough, perhaps, but Venice on average is very crowded. The buildings are small, the rooms are small, the shops are small, the walkways are narrow, and the side canals can be barely wide enough for small boats to pass each other. Homes open onto the canals, and there are boats parked out front, just like cars parked on a street.

Here are the photo links. More will appear as I have time to create more pages. Unless otherwise indicated, all pictures were taken with a Sony Mavica MVC-FD85 digital camera, which records images as JPEG files on a 3.5-inch floppy (the Sony page does not mention the FD85, so maybe it's obsolete already, but the FD87 is much the same). In all cases I left the image size set to 640x480, and the images are reproduced here at full size, directly as recorded by the camera with no modifications. The camera is advertised as "1.3 megapixels", although the larges image size supported of 1280x960 is closer to 1.2 megapixels. I have looked at these images on my computer with the Netscape browser, and with XV, and on another computer using an older version of Netscape. In all 3 cases the pictures look different; there isn't much I can do about it if they don't look right on your computer.

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