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The traveler: An expected journey This time it's the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Sweden & Norway before England again for several weeks and on to Croatia.

City of Water

ITALY | Thursday, 19 November 2015 | Views [369]

Venice from the Bell Tower.

Venice from the Bell Tower.

Apparently Venice is one of the most visited destinations in the world. Even during the last few days of September the city was bustling with people. However it was remarkably easy to find places most tourists weren’t, such as the long, narrow island of Lido where I stayed for 3 nights. Even if it’s through Airbnb it’s really a great opportunity to stay with someone local. I enjoyed the friendly conversations I had with the young Italian woman I stayed with there.

For the first 2 days of my visit I wandered around Venice with one of the ladies from the Tuscany cycling trip, whom I’d decided to join. Perhaps the best part was simply walking down the streets lined with bright windows and colorful displays. The majority of all items seemed to fall into the categories of glass, leather, or masks. People filled the narrow streets giving them quite a different atmosphere then you’d find on a street of similar width here. These old streets with tall buildings on either side are quite the norm. None of the streets seem to run straight. We’d walk along one street about as wide as a sidewalk and then suddenly find ourselves in an open piazza full of sunlight. There are periodic signs pointing you in the direction of certain piazzas, which are as useful as a compass. We’d go along for a while and either turn up at a different end of the piazza in which we’d started, or take a look at our map after a while and decide to head in a certain direction.

In the main piazza of Venice, the San Marco Piazza, we first went to the top of the Bell Tower. Though I’m sure there are stairs all of the tourists were taken up to the top by the elevator. It’s really amazing what a difference a hundred feet makes in the wind chill! However we had a fantastic panorama of Venice from beneath the bells.

Just across from the Bell Tower and the water that floods the San Marco Piazza every morning is the Basilica. As with so many other places of great value there was no photography allowed inside. The photo on the postcard just doesn’t do justice to the inside. I you ever have a chance to see it in person don’t miss it! When I walked in I thought the entire ceiling had been painted in frescos with every inch of the background in gold. However I was mistaken. Every single square inch was comprised of small tiles, less than a square inch creating the incredible mosaic. My friend was almost equally impressed with the mosaic on the floor, but I was much busier walking with my eyes to the ceiling.

For a small cost you can visit what I’d like to call the treasury of the Basilica, but treasury may not be the right word. In the Basilica di San Marco this consisted of two small rooms: 1 with relics from saints, mostly arms, or fingers housed in elaborate containers, and the second (more interesting) with ancient (about AD 500 – 1300) vessels from different parts of the world. Some have been added to over time, some were gifts, and some were booty.

I’d forgotten until my companion mentioned to me that the Island of Morano was famous for its glasswork. I happily agreed to go along. Surprisingly Morano seemed a bit devoid of tourists, perhaps because we went in the later afternoon. We spotted a couple people standing outside of a building down one street and decided to take a look. The large door, rather like that of a garage, was open to a glass studio where 3 men were heating, and shaping a glass piece. At one point it rather resembled a giant, orange light bulb, but by the time it was placed in the oven it seemed more likely to be a vase. After walking along one of the streets and poking our heads in most of the shops we grew rather weary of seeing mostly the same items in each window: large beaded necklaces and earrings on the small side, and giant plates and decorative figures for display, which would be a nightmare to ship home on the other end of the scale. As far as the small things went they were surprisingly cheap, most earring being just $7-$9.

In the evenings we lingered in the San Marco Piazza where 3 different orchestras took turns playing on the small stages in front of the restaurants. Small, green helicopter wings also spun in the dark above the piazza as they slowly swirled back to earth. It wasn’t long before we were shivering in the steady breeze and had to head back to Lido. 

Thanks to the two pages of advice from my Italian neighbors we also found some wonderful, local places away from the main crowds.

One afternoon we found the fish and fruit market as several of the venders were packing up. However there were still quite a few with their full range of inviting fruits displayed. One man was at work de-leafing artichokes and putting the tender cut of the heart in trays of water. Back home we’d probably have gotten quite a few to cook for dinner. Instead I bought cherry tomatoes, plums, oranges, and fresh figs.

Another one of our outings took us farther south on the Island of Lido to the old town of Malamocco where the seat of the Venetian government was located in the 8th century. It is quite a contrast to the other islands of bustling Venice. In many ways it felt like a ghost town. We walked along the brightly painted houses with an old bicycle simply leaning against a wall here and there with no worry for a lock. Unfortunately the unpretentious little church was closed for I would have loved to see the inside. We did walk past a school though where the children were out for recess, and proof that many people did live there. We continued our leisurely walk right next to the sea until we decided to head back before meeting our other friend from the cycling trip for dinner the last night.

We arrived early and found the park my neighbors had told me about just a few blocks away from the center of the tourist attractions. It was here I saw the most beautiful statue of a lion, Venice’s symbol. If you’ve ever seen “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” you would see Aslan in his face. Not far away we found a few of the modern art exhibits that were scattered across Venice in different rooms here and there were you don’t expect them.

As we sat outside at a café in the local area of Venice where washing is strung out between the buildings we watched one of the huge cruise liners leaving. They are enormous! Easily as tall as most of the buildings, and perhaps as big as half a dozen streets worth of buildings, they stand out like a sore thumb.

There are plenty of gondolas that cruise the narrow canals, but for a fee of about $120 an hour. The locals (and tourists) instead use the motorized water taxis, or vaporettos as they’re called, to get from one place to another; that is if it’s far enough not to walk. The vaporettos are large, in comparison with the gondolas, with dozens of seats for the many people who use them. Being up top by the railings is a wonderful way to sight see as you slowly make your way from one stop to the next. You must be dressed for the wind though!

On my last night I shared a meal with the two ladies from my cycling trip whom I’d followed to Venice. It had been wonderful to wander the city with someone else, and not plan on being back in my room before dark. Unfortunately one of the ladies and been sick and was not able to share the same outings as us. Over dinner she told us she had been to see the Doge’s palace, which we had not yet done.

I must admit that by this time not much was new to me in the way of places and estates, but I decided to see the Doge’s Palace the next morning since I had yet to see an Italian palace. On the whole there is very little difference between the British, Austrian, and Italian homes of the wealthy and governing class. Despite the large span of distance they all have elaborately decorated ceilings with paintings depicting either religious and moral scenes, or those of their great victories and prowess.

The two places I remember best from the Doge’s palace are the Chamber of Nine, and the Bridge of Sighs. The Doge of Venice was rather like the city governor. The Council of Nine I believe came into being after a threat, or uprising against the Doge or the government. What they turned into was a secret council with great power. They convicted most people on very questionable evidence. On one wall of their wooden paneled chamber was a small door, big enough for a hand to deliver anonymous information.

Those unfortunate enough to find themselves on the wrong side of the council crossed the Bridge of Sighs before entering the prison. The Bridge crosses a canal. Through the decorative wall carvings the prisoners had their last breath of fresh air, and sight of the free world going about it’s daily business. A sigh must have escaped from most of them before they reached the other side. I was free though to walk through prison and back out into the sunny world, and my next destination north of Venice.


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