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Published: June 10th 2008
When we are asked if we have a favorite city, we answer that it is the city that we have just left. And this is Venice, our current favorite city of water. A de-forested medieval city that did not need a protective wall. She relied on the shallow waters to defend her from invaders. On the approach to Venice in the water bus, we could see that we were traveling a water highway, marked by the illuminated pilings. The rainy, deary weather didn't dampen our spirits, we were taking a boat to a unique island, and that was enough to make us happy travelers. if you are not familiar with where Venice is on Italy's coast, zoom out the map above.
Once we had landed at Piazza San Marco, we made our way through the maze of tiny streets and bridges to the hotel, and were ready to explore.
This time Keith is leaving the logistics and details to someone else, as we are traveling with a group. Venice will be our first stop, onto Florence, and then end the tour in Rome. We were with a great bunch of people, it was a nice change of pace!
a lot of walking in a town that is car free. For longer distances between islands, and daily commerce, transportation relies on boats. The most recognizable is the gondola. Now it is just us tourists that use these elegant vessels. We were fortunate to be a part of an evening cruise, complete with accordian player and singer. If you 'listen' to the video above, you'll get a good idea of the ride! Gliding past candle lit cafes, with our new friends, listening to the music playing, will be one of those moments we will remember about Europe.
The day before we had been on a traghetto, a stand up gondola taxi that quickly gets you from one side of the canal to the other, only 50 cents! Kind of like slowly surfing, these gondoliers have to negotiate the wakes left by bigger faster boats, while balancing out our shakey stance!
Speaking of water, Venice is not sinking, but the flooding problem has increased, to more than 100 times a year. There is a warning system, a series of siren blasts tell the residents how much water to expect. Fashionable ladies have different heights of boots for the varying warning
levels! When the acqua alta - high water, does occur, planks are laid out for people without boots (tourists). There will soon be a system of gates in the lagoon that they hope will alleviate the worst flooding. We had no high water to deal with, but if you visit in the fall or winter it's a possibility.
Venice is a very busy place during the day and Piazza San Marco is full of day tourist from the cruise ships touring the Basilica, eating gelato, and buying souvenirs, and feeding pidgeons. Once the evening arrives, the plaza empties, the lights come on, and music fills the square. There are three orchestras at cafes that play, sort of taking turns, and sort of in competition with each other for the crowds approval. It makes for a great place to sit and listen to the music, and watch people get caught up in the waltzes and begin to dance. Keith had a favorite violin player, or fiddle as he says, so we did have a drink at the Florian and "people watch", my favorite activity. (people watching, not drinking)
Venetians are very proud to be living in such a unique
place and they have a museum devoted just to Venetian painting, the Accademia. Our guide there was expert at explaining the social nuances that formed the painting styles. The tour of the Basilica was too short, but the legend is that St. Mark's body was rediscovered in a column during the rebuilding of the church in 1094. After Venetian merchants stole his body from Egypt, by hiding it in a barrel of pork, in the 9th century. Or something like that! History can be so interesting!
One of the sights we have begun to search out in each city, isn't really a tourist destination, but it is always beautiful and representative of each area. It's the local cemetery. Here it is on it's own island in the Lagoon! So we spent a peaceful drizzly couple of hours at the Cimentero on the island of St. Michelle. The walled grave yard is landscaped with cypress trees, and is neatly planned with tightly packed rows of graves. Celebrities and the well known may stay here long term, but the others must be exhumed after 12 years to make room for the new graves. Bones are then place in ossuaries. We did
see preparations for the newly departed, where an intire section had been cleared, and leveled out. The peaceful sleep of composer Stravinsky will not be bothered. The vaporetto has a stop there and we cruised down the Grand Canal all the way back to our side of Venice.
With all this history being recounted to us, it's been fascinating to see how these cities have been intertwined throughout the centuries. All over Europe we have heard stories of "this empire taking from that empire". Here in Venice we admired the Basilica's marble facade and the statues adorning the balcony. Then realized that this was the booty stolen from Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade! Ah-ha!? Constantinople is now Istanbul, where we just came from visiting the Hagia Sophia - who had been plundered during the Fourth Crusade! Poor old St. Sophia is looking a little worse for wear these days, and here on the Piazza San Marco are her marble columns and monuments!
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