Another Day in Gondola Land

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June 27th 2011
Published: July 31st 2011
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The decoration has meaningThe decoration has meaningThe decoration has meaning

If only I could remember what the 7th piece of wood represents.........
Don't you love feeling as though you're being naughty, even when you're not? I crept out of our hotel room just after 5am this morning with the family still asleep, and hopped on the nearest vaporetto to Piazza San Marco, camera in hand, hoping for a glimpse of the square sans thousands.

The Grand Canal was beautiful again in the morning light, and I couldn't stop snapping the gorgeous canal-side buildings with gondolas or motorboats moored in front. No-one else on the vaporetto seemed interested in standing outside, so I had the bow of the boat to myself and I enjoyed the peace.

It only took 20 minutes to walk home from Piazza san Marco, but the vaporetto wound it's way there along the grand canal over about 40 minutes. A small army of men was already at work, sweeping rubbish away from every path with brush brooms. I felt a bit like an intruder, spying on the city while she was carrying out her beauty routine! It didn't take long for people with cameras to start filing into the piazza, but I felt I had been lucky getting a small moment to myself and was happy to start
Gondola station, Piazza San MarcoGondola station, Piazza San MarcoGondola station, Piazza San Marco

don't you love the colour of the water?
walking back to the hotel for breakfast.

The stall-holders at Rialto market were setting out fresh fruit and vegetables as I came over the bridge. I missed a small turn down a tiny laneway (which I later found was a major thoroughfare!), which gave me the ultimate experience of being lost in Venice - something every guide book says is a must. Small pasticerrias were rolling back metal shutters as I walked past, and the aroma of fresh coffee was tempting, but I was keen to join the family for breakfast and we were meeting Davide at 8am so there was no time to lose!

I was glad I had waited for breakfast, because as I walked in the door Giovanna was setting out a tray of magnificent pastries on the buffet. She knew our names after meeting us for about 3 minutes yesterday. Impressive. The children and Frank were already well looked after with hot chocolates (on a 30 degree morning????) and we spent a leisurely half-hour enjoying the view as we ate.

What a shock it was to set off on our walk to the bridge. There were people everywhere, scurrying around the laneways like
Not quite a traffic jamNot quite a traffic jamNot quite a traffic jam

But it takes a lot of skill to maneovre around these tight corners!
ants. We dodged and weaved our way to Rialto, and spent some time looking for Davide as it was so crowded. The walk to Piazza San Marco was similar, and we decided to get an early start on the Doge's Palace - with Davide we could skip the queue which meant staying cool rather than boiling in line. There was some pretty gruesome history to learn about, and we were fascinated by the ability of anyone to anonymously 'dob in' someone they thought was a traitor, or simply doing the wrong thing. Imagine dropping a letter in the monster's mouth and then finding out you were wrong! Hugo loved the display of old armour, but my favourites were the view from the balcony and an antique gondola.

Apparently the decorative end of a gondola has significance: Each of the 6 horizontal pieces of wood on one side represents a region or sestieri of Venice - Canareggio, Castello, San Marco, San Polo, Dorsoduro and Santa Croce. The beautiful iron lacework pieces represent the three main islands - Murano, Burano and Torcello. It's driving me nuts that I can't remember what the last, isolated horizontal piece of wood on the other
Just me and the broom guy, Piazza San Marco 6.15amJust me and the broom guy, Piazza San Marco 6.15amJust me and the broom guy, Piazza San Marco 6.15am

Look at the brush broom! It doesn't look it, but it is actually quite effective.
side represents, so if anyone knows, send us a message!

Having missed the early Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna, I was thrilled to enter the Basilica di San Marco and see the gorgeous mosaic inside. We didn't visit the crypt, but were interested that it (obviously) is the first place to flood when the water level in Venice rises.

We said good-bye to Davide and went back to the hotel for a cool drink on the balcony, and a game of chess for Isabel and Hugo on the gorgeous tables in the sitting area. I had spied a particularly beautiful gondola with my name on it as I walked home from my early morning jaunt, so we set off in search of a ride. It was a perfect finish to our time in Venice. Paolo, our gondolier was charming and explained that it was actually his mother's father who had been in the gondola business (gondolas are traditionally passed from father to son). His father is a glassmaker in Murano, but the Chinese copies are hurting business so he thought Paolo would do better out of gondolas!

We had spent plenty of time on the water in Venice,
So peaceful!  Gondola ride VeniceSo peaceful!  Gondola ride VeniceSo peaceful! Gondola ride Venice

On the smaller canals the only sound was the swish of the oar - we were in heaven
but the silence of a gondola made a big difference to our level of relaxation. Any tension just melted away as we passed under little bridges on our way to the Grand Canal. As we approached corners, Paolo would shout the traditional "I'm here" warning - sometimes getting a response from a colleague. There was never a real traffic jam, but manoevring such long, skinny craft around tight corners requires a good deal of skill!

Our only dilemma as we enjoyed our ride, was during a discussion about which route we would take on our imminent drive to Monterosso. Isabel had been desperate to go to Verona after seeing the film "Letters to Juliet", but we needed to make a choice between Pisa and Verona in order to make it to Monterosso before dark. Verona won, and by 2pm we were on our way to the car - exactly 24 hours after we had arrived. I hope we'll return one day - it's a magical place.

Additional photos below
Photos: 64, Displayed: 25


St Mark's LionSt Mark's Lion
St Mark's Lion

Symbol of Venice, seen on every flag, most buildings. He often has his paw on an open book. He's also known as the winged lion of St Mark (Hence his pride of place in Piazza San Marco)
Colonna San TeodoroColonna San Teodoro
Colonna San Teodoro

The other patron saint of Venice. Note the right had on the shield symbolising that Venice was a peaceful state who preferred to defend it's boundaries rather than invade other regions. The area between the two columns formed a criminal execution site, and some still think it's bad luck to walk between them!

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