Venice, Italy

[ 2 ] August 12, 2011 |

Exquisite, romantic and impractical- that’s Venice in a nutshell. What else could a city built pretty much on top of water be?

Venice is built on 117 small lagoon islands connected by 400 bridges and over 150 canals. It is divided into six districts. Built as an unconventional city with wood pylons driven into 100 feet of silt, there are marble palaces lining the canals. Venice was established as a community supported by the Adriatic sea. At its height, Venice’s trade route control stretched from Constantinople to Croatia. After the discovery of the Americas and the rounding of Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, Venice lost its dominance over the seas and was commonly bypassed by new trade routes. The loss of taxes and duties of ships passing through created the need for a new angle in Venice. Venetian art, regarded as enticingly scandalous, became its new claim to fame.

As we walked out of the train station we were greeted by our first view of the Grand Canal. A set of wide steps leads straight down to the water and conveniently a water bus stop. We bought a multi-day water bus pass and jumped on the next boat heading out.

Grand Canal

Water buses, water taxis, gondolas, and private boats fill the canals. The captains are excellent and time passing in front of one another just perfectly. Gliding by with a narrow clearance is no sweat.

gondola traffic jam

We road the water bus for 45 minutes or so to what we thought was our stop. It was certainly the most glamorous public transportation we’ve experienced thus far. After we got off the bus and walked a bit we finally got out the map… Map in Venice?? Worthless.

After a confusing Italian/English phone call to our B&B the manager came and found us across town and personally walked us directly in. Thank goodness….we zigged and zagged all over the place without street signs, through back alleys and over bridges.

back side of B&B

(You can spot the backside of our B&B in the movie the Tourist. The scene where they have Frank tied to the boat to deliver him in the night and the men walk out of the dark square with columns- that’s the exact spot and canal where our room was located.)

One of our favorite neighborhoods was the Ghetto, the unofficial heart of Venice’s maritime empire. Previously a getto or foundry, this area was designated as the Jewish quarter from the 16th to 18th century giving new meaning to the word. It remains a more local portion of the city and is a bit north of the tourist scene. We found several local restaurants with delicious food.

typical canal

Anyone who has heard of Venice knows also about the gondolas with their famous gondoliers rowing down the canals singing wearing black and white stripped shirts… They are very real, very beautiful, very romantic and very expensive! There seems to be a brotherhood between all the gondoliers- no bartering, set prices (90 euro) with extra charges for picture ops, singing, evening rides, etc. We didn’t take a ride…This was one of those things we intentionally left undone, hoping someday we will return and do it then. We did however take a million pictures of them and especially of the boat specific wooden hooks officially called forcola that serve as the gearbox- meaning they are used to prop the oar up in different positions depending on the manoeuver. They are each unique- some carved, others plain. I think that’s how you should judge a gondolier… by the look of their hook.


simple wooden forcola

carved wooden forcola

We did however do something different… We took a gondola of another sort- the “Traghetto” is the commuter gondola. It’s the same size boat with 2 gondoliers, one on each end. They pile people in (12 or so) and paddle you across the Grand Canal. Best of all, it only cost 50 cents!  It also only last a few minutes, but is pretty fun nonetheless. Us and the locals with their groceries and briefcases. So for the record, we did take a gondola ride in Venice…sort of.

boarding the Traghetto

We walked through the Piazza San Marco. The square is lined with outdoor cafes each with their own live orchestra playing in various styles. A variety of boutique shops fill the remaining space around the piazza, while the center is full of street vendors selling trinkets and tourists dodging pigeons swooping by. The Basilica di San Marco (St. Mark’s Basilica) is noted for its glittering mosaics welcoming you above the entry doors as well as for its domes covered with millions of glass tiles.

Piazza San Marco

Basilica di San Marco

entrance to Basilica di San Marco

Musicians in Piazza San Marco Cafes

Murano is an island just north of the main cluster of islands of Venice. It’s where all of the crystal and glass artists were forced to work due to fire hazards during the 13th century. The distance still seems like a great idea to me. Today the island is filled with artists of all types but primarily Venetian glass artists. If you have a piece of handmade blown Murano glass you can check to make sure it is authentic by checking for the heart shaped seal guarantee. The glassblowers are very confident that their pieces set a standard that can’t be replicated elsewhere. I enjoyed visiting a gallery full of spectacular pieces.

Murano Glass

Murano Glass

One of my favorite places in any new city is the market. I think it gives you a really accurate picture of the local energy and people. There certainly aren’t many tourists hauling 20 pounds of raw fish back to their hotel rooms. Pat and I do however manage to pick up our share of local fruits and veggies for snacking. The Rialto Market in Venice didn’t disappoint – overflowing with color, scent, texture and taste. I found myself a bit jealous of the variety and unique choices that just aren’t standard fare in our supermarkets.

fish market

Rialto Market

We skipped some of the “must see sights” according to travel books, but by the end of our stay I think we saw Venice exactly as it should be seen. Slowly, even a bit lazily, wandering around alleys with no destination in mind, relaxing on docks along the canals. Stopping in cafes for a cool drink and sandwich. Peacefully watching the daily happenings and tourist frenzy. It was perfect.

I’m sure some would see Venice as a tourist trap, but if you take just one more turn around an unknown corner it’s easy to discover just how special this city is.

A&P in Venice



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Category: Alison's Blog, Blog, Featured Posts, Italy

Comments (2)

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  1. Jim & I saw your Mom (Pat) at Walmart one Sunday and she gave us your blog address. Jim & your Dad taught together many years at Altoona. We subscribed and anxiously await your postings. You do a fantastic job! We have been many of the places and that makes it extra special. This morning I am reliving our recent Venice stay and totally agree about seeing Venice as it actually should be seen. We seemed to be lost most of the days that we were there, but see Venice we did! Being lost, we happened upon some of the most unique places ever. You kids continue to have the “time of your life” and we will continue to enjoy following along on your dream. Marilyn Farmer

  2. L&L says:

    Aloha A&P! We’re back in Honolulu after our Italian adventure – loving your posts! They bring us back to our amazing Honeymoon. 🙂 Find it hilarious that Luke was also obsessed with forcola! Did you know that they are not only specific to the boat but to the gondoliers? The height corresponds to the exact height of the gondolier’s knee! Our gondolier was borrowing his cousin’s boat but had brought along his own forcola for the day. Cool, huh?

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