I was a little dubious about Venice but as you can see, I left my heart in Venice while my heart is in San Francisco the rest of the time! I wondered if it might be more like Disney Land instead of a historical city. We arrived at the bus station and walked to the dock. The weather was about 75 degrees and the skies were a perfect blue. We boarded a 1930s Chris Craft power launch made of polished wood and brass fittings. I stood on the stern and we started down the Grand Canal. There was some trouble with our hotel reservations and they had to change hotels. Our new hotel was at the end of the Grand Canal next to St. Mark's Square! So we slowly went down the canal to the hotel in a grand manner and all of us were impressed by the grandeur of Venice. The hotel was like a movie set, and the rooms over looked the canal and I felt like a movie star.
We walked out the side door and within a few steps were in St. Mark's Square. The Doge's Place, the clock tower, the campanile, the outdoor tables where you can have coffee or drinks, the cathedral, took our breath away. They had just cleaned the inside of the cathedral and the ceilings are covered by mosaics cover with gold leaf! There are two pillars on the end of the square next to the Doge's Palace and supposedly if you walk between them you will return to Venice. I might not have the chance but if there is reincarnation, hopefully this is one place I would return to.
The next afternoon we were going to take the group of us on the tour, about 45 people, on a gondola ride. I at first thought, how silly. But as I have relayed on my Egyptian trip, when in Rome do as the Romans do. Ride a camel around the pyramids, ride a gondola in Venice! It was about two in the afternoon, perfect day and the gondolas, about 12 of them, came to the hotel and stopped by the grand staircase that came out of the water into the grand lobby. We got into the gondolas, about three or four per boat and went by side canals to the Pont du Rialto on the Grand Canal and once there, the gondolas pulled together to make one wide raft. The first gondola had a man with an accordion and he began to play. The rest of the oars men began to sing and off we went down the Grand Canal. The sun was setting into the Adriatic Sea and the water in the canal reflected greens, blues, and golden flecks which also bounced off of the mosaics on the palaces along the canal. People were hanging out of their windows waving at us. We found out later the BBC was filming on location, a movie about Venice. There were three of us in the gondola and I suddenly looked depressed and two women in the gondola with me asked what was wrong? I said, here we are and no one to hold hands with. They said they felt the same way so we all held hands as we went down the Grand Canal in grand style. I still get goose bumps when I think of that day and our trip down the Grand Canal. Never, never pass up a chance to do something even if you think it is silly. All you might have done is waste some time, but if it is a great experience like the gondola ride or the camel ride around the pyramids, you have gained a once in a life time experience.
On the last night the guide took us to a special musical banquet. After we ate a so-so dinner the entertainment consisted of Bavarian or Germanic singing and dancing, (in Venice?) which was poor at best. After about half an hour I couldn't take it and asked the two woman by me if they might want to go out and walk around. They thought it might be impolite but decided that was better than being bored to death. (You might not be aware of it but many guides get kick backs from establishments if they book the tours there. Sometimes it is all right but then again it can be disastrous so don't feel bad if you want to leave. First, if the meal in included, eat it, then duck out for adventures the other people will not encounter!) In the back of my mind I kept thinking about the famous bar and restaurant, Henry's, that has been written up as an in place for Venetians and tourists in the know. It was a favorite hangout for writers in the 1930s. I had no idea where it was but we just started walking and enjoying the sights. The women thought I was funny as there was no way we would find it on our own, especially in the dark. About an hour went by and one of the women said, "Isn't that the sign of the place we are looking for in the alley way?" It was! We went in and had a coffee and watched the clientele, mostly Venetians, having cocktails, eating all kinds of pastas and very rich deserts. We had a great time and when we got back to the hotel and told everyone where we had gone, they were very jealous. They said the clomping and singing went on for over two hours and the group was ready to throw in the towel. We were smart and they suffered!
According to old legends, Venice was born from nothing at the junction of two infinities, water and sky, as land is very discreet and well- hidden. Recent archeological researches confirmed the existence of continuous settlements in the Lagoon from Roman times. In the VI Century Longobard invasions in the countryside "Venetia" obliged the population to take shelter in the Lagoon that was ruled first by Maritime Courts and then by the Doges although under the Byzantine influence. In the VIII Century the Doges could be elected by the people and started to trade with the East, taking agreements with Istrian cities. During the Crusades Venice occupied the Aegean Islands, part of Peloponesia, Crete, Gallipoli and part of Costantinolpoli. At the beginnings of the XIII Century Venice became an important maritime trade center and entered into competition with other Italian Martime Republics, as Pisa and Genoa, that were finally defeated after worn-out battles, lasting one hundred years, in 1381.
This began the "Serenissima" Golden Age. During this period Venice increased its territories, adding Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Belluno, Udine Brescia, Bergamo, Ravenna and later Cremona and Ferrara.
In the XVI Century began the Venetian political and commercial decline. Defeated first on the continent by Italian and Europea States and then on the sea by the Turkish, the Republic of Venice lost even its independence in 1797, becoming part of Austro-Hungarian Empire, as consequence of the Treaty of Campoformio.
Venice returned to Italy in 1866, at the end of the Third War of Independence.
Off to Milan, the fashion capital of Italy but also very industrialized. By this time we were very tired and not much energy to do to much. We first went to see the cathedral which is the second biggest after St. Peters in Rome. It is covered with hundreds of spires and had just been cleaned so it sparkled in the sunlight, very, very white.
Next we saw the Last Supper, the church was bombed in World War II and almost all of the walls were demolished except the one where the painting is on. We were lucky that there was only one other bus there so we got to spend time looking at the painting without being rushed. Since Da-Vinci used a new technique that didn't work, the painting started to disintegrate as soon as he was done painting it. A woman was restoring the painting, I later saw an education channel about her, she was doing something like two or three inches a year! The painting is something like eight feet by 14 feet. I think she has a life time job! It is anticlimactic to see the painting, the location, the church, and the tourists, but historically interesting.
Now we are going to the galleria which was built in the 1800s. I believe it was the first shopping mall ever built! In the shape of an X, each wing is four stories high with a rounded glass roof and where they meet in the center, one large glass dome. People dressed fashionably, were sitting at tables in front of cafes have coffees and drinks, so sophisticated. I would love to spend more time in Milan and Venice and of course in Rome and Florence. So many things to see and so little time!
Return to the Italian Home Page