When we initially set out on this nine month sabbatical we were anticipating spending a good deal of time traveling to other parts of Italy and even other parts of Europe. It seemed logical to take advantage of the proximity and the free time to visit places we’ve never seen. However, now that we’ve set up our lives here in Arezzo what we really want is to stay put. The whole point of coming here for a longer period of time was to deepen our experience of living in a foreign country. Now that we have meaningful relationships here we want to enjoy them for as long as we can.
However, there are a few places we really wanted to see, and on the top of our list was Venice. We’d never been and after hearing from everyone how beautiful it is we had to go. Thanks to a direct train from Arezzo it was easy to plan our trip. We packed our bags, hopped on the train, and four hours later we were in Venice. When we walked out of the station we were blown away - the view is stunning! We felt like we’d entered another world!
|This is the first sight you see when you walk out of the train station.|
While riding the vaporetto (Venice’s equivalent of a bus – it runs on the water) to our hotel we were nudging each other and pointing out some of the amazing buildings along the Grand Canal. As many of you know we are not inclined to take lots of pictures, but we made an exception this weekend - our camera got more exercise than ever before. We kept being amazed at all the bridges, the little canals, the boats, and the buildings. Every 20 steps or so one of us was stopping to take pictures.
We spent the better part of one afternoon sitting in a large campo (piazza in Venetian dialect). There was a caffe nearby with several family groups sitting outside finishing lunch. All of their kids were playing in the campo, climbing on the well (it was covered!) or just running around, while the parents talked. It was delightful to be in a “real” part of the city and not in the “centro turistico.”
One evening we went to a concert featuring the music of Vivaldi, a native of Venice. The performance that evening was exceptional, and the concert hall (a deconsecrated church) was beautiful. After the show we felt like real Italians going out for dinner at 11pm!
The next day was cloudy and rainy as predicted, but being true Seattleites that didn’t deter us from getting on the vaporetto and going off to Murano.
Venice is really a collection of islands, and the island of Murano is famous for its glassmaking. After our trip to the island and back, we realized that the best part was the vaporetto ride, which was a complete circumnavigation of Venice. It was very interesting to see the city from the water.
It was fascinating to learn that Venice was born under dire circumstances. During the 5th-8th centuries the people who lived on the mainland fled to the marshes to escape the invading Huns and Goths. Because they had no other choice, they were forced to build their homes there. Necessity being the mother of invention, they figured out how to erect structures above the level of the water by driving wooden pylons 100 feet into the silty ground. Over centuries the beautiful city we know today was developed.
Because the risk of flooding is en ever constant threat, the Venetians keep measures at hand to stop water from pouring into doorways and to help people walk the streets without getting their feet wet. We saw metal gates about shin high on most doorways. At first they looked like some kind of baby-gate, but we realized that in Venice the likelihood was that the gates were for keeping water out rather than for keeping children contained. Though unsupervised children and unaware adults certainly run the risk of getting an unwanted dunking if they are not careful.
It took us a good while to figure out that these stacks of steel and wood were impromptu boardwalks, ready to set up at the first sign of high water.
We were equally fascinated to find that- of course! - everything coming into and out of Venice has to be carried by boat and by hand. Transporting carts full of produce, mail, recycling, and refuse over the pedestrian-only bridges (they all have steps) is very labor intensive.
|The mail truck|
|Some sell their goods directly from the boat!|
No wonder things are more expensive here! Restaurant prices are about double what they are in Arezzo. For example, caffe and a pastry in Arezzo cost €2. In Venice they cost €4.50 (if you stand at the bar), or €7 (if you sit at a table). Or maybe the reason for the high cost of the food is the gold they sprinkle on their bruschetta.
|Henry's golden lunch|
Seriously. This dates back to the 1400s when it was believed that gold was good for one’s health. Also the nobles couldn’t miss an opportunity to flaunt their wealth.
Despite the tourists and the costs, Venice was absolutely everything we had heard it would be – an extraordinarily beautiful city with a remarkable history.