Sunday, December 5, 2010

Beware of High Water

I apologize for the brevity of this post (although perhaps you welcome it because you're sick of my endless blather), but I just wanted to get this up while I still had reliable internet and time to upload this post.

Venice is my favorite city in Italy. I love Florence, but Venice is such a different city, and has a unique charm that is achieved by its canals and twisting streets and beautiful views and exquisitely crafted glasswork. I was blown away by how spectacular the city was. It was cold, but completely worth it.

When we arrived, we boarded a boat to get to the actual city from the mainland. We traveled down the Canal della Giudecca, which is the Jewish canal, so named because of the first Jewish ghetto that was created in the middle of the canal. Then we made our way to Murano, an island close to Venice, which is world-famous for its glass.

We got to watch a glassblower make a vase and a horse, and then we got to tour the factory and see the huge glass chandeliers and sculptures and table settings.

Then we made our way to Burano, which is what people actually see when they look at pictures of "beautiful Venice." The houses are all painted different, bright colors, and lace is made there. When we arrived, the water had just receded and shopkeepers were putting their products out again. They have to do that every day, because the water floods the island in the morning with the high tide. We also saw a chicken foot that had washed into a gutter.

After that, we went back to the main island of Venice and went to St. Mark's Square and St. Mark's Cathedral. It was beautiful, and the cathedral contains the most mosaic tiles in one location, in the world. During the tour, we learned that a lot of the objects in and around the cathedral were actually objects obtained through victory in war and had little to do with religion.

It was really cold there, so Liz and I went to get some cappuccinos, and after we got them, we walked outside and I thought it would be a brilliant time to put on my gloves. But instead of handing off my cappuccino, I tried to maneuver around it. And failed. I epically doused myself in hot coffee, which was not hot enough to burn myself (and I had enough layers between me and the coffee anyway), but it was embarrassing and inconvenient nonetheless. So I had to take off my gloves and walk into the café, dripping, to get some napkins to clean myself.

Then we went to the Rialto Bridge, which is the oldest bridge crossing the canal. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is located over the Grand Canal.

We went to our hotel afterward and had dinner, which was vegetable risotto, salad, calamari, and tiramisu for dessert. They served us Pinot Grigio, which is a white wine from Venetian vineyards. The dinner was very good, and we had a great table and some great dinner conversation. After dinner, they took us to our rooms. We had room 30, which was in a back alley, under the stairs. It wasn't a bad room, but it was small and the roof was slanted. I felt a little like Harry Potter. However, we discovered at the end of the trip that we actually had the nicest room in the hotel...

The next morning, we started on our way, but had to take several detours due to high water. All the shops were flooded and the streets were too, and there were little catwalks erected all along the streets for people to walk on and get through the flood. I also saw some people with tall plastic boots wading through the waters.

But we made our way around the flood and went to the Peggy Guggenheim Modern Museum, where we saw a lot of great modern art. We learned about the history of the museum and about how eccentric Peggy was (she would sometimes sunbathe naked on her roof to annoy the hotel residents on either side of her house, and she would take Giacometti' s sculptures out on her gondola and ride around with them). We also saw works by the futurist Boccioni, the painter Max Ernst (her husband), Dali, Picasso, Pollock, Rothko, and many more. It was really awesome to see.

After that, we had some time to look around Venice on our own, and so Liz and I walked around the city, taking pictures and soaking in the beauty and serenity. We picked up some food for lunch and took it to a piazza, where we sat on a bench and ate. There were lots of birds walking around, so I trained one of the little ones to eat out of my hand. We named him Federico.

Our last stop was at the Duke's Palace, which is right next to St. Mark's Church. We walked through and saw the Golden staircase (the main stairs leading up the palace; the ceiling is sculpted out of gold), the Giant's staircase (where the Duke would address the nation, flanked by the Roman gods Mars and Neptune (or Ares and Poseidon of Greek mythology), the Lion's Mouth (where people posted anonymous letters that revealed terrorists of the state), and the rooms of Parliament. We also saw the armory, where there is an extensive collection of Renaissance weaponry and armor, and the Bridge of Sighs, which leads to the prisons. The Bridge of Sighs is named such because the prisoners would let out sighs of sorrow, knowing that by crossing this bridge, they were most likely walking to their deaths. The prisons were cold and cramped, and had no regard for prisoner well-being. The roof was made of lead, meaning that in the summer, the prisons would be boiling hot, and in the winter, the prison would freeze. Many prisoners died due to these extreme conditions.

Then we took a boat back to the mainland and boarded the bus home. It was a great trip and I wish I could see it in the summer (or just the warmer months), because Venice definitely seems like a summer city. The city was still beautiful and wonderful, but subdued, and I would like to return to Venice again.

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