"" Writer's Wanderings: Venice, The First Time--part two

Friday, February 08, 2019

Venice, The First Time--part two

In the morning, we arrived by vaporetto again, this time taking the one that went down the Grand Canal. We managed to get seats in front and enjoy the spectacular view of the old buildings sitting right in the water. Small docks or steps with platforms lead right to the front doors of some of the hotels along the canal. It would have been fun to spend a night in one of them. Gardens and window boxes and balconies full of flowers caught our attention as we slowly made our way to St. Mark's Square.
     It was 9 a.m. when we reached the square and there were few tourists around. The bell tower was first on our list and just opened for the day. We paid our 6 euros each and took the elevator to the top. The view of the square was wonderful. Looking beyond that, all you could see were rooftops. The canals are obscured by all the buildings. Cruise ships in the harbor dwarfed the buildings and looked out of place from that vantage point.
     We walked directly out of the bell tower and got in the line for the basilica. It was already stretching across the square. I had carried our backpack that day and as we approached the entrance, I knew I was in trouble. Security was sending people with backpacks to an area around the corner to check them. If he knew English, he didn't use it. I headed in the direction of where he pointed while the others went on ahead. There was no place I could see that looked like a bag check. I went back to the entrance and found another American who was following an Italian girl to find the place. I followed them. It was not only around the corner but also down a side street and not marked well at all. (There must not be many sign makers in Italy.) I checked the pack and received a large tag that got me to the front of the line and into the basilica in time to see the other three on their way out. They waited while I walked with the crowd up one aisle, across the front and down the other aisle.
     It is an impressive church but I didn't think it was as beautiful as some of the others we had seen in Germany and Austria. There are numerous scenes depicted with mosaics shimmering in golden highlights in the large domes looming overhead. The floor is a geometric pattern of tiles. There are no photographs allowed and while you are inside, you must remain silent. Also, throughout Italy, there is a dress code for visitors to churches. You cannot wear shorts, sleeveless blouses, or short skirts above the knee. They will and did turn people away.
     After retrieving our backpack, we returned to the square to see all the pigeons. It rivals Trafalgar Square in London. For a euro you could buy a small bag of corn and instantly make friends with hundreds of pigeons. Actually they are very gentle and there was only one "accident" recorded which was quickly cleaned up.
     We went back to the vaporetto docks and found the line ( #42/43) that would take us to Murano and Burano. It took about an hour to reach Murano but it was a pleasant ride. We disembarked at the first stop and found ourselves immediately greeted by salesmen from the glass factories. They welcomed us into a demonstration room where we watched with fascination as a red vase was formed at the end of the blowpipe and speckles of color were added. Next a horse came to life from a blob of molten red glass. There were beautiful pieces of colorful glass in all sorts of shapes and sizes on the shelves in the showroom. Prices ranged from 6 euros to...well some chandeliers I understand go for thousands of dollars.
     Glass factories are all over the island. This is the place where the glass manufacturers were sent when the citizens of Venice worried that they might accidentally burn the city to the ground. Lots of shops and little cafes line the canals that criss-cross the island. We enjoyed a delightful pizza lunch along one of the canals.
     Our next stop was Burano. We found the correct place to catch the vaporetta from Murano. It doesn't run as frequently so we had to be careful of our time. Burano was an even smaller place than Murano. It is known for it's handmade lace. As you exit the vaporetto and walk into the little town, there are a few places along the way were women sit in the lace shops and demonstrate the lace making. Their hands whip through knots and stitches as the delicate pattern begins to take shape. Not everything in the shops is made there. You need to be sure to ask for the Burano patterned lace. They sell small pieces for about 15 euros. 
     We caught a vaporetto back to Venice, managing to arrive in time to have a nice dinner before our scheduled gondola ride. Near the Rialto bridge was a pretty area full of tables topped with white linen and decorated with small colorful lights. It sat right on the canal. After our $15 coffees, we knew it would probably be expensive but we would only be in Venice once. The waiter spoke English mixed with a heavy Italian accent that was fairly understandable. He was also a great salesman. He described the specials. One was a seafood dish with pasta and three sauces. We assumed that he meant there were three sauces to put on the pasta along with little pieces of seafood. Well, no matter. We knew we were in trouble when he placed a huge tiered bowl of ice with various pieces of seafood, including two half lobsters, crabs and oysters. The sauces were for the seafood. I don't even remember the pasta. The whole thing was somewhere around $200 by the time we added drinks. It was delicious. The view was great. And next time we'll ask the price even though it's a "speciale".
     When we arrived at the gondola stop there were about 60 people waiting with us--no gondolas in sight. Just as we were wondering what was going on, a dozen gondolas pulled in between the striped poles to let their passengers off. We boarded our gondola being careful not to move too much. It's almost like getting into a canoe. With amazing skill, the gondoliers used their long tongued poles to manipulate the vessels out of their dock and into the canal. It was an armada of gondolas that slowly made its way down the Grand Canal. In the evening, the canal is not as busy so we did not bob around like those who rode earlier. In the center of the armada, was a gondola with a tenor and an accordion player who serenaded us as we floated between buildings illuminated with the colors of the evening sun. As we entered a narrow canal to navigate the maze of small waterways that lace the island, the sound of Ole Sole Mio resonated from the exteriors of the buildings. Romantic? Yes and no. After all we were with our family and 11 other gondolas filled with people. But the setting could not be matched in the best of romance novels.
     It was good we had time to relax for our train ride back was to be very stressful. We arrived in time to catch the last train. The question was--which one went to Mestre? We finally found someone who assured us we needed to get on the train he pointed to. Once on we realized we were in a sleeper coach. We got off and another person directed us to the same train; this time to a coach full of private compartments. We sat for a while until some others came along with tickets for the seats we were in. Off again. The signs indicated all along that the train went to a French sounding place. I was panicking. Again an official looking individual directed us onto the train, this time in a different car. This car looked more like the commuter cars we had been in for the ride to Venezia. We relaxed a little and a passenger assured us again that the train would stop in Mestre. Polly and I just kept exchanging glances. Would we sleep in our hotel tonight or in some unknown destination? Thankfully, as the train neared the Mestre station, it slowed and stopped. On the way out, we asked where the train was going. France. Cie la vie!

     Oh yes, I can't leave Venice until I tell you about the pay toilets—a must for any self-respecting woman. They only cost about .50 euro and they were very clean and well worth the wait. Our guys said the non-pay toilets were indescribable.

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