To celebrate our 20th Anniversary, Diane and I went to Italy for 10 days in March. Changed planes in Amsterdam and then on to Venice. Venice Airport – very modern, very nice; named for Venice’s most famous traveller – Marco Polo. Took a water taxi to Venice, cost $12. Took an hour with stops at Murano and Lido. Got off at Arsenale stop in Venice.
Walked west along waterfront for five minutes toward St. Marks and there was our hotel, the Hotel Metropole. Great spot, right on the Grand Canal, a five minute walk to St. Mark’s Square. As it was only 3:30, we headed back out immediately.
Walked along the Grand Canal to St. Mark’s Square went back to the Basilica and went up to the Museum. There they have the original four copper horses, that up until 1982 adorned the roof of the Basilica. The four full sized horses date from the 2-3rd Century BC. They are outstanding. Detail and craftsmanship. Initially brought to Rome by Nero, Constantine took them to his capital at Constantinople. Venetians stole ‘em during the Crusades, then Napoleon stole ‘em again in 1797. Also got to see, close up, the mosiac tiles that make up the beautiful religious pictures in the church.
Wandered around for next two hours. Visited St. Mark’s with its millions of pigeons. Toured St. Mark’s Basilica. It’s been there since 830 AD and is built in Eastern Orthodox style. Inside were bones of various old dukes and of St. Mark, himself.
Next day, we walked all over Venice. From St. Marks Square, walked toward the Rialto Bridge via Mercerie Street, actually a collection various shopping streets that wind around. Lots of very expensive shops. Rialto Bridge is quite a pretty bridge, with shops lining the both sides of the bridge.
Diane bought herself some gloves and a scarf. It’s still pretty cold in Venice, there’s snow still on the ground in the shadows of St. Mark’s. Don't really mind the cold, though, it keeps the tourists away. In the summer, Venice is incredibly hot and humid and packed shoulder to shoulder with tourists.
Eventually made our way over to the train station and took a “vaporetto” bus boat back to St. Marks via the Grand Canal for 5 Euros. Very nice trip. Too bad we didn’t have a tour guide along to tell about all the really neat old palaces along the way.
Next morning, the front desk recommended a free water taxi trip to Murano and, again, a free tour of a glass factory. We knew it was a scam, but since we intended to go to Murano today anyway, we figured what the heck.
Nice taxi ride, 10-15 minutes and delivered us right to the private dock of the Cenedesi Glass Factory and Shop. Taken on a brief tour of the factory and watched a couple of fellows make glass bowl. Really neat. Then taken to the show room. Really nice, but very expensive stuff. Wine glasses for $300-400. Lotta’ stuff went for thousands. Bought a little perfume bottle for $100 and a horse for $250. Venetian city fathers forced glass makers to leave Venice for Murano hundreds of years ago for fire safety reasons. Murano Glass is world renown for it beauty.
Took boat over to Burano. Pretty little island, known for having its houses all painted in different and intense colors. Red, blue, fuchia, lime green. Took boat “bus” back to St. Mark’s – slow boat via Lido and a couple of other places.
Went through Doge’s Palace – very nice. Originally built in 800s, most of what is now visible was built in the 1300s. Beautiful rooms. Several with single hand, 24 hour clocks.
Diane made a comment about Venice today – she called it Disneyland. It’s sole purpose in life is that of a tourist destination. Population has fallen from 160,000 to 60,000 in forty years. Only two kinds of people live there, old folks and those that live off the tourists. A small apartment/condo/flat cost $450,000 to buy, plus a similar amount to fix up. Few can afford it. Many of the old homes are abandoned. As you wander around the narrow streets at night, if you look up to the windows, most are dark. Very few have lights on.
Everything has to be brought in by boat and by hand. Venice has become totally dependent upon tourists, it has no other purpose. It’s no longer a real city.
It's really unfortunate. 800 years ago Venice was the military, economic, and cultural center of the western world. The Doge, sort of an elected king, ran the show, backed by a senate of wealthy families and a council. It wasn’t today’s version of a democracy, but as an early republic, they did rather well. In the Arsenale, Venice could build an entire warship in one day. Yeah, one day. 800 years ago, their streets were lit with oil fueled lanterns. Wealthy merchants built huge four and five story mansions along the Grand Canal. Venice is truly remarkable.
Everyone should visit the city at least once in their lives. While the language, the food, the culture of London, Paris, New York, Tokyo are their own, physically all big cities are pretty much the same; but Venice is totally unique.
Left Venice today. Up and out reasonably early. Took vapporetto to Pizzale di Roma (modern commercial area on landward side of Venice connected to mainland by causeway) to pick up our rental car, a Mercedes ‘A’ class.
Drove south Florence. Took three hours to get here; then spent another hour just trying to get to the hotel. We knew where it was, just couldn’t get there due to narrow one way streets. Gave up and parked car near train station and took taxi to hotel.
And the hotel, the Hotel Continental, is totally bizarre. It’s avant garde modern -- Yuck! Nevertheless, location and the view of the Arno River and Ponte Vecchio is superb, we are right next to the bridge.
Went out for a walk. Ponte Vecchio ("Old Bridge"), like the Rialto Bridge, has shops on the bridge. But unlike the Rialto, these are top notch shops, all of ‘em selling jewelry. Seems way back 500 years ago, the Medici rulers of Florence tossed out the butchers and brought in goldsmiths and they stayed. Very glitzy. Kind of amazing; there are only three bridges in the entire world with shops actually located on the bridge itself and we’ve been to all three. These two and the one in Bath, England.
Diane has been a little under the weather this whole trip, so after an hour or so we went back to the hotel. I read guide books, while Diane took a nap. Came to realize there’s not much either of us care to see in Florence. Bunch of art museums, but frankly, art museums just don't do much for me. Maybe I'm just shallow. History museums, aircraft, ship, science museums – yeah! Bring ‘em on; but I just can’t get real excited about looking at old paintings and sculptures. Should have figured this out in advance, but both of us wanted to visit Florence.
Next day, Diane’s still not feeling well and we’re at loss of what to do and what to see. Went through Science Museum. I enjoyed it, got to see Galileo’s first telescope with which he first saw the moons of Saturn and Jupiter. It’s about three feet long. Also got to see Galileo’s finger or at least what’s left of the bone. Don’t quite know why it’s there, but it is.
Highlight of Florence for me was dinner at Buco dell Orafo – a little hole in the wall restaurant in a basement down a dark alley a short one minute walk from our hotel – and it was wonderful. Literally a hole in the wall, only thing visible from the alley was the door, a small sign and a posted menu. Not entirely sure what I ordered, something like “scalo... di pecorino”.
As it arrived, the Dutch couple next to us said, “I’ve never seen an American order raw meat before.” Huh? Raw meat? No, it wasn’t raw, but it was a mound of somewhat undercooked, thin sliced beef completely covered with thin slices of pecorino cheese and drenched in olive oil. And oh, my God, it was sooooo good.
Up and out of Florence. Headed back north on A1 to Verona. Found our hotel in Verona, the "Guiletta e Romeo" (the Romeo and Juliet). Yes, this is the Verona of the Shakespeare play.
TV in our three hotels have shown about 5-6 channels of Italian TV, one German channel, Sky News from Britain, and occassionally CNN-Europe and a Euro version of CNBC. None of ‘em say anything negative about the Iraq Campaign. While every night in US, the national newscasts go on and on about how US troops are under constant attack and how badly things are going; there’s none of this negativity in Europe. Not a single person has complained to us about Bush or the War against Muslim Terrorists. Only seen couple instances of anti-US graffiti; I’ve seen more, and worse, in one afternoon in Seattle.
Cable TV News from Britain reported on a million person demonstration for self-government in Beirut Lebenon. They interviewed folks on the street, one man credited the U.S. with the new atmosphere of freedom and democracy in the Middle East, especially the free elections in Iraq. Another said, “God Bless George Bush and God Bless the United States.” Never hear anything like that at home from our media.
Toured the Verona's Duomo Church – very nice beautiful old church. Built over the ruins of an old Roman temple and bath. In the basement, you could see the remains of the Roman mosaic floor and stone supports for the bath floor. Visited the ruins of the old Roman Theater.
Drove back to Venice for one last night before returning home.