It is hard to pick out one outstanding part of this Rome adventure but I would have to say that Venice would be close to the top. The Queen and I almost visited Venice on our first trip together to Italy 10 years ago. We opted to spend more time in Florence and Rome instead of going on to Venice so this was my first time. The Queen had been there but many years ago.
I had some misconceptions about Venice. I knew there were canals - I have certainly seen enough pictures - but I did not realize that Venice was an island nor did I realize how extensive the canal system was. I also had no idea that Venice floods as often as it does - up to 200 days per year!!!
Morgan and Brenan and Ruth and her boyfriend Tyson went with us. We took the train up on Sunday morning and returned on Tuesday night. Ruth and Tyson stayed an extra day before going on to Florence. Out of the group, only Morgan had been to Venice recently.
A Brief Venice History
Venice was founded sometime in the 5th century by refugees fleeing from barbarians. They settled in the swampy low-lying lagoon area because they could hide easily. By the 9th century they had formed a government and began building around the main deep channel called the Rialto. They proved especially adept at ship building and trading and eventually became the powerful city state of Venice. They warred with Genoa in the 14th century and won and started the downward spiral of Genoa. By the end of the 14th century they had developed a true republican form of government - that is - the people elected the government. Venice was at its height in the 16th century when it controlled the most territory. Then it lost a series of wars with the Ottoman Empire and it began its gradual decline.
Venice is unique among cities - the only one built entirely on water. It is supported by billions of wooden stakes driven into the muddy swamp and has over 400 bridges that cross the canals and inlets. It is located about 8Km (5 miles) from the shoreline and is connected by a bridge that carries trains and cars. The cars have to park at lots located where the bridge meets the island. There are no cars on any of the islands.
Getting Lost in Venice
Morgan had told us that it is very easy to get lost in Venice and that when he was here he managed to get lost a lot. Marvin and Judy, who visited us this summer and spent two days in Venice, told us that when they finished dinner one night they tried to walk back to their hotel which was a 20 minute walk. After walking 35 minutes and being convinced that they were getting close they turned a corner and found themselves back at the restaurant they had eaten in.
Ruth and Tyson got lost one day trying to get back to our hotel and all of us had a hard time navigating through the city. If you were going to one of the prime locations, like Piazza San Marco, then you had some pretty good signage but if you were going elsewhere it was difficult. Here is Ruth being perplexed at the sign to Piazza San Marco.
The Grand Canal
The Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal is the most famous bridge in Venice. It is actually the name of the area around the bridge and it has a large market and shops. This is the bridge. The boat going under the bridge is a 'vaporetto'. These are the equivalent of buses except relative to the cost of the bus in other Italian cities they are very expensive. If you just buy a 90 minute ticket it costs 5E.
This is a view of the Grand Canal from the top of the Rialto bridge.
This is Brenan on another bridge looking down the Grand Canal. Many of the buildings along the Grand Canal were built as single family palaces.
The Little Canals
This is one of the small canals of which there are hundreds. That is a gondola on the canal.
Here is Hynda, Ruth and Brenan with a good shot of a Gondola. They all sort of look like this one. Very well maintained. There are about 400 gondoliers in Venice and they are all men. One women recently tried to become one and gave up. A gondola ride is not cheap - it starts at 70E for about 30 minutes.
I could not get this picture to come out quite right but it is of a delivery boat. All services (garbage pickup, food delivery, transportation, etc) are done by boat. During the most recent flooding after we left they had pictures on the news showing how these boats could not get around because the water was too high for them to fit under the bridges.
To cross the small canals there are a series of bridges (over 400). The delivery people, after unloading a boat, have to navigate to their destination using carts to haul their merchandise. In this picture two people were carrying what appeared to be kegs of beer to a pub or restaurant.
Piazza San Marco
This is the piazza that is the heart of Venice. It has the Doge's Palace which is the seat of government for Venice and the famous Basilica of San Marco. It also floods all the time. Venice is sinking and there probably will nto be a Venice at some time in the future. This is the King in front of the Basilica of San Marco.
They have a number of tables that they set up for when it floods. Here are Morgan and Brenan on the tables and then Ruth and Hynda.
This flooding was not too bad compared to what happened right after we left. You can see the water starting to flood in the background. The tall guy on the left is Tyson, Ruth's boyfriend. We always put boyfriends (and girlfriends) at the end of the pictures so we can cut them out if they are no longer around.
The Jewish Ghetto
Venice has the distinction of having coined the name for the establishment of an area of a city where only Jews could live and be kept separate from the rest of the city. They were forced to live in a small area on one of the islands. It was where the iron foundry was located that made cannons. The verb in Italian word for casting iron is gettare. It was hard for people to pronounce the 'ge' sound so the word was prononuced with a 'gh' sound... hence the word ghetto. This is the only place in Venice that has skyscapers - buidings as high as 5 - 6 stories. This was because the Jews could not live anywhere else so they had to build upwards. This picture is all of us at the entrance to the ghetto. In the 19th century when the ghetto gates were torn down by Napoleon about 5000 Jews lived in the ghetto. Today about 700 Jews are left in all of Venice.
The building straight ahead is the synagogue. It is one of five but only one is active.
The Kleinchiks at the Bridge of Sighs in Venice
The Bridge of Sighs connects the Palace of the Doges with the Venice prison. Prisoners convicted at the Pal;ace were led across the bridge to the jail and you could hear their 'sighs' as they crossed - hence the name!!!