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March 11, 2002
Ah! Venice! (Russell)

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Arriving at the Piazza San Marco

The first time that the German romanticist Goethe saw Venezia (Venice) in 1786, he was reminded of a gigantic beaver dam.  The city was founded 1,500 years ago on a bunch of mudflats in the center of a lagoon, and now comprises 100 islands held together by 400 bridges and 2,000 alleys.  The entire thing is supported on hundreds of pine tree trunks sunk 15 feet into the mud.  Unfortunately these crucial foundations are beginning to rot, and no one has quite figured out what to do about it, so the water level throughout Venezia is slowly rising (or Venezia is slowly sinking, depending on how you look at it).

We are not actually staying in Venezia proper, but instead on a neighboring island called La Giudecca.  The name may originate from the fact that it was originally settled by Jews ("Giudei"), but more likely comes from the word "giudicati" -- "convicted" -- because rebellious nobles were often baanished here.  In any event, La Giudecca provides us with a wonderful view of Venezia across the water.  We awoke on March 10th, our first full day here, to the faint sound of classical music wafting in from some distant balcony.  The music started getting louder and louder; and when it turned into American pop music from the 1980s, we decided that it was time to get up and start our day.

Our first destination was the Piazza San Marco, only a few minutes away by vaporetto.  The only piazza in Venezia -- all the other squares are called "campi" -- is the closest thing to "downtown," containing the Basilica di San Marco (St. Mark's church), the Palazzo Ducale (the Doge's Palace), and the Campanile (bell tower).  With the lowest elevation in Venezia, it is also the first place to start flooding whenever the waters rise.  We saved the historic sites for another day, and instead turned our attention to the Piazza San Marco's other tourist attraction... pigeons.

Ever since we arrived in Italy, Cameron and Joss have decided to make it their mission in life to completely rid the world of pigeons.  From Firenze to Roma, the boys have enjoyed chasing pigeons wherever we go.  Here in Venezia, however, they have had a change of heart.  For 1€ you can purchase a cone filled with pigeon food (dried corn, peas, and other seeds), stand in the middle of the Piazza San Marco, and feed the thousands of pigeons who know where to go for a free meal.  Cameron and Joss (as well as the rest of us) thoroughly enjoyed having pigeons eat out of their hands while perched on their arms, shoulders, and even their heads.  This was easily the highlight of Italy so far for them.  (They have also reconciled their new love of pigeons with their previous "mission" by declaring that Venetian pigeons represent the "rebel alliance.")

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Russell with some new friends

Venezia is not a place that you visit in order to see the sights, but a place that you visit in order to get good and lost -- this is very easy to do within the maze of alleys, bridges, and waterways.  You're never in any danger, because you are, after all, on an island.  So with no definite plan or itinerary, we wandered the streets of Venezia, following Dawn and David's lead.  We made our way to the Accademia (home of Venezia's main art museum), where we had a rather expensive lunch at a local trattoria.  (Dawn and David have since advised us that the ristorante food in Venezia is not the greatest -- from now on we'll stick to the sandwich bars, pizzerias, and home cooking.)  Unfortunately, after a dessert of gelato, Cameron's stomach started hurting.  So Russell and Gail returned with him to the villa, while Joss stayed out with the others.

Gail cooked dinner for everyone that evening.  Unfortunately, the chicken fryer we had bought at the Coop mercato turned out to be the toughest and chewiest thing we've ever eaten (while cleaning the chicken, Gail also found guts inside that she'd never seen before in her entire life).

On March 11th, the two halves of the family went separate ways for the day.  Dawn, David, and Keegan decided to get an early start with more street exploring in Venezia; the rest of us did some morning chores that included more grocery shopping in La Giudecca.  Afterwards we went back over to Venezia as well, where we visited the Ponte di Rialto.  This covered bridge across the Canal Grande is a symbol of Venezia much as the Ponte Vecchio symbolizes Firenze.  We found a nice cheap pizzeria and enjoyed lunch on the bridge itself, watching the tourist-laden gondole pass underneath us (Cameron and Joss were also fascinated by a construction crane -- one of dozens throughout Venezia -- that kept hauling up buckets of cement).  Joss was given the educational task of navigating us back to the Piazza San Marco; and after going around in a few circles, he succeeded in getting us there.

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A pizza lunch on the Ponte di Rialto

For dinner that night, we treated Dawn and David to a long-anticipated meal of homemade raclette, which they thoroughly enjoyed.  (We had to make a special trip back out to the Tronchetto and our car to get the raclette machine, but this gave us an excuse to double-check that everything was intact.  It was.  We have also been unable to find raclette cheese anywhere outside of France, so we settled for an improvised combination of provolone and alpina, which turned out pretty well.)

After only two days in Venezia, we are already settling into an enjoyable daily routine of exploring (and getting lost) in the maze of streets, lunching on pizza from small cafés, feeding the pigeons in Piazza San Marco, snacking on afternoon gelato, and returning home in time for dinner.  A very enjoyable way to spend a week.

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Everyone enjoying raclette (except for Keegan, who is enjoying a wooden raclette spoon)

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