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March 13, 2002
Venezia: piazza, pizza, pigeons, and play (Russell)

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A lazy lunch: eating pizza while watching the gondole go by

At a little before 4:00 AM on March 13th, Gail got out of bed to say goodbye to our daughter Dawn, our son-in-law David, and our grandson Keegan.  She walked them down the stairs and out of the building, then watched as they disappeared around the corner into the night.  At sunrise hours later, there were no baby screeches to rouse us out of bed.  When Cameron and Joss got up, they ran around yelling, "We can make all the noise we want!"  Joss got out his recorder and started playing it.  Five minutes later, Cameron stopped and remarked, "It feels kind of empty around here."

We are back to being a foursome again, with only each other as company.  As the morning broke to a hazy sunshine (Cameron said that Dawn and David had brought the sunny weather with them and taken it when they left), we pondered how to spend our day.  Our first idea was to journey to the outer islands of Murano and Burano, but we read that the museum on Murano is closed on Wednesdays.  We decided instead to head back to the Piazza San Marco and have a history field trip.  In addition to our Rick Steves' "Mona Winks" book, we have found a wonderful book in the villa all about the art and architecture of Venezia (Dawn was actually going to take it back to the US, but she ran out of luggage room).

During the Middle Ages, Venezia became the most powerful city in the world, shrewdly acting as the middle man for all trade between the east and the west (at one time, its GNP exceeded that of the entire country of France by 50%).  The politically powerful Doges (Dukes) of Venezia looted countless other countries to assemble Venezia's unique mixture of western and eastern art and architecture.

The Palazzo Ducale, the Doge's Palace, was the most powerful city block in the most powerful city in the world.  The Doge had his own law enforcement, judges, and prison -- accountable to no one -- so he could lock up or do away with just about anybody he wanted.  Venezia's famous Ponte dei Sospiri ("Bridge of Sighs") offered condemned prisoners their last view of daylight before they passed into the prison next door.  The Doge lost his supreme power when the new continent of America was discovered, creating new trade routes that did not need to pass through Venezia.

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Overlooking the "Bridge of Sighs" (everyone from Goethe to Hemingway has stood at this very spot)

The Piazza San Marco, Venezia's main square just next to the Palazzo Ducale, stands at the exact center between the east and west.  Here, the Basilica di San Marco was built atop the bones of San Marco (Saint Mark), one of the four authors of the gospels of Jesus Christ (his bones had been in Muslim-controlled Alexandria for centuries, until two Venetian visitors stole them and brought them to Venezia).  San Marco became the patron saint of Venezia -- securing the city's religious importance in addition to its political and economic importance -- and his symbol of a winged lion is still found throughout the city.  We viewed the Basilica's spectacular interior (where Byzantine onion-domed ceilings contain the equivalent of a football field full of tiny glass mosaics) as well as its spectacular exterior (where the pillars are made of different kinds of marble looted from all over Europe).  Atop the Basilica are four horse statues -- the symbol of Venezia's power -- that were originally stolen by Venezia from Constantinople, then stolen by Napolean and brought to Paris, then finally returned to Venezia (copies of these horses still top the Arc du Louvre in Paris).

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The Basilica di San Marco: an amazing blend of western and eastern architecture

After our history field trip, we settled into our daily Venetian routine.  We walked to the Accademia for pizza.  (Our trick is to wander around until we see people walking around eating pizza slices.  We retrace their paths, watching the pizza slices get larger and more uneaten, until we finally arrive at some hole-in-the wall crowded with people.)  We returned to the Piazza San Marco to feed the pigeons.  We had an afternoon snack of gelato.  (Today we followed Rick Steves' recommendation for "one of the best gelaterias in Venice," near the Campo Santa Maria di Formosa.  It was exactly as good as all of the other gelato we've had).  We also visited a coin collecting store where we almost bought very expensive full sets of uncirculated Euros, until our sanity got the better of us.

By early afternoon we were still full of energy, so we boarded the vaporetto and headed east to the neighborhood of Santa Elena (at the fish's "tail," for those who picture Venezia as a large fish).  Everything here was quiet and calm, with absolutely no trace of tourists or tourism.  We sat at a tree-filled park and relaxed as Cameron and Joss played at the local playground.

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Cameron and Joss on the playground at Santa Elena

Because we were so close to Venezia's nearby Lido island that we continued our vaporetto ride and went further east.  The Lido, a narrow sand bank across the lagoon from Venezia proper, is a playground for the rich and famous, with its resorts, beaches, and casino.  In the off-season it was much quieter, although we were still unnerved to suddenly see bicycles and automobiles all over the place.  We walked across the island from the vaporetto stop to the 12-kilometre beach, where Cameron and Joss had a great time playing in the fine sand, Gail collected shells, and Russell relaxed.  As we rode the vaporetto back to the villa, we were able to see the hazy sun setting over San Marco.

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Alone on the beach at Lido

All in all, we were out for a tremendously long eight hours, and we returned good and tired.  We ate up some of our leftovers for dinner (including leftover raclette) and all took showers and baths to get the sand out.  We still have two full days left here in Venezia, and the boys are already calculating how many more chances they will have to feed the pigeons and eat gelato.


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