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March 14, 2002
Murano e Burano: glass and lace (Russell)

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Colorful Burano: like something out of a storybook or fairytale

On March 14th, we awoke to gray and overcast skies.  But today would be our last chance to visit any of the islands outside of Venezia, so we were out of the villa by 10:00 AM.

Our first stop was Murano, famous for its glass works.  There are a couple of vaporetto routes that make a big loop all the way from Giudecca to Murano (the 41 goes clockwise and the 42 counterclockwise), and we boarded the 42.  Our route took us past the Piazza San Marco and Santa Elena again, then left Venezia and went northeast.  We passed Venezia's cemetery (an entire island is dedicated to it) and crossed over the channel to Murano.

Along the way we met a trio of travelers from England who had the same itinerary for the day as ours; and between all of us we pored over our imprecise tour books trying to figure out exactly where we were supposed to get off.  Using broken Italian with the vaporetto operator, we were able to figure out that we needed to debark at the third stop in Murano.  This was confirmed by the fact the the third stop was called "Museo" and had a big sign saying "Museo del Vetro."  Of course, actually finding the museum was another matter.  The English man insisted that the museum was to the left, and we dutifully followed him until we saw signs in shop windows pointing to the right.  (The shopkeepers must long ago have gotten tired of hearing "Dove il museo?")  At least we got to see a lot of very nice -- and expensive -- window displays.

Il Museo del Vetro (Glass Museum) was a fascinating place.  It was started a hundred years ago in a single room, and has now grown so that it occupies the entire building.  All four of us were completely fascinated by the history and development of glassworks through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  We learned about the evolution of transparent glass, and how the Venetian glass trade was threatened (and ultimately superseded) by cheaper stuff from Bohemia.  We saw incredible creations, including a huge table setting created in the form of a miniature park.

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Il Museo del Vetro in Murano

Outside of the Glass Museum, we had our daily lunch of pizza slices (only of so-so quality on Murano) and set off in search of a fornace where we could see glass being blown.  The closest we found was a shop where they were forming (but not blowing) glass animals with tools, and the boys were just as fascinated as they had been at our last glassworks in New Zealand.  Amid all of the exquisite items offered for sale, we purchased only a couple of bottles of glass mineral shards for 5 each -- Gail wants to use them to create her own mosaics when we return home.

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Watching the glass craftsmen at work

Our next stop was Burano, even further out to the northeast away from Venezia.  Burano, famous for its lace,  was Gail's single highest-priority sightseeing destination in all of Italy.  Where Murano looked just like Venezia without the tourists, Burano was completely different.  With its bright colorful houses, wide walkways, and picturesque canal bridges, Burano looked like something out of a storybook or fairy tale.  We saw a church campanile that was obviously leaning (this is not the first one that we have seen in Venezia -- we attribute it to the constant flooding and unstable landfill foundations).  We also saw lots and lots and lots of shops and stands selling lace.

Il Museo del Merletto (Lace Museum) was very small compared to Murano's Museo del Vetro, but just as interesting.  Having wondered for years how lace is made, we learned all about the long and meticulous process (its amazing the lacemakers didn't go blind).  We learned the difference between the Venetian, Burano, and Rose stitches.  But the highlight of our museum tour was at the very end, when we came across two elderly women sitting and making lace.  They didn't speak a word of English, but we carried on a conversation with them nonetheless.  They said that it takes seven women to make a single piece of lace; each woman completes the stitches that are her area of expertise, then passes the project on to the next woman.  All told, it takes about a month to complete a piece.

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A vanishing breed: two signore who still practice the art of lacemaking by hand

Outside of the Lace Museum, we had our daily snack of gelato (we have never had bad gelato in Italy).  We spent a lot of time just wandering around enjoying the storybook ambience, and Gail bought a piece of handmade lace for her mother (Gail's mom collects lace; this is the only souvenir she has requested from our entire year trip).  Among the many shops around, Gail picked the only one in which the proprietress was actually making her own lace inside.

It was another very long day -- by the end of it, the boys were bouncing off the vaporetto walls -- and we didn't return to the villa until after dark.  For dinner we cleaned out the last of our leftovers, and we all retired early.  Tomorrow is our last full day in Venezia, but we have a lot of packing up to do.  After four Italian weeks of spreading out for a week at a time, we will be back to living out of suitcases for the next month.


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