Day 15: Canals, Bridges, and Gondolas

 

Venice

June 8, 2019

This morning after breakfast, we headed into Venice! Our hotel was not on the island itself, but was just across the bridge from it. We took the bus about 10 – 15 minutes to Piazzale Roma, which is where the bus station is located, as well as a massive parking garage which offers the closest point to the city where cars can go. We then made our journey toward St. Mark’s Square, crossing over several canal bridges and navigating small, narrow streets, some of which you could only fit 2 or 3 people wide. As we walked along, we admired the canals and the sheer charm of the city. The buildings all appeared a bit run down and desolate, but at the same time, full of charm and absolutely beautiful.

Building
Typical appearance of most buildings throughout the city of Venice

We passed some rather nice shops of name brand designer clothes, which offered an interesting contrast with the ancient appearance of the city. We also passed several delivery men pulling wheeled carts with both large and small wheels, with which they could climb stairs with. We also saw some delivery boats in the Grand Canal where one person stood in the boat tossing goods up to the person on land, filling up a delivery cart. It blew my mind to realize this is how they transport clothes, food, and other basic necessities all throughout the island.

We arrived in St. Mark’s Square, the main square in Venice. It features the massive Saint Mark’s Basilica, a big bell tower, the Doge’s Palace, as well as a neat astronomical clock that indicated the moon phase, the date, and the time (indicated by rotating numbered panels rather than clock hands).

St Mark's Clock
St. Mark’s Clock

There were also lots of shops and restaurants all around the square on the first level of the buildings, which looked like mirror images of each other, with the columns and the white stone providing elegant surroundings. Apparently these restaurants have a seating charge, and sometimes a music charge, in addition to high prices. We looked at one menu and saw the music charge of €5 per person! The musicians were great, though. I heard them playing the korean folk song that is featured in Variations on a Korean Folk Song by John Barnes Chance. That brought back so many wonderful memories of the Bearden High Band, as we played that piece my sophomore year. After some research, the folk song is called Arirang, which is often considered to be the anthem of Korea.

St. Marks Square
St. Mark’s Square (Italian: Piazza San Marco)

Next we headed to our gondola ride! Riding in a Venetian gondola has always been something that I have wanted to do. There were 6 of us from our tour group in each gondola. It would have been nice to have one just for Emily and me, but that would have cost us about 2 times the price. It costs about €80 during the day, and about €100 after 7 pm. If I had to describe the gondola experience in one word I would have to say, “peaceful”. Our gondolier took us on some back canals which, after being around the bustling tourist areas, seemed almost silent. Because they can touch the bottom of the canal with their oar (in most of the canals), they don’t have to row in the water, which makes it even quieter. It was so amazing to me how we were going through a city on a small gondola like this, with the buildings towering over us on each side. We passed several places where water was trickling into the canal, which added even more to the peacefulness of the ride. It was interesting to pass by steps that led down into the canal–they were outside most buildings. I suppose people can park their boat there and then get back in. We also saw several clothes lines with clothes drying on them, which made us think how bad it would be if a piece of clothing were to fall off! We also ran into a bit of water traffic in a few places, where we had to wait for a boat to back out or where we were behind a few other boats and gondolas. Overall it was a magical experience.

Venetian gondola ride!
Venetian gondola ride!

 

View of the Grand Canal from our gondola
View of the Grand Canal from our gondola

After the gondola ride we headed back towards St. Mark’s Square. We had a chance to use the public toilet, which unfortunately cost €1.50 (or €1,50 as they write it over here), but it was quite nice. We got to walk around and explore a bit, fighting the droves of people that arrived on the island during our gondola ride. There are several cruise ships and other large vessels that visit the city every day. Because the city is sinking, they have thought of limiting the number of the people on the island to lengthen the lifespan of city. We saw several people walking around with flags that said “NO GRANDE NAVI”, which essentially means “no big ships”. This movement grew in strength the week before we arrived when a cruise ship collided with a tourist boat killing four people. Venetians also say that large ships pose a conservation risk, mar the city’s beauty, and overwhelm the city with tourists. Some suggest charging entrance fees to the city to help with its upkeep. We definitely witnessed the tourists–it was hard to even walk down the streets at times. We arrived early and didn’t see this, but at this point it was pretty apparent. Hopefully the city will be able to decide something to help preserve the lifespan of this beautiful place!

After exploring a bit we headed to our next excursion–a lagoon tour to the islands of Burano and Murano! We headed to Burano first, which was about a 45 minute journey across the lagoon. We passed several other islands, one of which was used for growing crops for the city of Venice. Their vegetables are also highly sought after because they have a high natural salt content due to their close proximity to the sea. Upon arriving we immediately noticed the brightly colored houses which the island is famous for, along with its lace-making. Apparently, this tradition is rooted in the olden days when men would go out to fish, and women would stay in the home and make lace. The homes were painted bright colors to help with navigating back home from the sea–bright colors were easier to see and made it easier to know which home was yours compared to the others. We quickly headed to get some lunch. I ended up getting Spaghetti Amatriciana, which had some bacon in a red sauce. I also had to try a Spritz, a Venecian drink comprised of Prosecco (a sparkling white wine), a dash of bitter liqueur, and topped off with sparkling mineral water and an orange slice. It was a bit more bitter than I was expecting but it had an interesting taste to it.

The main canal in Burano
The main canal in Burano

 

Colorful houses on the island of Burano
Colorful houses on the island of Burano

After lunch we explored a lace-making shop called Emilia which had so many beautiful things on display, from tablecloths to placemats to bedsheets to clothes. They had a museum upstairs that featured a small piano made out of lace! We walked around the island a bit more, and enjoyed the views it provided. There were several canals on this island as well. And with the brightly colored houses, it was a picturesque scene all around us. As we headed back to our boat I grabbed a chocolate cannoli–so good!! We met back up with the group and headed to the island of Murano.

Her Italian lace shop!
Her Italian lace shop!

 

Emilia shop
Inside Emilia, a lace shop on the island of Burano

Murano was definitely not as beautiful as Burano, but it is famous for its glass-blowing. We entered a glass-blowing factory (a “fornace”) and attended a glass blowing demonstration. The worker made a beautiful vase and a beautiful horse sculpture right before our eyes. He probably spent about 5 minutes on each one. Amazing talent and skill!! We also got to walk around the store and marveled at the custom chandeliers, vases, glasses, sculptures, jewelry, and other souvenirs. There was a demonstration of their wine glasses, which were self balancing–they would always roll back to the upright position. They also did not break when he dropped them!! Much of the glass was way too expensive for us, but it certainly was beautiful work.

We then headed back to the main island for some free time. Emily wasn’t feeling great so we took a little rest in a nearby park, Giardino della Marinaressa, which featured lots of metal sculptures throughout the park. The shade was nice after being in the sun so much. After a little rest we headed towards St. Mark’s Square to find a dinner spot. Before we got there, we found a good looking restaurant that had a nice view of the lagoon. It was so busy though with ships coming in and going out and lots of tourists walking by. Each boat had to blast its horn 3 times when they reversed out of their dock, which made things a bit louder. It also smelt a bit of diesel fumes and cigarette smoke. But despite these things, it was an enjoyable dinner. I got a spicy salami pizza, which looked exactly like Pepperoni but tasted 1,000 times better. It was so good! Probably the best “pepperoni” pizza I’ve had. To top that off, I got a dessert coffee/gelato drink which was amazing! At first the coffee was separated from the gelato, so it was either bitter or sweet depending on where I ate from. I ended up mixing them together to have a sweet iced latte type drink. Awesome!

Food in Venice
Food in Venice: Emily’s vegetable soup (left), Spicy Salami Pizza (top), Spaghetti Amatriciana (bottom), Gelato coffee dessert (right)

After dinner we headed to the streets for a nice evening stroll. There were tons of restaurants and shops along the side streets where we walked. The sunset made it even more picturesque. It was fun just taking random turns and getting “lost” in beautiful Venice. We didn’t have trouble getting our reference though, as there are yellow signs in most street intersections telling the direction of St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge.

The Bridge of Sighs
The Bridge of Sighs. Its name points to the fact that prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice through the window before being taken down to their cells.

We headed toward the Rialto Bridge and walked over the Grand Canal. Such a pretty sight to see Venice in the sunset! The bridge is also a marvel itself as there are also several shops along the bridge. At this point we decided to take a water taxi back (the Vaporetto as they call it) to Piazzale Roma instead of walking. This way we could see the beautiful reflections of the lights of Venice in the canal.

View of the Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge
View of the Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge

Once again, it was beautiful. It really looked like those canvas paintings of Venice at night. It was an odd experience to have to stop so often (just like a subway) and let people on and off, but was neat. It even had the subway-style seating in the middle compartment. We started off in the open compartment with an open view of the sides, but then moved to the middle one with seating because it was getting so crowded (everyone was heading back off the island for the night). We also went to the back of the taxi which was also open. We said goodbye to Venice looking back on the beautiful Grand Canal as we approached its end.

The Grand Canal at dusk
The Grand Canal at dusk

Exhausted from a huge day, we headed back to our hotel via the bus, and crashed for the night.

Venice was so picturesque and lived up to my expectations. I really hope they are able to save it and that it doesn’t completely sink away. I want to come back here and stay sometime, perhaps in a hotel on the main island. Such a wonderful place!

Step Metrics: 17,736 steps; 8 miles; 794 cal; 3h 7m time

 

Self Q&A

Q: Why are there emergency pull cords in the showers?

A: The cord complies with building code requirements all over Italy that mandate an emergency pull cord in bathrooms. Even if you are staying in a 5 star luxury property with separate tub and shower like the Park Hyatt Milan, you’ll still find the cords. Many bathrooms in Italy have a shower/tub combination where the bottom of the tub is several inches higher than the bathroom floor. Also, instead of a full shower door there is usually a partial door made of glass that easily moves to and fro and doesn’t fully block the spray. This means that water can coat the already smooth floor tiles, adding an extra slippery hazard to the bathroom. Thus, the emergency pull cords. So, if you start to fall you can pull the cord which will alert the front desk and someone will come check on you. (From InsideFlyer)

 

Q: Why are Venetian street lights tinted pink?

A: The only answer I could find is from Quora (definitely not verified), which states that the original color of Murano glass was amethyst. Only after adding certain compounds, did glass artisans change their glass to other colors.

 

Q: At what rate is Venice sinking, and why?

A:Studies indicate that the city continues sinking at a relatively slow rate of 1–2 mm per year. Today, towns and villages in the lagoon are an average 9.1 inches lower with respect to the water level than at the beginning of the 1900s.
During the 20th century, when many artesian wells were sunk into the periphery of the lagoon to draw water for local industry, Venice began to subside. It was realized that extraction of water from the aquifer was the cause. The sinking has slowed markedly since artesian wells were banned in the 1960s. However, the city is still threatened by more frequent low-level floods—the Acqua alta—that rise to a height of several centimetres over its quays, regularly following certain tides. In many old houses, staircases once used to unload goods are now flooded, rendering the former ground floor uninhabitable (from Wikipedia)

 

Q: What is the MOSE Project?

A: MOSE (MOdulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico, English: Experimental Electromechanical Module) is a project intended to protect the city of Venice, Italy and the Venetian Lagoon from flooding. A total of 78 mobile gates at 3 separate inlets to the lagoon are being laid at the bottom of the seabed as part of the project. They are 92ft long, 65ft wide and will weigh 300t. The mobile gates being laid at the bottom of the inlet channel are supported by 125ft long steel and concrete pilings driven into the lagoon bed. The floodgates consist of a metal box structure. Compressed air is pumped into the structure when a tide of more than 110m height is expected. The air will rise up the barriers to the surface of the water to block the flow of the tide and prevent water from flowing into the lagoon. When there is no forecasted flood event, the gates will be filled with water and lowered into the seabed. The floodgates at each inlet will function independently depending on the force of the tide expected. The MOSE project also includes strengthening of the coastal areas, raising the quaysides and paving of the city. The project is estimated to cost €5.496 billion, up €1.3 billion from initial cost projections. Testing was expected to commence in January 2019, and last two years; full completion and operations are now expected in 2022. (from Water Technology and Wikipedia)

 

Q: What is the Doge’s Palace?

A: The palace was the residence of the Doge of Venice, the supreme authority of the former Venetian Republic. The Doge of Venice, sometimes translated as Duke, was the chief magistrate and leader of the Republic of Venice between 726 and 1797 In 1923, the palace was opened as a museum. Today, it is one of the 11 museums run by the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia.
How deep are the canals? The Grand Canal?
Usually they’re 3 to 6 feet deep, but the Grand Canal has an average depth of 16 feet. Most canals that go around Venice are at least 30 feet deep, if not more.

 

Q: How many total canals total are in Venice?

A: 150

 

Q: Are the canals man made?

A: In the 5th century, in the place where Venice now stands (or floats…) there was a large lagoon with several small, marshy islands separated by natural canals. As the settlement grew and they began to build better buildings, the natural canals were made wider and deeper to allow the building materials to be moved around the lagoon by boat. Over the centuries, the canals were reinforced with bricks and other materials by the lagoon’s inhabitants. So, while the canals were once natural, they have been changed significantly over the years (from Venice Events)

 

Q: Is pepperoni an American thing? Is it just spicy salami? It wasn’t on menus.

A: Yes, pepperoni is an American variety of salami, made from cured pork and beef mixed together and seasoned with paprika or other chili pepper. Pepperoni is a cured dry sausage similar to the spicy salamis of southern Italy, such as salsiccia Napoletana piccante, a spicy dry sausage from Naples, or the soppressata from Calabria. The main differences are that pepperoni has a finer grain (akin to spiceless salami from Milan), is usually softer, and is usually produced with the use of an artificial casing. In most of Italy, pepperoni would be considered a type of salamino piccante (English: spicy salami). (From Wikipedia)

 

Fun Facts

  • The colors of the houses in Burano follow a specific system, originating from the golden age of its development. If someone wishes to paint their home, one must send a request to the government, who will respond by making notice of the certain colors permitted for that lot.

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