Day 13


Venice, Italy

7:12 am

Our giant ship looms over the city of Venice (Italy) as we travel through it on the way to our parking space. We are easily the highest thing in town, as most of the town is only two to four stories high.

Our ship lurches into Venice, while Laura watches

Venice, in case you never saw any cartoons (we especially like the Tom and Jerry cartoon with them as gondoliers), has water roads. Really. Where most cities have boulevards and streets, Venice has canals.

The main canal is called the Root Canal (ha ha—it's actually called the Grand Canal). And it's not like every street is a canal—you can actually get around quite well on foot. It's just that if you want to quickly get from one place to another, the canals are the way to go. Also, if you want to visit the "suburbs" (islands outside the main island of Venice), you better take a boat.

This all started back near the beginning of the dark ages in Europe. A bunch of smarter people snuck over here, figuring (rightly, as it turns out) that hiding out on a bunch of marshy islands would protect them from the ravaging barbarian hordes descending on the rest of Italy. The barbarians took one look at Venice, shrugged their massive shoulders, said "Ugh!" and moved on to easier pickings in Rome.

Venice is also famous for stealing stuff. You name it, they've stolen it at one point or another. They've stolen statues, art objects—heck they even swiped the remains of one of the Apostles (St. Mark) and built a church around them.

Our favorite story is about the four gilded horses above the entrance to St. Mark's Basilica. They started out in Constantinople in 1204 AD when the Venetians stole them and dragged them here. Napoleon (yes, that Napoleon) stole them away from Venice and hauled them to France. The enterprising Venetians stole them back from Napoleon in the 1800's. So far, they've stayed put.

So, Venice ended up a center for art not so much because they had great artists, but because they were so light-fingered.

Today, Venice is pretty much exclusively a tourist town. In fact, a lot of the residents have given up and just moved to the mainland. Part of the problem is that all the houses need a lot of maintenance (they're built on water, for crying out loud), and there's a shortage of plumbers here, which is pretty important—especially if you have water in the basement! [Imagine trying to get an Italian plumber to show up in the same century as you called....]

At breakfast, we notice that the grapefruit juice is gone, and the bananas are turning brown. Robert begins to panic--"Soon, we'll be forced to survive on mimosas! Wait, that doesn't sound so bad...."

9:17 am

We're waiting on the dock to take a boat from our boat. Our boat is parked outside of town, and the Princess Cruise lines have arranged for a motor launch to drive us to San Marco (which is Italian for St. Mark--the central tourist location).

A clean boat is a happy boat

But it's going to take a while to wash the whole thing...

Apparently, Italian drivers need to be told that it's a bad idea to try and drive on the water

Today, we're on our own with no tour guide. Laura's sister told us that we could just wander around Venice and get the flavor of it. Also, we're kinda tired of being hustled around cities at high speed (we understand why they do it, we're just tired of it).

So, we leisurely cruise along to San Marco.

Laura enjoys her boat ride to Venice

A typical Venetian parking lot

Along the way, an ambulance boat passes us, which answers one of our questions ("What about ambulances?"). There's a boat equivalent for every type of car or truck. During the day we see a police boat, ice cream boats, beer boats, boats with cranes--even garbage boats.

An ambulance boat

A police boat

Another police boat ("carabinieri" = "police officers")

A grocery boat

A garbage boat

A crane boat

A roll-of-plastic hauler boat

A Rock-and-Roll Roadie boat

9:49 am

We are at St. Mark's square, which is really famous and featured in just about every movie ever made in Italy. It's big and full of tourists (surprise!).

St. Mark's Cathedral in the distance

The line to get into St. Mark's Cathedral

Early Italian disco

There's a mess of pigeons around, and Robert buys some corn to feed them (1 Euro for a bag). As soon as he takes possession of the bag, he is the pigeons' best friend. Once the bag is opened, they land on his hand, his arm, his shoulders, his head. In fact, he pretty much disappears beneath the pigeons.

Robert looking a lot like a statue

Thinking quickly, he throws some corn off to the side and races out from under the mass of potential piranha pigeons. Whew! A narrow escape. Apparently, the trick is to wait until the afternoon, when the pigeons are more stuffed, before trying to feed them. (The government feeds the pigeons twice a day, so these are welfare pigeons, living off taxpayer's money and not doing any work.)

10:05 am

We enter St. Mark's Basilica. The line actually isn't too bad, and we've only waited about 15 minutes to get in. Laura says it's kind of like Disneyland, because while you're waiting in line, there's stuff to look at (centuries-old mosaics showing the stealing of St. Mark's remains).

There're signs outside that say, "No shorts," and they should have added "No kidding." There's a cop at the head of the line, and we see him turn away people wearing shorts. This is a working church. In fact, as we enter, we can hear the parishioners singing at a morning Mass in a side chapel.

Italian cops doing what cops everywhere do--hanging out with other cops

Various scenes of St. Marks

Abduction of St. Mark's body from Alexandria

Two of the four gilded horses "liberated" from Constantinople

Arrival of St. Mark's body in Venice

More views from the line to get into St. Mark's.

We pay 1.5 Euros each to get in to see the "high" altar. On the backside of the altar, there's an elaborate gold and jewel display, that has about a hundred figures on it. We guess they're apostles, and friends of apostles, and popes, and priests, and the brother-in-law of the guy who built it. (Note, the reason there's no pictures of this stuff is that the Roman Catholics would prefer you didn't take pictures inside. Since this is the church that brought you the Crusades, we're not inclined to mess around with them.)

Around front, we see the altar, which is built around the remains of St. Mark. The altar is made of glass to bring this point home, and you can clearly see Mark's casket. Fortunately, the casket isn't see through, so the priest doesn't have to gaze at St. Mark's empty eye sockets while he's blessing the wine and bread.

Even the street musicians in Venice are classy (in the square outside St. Mark's)

Robert gets artsy with another tower

The front of St. Mark's and a mess of tourists

10:51 am

We wander through the alleys of Venice. It's kind of like Seattle—nothing is straight, and alleys dead-end at random. Some are wider than others, but most are about 10 feet wide (although some narrow to about four feet wide).

There are many shops along the alleys, and Laura spots one full of tiny glass things. Ballerinas, musicians, courtesans, space aliens, pigs, ants, you name it, they've made it out of glass and are willing to sell it to you.

Laura gazes at the alleyways of Venice

A tiny glass ballet company

A tiny glass orchestra

Laura looks out at a Noah's ark full of animals (note the blue T. Rex in the center rear)

Ant-size glass ants

Laura's final selection: some roosters, space aliens, and tiny mice; the glass thing on the right seems to be a rat dressed as a chef (Laura claims it's an Angel holding a mandolin)

Laura and a Venetian canal

Signs we like to see in shop windows

You can even get a tasteful glass crucifix

This is the type of shop display that Robert prefers...

We ran across this exhibit in the center of Venice

Venice is not sinking
synthesis of verification

  1. Venice is not sinking; in fact after two thousand years of history Venice is now in the same altimetrical position established by the ancient Venetian people;
  2. "acquare-alta" the present great frequency of the "high water" phenomenon is caused by the subsequent hydraulic alterations which men have produced in the lagoon.
  3. "MOSE" the "MOSE" project is wrong; in fact the planners consider still water and forget that, when the harbour mouths close, the water has a speed and, consequently, a kinetic energy. This energy is higher than Archimedes' static force. As a consequence, by a mathematical inference the sluice gates cannot rise.
  4. [sic] "isole Venezia mare": it is possible to eliminate the present dangerous situation of Venice rebuilding the ancient isles outside the harbour mouths.

This is a diagram of the MOSE thing--the idea is that the gates lie on the bottom and then get raised into position when high water is on the way

Summary of the argument (as we understand it):

One Side: The problem is that dredging the main ship channel (the one our boat drove in on) has increased the currents in the Venetian lagoon. Venice isn't sinking, we've just altered the currents. If we'd quit dredging the damn canal and let it fill up again, we wouldn't have a problem.

Another side: Venice is sinking into the muck. The only way to save it is to use the MOSE system and when storms happen, raise the baffles into place to protect Venice from the waves and high water. (This project has the backing of the Italian Prime Minister and looks likely to be implemented.)

A very historical building, probably of cosmic significance

Ah, the pervasiveness of the Disney corporation...("Let's go to Venice and buy a Buzz Lightyear video!")

Laura looks out at the Grand Canal

The Gondoliers begin their strike (unbeknownst to us at the time)

Laura gazes out at the busy main "road" of Venice

This is as close as we ever got to a genuine gondola

Feral strawberries

A typical Venetian square--a bench and some weird backdrop things

Laura tries to use a map to get around Venice (hahahaha)

Cute Italian kid

Laura in Venice

Typical Venetian alleyway that is the only way to get from point A (where we are) to point B (where we want to be)

Italian housewives in Venice

Some kind of famous tower thing (it was on the map--that's why we took a picture of it)

How "The Wizard of Oz" translates into Italian

11:50 am

We've been to so many Roman Catholic churches in the last two weeks, that they're about to make us honorary members. So we decide to find the (one and only) Anglican church in Venice.

Fortunately, Robert has a weird talent that comes in handy at this point. If you show him where he is on a map, and then point to where you want to go, he can go there. Even if there's no straight roads, and the buildings block the sky and sometimes you have to go backwards to get there.

All of which describes Venice, which is like a giant maze. Robert unerringly finds his way through the maze, even when it involves ducking down what looks like a dead end (but ends up in a main square). Remember, too, that there's a lot of canals in Venice, and not all roads cross the canals. But every time we came to a canal, there was a bridge there. Robert's trying to figure out how to make money from this talent....

[Unfortunately, as soon as Robert gets in a vehicle, he loses all sense of direction. Put him in a car, and after three turns, he's totally and completely lost.]

We finally find the incredibly plain-looking Anglican/Episcopal church (St. George's), and boy, you can tell they feel beleaguered. The sign out front is written with marker pen on the back of a poster and announces services this coming Sunday at 10:30 am.

There's no name of the priest, no office, no phone number, and it's locked up. We figure there's probably about 30 people in the congregation.

It's tough not being Roman Catholic in Italy

Laura looks around for the church office...

The very substantial doors of St. George's

Laura wanders down another alleyway

More picturesque Venetian scenery

12:41 pm

We find a "snack bar" by the side of a canal. A "snack bar" doesn't have a full menu, but serves only a few items. In this case, the few items are pizza and sandwiches, which suits us just fine. Robert gets a pizza ("Gotta like this country!") and Laura gets a toasted ham and cheese sandwich (which sounds lots more gourmet in Italian).

Laura studies the menu at the "Snack Bar"

The view from the Snack Bar

An Italian sandwich

Pizza! (those are sausages, not beanie weenies)

1:43 pm

Our feetsies are once again pointing out that they're none too thrilled with being pounded on the cobblestones, so we decide to catch a "vaporetto" which is Italian for "water bus."

In true Italian fashion, the ticket window closes just as we arrive (the ticket lady seems to have taken off for a lunch break). We stand around waiting for a while until Robert reads a sign that says you can buy tickets on board, so we get on the bus. Of course, nobody can be bothered with selling tickets (or even checking for them), so we ride down the grand canal for a while. It's pretty cool—nice breeze, we're sitting down, gawking at all the centuries-old buildings.

A water bus stop

Various picturesque scenery in Venice

The bridge we stood on earlier, looking down at the Grand Canal (notice the non-moving gondolas in the first picture—we thought this was normal, but they were on strike)

Most of the bus stops had giant statues of various people parts (mostly heads); we don't know why, but we suspect it was "art"

More touristy type pictures of Venice

A significant historical Venetian building

When we reach the end, we get off, and buy tickets to go back (the deal is that for 5 Euros, you can ride as many buses as you want for 90 minutes, so we're morally okay). This time, we find somebody to check our tickets, so that we can feel we're in a civilized society.

Venice housing

A bridge filled with tourists gazing enviously down on us

3:00 pm

Laura wants to go back to a tiny shop where she saw some glass goodies she wants to buy, but she can't remember which one. Robert weirdly remembers the exact route we took and leads her along until she recognizes the shop.

6:04 pm

When we were choosing tours for this trip, the only one that Robert insisted on was "we gotta do the gondola-in-Venice thing like in the movies! O sooooo-lo mee-o!" Laura quickly agreed to keep Robert from continuing to sing Italian songs badly.

We're getting ready to head out for this tour (it's also in the evening, so it should be terribly romantic), when Neptune strikes his final, feeble blow:

We find a notice in our in-box that says: "due to an unforeseen dispute between the Gondoliers and the Venice Municipal Authority..." Anyway, our gondola tour is cancelled! ("Oh woe is me-O" sings Robert.)

This just in!
When we got back, we found the following News Observer story. Basically, we didn't get our ride because, well, it was an Italian labor thing.

ROME (AP) - About 150 gondoliers parked their gondolas in front of Venice's municipal offices Friday, staging a strike to demand better representation in city matters.

The gondoliers briefly blocked the Grand Canal during the protest, and also hoisted a gondola up onto the Rialto Bridge, one of the landmark crossings over the lagoon city's main waterway, the ANSA news agency reported.

Gondolier leader Fluvio Scarpa said the workers were striking to press the head of the gondolier's association to resign because he wasn't representing their interests, ANSA said.

They demanded - and received - a meeting with Mayor Paolo Costa, who promised more in-depth discussions about their concerns next week, ANSA said.

<sigh> Oh well, if that's the best the jinx can come up with, we're happy. At least the damn boat didn't sink.

Motto of Italy: Bad place to be a Baptist.

Tomorrow we have to get off our boat and begin traveling on a series of airplanes back to the USA. We get a half day in London, though, and have some plans to get in some seeing of the sights.

Parked at Venice
Robert & Laura


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