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
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...."
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
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
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
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
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
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
Robert gets artsy with another tower
The front of St. Mark's and a mess of tourists
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
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
"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.
"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
[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
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
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
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
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)
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
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.
A bridge filled with tourists gazing enviously down on us
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.
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
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
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
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