Sunday, January 26, 2014

Venice, Italy ~ Touring the Canals

The most wonderful thing about Venice is that all of it is fairly picturesque. Now, don't get me wrong, as with all cities, I'm sure there were parts that are "seedy" but Venice has become the "high rent" district so most of the areas are well kept. Many of those who work in Venice can not afford to live in Venice. It is like Manhattan and all of those bridge and tunnel workers who commute in every day. This means, as a tourist, that you are treated to a lot of really beautiful sights even if you are not on the "main drag".
 The canals certainly help this impression. The colorfully painted buildings, the ornate bridges and the boats reflected in the water sets such a romantic scene that you can't help but be romanced by it.
 And speaking of romance. Gondoliers are a very special type of people. Chances are good that this is what their family has been doing for centuries and the boat they are guiding is one that has been in their family for generations. There is a certain romance right there.
 Outdoor cafes are everywhere in Venice because the inside rooms of these buildings are often small and only hold a few tables. And those brightly striped poles are everywhere you look. Not always blue and white but always colorful. The colors represent the family and the shirts worn by the gondoliers match the colors of that family.
 While used almost exclusively by tourists in modern times, gondolas were the main form of transportation of ancient Venice. In fact, they sported a curtained canopy and the drapes could be opened or closed as you wished. The original "Venetian Blind". 
 There are over 400 bridges in Venice. They connect the many islands as well as many neighborhoods. Obviously I didn't get to photograph all of the bridges but was told that they are all different in some way. I'd love to put that theory to the test someday!
 The gondola is one of the many details that help make Venice beautiful. The "fin" or "Ferro" on the front of the boats serves many purposes but most of them are symbolic. The S shape stands for the curve of the Grand Canal. The six "teeth" stand for the six districts in Venice and the break curve between the top and the teeth is said to represent the Rialto Bridge. The practical reason for it is the weight. It is a counterweight to the gondolier who stands to the back of the boat. This fin has become the symbol for Venice and whenever you see it you immediately know where you are at, even if you don't see all of the boat.
 Not all of the gondolas are in the "tourist" areas. This was in our neighborhood and I was charmed at the every day feel of the gondolier taking a break in the middle of the day.
 Out to sea. With all of the canals it's easy to walk this city and forget that it's surrounded by open ocean. But once you are in a water taxi or water bus you will be quickly reminded since they will use the open waters as a quicker way to get from Point A to Point B. At these times it can feel a bit daunting that this city is so waterlogged.
 Water bus stands, like this one to the right, are easy to find all over the city. This is truly the way to get around town. The gondolas are the most expensive way to take a tour ranging from 30 euros to over 100 euros per ride. Water taxis are less but still expensive for a regular journey around town but the bus is much cheaper. It cost us 18 euros for a 3 day pass that allowed us to use the bus, any bus, to go anywhere we wanted over those three days. Now there were locals who told us not to bother with a pass because they are hardly ever checked. Indeed, we were never asked for a pass the entire time. But, for my own peace of mind, and to help the economy, I'm glad we bought the passes. I would have been totally horrified had I been asked and didn't have one!
 All types of boats drive the water ways of Venice from old fashioned wooden boats to the gondolas and water taxis to speed boats. There is even a "rush hour" each day and it's actually fascinating to watch how the boats carefully, yet quickly, maneuver around each other at this time of day! So grab a coffee or a glass of wine around 4pm and sit back and enjoy the show. I'm sure it's very frustrating to those driving the boats each day but it's certainly more entertaining to us to watch than a traffic jam in L.A. would be to them! 
 But it's the colors that will sweep you away. The boats, the buildings, even the doors are used as further details to make this city colorful and beautiful. And this is just one of the many side neighborhoods, far from the Grand Canal. Beautiful. 
 Always stop and look when you are in the center of crossing the bridges. The views are worth it at each and every stop. This is why, although there are a lot of water "streets", this is a walking city. Grab a map, learn how to read it well, and criss-cross these neighborhoods as much as you can. You will never be disappointed.
Stone bridges, brick bridges, bridges with carvings and statues on them, iron bridges, wooden bridges, there are so many in Venice and definitely a part of the romance of the city. As with Manhattan, you can not see this city in just 2 or 3 days. So do a little research and figure out what you would like to see and try to get there in a round about way with the help of your map. This way you get to see more of the city and still see the highlights. Then start planning on how you are going to come back because there is just so much of this beautiful place still waiting for you to explore!

I will show you more of the "highlights" this upcoming week. We'll go to the Doge's Palace as well as St. Mark's Square so you can see what all of the fuss is about there!


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