We arrive in Venice by train from Milan. The sun is shining, the outdoor cafes are full of chattering tourists, the gondolas cruise the canals and we are thrilled to be here. Google maps claims it is a half hour walk from the train station to our hotel, but we stop for photos, to ogle the goods in the shop windows and get lost a few times. The narrow alleys, canals and many bridges are disorienting. An hour and a half later – even Craig’s remarkable navigational abilities are challenged – we find our hotel.
The Hotel Paganelli – http://www.hotelpaganelli.com – is on the waterfront and well-priced for what we get in a town that is notoriously expensive. It is a short walk to Piazza San Marco, the square with the ornate church.
With four days here we have the luxury of wandering the labyrinth that is Venice, a collection of 118 islands separated by canals and the Venice lagoon, all connected by more than 400 bridges. The waterways teem with all kinds of boats: gondolas, ferries, tugboats, speedboats, yachts, cabin cruisers, delivery boats, police boats, ambulance boats, private taxi boats, rowboats, canoes, kayaks, and more. You get the idea: lots of boats! More importantly, there are no cars.
There is, as is the case in many European cities, a Jewish ghetto. The museum there tells the story of Jews from all over Europe and the eastern Mediterranean seeking refuge in Venice when persecution forced them to flee their homelands. Moneylending and pawnbroking became their main occupations. Christians viewed these as sinful so it was convenient to relegate these unsavoury jobs to the Jews.
Peggy Guggenheim’s house in Venice has been turned into a museum full of the modern art that she collected. Most of it is too abstract for our tastes, but the views from the canal side of her palazzo are worth the trip.
The Doge’s palace – a huge structure that housed the government and a prison as well as the doge’s private quarters – is also a museum. The doge was the supreme authority of the republic of Venice; a series of doges ruled until Napoleon conquered Venice in 1796. The famed Bridge of Sighs is located in the palace, getting its name from the sighs of prisoners as they crossed the bridge from the palace courts to the prison.
We take in a Vivaldi concert at the Cheisa de la Pieta – church of the Pieta – our first evening in Venice. An ensemble of violinists, cellists and violists, accompanied by a pianist play Vivaldi’s four seasons as we have never heard it before. Live, that is. But also, moving.
It is sunny for two days before it starts to rain. We watch the water level rise and are grateful for our third story room. By our last day here seawater is bubbling up out of the storm drains in San Marco square and within a few hours the entire square is flooded, forcing us to roll up our pants and wade through knee-deep water. Another option is to buy a pair of plastic boot/socks that fit over shoes and pant legs. They look pretty ridiculous, as do the plastic ponchos worn by those tourists who failed to pack rain wear.
We leave Venice in a fog, by boat of course, from the dock in front of our hotel to the airport, where we pick up a rental car (that’s another story, best saved for the next blog!). A bit of morning sun breaks through and illuminates the water and the buildings. The light is just as legend says it is: shimmery and ethereal.