Thursday, April 18, 2013

Venice By Boat, Because Is There Really Any Other Way? - Italy

For our trip to Venice we rented an apartment just outside of Venice on the mainland in a town called Mestre. From there it was a quick 10 minute bus ride into the heart of Venice. Venice is easily reachable from the mainland by bus, train, or car via the two mile causeway that takes you through the marshy lagoon and out into open sea, and then eventually to Venice. Upon arrival in Venice by bus, we quickly scooted over to the vaporetti station to board. What's the vaporetti? Vaporetti are canal filled Venice's public transit system. But instead of tires and bus stops, you have boats and docks. You never have to worry about a flat, but you do worry a little about sinking. 

Here is our first view from the front of our vaporetto. Look at that blue sky! Look at those turquoise waters! 

The building with the green dome is San Simeon Piccolo.

We boarded the vaporetto at Piazzale Roma, or the closest dock to where the bus drops you off. Here we were the first ones on board and got to sit up front for great views.

Venice was crowded for early April. This is the Grand Canal, basically the main street of Venice. There were so many boats on here we were a little surprised that there weren't any accidents. Those buildings to the left with the yellow trim are the vaporetti docks. We found it a convenient way to get around.

The Church of the Scalzi or church of the barefoot. Scalzi has a nicer ring to it, don't you think?

It was in this area of Venice where the original Jewish ghetto was located. It became quite crowded after it was set aside for Venice's Jewish residents back in 1516. It gave us our word ghetto for densely populated areas. Ghetto doesn't mean poor though, its from the word geto which has to do the copper foundry close to here. 

You are always on a hunt for a bridge to cross to the other side.

Upon arriving in Venice, my kids asked if it was built out in the ocean. Although Venice does look like it rises right out the waves all by itself, it is actually built on swampy islands. Here is some proof (trees growing) that there is some land here and there in Venice.

The original Venetians drained the swamps into canals that ran along side their properties and then those canals drained into the Grand Canal which was an ancient river from the lagoon that Venice is situated in.

Ah, the classic gondola ride. Made even more special when they bump into each other.

You may be thinking something like I did, what made people go out in the lagoon and settle on some marshy islands when they are surrounded by the beautiful landscape of northern Italy? One guess. Barbarians. I guess early Venetians were tired of being plundered, pillaged, and raped and so they eyed the sea as their escape. Apparently early barbarians were lacking something. A boat.

As Venice grew so did its wealth. And in the 15th century it became The Place to have a palace to to strut your Italian stuff.

Venice became so luxurious and wealth filled it became known as The City of Palaces. How did Venice become so rich? Trade. And the fact that the barbarians couldn't reach them anymore. Remember? No boats.

We were going to come to Venice last fall but heard that it was flooded so we went to Tuscany instead. Read about that here and here. Venice is very susceptible to flooding due to its proximity to water (duh). And because it is sinking. Yep. Right into the ocean. I read that the sediment that they built on is continuing to compact with all the weight of the buildings. And Italy pumped ground water out of the rock underneath the lagoon for 50 years causing the island to sink before they realized what was happening. By that point, Venice had sunk 9 inches. Now when they get a storm or a really high tide, water bubbles up through the grates in the plazas from the lagoon instead of draining down into it. Definitely invest in some galoshes.

There were many buildings under construction. I guess sitting in a lagoon for 500 years battering high tide is hard on a place. This is toward the end of the Grand Canal where it opens up into the sea. Here is the domes of St. Mark's Basilica or Basilica di San Marco.

The Grand Canal emptying into the sea.

I guess this is the equivalent of riding a bike in Venice. For when you just need to get somewhere quick and don't want to wait for the boat.

We got off the boat and headed to Piazza San Marco.

Here is the Doge's Palace. The place the duke or doge of Venice would rule from.

Right next to it is St. Mark's Basilica, circa 1063 AD, which was under construction, like many other places in Venice. Why is it called St. Mark's? Because it would seem some down-right dirty Venetians stole his body in 828 AD from it's resting place in Alexandria and hid it under pork and cabbage leaves for the ride home to Venice. Now that Venice could claim St. Mark, as in Matthew-Mark-Luke-And-John Mark, it lifted their status to that almost equal to Rome. It would seem Venetians had gone from being plundered, pillaged, and raped to doing to the plundering, pillaging, and raping. 

Scenes depicting different events in the history of Christianity decorate the outside of the basilica. I wonder if they have a scene showing the Venetians swiping poor ol' St. Mark's bones?

So much gold was used in the building of the church is that is is called the Chiesa d'Oro, or church of gold.

Here is the 'Bridge of Sighs' where condemned men would be led from the Doge's Palace to a prison. They would sigh here at their one last look of Venice. I prefer to call this bridge the Bridge of "When are we going to be done looking at Venice" questions. 

Here are my four children actually contemplating if they could steal this speed boat and take off back to Mestre on their own. Good luck, kids.

After our Grand Canal vaporetto ride, we struck out on our own into the streets, alleyways, small paths between houses. After a few random turns we found ourselves in a part of town the tour books didn't describe. Garbage lined the sides of the path, boats that were half sunk drifted in the grey canals. Uh oh. Where did we wander too? One of my kids started to get nervous that we would be forever lost in the dark corners of Venice and kept asking me, "Where does Rick Steves' say we should go?"

Oh! So now you want to listen to Rick Steves? I can just here good old Rick saying, "How you like me now?" 

We made it back on the tourist path and narrowly escaped the stray dogs and shady knock-off purse vendors of the dark side of Venice.

As beautiful as the canals of Venice are, the small streets and pathways have their own unique charm.

Here is our final stop, the Rialto Bridge. One of the few ways to cross the Grand Canal on foot. It's so wide that they have shops on it. It is where most of the goods for the interior of Venice are unloaded.

That was our day in Venice. Although it is in the top four of the most expensive cities in Europe (along with Paris, Oslo, and Zurich) it is such a treat to experience. I thought it was great. Matt thought it was pricey. I tried to get a picture of the face Matt would make when he heard the price of everything. But he wouldn't do it.

So here is Ashlenne giving her best imitation of her dad's "That Is Freakin' Expensive" face. Does Venice look expensive to you?




  1. The freakin' expensive face made me laugh!

    I've been to Venice before, in fact I have a vase sitting in my room right now that I brought back from that trip I took with my grandmother.

    But, I've never before heard of all of the things you mentioned in your post. So interesting to learn about Venice! You are quite the travel guide!

  2. Great pictures - never been to Venice but it looks unbelievably cool/ fairytale city.


Tell me what you think...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...