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venice - may 23 - may 27th

A city without any automobiles or scooters, only boats, pigeons and people. What a great concept! But that means hiring a water taxi or taking the vaporetto (water bus) from the airport to the hotel. We splurged on the former (90€) and it was worth it not to have to schlep bags through the extraordinarily crowded Piazza San Marco in an unfamiliar city looking for a hotel we'd never been to after a 12+ hour flight during which neither of us slept (awake for >24 hours) .  Instead, we were delivered along with our luggage directly to the water door of the hotel.   Well worth the money.

Go get lost in Venice - it's easy to do and fun unless your feet are hurting.  (Bring really, REALLY good walking shoes because you will walk everywhere.) 

As we learned, your GPS device is totally useless because unless you are in a large open space your GPS won't be able to find the satellites.  There are few large open spaces in Venice except possibly the Piazza San Marco.

The city is literally a maze of small alleyways and some wider paths crisscrossed by canals. Pretty much everything is delivered by boat……tourists, laundry, food, supplies of all kinds with garbage boats hauling off the refuse. It is pretty much impossible not to get lost walking around and we did many times even with a map. But that’s not a big deal because everything is close to everything else and there’s always something new to see.

For a Yankee familiar with U.S. cities and crime patterns, the narrow and sometimes dark alleys, subways and passages of Venice can be a bit scary. But the city is totally safe as regards bodily harm. There is a reputation for petty theft but we saw none of it. We initially used undergarment money belts but pants with zippered pockets are just as safe and a lot more convenient. Having to reach into one’s underwear to produce a passport is embarrassing and not something to be repeated more than once.

Our hotel windows (3rd floor) looked out over a canal and it was common to see and hear gondoliers in a steady stream hauling tourists around.  At night you heard them singing as they passed by underneath our windows.  (Nope, never heard O Sole Mio).

Boat traffic jams do occur and the boatmen and water taxi drivers are remarkably skilled in avoiding collisions. There are one-way canals just as there are one-way streets. And, yes, we did the tourist thing and took an hour long gondola ride which was really quite pleasant.

In Venice as with all cities in Italy, window boxes of flowers (real flowers) are everywhere. Usually geraniums. Flying like flags everywhere else is drying laundry. Also everywhere are places to eat. They range from ‘bars’ (not the alcohol purveyors that they are here) to trattoria to osteria to ristorantes. And, of course, pasticcierias for pastry and gelaterias for ice cream. Check a menu for something you like, find a seat and sit.

But what of Venice? Well, the focus is San Marco. A really big piazza, square, with a truckload of pigeons. The Pigeon is the National Bird of Italy. At 06:30 it is a peaceful place with only a few people and many sweepers using long rush brooms cleaning up the previous day’s mess. By 11:00 it is swarming with people and pigeons and is unpleasantly crowded. There are several attractions here including the bell tower (campanile) after which the UC Berkeley tower was modeled.

The other, the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's palace) was worth the price of admission. The largest room in the Palace is nothing short of amazing....  picture six tennis courts with a hardwood floor and a ceiling 40 feet high and totally decorated. Remarkable.  And be happy. As a kid you had to memorize maybe 42 Presidents.... there have been almost 200 Doges.

For me, the most memorable building / museum in Venice was La Scuola Grande di San Rocco.   Scuolae were lay guilds. There were many hundred but eight of the most prestigious were ‘scoulae grande’ and San Rocco was one of them. Their ‘meeting hall’ is about 600 years old and huge. Lined with dark woods, wall murals painted by Tintoretto, and ceilings sculpted it is a hugely impressive building. The Rotary or Roseville Kiwanis should do so well.

But the main thing is the city itself with its canals, narrow alleys and totally lively social life.   Get away from San Marco and it is a wonderful place of shops and restaurants and people.