Northern Italy in Autumn (Tuesday)

October 30 – November 6

Saturday ** Sunday ** Monday ** Tuesday ** Wednesday ** Thursday ** Friday ** Saturday

Tuesday – Venice
Distance walked – 17 km

Today was to be brighter and sunnier than yesterday (that wouldn’t be hard to do) and I was looking forward to seeing another face of this amazing city. But first: We wanted to make sure that we were set with our return tickets for our Friday departure. There were some good travel windows and I didn’t want to miss out on them. We walked to the train station (how handy to be just across the canal!) and went to the ticket counter with the proposed travel times that had been provided by the SBB before we left Basel. The woman behind the counter looked at the times and started typing some things into her computer. Then called over to her colleague about a “promotion” (the only word I could understand). A short discussion later between the two of them and she was telling us that she got the exact ticket we wanted – for half price! Needless to say, we bought it, thanked her profusely and went back out into the sunshine.

Morning view of our hotel’s peaceful piazza

Ponte degli Scalzi – the bridge from the station towards our hotel

Morning light in the canals

In your average town, transport trucks rumble down the streets, making deliveries and picking up goods. But when your town doesn’t have many streets (and no cars or trucks are allowed anyway), you need to make some adjustments. Venice adapted by having delivery boats – lots of delivery boats. The canals were abuzz with activity this morning.

One of many heavily-laden delivery boats hard at work this morning

Boat-based cranes to load and unload the boats

Boat industry

We hopped on to a water taxi at the train station, this time choosing a route that would take us south, away from the Grand Canal and towards not-yet-seen territory. The water taxis were clearly “public transportation” and not just a low-cost tour boat. People with shopping bags and delivery handcarts, workers heading for their jobs, and the random person with a suitcase all crammed onto the deck of the boat. Locals who had obviously become inured to the fantastic views seemed happy enough to go below to the covered seating area. Dan and I stood on the deck and watched the world go by.

More work boats ready to transfer their load

Fusina Power station in the distance on the mainland

We took the water taxi as far as the Arsenal stop, skirting between the shore of Venice “proper” and the cluster of islands that run parallel to the south. We didn’t really know what was to be seen in this area and once again set ourselves to “wandering with a purpose”. The “purpose” became clear when we saw a small cafe, Campo de l’arsenal, with outdoor seating. There was still a chill to the morning air, but the sunshine was warm and felt good. We ordered a couple of croissants and an espresso and took a seat to enjoy them.

And enjoy I did. It was easily the best croissant I’d had in months. Soft, buttery, flaky dough surrounded a deliciously smooth chocolate filling. I could have one of these every morning and not be unhappy.

Campo de l’arsenal, tucked into the corner

Laundry day on the canal

What’s behind these doors? A gymnasium full of children playing

Making a model boat delivery to the Navel Museum

After crossing another canal we found an honest-to-goodness street! It actually seemed out of place to have such a wide street framed by shops. It was worth a closer inspection.

Via Guiseppe Garabaldi

An awesome fresh market – sold directly from the boat! I love how the “sails” are awnings

Venice life

Laundry day on a side street

Reconstructed brick wall

Another brick wall, this one in need of attention

Small shrine on the wall of a house

We found ourselves at a dead end. We were on a small island behind the Arsenal and no visible way off other than the way we came – until we found a water taxi stand. I love this place and really appreciated our unlimited use of the boats. Most people rave about Venice’s fancy gondolas, but I recommend the water taxis!

It was a more industrial area of Venice and the scenes from the boat were not beautiful, but no less interesting.

Boat storage

Art at the Arsenal?

Someone pointed out that Venice is shaped like a fish. That sounded odd, but as soon as we looked at map again with this in mind, we realized that they were right!

Reposting to share the Fish Shape enlightenment

I point out the above because now it will be much easier to describe where we are at any given time. So take note of the fish!

The water taxi picked us up inside the top of the tail and we got off when we reached halfway up the back (There? Wasn’t that easy?). A walkway ran along the water, giving us an enjoyable view to the north – and the canals to the south.

View of San Michele Cemetery – the entire island is dedicated to the dead

A deep, functional boat

Oh my! All of these people are waiting for a boat to Murano

Inside the boat ambulance shed at the hospital

Hello! Have you heard the good news?

Fountain pigeon bath

Here is some more general Venice knowledge that I gleaned while I was there: Venice isn’t an island – it is a group of 118 islands (some sources say 124 islands). Back in the 5th century, when the first refugees started to build in the lagoon, each group built up their own little island. As each island was solidified, it carried all of the needs for its own community: homes, businesses, a church, water source, and crops were supported on the pilings below. Neighboring islands had their own homes, shops, church, water and crops. Over time, more swampy ground among the islands was reclaimed, leaving only narrow canals to get around. (WikiSource has a great entry from Encyclopædia Britannica on this.)

As the churches and homes grew larger and heavier, more substantial pilings had to be driven into the ground. Some canals were filled in and covered with paving stones, making new walkways. Other canals were bridged to allow access to neighboring communities. And then eventually the community differences became secondary to the identification of becoming one under the name “Venice”. I totally made up that last sentence. But the rest of it is how I understand the evolution of Venice’s islands.

Here is a good video to help visualize this: video link (it also goes into other details that are interesting)

One of 400 bridges – all of them have low, wide steps for easy navigation for wheeled transport

A couple of the many unique door pulls in the city

I’m a sucker for a nice arcade

And to think that Venice today isn’t as crowded as it normally is; this is my limit!

High tide

As you may (or may not!) know, as Venice became more established in the world’s eye, all of the rich merchants and important families built their homes facing the Grand Canal. This was the main artery of the city and it ensured that their homes would be admired by anyone passing through. This is why, as you travel along the 2 1/2 mile long waterway, you will see ornate and richly decorated buildings and their “front doors”.

The ambulances have a lifting device on the floor that can raise or lower someone in a wheelchair or gurney

Our hotel from the water

Bridge under reconstruction – note the utilities routed via the bridge

Sunshine on the water

I snuck a peek into a ground floor room being used by some workmen

We were exploring around the “head” of the fish now. We stopped at one point on a bridge over the canal, resting and enjoying watching the activity around us. A woman was working, sweeping debris from the street and the steps of the bridge. She was an outgoing individual and it was fun to watch her interact with a number of people who stopped to talk. She was also very “aware” of her surroundings, being cognizant about not getting in the way of tourists taking pictures. It was a pleasure to watch her enjoy her work!

More modern Venetian building designs

More deliveries!

Someone got a fresh delivery of new pilings

Tanker deliveries, too

We explored the head of the fish and then took a taxi back down to the heart of Venice, St Mark’s Square. I wanted to see the Palace and surroundings in the sunshine.

Apparently you can rent your own gondola

The famous Rialto Bridge (designed by Swiss engineer, Antonio da Ponte, in 1588)

“Rialto Bridge is a single span bridge, i.e., it is anchored at each end with no support in the middle. The engineering of the bridge was considered very audacious and it was thought that it would crumble but it has silenced all its critics and is now considered an architectural marvel and an engineering achievement of the Renaissance period.” Ha! Swiss engineering at its finest.

Who you gonna call?

It was definitely time for a break and some food to go along with it. While visiting other countries I generally like to eat the local food, but right now we just wanted a hearty bite to eat. Our wishes were granted when we came across The Devil’s Forest, an English pub in the heart of Venice. Oh why not? I like a good English pub when I travel! We had a nice Tostone (grilled sandwich) before heading back out into the sunshine.

Inside The Devil’s Forest

Oh? What’s this? We bought tickets for an upcoming show

DHL delivery – imagine hauling that cart over the bridges

I was delighting in the emptiness of the Venice and applauded the city’s move to ban the return of large cruise ships to the city’s docks. Of course they could still dock on the mainland, but at least the behemoth boats would be out of sight and not threaten the normal boating traffic and even the docks themselves. The idea of thousands of people streaming off a ship, clogging the narrow streets and offering very little to the city other than maybe the purchase of a trinket or two, and maybe a slice of pizza, just does not sit well to me. I prefer to give back to the place I am visiting in the form of renting a hotel room, buying food from local establishments and sometimes picking out a locally-crafted item to take home with me.

Imagine this sight while exploring the city (from the link below)

The banning of cruise ships

An almost empty St Mark’s Square

They really do hit the bell when it is time to chime

Looking at the Basilica, the Palace, the National Library and the buildings that ring St Mark’s Square, it was easy to be overwhelmed by the beauty of the surroundings. But when you take time to study the details, and consider just how much time and skill it took to create each and every one – that’s what it really gets overwhelming. Combine that with the unique canal system and beautiful setting in a lush lagoon and it truly becomes a magical place.

Details of the Basilica

The Lion of St Mark – click to find out “Why?”

Torre dell’Orologio – Renaissance tower from 1499

It had been a long day and I for one was ready to kick back in our room. We made our way to the nearest water taxi stand and checked the schedule for the next boat. As usual, the timing was great and it was just a few minutes’ wait. With the nice weather and the time of day, there was quite a crowd of people waiting to board as well. When the boat pulled up, we got on, but in the crowd behind us someone fell. Fortunately they didn’t fall between the boat and the dock, but it was a concerning incident. It was also the only time that we witnessed anything like it when it came to the water taxi use. Once on our way up the canal, I noticed that there was a ticket control on board. Signs were at every stand: have your ticket. If you don’t have a ticket when you board, let someone know immediately so that you can buy your ticket and avoid a 50€ fine. I was quite comfortable in showing the ticket checker my multi-day pass, although this was the only time I was ever asked to produce it.

Another unique door ornament

And once back in our hotel room we did some more research: looking for answers to questions that came up during the day’s exploration, and looking ahead to what we should do tomorrow. But of course we couldn’t stay in our room the entire night. We ventured out again after dark to see what else might be interesting without the illumination of the sun.

Learning that my “night photography skills” are severely lacking

Most of the bridge steps are outlined in white – a welcome contrast during both day and night

We didn’t go far nor stay out long. For the end of today’s writings, I leave you with today’s video:
How deep are the canals in Venice?

Wednesday

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