December 4, 2010

Italy – Venice

Posted in travel at 5:06 pm by jimazing

This blog post was originally posted on my blog site. In case the audio does not translate well into Facebook or email world, you can click this link to see the original.venice-hotel

As I prepared to write about our trip to Venice this morning, I saw this news story about Venice having extreme  flooding.  We were there just two weeks ago. I am sure thankful we didn’t wait a couple of weeks.  Great timing!

The Bells

We arrived on Nov 20th in Venice and took a Water Taxi to our hotel, Casa Santa Maria Formosa.  The hotel was right on a canal and right around the corner was a bell tower.  The bells ringing is one of my most pleasant memories of the whole trip.  The bells just seemed to start up at random times and go forever.  It may always be like that or maybe it was because we were there on a Sunday.  In any case, I love experiencing the sounds of a place.  These sounds were particularly magical. I made a recording (attached below) that starts with the clip-clop of someone walking on the cobblestone street by our hotel.  About 15 seconds in, the bells take over.  Enjoy.  Venice Bells

About Venice

Even though it rained a lot of our visit, I loved walking around Venice, looking in the shops and seeing the city.  Venice is truly a walking city.  There are no places for cars at all.  I knew that before experiencing it, but I could not picture that in my mind.  Photos cannot capture the experience you get from walking the streets, seeing the buildings and bridges over the canals. Truly experiencing the city connected a lot of dots for me.  Imagine a hundred tiny islands all connected by foot bridges, then build 3-5 story buildings and cobblestone streets to connect them.  Fill every square millimeter of space so that you see no grass, no dirt, no trees.  Oh, and while you are doing this, make sure the buildings are made to last hundreds, no thousands of years!  We truly do not understand the scale of time it took to build these structures.


We walked around from our hotel to St. Mark’s Square the first day. We were tired and really wanted to take a nap, but determined to stay up to force our bodies to acclimate to the new time.  Just outside the square, on the Grand Canal, were the gondoliers with their shiny black gondolas.  Unlike most of the Italian touristy options we experienced later, these guys were not at all pushy.  We stood as a group trying to decide if we wanted to do a gondola ride.

This decision making process reminds me how everyone experiences internal competitions of their own values.  There are things that you and I value and sometimes they clash and we have to decide one over another. Additionally what that these values are differ from person to person and even moment to moment.  (I can argue with myself for hours, days, years about what I really want).  When you add more people to the mix, making a decision can be daunting.  In that moment with the gondola decision, the values I was pitting together were; thriftiness (I am a cheap tightwad at heart), authenticity (I didn’t want to “waste time” doing a stupid tourist novelty.  I wanted to experience the authentic Venice) and respect for others (I was aware that my desires could throw a damper on the desires of others and I didn’t want that).

One of us walked up to a gondolier to find out how much the rides were.  There was a long ride and a short ride. For the five of us to take the long ride was €100 (about $150).  My tightwad value got a huge boost with that tidbit of knowledge.  No way I was going to spend that kind of money for a novelty or cheap tourist attraction. Cathryn, who must have been doing her own calculating and “valuing”, chimed in and said she would pay for it for all of us. So we thanked her for her generosity and got in the boat.  I thought that at the very least, we didn’t have to walk for a while… and we were tired.

gondolaBoy was I wrong about it being just a novelty.  Our gondolier, Claudio, took us up the Grand Canal and through many of the smaller canals throughout the city.  Along the way, we peppered him with questions about himself and the city.  He was the one who explained how thousands of years ago, this was a lagoon with many small islands and that people began building them up and connecting them with bridges.  Jared asked about the oldest buildings and Claudio began talking about Genghis Khan.  He frequently would interrupt himself or us to say, “This building was the home of Mozart,” or Vivaldi or Marco Polo… I have never felt so close to history.  Cathryn, thank you again for your generosity and providing the wonderful gondola experience!

China Town

Later we found ourselves at the Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal where we found lots of street vendors and trinket shops so we named it, China Town.  italian-chinatownDinner was a small restaurant near our hotel where our waiter was a German transplant to Venice named Elvis.  Throughout the trip, we met a few remarkably warm and engaging people.  Elvis was the first to make that list.  He didn’t mind sharing his story and listening to ours.  And of course, he goes down in history for recommending Erica’s meal that night, Pizza with French Fries on top. Another that we met in Venice was our hotel concierge, Mike, who was a transplant from the Philippines.  Mike was full of great information about the city, where to go and what to do. He answered many questions about what it is like to live there.  I called him our concierge, but he was much more than that.  He toted all of our luggage up two flights of very steep stairs, fixed our breakfast every morning.  He not only ensured that we had a water taxi arranged to take us to our train on Monday, he made us coffee and then rushed us out the door to ensure we didn’t miss it.  Thanks for everything Mike… and thanks for friending on Facebook.

Leaving Venice

The water taxi experience is unique.  These boats are not small, but they have to navigate the narrow canals and get around the gondolas and other boats too.  I really appreciated the expertise of these pilots.  They made it look easy.

I’ll end this with the connection at the Train station.  We arrived way earlier than we needed to, which was fine by me.  I have a high value for stress free segues.  Early arrivals allow time to figure things out, which in turn lowers the stress.  We left the hotel before they served breakfast, so we went to the restaurant in the train station.  I walked up to the bakery counter and told the lady what I wanted.  She explained that I had to pay first at another counter, then bring my ticket back to her to get my food.  It was very inefficient, but at least they weren’t busy, so everything went smoothly.  (This was not the last time we’d experience this setup). I left Jared in the restaurant and walked back to Jeanie and our luggage.  It seems that his experience was not so pleasant.  He ordered and paid for food and then was told that he didn’t pay for what he wanted.  He argued with them until they finally gave him his food.  I only noticed the inefficiency.  Jared got to live it!  Fortunately, we caught our train without a problem.  Next stop, my favorite destination on the trip, Siena.


A view from the Rialto Bridge Sunday night


  1. Wasn’t Jared just so fortunate to have fully experienced the inefficiency that you only suspected.
    This is a fascinating report Jim. Thanks for taking the time to post it; it’s very well-written too.
    Makes me wish we had sprung for the gondola ride. I can surmise that that venture made your Venice visit a much deeper experience than it would have been otherwise.
    We did, however,when we were a few years ago, take a boat ride in the rain to an island where we got a tourist tour of the Murano glass works. Very interesting, and even educational, especially for Pat, who was still doing some stained glass work at the time.
    As for the floods that came to Venice after you left–that’s exactly what we encountered at San Marcos square when we were there. As I shared with you on an earlier comment, we had to enter the cathedral on a raised walkway improvised with tables strung together to provide a path a foot or two above the waters. So maybe our experience of Venice was a little deeper than would be indicated by a gondola ride.

    Your gondolier mentioned Mozart and Haydn. The star of my Venetian musical imagination is Vivaldi, who lived and worked in Venice, and whose Four Seasons as performed by a Venetian ensemble I brought home on a cd, although the recording was a little too fast, and not nearly as passionate as my old version with Pinchas Zukerman on violin with the New York Philharmonic.
    To ring this comment out, I’ll say that “the bells” were a perfect audio touch for a richly descriptive memoir of a truly unique world-class city. Thanks for sharin’.

  2. jimazing said,

    Carey, thank you so much for your words. Your encouragement makes me want to keep writing. Now that you mention it, it wasn’t Haydn, but Vivaldi that he mentioned. Doh! I will correct it in the post. I have a surprise recording for the next segment too. Hopefully it will be as impactful as the bells.

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