Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Venice, a remarkable, much fabled and romanticized, fantasy city, which many of you have seen on television or read about in books and magazines, is a city everyone should visit once. I was eager to visit Venice for many reasons, if only for its uniqueness among cities. The city, built on the water and stilts, slowly gnawed for centuries by the sea, was more than I had imagined.

We left Bologna on a train early in the morning and arrived in Venice around 10AM. We had the whole day ahead of us with nothing explicitly planned. It was the finest weather we'd had in our trip thusfar, brimming with warm sunshine, clear skies overhead and nary a breeze stirring among the old stones and apartments. Our spirits couldn't have been higher. We were hungry after the long train ride, only having had some coffee before leaving, and stopped to buy a few panini, which is Italian for sandwiches, and began wandering slowly. Most of the tourists, thronging here as you would expect despite the season, headed down the main avenue, but we forged our own willy-nilly path through the backstreets, alongside canals, through small courtyards, across tiny bridges and, occasionally, into deadends.

Here's a picture taken from the bell tower across from St. Mark's church. As we approached the center of the city and St. Mark's Square, all roads lead to Rome, especially in a place like Venice, we began to notice that many people were wearing elaborate and colorful costumes as well as typical expressionless Venetian masks. It was the last Thursday before the final weekend of Carnevale, and Angela explained to me that there would be a celebration throughout the city in the evening. The beautiful weather, the marvelously dressed people, the innumerable vendors, and the impending celebration generated quite an air of excitement.

Everywhere we wandered, we came across more and more people or groups of costumed people who were flocking toward St. Mark's Square, the pigeon-strewn catwalk for these merry-makers, most of them more than willing to pause for a picture, if they weren't already posing. All of the people in the city seemed to converge in St. Mark's Square: small groups or individuals parading their fine costumes, tourists holding out their cameras in every direction, men and women covered with pigeons, vendors selling their masks, face-painters, lovers, artists and children.

We walked from one end of the city to the other and back, and were really quite tired at the end of it. I would have liked to have stayed one night in Venice, as there were still many things to see, especially the celebration that had been slowly building throughout the day, but it would also be our last night in Bologna, and we had plans with our friends that evening for a sort of going away celebration. Nonetheless, we had an exceptional time and planned to return again, when we have another chance.

It's a surprisingly nice portrait of the city, especially considering how easy it would be to complain about some things, like the quality of the water and the number of tourists, but those are unavoidable, and didn't detract from my day. Perhaps, the only negative comment about Venice, and this can be improved, was the poor quality of the food we ate there.

Before we left the city we wanted to have a late lunch. I'm sure there are many fine restaurants there, and we had spent nearly an hour wandering the tiny alleyways and sidestreets tracking down a spot a friend had recommended only to arrive after they had closed, but we were sadly disappointed. Nothing was fresh and we paid more than we should have, which is to be expected in such places. It didn't help that we had waited too long to find a good restaurant and, by then, almost all of them had closed, as was usual practice in Italy following the midday meal. After a brilliant day, we weren't about to let a sub-par meal spoil our adventure, and returned to Bologna happy, but tired.

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