Italy 2007: Day 11
This morning we took a fast E414 class train from Milano Centrale to Venezia, or Venice. During train passages, it always seems like we’re running from platform (binario) to platform, from train to train. Today we had less than ten minutes to get from our regional EC from Como onto the fast EuroStar service into Venice, then a long three hour run.
Wandering the cars of a train, you always see a variety of faces: Youth backpacking across Europe; businessmen using their HSDPA WWAN cards to get work done; families on vacation with kids drawing in crayon. I forget that in North America we typically drive to boring family vacations the the US or Canada and have to fly to anywhere interesting. Imagine how exciting it would be to visit Italy if you were British, or France if you were a Spaniard. Many years ago I had a theory that Europeans dreamed of going to America the way young people in North America typically go for the Grand Tour of Europe, post graduation. This was supported by a Coca Cola commercial I saw while in the UK. But it really seems that most Europeans don’t seem to care, not with all the cultural riches just next door.
Listening to Spirit of the West on my iPod, we entered into Venice in an eerie mist in the rain. The railway track into the central train station is on a dedicated pier, so as we passed shipbuilding and commercial ocean liner docks, we also felt like we were riding our train across the ocean. The view out the left side of the train was purely ocean and sky.
The rain that had dogged us in Lucca and Cinque Terre unfortunately returned. After arriving in Venice, we had a quick lunch in a strange little cafeteria style restaurant aimed more at locals than at tourists: The place was reminiscent of Movenpick Marche back at BCE Place in Toronto, where you bought everything a la carte. In Italy, typically if you take away, it’s the stated price. If you sit down, there is coperta or table charge, and service or tip above that. Our group has typically enjoyed a bottle or flask of house wine and bottled water on top of that. But at this establishment, no table or service fees are required. Not that it mattered, we were trying to get some food in for a long walk.
Venice is a number of islands grouped together. Imagine one large mass, with a S-shaped canal cutting around it, then further canals and waterways subdividing land even further. We started in the area of Cannaregio, and took the path around into San Marco, finally getting to the Piazza San Marco late in the afternoon. While on the way I supposed into the Telecom Italia “Future Museum”. Sadly, the exhibit which had lots of old telephones seemed to be closed.
In the streets, often vendors and their souvenirs give you an idea of what a town is famous for. If you looked at Toronto, perhaps you’d think our fair city was famous for the CN Tower and stuffed teddy bears in Mountie costumes. The most popular souvenir here in Venice is the mask, this town was known for one of the earliest celebrations of pre-Lent Carnival in 1268. The masks allowed aristocracy and peasants to mingle and for romantic and criminal liaisons to transpire. Elaborate masks, some carefully made by Italian artisans, others carefully made en masse in China, are sold on the streets now, ready to decorate the rec rooms of tourists abroad.
You see Venice in many forms, reflected in popular culture: It’s in the Lizzie McGuire movie, it’s the backdrop for the latest James Bond flick, I’ve even seen it built of Lego pieces at Legoland Deutschland. Now, after seeing it in person, it seems less impressive in person, perhaps because it’s been raining all day.
Given the rain, we went into the Palazzo Ducale, or Palace of the Doge. The Doge was the highest leader in Venice and the Palace is partly private residence and also governmental chambers. While this was the seat of aristocracy, there was th semblance of representation as every member of each of the patriarchy of Venice was represented regardless of fortune. The rooms ranged from small to huge, in some cases 150 feet wide; however, all of them were ornately decorated. In one room, called the Shield Room, two giant globes sat; on the walls, maps of the world were mounted. I looked at one carefully for a few minutes and realized it was drawn upside down from what we know: Up was pointing south across the Mediterranean towards Africa.
Tomorrow I hope we get to see the island of Murano where they make glasswares. Tired from all the walking in the cold and rain, we headed to a local wine bar for a drink, where I had an aperitif of Aperol, red wine and an olive on ice, then for food afterwards.