Sunday, March 25, 2012

Thoughts from Places: Venezia

Hello blog! I've missed you!! I'm sorry I've been absent; my internet in the flat has lately decided to hate me with a vengeance. It's a bit better at the moment (although not quite good enough that it'll let me put pictures into this post; apologies), so hopefully I will be able to tell you the last installment of my spring break saga, and then I have the adventures of the last two weekends in Paris and Stratford-upon-Avon! (I promise I will get back to the writing stuff soon as well.)

So. When I left off, we had arrived in Venice under less than ideal circumstances, but we had finally found our hotel and gone to sleep. We got up around 10 the next morning, as it had been too stressful of a night to do our usual "get up early-ish and seize the day!" thing. We decided that our plan was to explore Venice a bit and get our bearings, but to get back to our hotel before dark, because we had had quite enough of wandering around Venetian alleyways in the dark with no idea of where we were going. We found a cafe around the corner from our hotel and had the first of several days of cake for breakfast. The food in Italy, by the way, is outstanding.

We wandered around a bit after breakfast, without really having too strong of an idea of where it was we wanted to go. We finally did manage to find the Grand Canal and we sat on the edge and watched the boats go by for a little while. I hadn't thought of it beforehand, but Venice smells like the ocean, and sitting there in the sun watching the gondolas and vaporetti, and the wake of the boats splashing up against the edge of the canals, really felt like a proper vacation. Once we'd gotten there, our time in Venice was very relaxed and pleasant - I'd love to go back someday.

After watching the boats for a while, we followed the signs on the sides of various buildings towards the Rialto bridge, and then from there we made our way to the Piazza San Marco. The square is beautiful, and while it is full of pigeons we did not have any of them clambering over us this time (always nice). It also has the famous Venetian winged lions - much more fun than pigeons, even if these don't move. We went into the Basilica San Marco as well, and marveled at the mosaic work inside. Everything, from floor to ceiling, is done in intricate mosaic tiles. As I walked around staring at the gilded ceiling, probably with my mouth hanging open, all I could think, aside from general awe, was "how did they get that up there?!"

My favorite part of the Piazza San Marco, however, was the view out to the sea from the square.

I'm not quite sure exactly what it is, but there really is something about the quality of the sunlight in Italy that makes it seem different from everywhere else. While we were in Venice, the weather was gorgeous - blue skies as far as we could see, in this case stretching out over the water for what seemed forever. The buildings are all very close together in Venice and reach up about three stories, which leaves you wandering through small, dim alleyways most of the time, until you stumble out into the brilliant sunlight of a little piazza or a bridge. It's somewhat blinding, but it's beautiful; the light just seems so clear and warm, so inviting; everything in Venice seems awash in this lovely golden glow, varying in shades from the dimmest alleys to the brightest squares. Even a few weeks later, just thinking about it makes me feel much warmer than the darkness outside the window of my London flat would suggest.

After the Piazza, we wandered back to our hotel for a nap, and then, after going in search of a (very delicious, naturally) dinner, we came back to our hotel and played cards and talked until late into the night. We never went out in the evening after dinner in Venice, for fear of getting hopelessly lost in the dark again, but I don't think any of us minded in the slightest, and for me, those evenings of chatting together, all sitting curled up on the same bed, with me losing dreadfully at cards, were even some of the highlights of the trip. I've become such good friends with Lisa and Tory, and they're a lot of fun to talk to. Our late night conversations really run the gamut of frivolous to quite meaningful, with just about everything in between, and I've really come to value them.

Also, our last two evenings in Venice involved such conversation, delicious Italian pastries, and some wine (not that much, I promise), so that was also fun. ;)

The next day, we got on a vaporetto and took the ten-minute trip over to Murano, the island near Venice famous for its blown glass. We found a glass-blowing demonstration almost immediately after landing on the island, which was really cool. I also had a good time trying to work out what the man explaining the glass-blowing trade to us was saying to us in Italian before he translated it into English (I got some of it). We made our way to the glass museum then, which was really beautiful - they had samples of glass from Roman times to modern day, which was incredibly impressive; it was amazing to see such an extensive and old collection of such fragile things. We then spent quite a lot of time wandering into the zillions of glassware shops in Murano - some of them quite touristy, some of them, like the blown-glass chandelier shop we found on one street, almost like art museums in their own right. My reaction to a lot of the glass was similar to my reaction to the mosaic ceiling in the basilica - I wanted to know how someone could make such a thing. Some of the stuff was a bit kitschy, of course, but a lot of it was rather impossibly lovely - it seemed so strange to think that someone could really create such delicate sculptures or beautiful jewelry.

Our last day was spent in wandering yet again, going in search of postcards and gifts for friends and family, and of course more gelato and other delicious food. (I miss Italian gelato already.) My Italian professor suggested that we find a pasticceria called Tonnolo, and if any of you are planning on going to Venice, I highly recommend finding it! The pastries there were absolutely delicious. We actually wound up going twice that day, once for breakfast and again in the evening, to get provisions for our evening of pastries and card games and fun conversation. On the way back, we finally encountered that all-too-true Italian stereotype: we passed a gelateria with two men standing behind the counter, and from both of them we received a two-syllable "ciao" - basically the Italian equivalent of the American two-syllable "damn." We were all pretty amused by it; even now Tory says we missed a prime opportunity for free gelato.

And of course, on our last day there, we took a ride in a gondola. It was a short ride, but still quite expensive - even so, I think the fact that I can now say that I've ridden in a gondola down the Grand Canal, with the gondolier singing to us as he pushed the boat along and the setting sun glittering on the water, was absolutely worth it.

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