Venice! (Still not in a travel van)

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From the Bridge of Sighs

In December 2015 I heard about a wonderful, nine-day writing workshop in Italy, taught by one of my favorite authors, the prolific and ever-entertaining Rhys Bowen. Rhys writes three mystery series, and she would be the author in residence at a charming hotel in Tuscany, Castellina in Chianti, to be precise. A small number of students meant lots of personalized attention from Rhys, and all meals were to be provided for the nine days.

I’ve written several books and booklets, many magazine and newsletter articles, and lots of blog entries. And I’ve edited whole books, including some mysteries. But I’ve never written fiction, let alone a mystery, and I’ve always wanted to. So I took the plunge, and made the commitment.

Steve had work plans already for that time period, so I decided to make another leap into the unknown while I was at it: solo travel in Europe, a longtime goal. I’m 64 years old, and in pretty good physical shape; when would be a better time to travel on my own than now? We don’t know, do we, when our health will change? After a session with a travel agent, I chose to add additional travel plans before and after the workshop schedule.

My daughter Holly and I have long wanted to go to Italy together, and she asked to take some vacation time for the few days ahead of the workshop so she could join me. We chose to go to Venice, which would be an easy travel distance to Florence, which is where I would meet the workshop organizers.

Since I would be in Europe for three weeks, and since I would be traveling mostly by train, it was important to pack very carefully. I’d need a light suitcase I could put in an overhead compartment by myself. And I would need a tote that could hold my computer, plus my cross-body shoulder bag, so I could avoid checking luggage on the way there and back. I found a small, lightweight suitcase with the right compartments, but decided to make a tote that had what I needed. Once I curated the wardrobe carefully, making sure everything fit, I felt more confident about the solo aspect of the trip.

On the advice of my travel agent, Vicky Mary of Victoria Travel here in Cincinnati, Holly and I stayed on Lido, an island across the lagoon from Piazza San Marco. The hotel was very nice, but not as pricey as it would have been in Venice itself. Lido is very walkable, with lush gardens everywhere, and our hotel was just a couple of blocks from where the vaporetto docked (and about four blocks from the Adriatic). We could not easily go back to the room with this arrangement, but in this case it didn’t matter. We had tours scheduled, and we just kept ourselves busy every day until it was time to go back for dinner on Lido. The sunsets were worth the trip, too. We wouldn’t have seen this view from Venice!

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Sunset from Lido

Our first tour took us through the church of San Marco and the nearby Palazzo Ducale, or Doge’s Palace. We had a very good guide who spoke good English, and our group was fairly large. We each had a “whisper” with headphones, though, so everyone could hear her commentary. The tour was a good way to get ourselves going on our first day; we had to meet the guide early in the morning, and then we walked for several hours. It rained in the morning, but we were inside for most of that time so it didn’t matter.

The church and palace are both incredibly ornate and showy. We started out taking photos of everything, but after room upon room of incredibly beautiful paintings and gilt, it became almost overwhelming. We crossed the Bridge of Sighs both ways; it has two levels where prisoners were shunted from one building to the other over a canal.

The next day we had a different walking tour, a “Secret Venice” tour. Our guide was livelier, the group was smaller, and we saw the alleys of Venice. We learned about daily life, and saw the shops where the gondolas and the parts that go into them are made today. The guide, who grew up in Venice, told us that modern gondoliers no longer inherit their boats or their trade, nor do they sing as they once did (although some sing because they enjoy it). Today, guides must go to school—to learn all about boats and boating, culture, history, and at least two languages in addition to Italian. In order to become a gondolier they have to pass a test, and then must obey many rules about dress and comportment. So far in Venice there is only one female gondolier.

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We enjoyed walking around this lovely city on our own, too, finding our way down little passages, crossing bridges to discover hidden gardens, tiny courtyards, fruit and fish markets, and fountains with drinking water for the taking.

Our favorite discovery was the spritz, a potent orange drink made from prosecco, Aperol, and soda water. It’s a traditional afternoon sip, usually served with something to nibble on, since it has such a high alcohol content. Tourists and locals alike can be seen sitting in outdoor cafes having this delicious cocktail.One of our waiters also gave us a recipe for his restaurant’s amazing tiramisu. I look forward to trying it out, because the recipe I’ve used before never worked out right.

Venice was packed with people in places, but it’s possible to find quiet walkways along canals or in sheltered campos. A campo was once a field, where they grew grass for the horses. There is precious little grass, or any other vegetation, in Venice today, since many of the campos were covered over in cobbles, long ago.

One modern-day phenomenon struck me about Venice. It is a city with no cars, or any vehicles other than handcarts. Ambulances and police boats travel solely by water. There are lots of different kinds of boats, though: the vaporetto, which serves the same function as a bus anywhere else; water taxis; gondolas, of course; and private boats. The gondolas have the right of way. Tourists with selfie sticks are everywhere, including on the water taxis in the Canal. I asked our gondolier how many tens of thousands of cell phones end up in the lagoon, and he said, “Many, many.” I can believe it.

On the fourth day, I was pretty much over any lingering jet lag, and it was time to meet up with the workshop group in Florence. I said goodbye to my daughter, who was flying home to the States, and I boarded the vaporetto from Lido one last time to catch a train to Firenze.

Next: Florence, Tuscany, Chianti, Siena, and back to Florence

June 28, 2016. Uncategorized.

One Comment

  1. Donna replied:

    I feel like I was there…wonderful reading and the pix are delightful..thanks

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