This was a short two-night stop in one of the world’s great cities. We’re meeting the Zephyr Adventures group here before heading up into the Dolomites for a week of biking and are coming back with friends for five days next month, so we didn’t need to spend a lot of time just yet.Still, two days in Venice is pretty great. I’m about two-thirds of the way through a really interesting and well written history of Venice, so it’s a pretty good timing to be here and have that history come alive. The earliest inhabitants on these islands came out to escape Attila the Hun as the Western Roman empire was collapsing in the middle of the fifth century and from there it grew to be one of the greatest cities of the medieval world. As an amusing aside, recall that we spent time on artificial islands in Lake Titicaca, inhabited originally by people escaping Incan invaders; one wonders if in a couple hundred years those obscure islands will bestride the earth the way the Venetians did. Probably not.
We were here six years ago or so and on that trip it took me two or three days to identify one of the things that I love about Venice: there are no cars. It makes walking around the city just so calm and easy. Or at least as calm and easy as walking through hordes of tourists can be. But it’s fascinating to see a big city operate with no cars. Boats, yes, and guys wheeling around carts full of supplies. But no cars. While much of the old city feels more like a Disney World adaptation of an historic city – there are hordes of tourists mobbing central areas – there are still about 60,000 people who live on the hundred-or-so islands that make up historic Venice, with another 200,000 on the mainland in what is a more modern Venice.
The big cultural highlight for us was a couple hours in the Gallerie dell’Accademia, a magnificent collection of 14th to 19th century art specializing, not surprisingly, in some of the Venetian masters like Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese. And so many of the buildings are really spectacular. Given the brevity of this pass through Venice I didn’t really appreciate that until we were taking the vaporetto – the local bus that’s a boat – up the Grand Canal as we were going to the train station to leave the city. But watching these grand old palaces go by really drives home the fact that this was once one of the richest and most powerful cities in the world. That starts to explain why Venice’s entire historic part is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Our friends Marc & David, who joined us two years ago for a few days in Corsica, are doing the bike trip with us and got to Venice the afternoon of our last night there. So we had drinks and then dinner and then more drinks catching up. Marc had been a client some years back when he was the technology director for the Liberal Party of Canada but over time had become a good friend. When we met up in Corsica he was no longer with the Party and we were no longer actively involved in the company. Since then, though, he actually took a job with our company managing most of our programmers so once again he’s part of our professional family. It was great to get caught up on some of the gossip going on back in Boston!On the way out of Venice we had this classic Italian experience. We buy tickets for a short and cheap train ride to the Venetian train station on the mainland, where we’re meeting the Zephyr group. We have the tickets and try to figure out what train to board. The main board doesn’t have enough detailed information to help us, but each track has it’s own monitors to provide the detailed information about where the train is going. Except every single one of those monitors are blank. There’s no way to figure out what train to get on except to find someone to ask and it takes us several minutes to find a single Trenitalia staff person. That’s just so Italian; it’s got the right infrastructure but somehow they can’t get it together to provide the information you need. We truly love Italy but sometimes it can be so damned frustrating.
At any rate, here are some pictures from our brief time in Venice. Tomorrow we start a week long bike trip up in the Italian Alps. Very excited!