Seven cities in 10 days: Part 4

If you’re just joining us, you might want to check out Parts 1, 2 and 3 first.

It’s only day 4 of our trip and already we’ve visited three cities. After a rainy night, we awaken to a spectacular morning in Venice.

Day 4: Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Noi siamo in Venezia!

I woke up at 5:45 and tiptoed out of the room to catch the sunrise. The city was already stirring to life. In the dim light, four tourists were dragging their luggage to the train station, and the street sweepers were out in force.

Everywhere I turned, I saw a postcard. The tiniest alleys were steeped in atmosphere and history. Even ordinary sacks of flour, being lifted from a boat, had a photogenic appeal. Within two hours I’d shot some 300 frames. My poor camera!

I returned to the hotel at about 8:00 for some breakfast and a shower, and then Esteban and I headed back out. We crossed the Grand Canal into a neighboring district, where we boarded a vaporetto at the Piazzale Roma.

It took us to Murano, where we saw some spectacular blown glass, and some even more spectacular scenery. If Venice has medieval charm, Murano has Tuscan warmth. Its brightly colored houses with terracotta roofs were gorgeous against the bright blue sky.

We toured a glass factory, where we were mistaken for high rollers who might spend $12,000 on a sculpture. We also toured a couple of tiny churches, where the beggars mistook us for high rollers who might have $12,000 in spare change. But we didn’t mind. The pace of life in Murano was as easy and relaxed, and we were enjoying our day.

We eventually took the vaporetto back to Venice, where we alighted on the Piazza San Marco. It was swarming with tourists, and everything was bathed in rich, golden light. The fading sun gave extra poignancy to this historic place. The Bridge of Sighs, and the canal below it, looked dark and sinister. But the palace appeared to glow. What a sight this must have been 600 years ago. Still is.

As the light faded, we ducked into the Chiesa di Santa Zaccaharia. We stopped in our tracks. The walls were literally covered with priceless paintings. The choir alone contained a half dozen masterpieces, including an enormous Christ-on-the-cross by Giotto. All in a small parish church!

We paid an extra euro and fifty cents to tour the crypt, but we didn’t get far. It was sitting in about six inches of water because the tide was coming in. Imagine living in a city where the buildings have a tide.

This fact underscores the entire city’s slow descent back into the lagoon. Unlike Murano, which was built on an island, Venice rests entirely on wood piles that were driven into the muddy bottom of the lagoon, centuries ago. It’s incredible that a city with so formidable a history and presence could be so fragile.

After a few obligatory gondola photos and one last look at the Bridge of Sighs, we caught a vaporetto for a trip down the Grand Canal. What a fitting way to spend our last evening in Venice. I wish we had more time.

Here are some of the things we saw on Day 4 of our journey. Mouse over the images for a caption.

Tomorrow we’ll be on the road again. Stay tuned to see where we end up next!

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