City of Many Islands
Venice was a city of romantic decay, a city unique from all in the world but also merely a shell of its previous existence ruling the Mediterranean, now kept economically viable on the backbone of its tourist industry. It was truly an Archipelago or “city of many islands.” It was originally built in a marshland to escape invading barbarians and now exists as a city navigated only by boat. Every day cruise ships dump hundreds of tourists into Venice and they crown the small alleyways and corridors of Venice until it is time to board their ships again. Being part of the Rick Steves’ tour, however, we were able to escape the hoards of tourists in the quiet evenings and stroll through this beautiful city of canals.
Forculas and Glass Blowing
Our day in Venice was the epitome of what it means to be on a Rick Steves’ tour and the carefully constructed combination of structured time and free time. It began with a guided tour of Venice that included detailed explanations of the architecture, history, climate, and culture of the city as well as a visit to the shop of one of the 4 remaining forcola (gondola oar) makers. We learned all about the art of constructing the forcula, the different types, and the gondola races that are held every eyar. In our free time we were able to choose from a variety of our guide’s suggestions of activities and from this we attended a glass blowing demonstration, toured the Doge’s palace, and booked a gondola ride.
One of the highlights of the Venice visit was seeing the Doge’s palace! The Doge’s palace was the center of the Venetian republic with rooms for the all branches of the Venetion republic, the armory, and the dungeons. It was a massive palace that was both the home of the Doge, the powerful Venetian ruler, decorated in elaborate statues and paintings. A huge staircase provided the means of visiting emissaries to consult with the Doge, even if they were kings and popes, providing another way for the Doge to assert his superiority. A bridge to the dungeon nicknamed the “bridge of sighs” provided the last glimpse of the Venetian landscape before entering the dungeons. The Venetian duomo attached to the Doge’s palace was gilded in gold leaf mosaic tiles in true Byzantiam style, after the general Venetian tradition of deriving their culture and artwork from the Byzantiam rather than from Rome. The floors were made up of an intricate marble geometric styled pattern.
And of course, one can’t go to Venice without a gondola ride! So of course we booked a gondola ride for the evening along with our fellow tour members. We showed up on time for our gondola ride only to be told that the gondoliers were watching the World Cup and would be late. One hour later we all were in our gondolas setting out on what we thought would be a calm and romantic ride. Halfway through the ride, however, it started to pour ice-cold rain. Our gondoliers high-tailed it back to shore and we all ran soaking wet and shivering back to the hotel. It certainly wasn’t the gondola ride we had expected, but it certainly was an adventure.