The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Friday, August 14

Never Has A Cold Beer Tasted So Good

One of the benefits of Peace Corps Service is the chance to visit neighboring countries and sometimes at bargain prices. 

I just landed a deal with Wizz Airline to explore Venice, Italy for four days. It's a short vacation, but then again it's only an hour-n-half hop away.

I arrive with temperatures soaring - 36 degrees Celsius. That's 97 degrees Fahrenheit! I'm hugging the coolness of shadows while walking the pedestrian paths towards my hotel. Google says it's a 15 to 20 minute stroll. 

What's making it difficult is the fact that there is no proper grid pattern in this city. Instead of streets, canals wander off of the Grand Canal.  They twist and turn like branches on a tree. 

I see my first Gondola.  Everything  is new to me, yet strangely familiar.  Images of Venice are in movies, advertisements and part of our 21st century sub-consciousness. 

Water-ways rule here.  No cars or trucks, bikes or scooters exist in Venice. Instead there are boats - lots of boats.  Besides gondolas, I see motorized taxis, barrages, water-buses, delivery boats, and fishing vessels.  

Every shop, market, restaurant and cafe must get its product via the water-way.  There's no other way unless you hired a porter to wheel your packages along the paths and across the bridges.  Many Venetians aspire to have a boat parked at their front door on the canal. 
There are paths. Some follow the canals and then veer off in another direction. Others open into a court yard and seem to disappear. It's a maze of confusion.

The affect is charming unless it's sweltering and you're feeling kind of lost and smothered in the heat.

I'm walking more slowly now.  The heat is oppressive.  Around a corner I spy a table and chairs in front of a cafe.  Gladly I shed my backpack and flop into a chair shaking with exhaustion.  Never has a cold beer tasted so good.  I want another, but think it's better to get a liter of water instead.  I guzzle it down.  

Refreshed, I ask directions. The waiter points down an alley to another path. I move onward. 

Imagine my delight when I see “La Forcola,” my hotel, less than 100 meters in front of me just over one of the ubiquitous pedestrian bridges.

Success!  Air conditioning...although it's struggling to keep up.

Late afternoon comes and I think it's the perfect time to explore. The heat is a little less and the setting sun gives a warm glow to the buildings.

I can easily see why Venice is a magnet for tourists. A Venetian tells me, “We use to think of ourselves as invincible to invading armies until tourists discovered us. Now we've been overwhelmed.”

I'm struck by the diversity of the invasion. I discover that extending a friendly hello usually starts interesting encounters. I meet people from China, Netherlands, Russia, South Africa, Guatemala, Thailand and America. 

We are all different, yet one family.  As Mark Twain once remarked, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…”
Rialto Bridge filled with high-end shops and hordes of tourists

I buy a 72 hour pass on the Vaporetto, the Venetian Water-bus.  Learn more

I scramble on board to ride the length of the Grand Canal.  More details here. 

Seats are filled, but by the time we get to Rialto Bridge, I have a window for photo taking. 

Guide books urge getting lost in Venice.  They say that you really can’t get too lost when you’re on a island.  So I spend my days wandering.  When I get too hot I stop for a beer or another liter of water.   

What a pleasure to take photos and soak in more of the sights even as I soak in the heat. 
Steps from the canal

Street artists inspire me

Venice is known for masks.  Note the Dolphin!!

I love the colors

Striped poles give whimsy to Venice 
Art adorns buildings
New sights round ever bend in the Grand Canal
Night falls upon the Canal
Greeted in 15th century garb

One night I arrange for an opera.  It’s Verdi’s Rigoletto.  But instead of going to a theater, I make my way to the 15th century Palazzo Barbarigo Minotto.  See more images.

Tonight as the opera unfolds, the audience of about 60 will follow singers and musicians through various rooms.We all are enthralled.   The Bass holds a really low note as he walks pass me.  And then the Soprano’s voice reaches into the heavens. She’s only feet in front of me.  

It’s so intimate.  “Never have I experienced anything like this,” I think.  “This is how the rich and powerful enjoyed culture back then.  Unbelievable and here I am.”  
Another night I go to San Marco Plazza.  It's a huge space and has been the center of Venetian life since before the 12th century.
San Marco Cathederal
Relics of the Apostle St. Mark reside here although some say that they may have gotten confused with the remains of Alexander the Great when both bodies were stolen from Alexandria, Egypt. 

Whatever the truth, San Marco Plazza is rich in drama and history.  Learn more. 

I stroll into the Plazza. Even though there are many people here, it could easily hold three times more. I meet a couple from China. It's another of those brief encounters that make travel so interesting. We exchange pictures.

I listen to music. Three orchestras take turns serenading customers seated in front of restaurants. They've paid a premium to be there. Others, like me, listen from a standing position behind. A few couples dance to a waltz.

The highlight of my last day is seeing Venice at water level.  I’m making my way towards an outfitter known as Venice by Water to meet up with Phillip.    

Under the 1st of many bridges
I can't wait to slip into one of their kayaks. I change clothes and put on the life vest. Phillip goes over a few simple rules and we're off.

Step into the garden
The view from down here is amazing. When these homes were built, the main entrances were from the canal. 

 We cross under many pedestrian bridges. A young kid points to us and yells, “Ciao!” I yell back, “Caio, don't jump!” 

Many take our picture. I smile, wave and think, “What will they say when they show this picture back home?”

I look into a garden that's part of a front entrance way. It's been welcoming guest for centuries.

We're poised to cross the Grand Canal. It's kind of like crossing a four lane highway at rush hour. Gondolas, motor boats and water-buses wiz by.

We wait for a slight lull. I'm so glad that Phillip is guiding the way. “Stay to the left,” he says  “The motor taxis have right of way.”  Good advice, as one speeds by.
Me with Phillip after an amazing paddle

My kayaking time ends too quickly just as my time in Venice will end too soon. Tomorrow I fly back to Macedonia.   

It's been an exceptional vacation and I recommend it. 

Just don't go in August unless you love the taste of a cold beer on a sweltering day. 

And if you do, I know this place about a 100 meters from the Forcola Hotel.