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Cruising the Mediterranean, Day 2: More Venice

October 11th, 2019 · No Comments · tourism, Travel

Sometimes vacations feel onerous. “You mean we have to get up at the crack of 8? To see important stuff? Again?”

Originally, the main effort to scurry around Venice, one of the world’s great cities, was to have come today.

But that was before the accidentally sublime night we had in the city the night before. (See yesterday’s entry.)

Within a few minutes we came around. Of course we were taking the water taxi back over to the Saint Mark’s Square.

Because this time we would be moving around the major sites of the city while a professional tour guide told us cool stuff and answered our questions.

Back in the previous century, I covered the U.S. national soccer team ahead of the World Cup in Italy, and we started at Florence, where the Americans were to play their opening game.

While there, a journalism colleague and I struck up a conversation with a woman who was a volunteer in the media work room, in Florence.

Paola Angelini told us she was interested in becoming a tour guide, and she already had most of what she needed to move forward. She loved Florence, had studied in it, lived in it — and could speak five languages.

What she had not done was lead an actual tour, and when she offered to take a couple of sports journalists on a no-cost tour of Firenze, we jumped at the chance.

She was a natural at the tour-guide business and, after everyone surrounding the World Cup went back home, she began leading tours. We kept in touch, and I recommended her to friends and relatives, who were unanimous in praise of her knowledge and presentation over the subsequent three decades.

In subsequent years, we used Paola as a link to other Italian tour guides, including one who set up tickets for a trip to Siena for Il Palio — the biennial horse race around the main piazza.

Ahead of our trip to Venice, she arranged for one of her friends in the tour-guide business to meet with us and share her knowledge on the city before our cruise ship left. She set us up with an expert on Venice and its empire, a woman named “Ketty”, who led our tour.

She marched the six of us hither and yon through the curious city, where water is a road and buildings are islands.

She took us into the interior of the main collection of the city’s 120 islands, pointing out the opera house, homes where historical figures had lived and other curious landmarks.

Then it was back to the focus of the day: The Doge’s Palace.

“Doge” was the title given to the leader of the Venetians. He was elected by the populace and remained in office until he died, making Venice what was known as a “crowned republic” — a sort of proto-democracy.

Venice grew rich through trade and clever diplomacy and the doges lived like a king — even if they weren’t one; not quite.

The palace was where the doge lived and the epicenter for those who kept an eye on all business deals contracted by Venice citizens; anyone who fiddled with the books could be executed. Or put away in a jail cell to meet a wretched end in the dark and dank cellars of the palace.

One of the best-known aspects of Venice was that severe jurisprudence. It led to what is known as The Bridge of Sighs, where convicted men crossed over from the courtroom to the enclosed bridge that led to the prison. While on the bridge, the condemned could look through small openings to have a final look at their home and perhaps their loved ones — at least according to the English writer Lord Byron, who popularized the “sighs” story.

By the time Ketty led us into the palace, and the across the Bridge of Sighs, where we had a chance to peer through the same portals prisoners of centuries past had stared … we had been going for five hours.

We decided to call it a day. A day that gave us an idea of how a city built on mud could last as long as it did.


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