Venice, Italy, is romance: a bridge arching over a canal, a gondola gliding by, the moon reflecting off water. Venice is history: the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace), Piazza San Marco, the Grand Canal, great art and great museums. Venice is modern: the headline names and paparazzi of the Venice Film Festival, the buzzing excitement of Carnival in the 10 days before Lent begins.
Venice is set on islands connected by bridges, with the Grand Canal as its main thoroughfare, and traffic moves by boats that range from the traditional gondolas to refuse barges. The absence of automobile noise means you can hear the laughter of children from your window, as well as footsteps seemingly just around the corner. But what makes Venice so unique also challenges its existence. The rising sea levels of global climate change threaten the city, and now, more often than in the past, high tides from the Adriatic Sea can flood whole sections of the city.
A traditional gondola is 36 ft long and weighs 1,325 lb. They are required by law to be painted black.
Amaretti (dome-shaped cookies) were first made in Venice during the Renaissance period.
St. Mark is the patron saint of Venice. His symbol of a winged lion holding a book can be seen on many of the older buildings. If the book is open, Venice was at peace when the building was erected; if closed, Venice was at war.
Casanova made the city synonymous with lovers. Once imprisoned in the Doge's Palace, he escaped by fleeing across the rooftops.
In 2010, Giorgia Boscolo became Venice's first female gondolier. It's a lucrative business. In high season, a gondolier can make 5,000 euros a month or more (depending on their singing skills).
Glass production has a 700-year-old tradition in Venice and was once regarded as a state secret. Revealing the secret could have meant the death penalty for the "traitor."
The best introduction to Venice is a boat ride on the Grand Canal, and it doesn't really matter whether the vessel is a velvet-cushioned gondola or a utilitarian vaporetto (public water-bus). The S-shaped canal slices the city in half: Lining each side is an astonishing collection of 12th- to 18th-century buildings. Some of the baroque palaces look as elegant as they did when the doges ruled the city, though other architectural gems are crumbling into the murky water.
As you travel along Venice's Grand Canal, you'll also see what life is like in a city without automobiles. Cargo barges ply the narrow waterway along with police- and fireboats. Classic wooden cabin cruisers take tourists to luxury hotels, and skilled gondoliers navigate their sleek black vessels under bridges and around bends. Venice's canals are a visual parade.
Once you have oriented yourself to the waterways, set out on foot. Pick up a map, but expect to get lost—it's an inevitable part of the experience. Streets meander across canals, through campi (squares) and around buildings—often changing names as well as direction. If that isn't confusing enough, some streets are flooded in the winter because of high water.
Seafood is king of the table in traditional Venetian cuisine. One local delicacy, sarde in saor (fresh sardines, fried and then marinated in onion, vinegar and raisins), gives an idea of the strong and tasty flavors to be found in Venice. Baccala (salt cod) dishes are on many menus, as is crab (variably called granseola, moleche and other names), as well as exotic seafood salads and squid. Risottos of all colors are common.
At coffee and pastry shops, as well as bacari, you'll find two prices for every item on the menu—the standing price and the sitting price. Often you will see a sign added to the price list, letting you know that it refers to products consumed at the bar only.
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Courtesy of: Darla Logsdon
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