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Venice, of course, is the Italian city with the canals and the gondolas and the distinctive, somewhat Byzantine
architecture. The city is technically comprised of many islands scattered across the Lagoon of Venice, as well
as a chunk of mainland, where most of the city's 270,000 residents live. But one principal island is the main focus
of interest for tourists and historians.
The beginnings of Venice are a little hazy, but the city was probably started by Roman citizens seeking refuge from
unwelcome visits by Huns and Germanic invaders. Venice became its own city-state in the Middle Ages and eventually
became very rich and powerful, thanks to a strong navy and a strategic position which allowed it to control the central
Mediterranean Sea. The Venetian sphere of influence was an unavoidable waypoint for Western Europeans travelling to
Asia to trade, and much of the wealth resulting from that commerce found its way into the city. Venice also participated
in the 4th Crusade and helped itself to a great deal of riches from Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1204. All of this
wealth led to the construction of many opulent palazzos and churches on the main island, most of which are still
there. These buildings were built on top of many many wooden pilings, largely logged from regions of modern-day Slovenia
and Croatia which remain deforested to this day.
Venice on the Map
Around the Lagoon of Venice
Veniceís monopoly on the Asia route was broken, however, when Vasco da Gama of Portugal figured out how to get to Asia by
sailing around Africa in the late 15th Century, and the New World discoveries begun by Christopher Columbus further
diluted interest in travelling to Asia by way of the Mediterranean. Venice experienced a steady decline in military and
economic power beginning around this time, though its influence in culture and the arts continued through the 18th
Century. Venice lost its independence in 1797, thanks to Napoleon Bonaparte, who later made it an Austrian possession. The
city briefly became independent again around the middle of the 19th Century, but joined the newly-formed Kingdom of Italy in
We began our approach to Venice from a distance, with a relatively uneventful taxi ride to the Aeroporto Internazionale di
Napoli, where we boarded our inexpensive easyJet flight. On taking off, we had a nice view of Vesuvius, marveling at the
density of civilization surrounding the killer volcano on all sides. One can only hope that volcano science is sufficiently
advanced at the time of the next eruption to give ample warning to the residents, and that the residents at the time are
smart enough to pay attention.
The flight to Venice was a short one, taking just over an hour. We landed at Marco Polo International Airport,
located on the shore of the lagoon.
Mt. Vesuvius from Naples Airport
Mt. Vesuvius from the Air
Venice and Bridge to Mainland
From the airport, one has a choice of a few ways to get to the main island. The island is connected to the mainland by a
single bridge which carries both auto and rail traffic. The cheapest way to get to the island is to take a bus across the
bridge to a drop-off point near the train station. Unfortunately, beyond the train station, no vehicular traffic is allowed
on the island, and itís a long and confusing walk to the main points of interest (including our hotel). But the island is
cut roughly in half by the S-shaped Grand Canal, and the islandís ďbus serviceĒ, commuter boats called vaporetti,
travel regularly up and down this canal, making many stops along the way. At the opposite extreme price-wise, one has the
option of taking a water taxi from the airport directly to a chosen location on the island (as long as itís on the canal). In
between, but not too much more expensive than the bus-vaporetto option, is a boat called the Alilaguna, which travels
directly from the airport to selected stops around the lagoon. We opted for this choice, as it seemed like it would be less
crowded and less of a hassle than taking a bus and transferring ourselves and our luggage to a vaporetto.
It takes a few minutes to walk to the shore from the airport terminal (to the left on exiting the front of the building), and
on reaching the water, water taxi signs and the ticket kiosk for the Alilaguna are hard to miss. We bought our tickets and
waited about 20 minutes before a boat arrived. We boarded the boat (luggage is left in a large pile in the middle of the
boat, near the driver) and found comfortable seating in the enclosed area below. The route was roundabout, with stops at the
islands of Murano and Lido before eventual arrival at our destination, the San Marco stop on the main island.
On our map, the San Marco stop looked very close to our hotel, the Westin Europa & Regina. Unfortunately, a small canal was in
the way. One thing a visitor to Venice quickly discovers is that the island is crisscrossed with numerous narrow canals, and
that bridges over them are often not located where one would like them to be. When exploring, itís best to have a good map and
pay close attention to where the bridges are. We struck northward, away from the Grand Canal, and eventually found a bridge
that crossed the small canal between us and the hotel. Unfortunately, there was no longer any sign of the hotel at this point,
and no obvious way of getting back to it. We dragged/carried our luggage along a crowded thoroughfare lined with shops, and
eventually noticed a small sign with the name of our hotel, pointing into a narrow alley. We followed the alley, which seemed
to go nowhere, and after awhile found a perpendicular alley, which also seemed to go nowhere, but which eventually dumped us
into a small courtyard with the hotel entrance forming one of its sides.
The Elusive Westin Europa and Regina Hotel
Normally we wouldnít stay at a place like the Westin Europa & Regina, as itís very nice but outside our price range,
but we had some credit card points that made it possible for us to stay for a few nights. Or two of us, anyway Ė there
werenít any available quad rooms, and they were pretty strict about trying to squeeze extra people into the room. So
Philip and Connie got a room of their own, in a different hotel Ė the Starhotel Splendid, located between the Piazza
San Marco and the Rialto Bridge (more on these attractions later; for now, it suffices to say the hotel wasnít very
close to the Westin). We deposited the Bob and Nella luggage into the Bob and Nella room at the Westin and dragged the
rest all the way across the Piazza San Marco and over to the Starhotel Splendid, which was slightly easier to find than
the Westin. Philip and Connie got checked into a small room which they thought was wonderful, as it was someplace other
than where their parents were staying.
The Starhotel Splendid
From the Starhotel Splendid, we continued north in search of food. This led us to the Rialto Bridge, a stone,
shop-lined bridge which was completed in 1591, and which crosses the Grand Canal near the geographic center of
North of the bridge we passed through an outdoor shopping area and eventually found a promising restaurant
which turned out to be closed until 7:30. So we continued on until we found a reasonably-priced Chinese
restaurant which was open. It was a little weird being served by traditionally-clad Chinese waitresses who
were speaking Italian at us, but the food was very good.
On the way back to the Starhotel Splendid, we stopped for dessert at a gelato stand, and then stopped at a fruit stand
to get some drinking water (donít touch the minibars if you value your fiscal solvency) and some healthful snacks.
We then continued the long walk back to the Westin, dropping Philip and Connie off at their hotel on the way.
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Continue to St. Mark's Basilica