As we were driving to Venice, I remember feeling a little apprehensive. I'd had my idea of "Venice" in my head for so many years that I was afraid I might be disappointed. What if it didn't live up to my expectations? Driving over the bridge didn't really help-it all looked so industrial and...dare I say it...ugly. But I knew we were only stopping here to catch a boat which would take us to the Grand Canal, so I held my breath and waited.
It was SO worth the wait! As our boat approached the Grand Canal we were all struck by the beauty of Venice! The picture here is nice, but it can't, of course, really capture the awe we felt as we saw Venice for the first time. Even now, I can feel the joy in my heart as I remember my first view.
Once we docked and got off the boat, I felt like I couldn't open my eyes wide enough to take it all in. There was so much to see and experience, and I just wanted to see it all. I realize now that one day in Venice is simply NOT enough. There is still so much I want to see, even though our tour guide walked us through a good deal of the important or typical sites.
Once we met our guide, he took us briskly to the first stop on our tour, which was a campo in front of a church. Turns out that the churches used to let people use the land in front of their churches to farm and use the well there. Each campo has a well hat, which provided the potable water for the residents. The campos could be large or small, but each was lovely in its own way.
This was the first of many churches we saw in Italy.
Our walking tour took us past many more
churches, but I will never forget the way this one looked, with the sun just peeking over the top and the church itself offering a shady spot in which to feel protected from the sun's harsh rays. I knew I was already beginning to feel love for this beautiful city, and could understand those who always long to return.
At the end of our tour we were brought to St. Mark's Square, where we were to proceed to a local glassblower's for a demonstration and a tour through the shop/gallery. The work was gorgeous and the glass magnificent. It was a little nerve-wracking to pile all those students into that glass-lined room and watch them juggle backpacks and purses to steer clear of the glass. Still, it was a remarkable experience.
After the tour we arranged our rendezvous time and place, and broke up into smaller groups to explore the city. Three girls and I made out for our first taste of real Italian pizza, and upon the advice of our tour director, David, we looked for a small place with no seats, where we could get a slice of pizza and a drink, and stand at a table to eat. It didn't take long to find it, and I have to admit the pizza was incredible! As we finished our pie, we started to discuss where to get our first gelato. The maitre'd across the way heard us and watched as we spotted a sign for gelato down the street. He beckoned me over and told us to go past that one and go to the "second" one. We did, and are ever grateful to that man! The gelato was delicious and the place wasn't crowded, since everyone else went to the first place they hit. Always listen to the natives!!
We shopped, toured the Doge's Palace, and shopped some more when I suddenly realized I'd left my camera in the Doge's Palace! I was a wreck and practically ran the length of St. Mark's Square to see if there was any chance of retrieving it! The girls were great and came with me as we all hoped someone had spotted it and kept it safe. When I asked, the employees asked me what color my camera was. I know...sounds like an odd question, but my camera is red. When I said that, they told me the guard on the second floor had found it and kept it for me! I'd like to say I ran up to the second floor, but..well...the steps are simply NOT the kind of steps you run up! Breathless, I retrieved my camera and headed back to the girls....and more shopping!! Finally it was time to meet up with everyone else for our next adventure...a gondola ride! We couldn't believe we were actually sitting in a gondola, and were enjoying the ride through the little canals of Venice. Every turn brought us to yet another picturesque little vignette, another snapshot of a place so foreign and yet so endearing to us. We didn't think it could get any better, but then the gondolier steered us out into the Grand Canal. Everyone gasped at the sight as we moved into the open canal. It was magnificent!
It was just the most amazing way to spend our first REAL day in Italy! After the gondola ride, we had more time to roam around Venice, and so we, of course, did a little more shopping before heading back to the boat to go back to our hotel. As we left Venice that day, I felt like I was leaving one of the most beautiful places on Earth. I know I want to return some day and spend more time there. I'd like to see Venice by night and to have more time to stroll at a more leisurely pace to see all the little nooks and crannies we had to pass by in our haste to see as much of the city as possible.
Once we got back to the hotel we had one more Italian experience ahead of us. It was July 2nd, after all, and in Siena there's a huge horse race called the Palio de Siena. It's a crazy free-for-all, and is, naturally, televised on all the Italian stations. After dinner, the race was on and it was like nothing I'd ever seen. You see, there are no real "rules" for this race except for one: riders cannot interfere with the reins of another horse. That's it. The riders ride bareback, fight each other, spectators throw stuff at them, and a riderless horse can win the race. The horses run a very tight circle around the Piazza del Campo and must complete three full circles to win. There's more tradition about this, but I recommend you look it up to see all the particulars. All I have to say is that it was insane; horses were falling all over each other, spectators were throwing bottles of soda or other liquid at the riders, and in the end, a winner was declared. It was an exciting way to bring our Venice experience to a thrilling close. That being said, I really do want to go back to Venice. So badly, in fact, that I've been watching the last half hour of Casino Royale every time it's on, just so I can see Venice again. It was just gorgeous!