Who would’ve thought that I’d ever ride in a gondola in Venice on Valentine’s Day? I certainly didn’t think so, until it happened! My roommates and a couple of other friends we met in our classes arranged our trip to Venice for the opening weekend of Carnevale. We took a high-speed train, which was much more comfortable than I had anticipated without costing a fortune. This brought us from Florence to Venice in just two hours. As soon as we stepped out of the Santa Lucia train station, the beauty of Venice greeted us with the Grand Canal. It was brilliantly sunny out, which made the water glisten and opportunities for taking pictures endless.
The “streets” in Venice are essentially the canals, which even have boat taxis and buses. We didn’t take either of these at all during our stay. Instead, we ventured through the exceptionally narrow alleyways and across the astounding number of bridges by foot. I call them alleyways because that is truly what all of them are – it is rare to be able to fit more than two people side by side while going through them. We quickly learned that attempting to navigate through Venice using maps is useless. Instead, we questioningly followed spray-painted signs on buildings that indicated multiple routes to “Ponte Rialto” and “San Marco”. Luckily, these signs did lead us to their indicated destinations. The Ponte Rialto was a marvel. We spent at least a couple of hours each day just standing on the bridge, soaking in the picturesque scene commonly featured on postcards from Venice.
While the sun was still shining brightly, we decided to take a ride on a gondola. We did not add the extra expense of having the gondolier sing to us; instead, we were surprised with a handful of interesting little facts about Venice during our ride. Ponte dei Sospiri, or the Bridge of Sighs, was one of the first bridges that we passed underneath; it links Doge’s Palace with the prisons of Venice. A short while later, the oldest bridge in Florence was pointed out to us as we rode underneath of it. It was the tiniest bridge and there wasn’t anything significant that would indicate that it was the oldest, but I trusted the gondolier, who is a native of Venice, to know the history of his city. We learned that Venice is comprised of 118 islands and that each island has its own church; this was done so that Venetians never had to cross a bridge or go very far to get to church.
Of course, while in Venice, we had to visit its most famous church: San Marco. I was thoroughly upset that I could not take pictures inside the church, because it was absolutely breathtaking. The number of frescoes and mosaics, as well as sculptures and unique chandeliers was amazing. I was in awe and sad that our tour inside went by so quickly. Piazza San Marco was of course exceptionally lively. It was full of tourists, but because it was the opening weekend of Carnevale, there was much more to see as well. Every few minutes, we’d pass by a group of people in costume. These costumes were simply gorgeous and so detailed that they legitimately looked like they were from centuries past. I cannot forget to mention the masks – these were exceptional as well. All of them were so unique; there is no way that I would ever be able to choose a favorite. Somehow, I was able to choose one mask to purchase from a vendor in Piazza San Marco. On opening day of Carnevale, I wore my mask on our ventures through the city. Where, or even when else would it be acceptable to walk around in a mask all day?
My mask was one souvenir, but it was not my favorite souvenir from the trip. As we were leaving Piazza San Marco, we encountered a group of street performers. These street performers were not in costume, did not do anything acrobatic, and were not comedians either. Instead, they were a group of five violinists who played magnificent pieces that are familiar to many, including me. Unfortunately, I am not musically inclined enough to know the names of the pieces off the top of my head. We were very pleased to encounter this group one last time the following morning, as we were entering the train station. We listened to a couple more pieces before boarding the train and I am very happy that I made the decision to purchase one of their CDs, titled “Respiro di Note”. I learned that they call themselves “I Virtuosi del Violino”. I’m sure that their music will help get me through many of my studies here and back in the U.S.