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by Caroline M. Jackson
for Travel Writers Tales

Following the recommendations of our Venetian hotelier, my husband and I set off to find a small family-run restaurant in the labyrinthine city of Venice. His directions seemed simple enough: "You go righta, then lefta, crossa the canal, passa the church and you will find the osteria in the campo." Being neophytes, one campo (square), looked like another and soon we found ourselves at a dead-end beside a canal littered with bobbing gondolas. Now enveloped in a soft pearly mist, we resorted to our map and flashlight and soon we had retraced our steps along the narrow calle (alley) where we found the osteria (restaurant). Packed with locals, we squeezed between tiny wooden tables and seated ourselves beside an American couple who being fluent in Italian, helped us interpret the menu. Our ominous beginning turned out to be a great evening.

Located at the northern end of the Adriatic Sea, Venice is connected to mainland Italy by a causeway. Cutting through the city's core the Grand Canal in the shape of a swan's neck, wends past palazzo (mansions) dating from the 12th century. The Rialto and Accademia bridges cross the Canal and are prime locations from which to watch the waterborne traffic transporting people, luggage, groceries, animals, furniture, building materials and even coffins. The parade of life is endless and fascinating. I doubt that Venetian men of any age need to spend much time in the gym as they are constantly loading and unloading goods and trundling them down alleyways with great alacrity.

To get our first impression of Venice, we took a vaporetto (boat) from the main train station to the famous Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square). Even in late October, our boat was packed with standing room only, and any idea of taking photos, never mind locating my camera, was out of the question. Everyone was very polite, nonetheless, with lots of 'mi scusis' as we tried not to stand on each other's toes. Eventually someone relinquished a seat near the bow, from which I had a great view of sleek black gondolas gliding niftily between the water taxis. To my right, the cabin door banged to and fro and I watched the uniformed captain, spinning the ship's wheel with one hand while he chatted with much gesticulation to other passing craft on his speaker phone. I didn't see any lifejackets. Thankfully the canal wasn't too deep but there were lots of bambinos on board.

After nearly an hour, we reached our destination. The Piazza San Marco is truly a breathtaking spot and it was fun to walk among the fluttering pigeons and take in the beauty of the Doge's Palace with the Bridge of Sighs, St. Mark's Basilica, the tall Campanile bell tower and the Correr Museum. Later, we would visit them all and immerse ourselves in their history.

Our second day fell on a Sunday so we attended morning Mass at the Frari Church near our albergo (hotel). Sitting in this Franciscan Church listening to the talented guitarist and letting our eyes roam over the great masterpieces by the Renaissance artists Donatello, Titian and Bellini was indeed an experience to be savored. Afterwards, we visited the adjacent Scuola Grande di San Rocco which features spectacular paintings by Tintoretto. To avoid whiplash from looking heavenwards, we took one of the large hand mirrors and held it horizontally for a painless view of the masterpieces. On departure, we joined the usual line to pick up our daypacks from the mandatory check in.

Suffering from a little cultural indigestion, we decided our next trip should be a more leisurely one to the lagoon islands of Murano and Burano. After 1291 the island of Murano became home to glassmaking when it was deemed too dangerous to keep the fiery furnaces on the main island. Today visitors can wander round Murano with its many factories displaying exquisite glass artistry.

The nearby island of Burano is a pleasant little fishing village whose claim to fame is lace making. The quaint houses lining the canals are painted in a cornucopia of pastel colors. Shops and stalls spill onto the square and there are lace handkerchiefs, tablecloths and bookmarks galore. In the shade, we saw several old timers working deftly on their lacey creations. In this part of the world, time has certainly stood still.

Photos: Hamish M. Jackson:

1) Venetian street scene
2) Venetian Mansion
3) Venetian market
4) St. Mark's Square
5) The Island of Burano

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