Venice Trip May 24-31, 1998

Linda and I flew to Venice via Air France right after graduation ceremonies and a wedding. Nice thing about Air France is that even French airline food tastes pretty good.

We stayed at the Europa y Regina Hotel, which is really two hotels joined together, and extensively remodeled in 1997. Our room (256) is two floors down from the Italian flag right on the Grand Canal, and five minutes from Piazza de San Carlos. The view to the left down the canal, the view to the right up the canal, and the view across the canal were each enjoyable. The latter is a view of the Cathedral of Santa Maria della Salute, built in 1610 to give thanks to the Virgin Mary by those who survived the second plague.

Venice started as 108 islands, with each having its own Catholic church, connected by 400 bridges, most made of metal or brick but a few made of wood. The combination of water, geranium flowers, green shutters, and pastel colored buildings makes it hard to find any part of Venice that is not either quaint or beautiful, even in the rain.

The city has been a tourist attraction for 400 years, so not surprisingly its a ideal place to visit. For example, a painting of "The Entrance of the Grand Canal" by Caneletto shows Maria della Salute and our hotel in the mid 1700s. A single woman could walk in dark alleys late at night without any fears; when we asked why it was so safe, the answer was how would a robber try to get away?

We spent most of our time walking about the city, including the spiral staircase called Buvolo which is Venetian for snail or spiral. This is simply an outside staircase for a typical courtyard, but it is a thing of beauty. The view is great, too.

In the evenings we ate at several excellent restaurants: Martini, La Columba, Quadri (upstairs), and Antico Paglio. Fortunately we brought nice clothing, as Italians dress up even in towns filled with tourists.

Given that there are no cars, everything you would find in a modern city has its aquatic equivalent: busses, taxis, trucks, and even armored cars. The gondola rides are basically the aquatic equivalent of horse drawn carriages: they are only for romantic rides, not transportation, and are equally expensive. We met one person who was a 9th generation gondolari , meaning his family's unbroken string of gondolari went back to 1600. You have to be born in Venice to get the job, and most need 10 years of apprenticeship. They work 12 hour days in the summer, but get the winters off and retire at 50, since no one that old could do the job. That cheered Linda and I right up! Sounded like a good life.

Perhaps some gondolari sing, but the standard method to get a singer was to hire one person to sing and another to play the accordion. This is sure to draw a following, as others want to hear the music without paying the piper.

The Piazza de San Carlos is the main tourist attraction, but it normally filled only during the hours of the tour busses, which is about 11AM to 6PM. The tables are for cappucinos and pasties, with competing string quartets entertaining the diners day and night. These include the Cafe Quadri and Cafe Florian, which also competed for the famous painters, authors, and musicians who visited Venice. Both has been in business since the early 1700s.

Venice was an independent republic for a 1000 years before Napoleon conquered it in about 1800. He called the piazza "the best drawing room in Europe." The three sides were office buildings for bureaucrats, with Napoleon building the far one to get more space.

This plaza includes the Campanile, one which the Berkeley Campanile, was modeled. The Venetian campanile was built a 1000 years ago, but it fell down in 1902. It was rebuilt 10 years later, about the same time as the Berkeley version. Berkeley's was built from granite instead of brick, and it is not as wide, but you can see many similarities. The view of Venice as well of the view of the piazza above may be matched by the view of San Francisco and the campus.

Also on the piazza is St. Mark's Basilica and the Ducal Palace . Venice adopted Mark as its patron saint in the 800s, when sly Venetians went to Alexandria to trick a church there into giving up his remains. The Ducal Palace was the home of the Doge, the elected leader of Venice. Every time there was an abuse the senate would add restrictions on the Doge and his family, so by the end the Doges spent 2 hours of their coronation reading all promises of what they wouldn't do, and thus considered themselves the slaves of Venice.

The palace connects to a prison with impressive cell doors over the Bridge of Sighs, so named due to the sounds made by the prisoners who are taken across the bridge upon conviction. The movie "A Little Romance" made up a myth that if you kissed under the Bridge of Sighs in a gondola at sunset then your romance would last forever. Linda and I kissed under the bridge. (We know its just a movie, but the American child actress, who kissed a French boy in the movie, did marry a Frenchman when she grew up, so maybe there is something to it.)

In conclusion, Linda and I had a wonderful time, and would go again.