I was excited to finally arrive in Venice, the floating city, home of the gondola. Nato was also excited to arrive in Venice as he knew it meant an end to my daily comment that the current location was the furtherest North I’d ever been.
I had pictured a gondola ride in Venice as a romantic experience. Nato and I reclining in the gondola in the bright sunshine, the gondolier joyfully serenading us as we gently glided along the Venetian canals. In reality our experience was a little different. For a start it was at night, part of our ‘Venice by night’ walking tour which was to complement seeing Venice by day. It started to drizzle as we were split into groups of six for each gondola. The gondola seemed very unstable, rocking wildly as we each clambered on board. The gondolier looked on, bored as we struggled to stay out of the drink. He then pushed off, whipped out a mobile phone and spent the entire trip shouting into it while steering with his other hand.
Romantic it was not, but there was a sense of camaraderie as our fleet swept along the canal, calling to each other and waving to the people on the bridges as we passed beneath them. Not all the gondoliers were sullen, one of them broke into ‘That’s Amore’ and we all joined in, our voices echoing in the quiet canals. Back at the dock we tentatively climbed out of the rocking gondola and were pleased to discover that not one of the tour group had ended up in the canals. We followed the local guide through deserted Venetian streets and suddenly emerged into an almost empty St Marks Square.
“Take a good look at Piazza San Marco”, called the local guide. “It will look much different to you when you see it tomorrow filled with people”.
It was dark and drizzly, but I really enjoyed seeing Venice by night.
The next morning I discovered that the local guide was right, Venice by day was a totally different experience. We had all day to wander around, and what better place to wander around than Venice. Narrow streets lead on to bridges and every bridge seemed to have picturesque views of the canals in both directions. Gondolas glided past us, water buses, taxis and private boats chugged along. The streets suddenly opened into piazzas of all sizes, with drinking fountains or wells in the middle.
We visited St Marks Basilica and quickly saw why it was nicknamed Chiesa d’Oro (Church of gold), the interior absolutely glitters with the gold from the Byzantine mosaics. The Venetians were wealthy and they weren’t afraid to show it. We climbed up to the bronze replicas of the four horses of Saint Mark for a bird’s eye view of St Marks Square. The original horses are kept in the museum, probably a good idea given their penchant for travelling. They were stolen from the Hippodrome of Constantinople by one of the Doges of Venice in 1204, then taken to Paris by Napoleon in 1797, retuning to Venice in 1815. They appear to be deep in conversation, and I suspect they’re planning their next trip.
In the late afternoon we made our way to Fondamente Nuove to meet up with the tour group. Couples and small groups from the tour who, like us, had spent the day exploring Venice drifted to the meeting spot. We chatted about what we had seen that day as we waited for the group who had spent the day seeing the brightly coloured fisherman’s houses in Burano. Over an hour late they finally arrived, tired and cranky. On the journey back to the hotel we gathered that the entire group had been held up by Patty and Selma. When they hadn’t been at the meeting point on time an impromptu search party had been sent out. They had been found not lost and not even on their way to the boat, but shopping (probably searching for somewhere that sells Laramie cigarettes). They were utterly unapologetic and the rest of the group was seething.
“We would have been on time if it weren’t for Smoky and the Bandit” growled Montenaro junior.
Nato and I exchanged a glance, amused to hear this new nickname and relieved to hear a Montenaro mention a movie other than The Thorn Birds.