I can't help the feeling that I am in an overcrowded mall. There's tons of vendors and mobs of people bustling around with no destination in mind except for window-shopping, which is no destination at all. The shops are interesting with esoteric fashions displayed in the windows that are like viewing a living Vogue magazine
. These clothes look fabulously interesting and almost sucker you into thinking you could wear them at home, but then an inner voice kicks in and tells me that leather boots and a suede jacket with a fur lined hood is not how the average surfer in Santa Cruz dresses. If you need to buy a cape, Venice is the place.
Upon arriving we quickly got Euros and took the ferry boat to the small island of Murano. This island is world renown for its glass making but I feel it should be equally famous for its complete lack of having anything open after 7 PM. After getting settled in our hotel we struck out for the main island and the big sites. Unfortunately we took the wrong ferry and spent a large portion of the afternoon watching tourists embark and disembark as we putted to the end of the outer islands and then back again. With humble faces we stopped at our starting point and hour later and then putted one stop to the main island. Finally.
We walked through the winding narrow paths, crossing staired bridges, and passing through small squares until we arrived at the big square. Saint Mark's Square is impressive with its huge expanse and live classical music played in the cafés. At one end of the square the church Saint Mark's Basilica triumphs with its extremely ornate façade and statues lining the roof and terraces
. Equally and more impressive to Collette, the square contained throngs of pigeons. A few carts sell pigeon food to make sure the numbers never go below several hundred.1
The population of pigeons was still slightly lower than the number of tourists and cruise ship people that absolutely overwhelmed the square. We bought Collette a bag of pigeon food and let her go to town. They swarmed around her and she giggled and smiled. It was going swell until Collette started grabbing them and trying to pick them up. One pigeon got caught in the fold of her skirt and in the resulting darkness went completely limp. A few tourists took her picture and we finished the bag of food only to have her cry for the next two hours saying, "I want to see the pigeons, wah, wah, I want to go back to the big square to see the pigeons, wah, wah, pigeons, sob, sob, feed, wah, sob" In between the crying when we thought she was over it we would mention, "Tomorrow we will see the pigeons again" Upon hearing the key word "pigeon" the crying and sobbing would renew itself with equal fury. She really, really, loves these filthy birds.
By this time the 5:40 AM bus ride was starting to unravel Collette. She was on the verge of madness and no matter how many time outs we gave and how many no's we flung out she would not listen. She would run off without coming back, get close to the canal edges, try to lurch at strange dogs to pet them, grab at the world renown Murano glass, fling herself out of the stroller, etc...
By the end of the day child and parents were equally tired, and we headed back to Murano taking special care to get the right ferry. "Excuse me sir, Murano?" and then one more to make sure, "Murano?" "Si!" We got back to the island to finally eat and relax but surprise
. The island of Murano was locked up tight and we were lucky to finally find a small store and picked up everything we that seemed to make a good combination. Tired and finally fed we got ready for another day of serious touristing. The only thing that we accomplished was to buy a calendar of "beefcake priests" that was equally disturbing and quirky. 2
Christy liked Father July the best. Amen!
I had a little sense of claustrophobia in Venice. The streets as wide as three people and the high buildings block any sense of the sun or the natural world. Contact with the sun would be sudden and brilliant when the street would part and a bridge would present itself in the glaring reflection of the sea. Navigating the endless winding alleyways proved to be a challenge. No landmarks are visible once you go into the interior and it's impossible to look for "the castle on the hill" or "head down the valley to the river". Trying to get one last cathedral in and then heading for the last ferry taxed my map reading abilities to the limit. At one point we emerged in the same spot that we had been in twenty minutes earlier, thus completing a nice parallelogram.
What really contributed to the anxiety was the amount of people flowing in and out of the streets. To move the stroller in any direction meant taking careful account of the people around me and the patterns of the pedestrian flows and ebbs. A large contributor to the crowds were the immense imposing cruise ships that we had seen lined up in the harbor like monolithic castles on the outskirts of Venice. When a cruse ship enters a town it changes the nature of the place and alters its atmosphere. The goal of going to a land that is far from your own, expensive to go to, and requires great effort to bring you there is to see a culture that is foreign to you and to experience an atmosphere that is unique and exotic
. What the cruise ships do is bring their own culture and atmosphere and impose it on a new location. The question begs to be asked," then why travel". It reminds me of an axiom in science that says that as you put more energy into observing a phenomenon the more you change the nature of the system being studied. I am being judgmental of this form of traveling and I am sure if I had a tumor the size of Madonna's head and was immobile I would put on a golf shirt and would join them on their lounge chairs and bingo tables and would see the cruise ship not as a nemesis but as a friend.
Our first destination was to see the Cathedral Saint Mark's. We checked our bags since none were allowed in and shuffled in the line as it made a large square through the cathedral. Of course it was impressive but again I wish I knew more about its history and art. Right before we passed through the outer doors Collette flicked one of her "street straws"3
she is endeared with into a confessional booth. She received a most severe time out. If you go to confession here and find a nasty chewed straw sitting next to you, it was not a random act of God but that of a misbehaving three year old.
To my great disappointment the imposing tower in the square did not have narrow medieval winding staircase but only a modern elevator with a bored-looking attendant
. We crammed into the narrow space with other tourists, and I kept a tight grip on Collette so she wouldn't grab anything, kick anyone, or try to throw a straw that she had picked off the street onto anybody. Mission accomplished and we emerged into the sunlight and onto a stunning view of Venice, its waterways, red tiled roofs, immense churches and swarms of boats circling the island. Jostling for priority we began our duty of taking pictures and trying to identify landmarks. The beauty was immense and we tried to absorb the view without hurry or anxiety. However Collette would let us do neither and the battery in our camera took this opportunity to go dead. Finished we stood in line for the elevator down when the several ton bell three feet above my head began to sway. Even when an object is far from you when it is this big it appears very close and I had to restrain myself from ducking every time it passed overhead. The rocking became more violent until the clanger starting hitting the interior. An immense metal clang rang out and Collette cringed as probably I did and the clanging reached an intolerable level. The elevator opened and we rushed into its safety. As it descended we could still hear the bell clanging but it didn't make our hearts race or make us want to cover our ears. Now every time we ask Collette what a church bell sounds like her eyes get big and with great concentration pronounces, "Ding DONG, .... ding, DONG."
Later that day we toured the Doge's palace to my great delight
. This is the home of the leader of Venice and its government building. Of course everything came to a halt over a hundred years ago but their legacy continues in this richly decorated and ornate building. The largest hall was built to contain over 300 representatives of Venice's provinces and social elite. At the end of this hall resided the largest oil painting in the world with over 500 saints huddled round The Man. It looks like before a football came in the Midwest where the team kneels in prayer with the couch at their center. I enjoyed the immensity of the place and its attention to details. Each room's ceiling displayed a painting referring to Venice's greatness or religious themes and no wood was left uncarved. Each room gave a strong reminder that Venice was once one of the most powerful cities in the world. Sun poured through some windows and revealed an expansive view of the surrounding city and waterways.
The sites of Venice cannot be ignored but it was not a place where I felt at ease or in my element. It was like an interesting class: I liked it but did not want to do it again. And for Collette, well, all of the glories and treasures of Venice could not hold up to a bag of pigeon feed.
1. Later on we read that they put bird birth control in the food. I thought it was a catholic country? Anyway, I now look at all food a little more suspiciously and will try to avoid Pringles.
2. I am still confused about what message they are trying to convey.
3. These are straws she picks up in the street or out of the trash that she equally enjoys chewing on and poking people with.
We left Rovinj at 5:40 in the morning. We rattled past the harbor and up to the bus station to await the long ride with some blurry-eyed Italians and Croats. I eyed one old lady because I was sure she was going to cut us in line. Sure enough she asked Christy a question and then sprinted ahead of me while I was holding a sleeping Collette. The bus ride was the same except for a series of quick passport checks as we crossed the small sliver of Slovenia that separates Italy and Croatia. Several officers woke me up so my description is based on reason rather than memory since I was a little confused.