ITALY-CROATIA BLOG 04

Wednesday September 13, 2017

You may or may not be interested, but I can tell you for a fact: there ain’t nuttin’ quite like Venice!

It all started in 421AD, when the people of Veneto fled their mainland homes ahead of the invading Goths. They founded this extraordinary city on flat, flooded, marshy islands, using wooden pilings for foundations (millions of them, eventually, which are still quietly petrifying in the oxygen-free mud) – an astonishing feat of engineering. By the 13th century Venice was the third most populated city in the world (after London and Paris). The wealthy merchants of Venice were making fortunes in salt and spices – and spending fortunes on their mansions (which still line the canals today). The formidable Venetian navy was turning out a wooden warship a day. And for some 1000 years it was home to big names – like Casanova, Vivaldi, Monteverdi, the sculptor Canova, and the explorer Marco Polo.

We celebrated our first night on the town with a lovely, leisurely Gondola Serenade … drifting along the canals of Venice as the darkening waters lapped against the sides of our boats. Stripey-shirted gondoliers leaned and pulled on their poles … musicians with piano-accordions, guitars and magnificent voices serenaded us in traditional fashion … and we Kiwis sang along at the top of our lungs: “Volare … oh, oh …!”

Afterwards, before heading to bed in our hotel, we lost ourselves in the narrow streets, crowded squares and countless bridges, sampling the food, and making unforgettable memories in this romantic setting.

The heart of Venice is St Mark’s Square – with its looming, onion-domed Basilica di San Marco (crammed with incredible marble mosaics and colourful frescos) … its magnificent pink-and-lacy Doges’ Palace (Palazzo Ducale, rich with gold-encrusted ceilings and priceless Renaissance art) … its 15th century clock-tower … its colourful carnevale masks … its ever-present pigeons … its ever-threatening flood-waters … and its wall-to-wall tourists. Yesterday morning, we explored all this on foot, crossing the lagoon via the Bridge of Sighs, and watching gondolas bobbing at their moorings along Venice’s world-famous waterfront.

It’s a crime to hurry through Venice – this is one place in the world that should never be rushed. So we spent that afternoon doing what the Venetians seem to do: wandering, meandering, strolling, sauntering and soaking up the ambience on our own – eventually sitting down to a yummy dinner together at the Taverna la Fenice.

We did pretty much the same thing this afternoon – but not before we rode a private boat out through the main Venetian Lagoon to two fascinating islands. Murano has been the region’s glass-blowing centre since 1291, and tradesmen still practice their jealously-guarded craft today. We visited one of the famous glass-blowing factories and did some ogling-plus-shopping in a showroom filled with gorgeous glassy creations.

The equally famous island of Burano has a well-earned reputation for exquisite lace-making – and those who were interested admired this handwork, while those who weren’t roamed streets and canals lined with quaint multi-coloured houses, or sat under umbrellas drinking coffee and eating some of the freshest, tastiest pastries on the planet.

COMING UP: Following an early breakfast tomorrow, we leave Italy (sob) and embark on a detour through tiny Slovenia – which most of you have never heard of, right? Or, if you have, you know next to nothing about, right? Well, brace yourselves, because you’re in for a surprise …

PEOPLE-NEWS: Just one Quacky Yellow Duck has taken wing since we last spoke …

  • ALLAN took away our ‘Shoe-Shine’ Award – and, according to those who watched this unfold, it was hilarious! A group of Kiwis were out and about yesterday when they came across one of those automatic shoe-shine machines – you know, you shove your shoe into the guts of the thing, and those wildly spinning brushes apply a clean-and-polish in no time at all. Well, Allan decided to try it with his jandals. He shoved his foot in, and the machine promptly grabbed his jandal and swallowed it, leaving Allan down on his hands and knees trying to retrieve his precious jandal as it flew round and round in vicious circles.

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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