We can’t describe this jewel of a city without sounding like a tourist office. Winding through it is the Grand Canal, the main drag here. It still looks much the same as Caneletto painted it in the 1700’s – changed only here and there with a few newer buildings. Except that in his scenes the water is serene and calm. That is not the current scene in Venice. There are no cars, but there is a lot of traffic. Vaporettos(bus-boats), traghetti (special gondolas that only go across the canal where there are no bridges), gondolas, water taxis, ferries, garbage boats, delivery boats, mail boats, private motor boats and sailboats, yachts and cruise ships. The crowded traffic on the water moves constantly in all directions because there are no traffic lanes.
Everything on the water bounces up and down due to the wakes of the boats moving on the water. The vaporettos pick up and drop off people at bus stops consisting of oblong floating docks. Getting on and off the bus is no easy task because both the bus stops and the boats are continually moving up and down in uncoordinated fashion. Adding to this sense of constant and chaotic motion are hordes of tourists that tramp the streets between the canals.
The first afternoon we walked to St. Mark’s Square through narrow streets and many bridges – all of which had a lot of stairs – first going up and then coming down. Tourists were everywhere – and you heard every language spoken. It was a long walk but we got there eventually and it looked just like the pictures you’ve seen. There were people and pigeons everywhere. All the buildings on three sides facing St. Marks Basilica had shaded porticos on the street level. On the fourth side was the Basilica, a Byzantine gem of a building exhibiting lots of gold and mosaics. Above the center entryway were the fabled four bronze horses stolen so long ago from the Eastern Church in Constantinople that the details of when and how the horses were fashioned are unknown. Actually the horses on the outside of the Basilica are replicas. The originals are inside.
By the time we got there we were in dire need of refreshment. We decided that we had to have coffee in St. Mark’s Square and look out at the crowd. So we sat down and ordered coffee. Just coffee. But these two cups of the brew set a personal record for us as the most expensive we ever have had the privilege of drinking. The tuxedo-clad waiter presented the bill. With the tip, the bill came to 17 Euros— a little over $20. And you know what? We did not begrudge the price. We were very tired so we sat for a long time in a very beautiful setting and took a picture of the two of us with the Basilica in the background. That is, a Japanese/Chinese couple there on their honeymoon took our picture. Despite the good feelings we took away from that particular coffee break, I think we can live our lives without the need to have a similar experience in future. After coffee we walked around some more, feeling considerably lighter than when we arrived and then headed back.