Italy 2006:  Chapter V

Venice * Como * Lago Maggiore * Baveno * Milano

The wake-up call came at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday, September 12th.  At 7 a.m. the church bells gonged.  There are eight churches in Chioggia!  By 7:45 a.m. we were on the bus, looking out to a big sun and blue sky.  The islands of Venice are just across from Chioggia; we rushed to get in line for our boat.

It is 81 degrees Fahrenheit this morning.  Our boat to Venice arrived along with hundreds of other boats and thousands of other people. 

When we arrived in Venice, St. Mark's Square was overcrowded with humanity, "more faces than I've ever seen here in the past," said Mhairi.  That's St. Mark's Cathedral.

Three of the faces belonged to Jan and Rosalie and me.  Can you pick us out of the crowd?

A huge cruise liner brought in an entire population of its own.

We watched excursion boats and gondolas jockey for position.

There were no cars or buses on the walkways and cobblestone streets of Venice.  Everything was geared for pedestrians and boats.

We learned firsthand that a gondola can seat six passengers plus the driver who stood himself in the back and used the long wooden oar like I might use a pencil.  Each gondola has a name; ours was Cinzia Eleonaora.  I'm guessing the American variation is Cynthia Eleanor.

Hi, John and Jan Flora!  You're lucky you didn't have to face our  particular (dull) oarsman.  When the oarsman got too close to a building in the narrow canal, he simply shoved us handily away with an outstretched foot. 

Hi, Lloyd and Rosalie Pauly!  The (dull) oarsman maneuvered the elongated watercraft like it was a golf cart on it way to the next green.

The gondola ahead of us featured a gregarious voice, several talents below that of Pavarotti, and also a squeeze box that contributed to a freeing of the spirit so far away from home. O sola mio ...

We toured the Doges Palace (but that's St. Mark's pictured above, which we didn't get inside of) with a guide who had an accent that needed work.  I hardly understood a word he said and therefore learned little about the place but I did take a picture from one of the windows.  See below.

In fact, the artwork was phenomenal and the rooms were, as might be expected, palatial.

Mhairi took us to a shop where we watched an artisan blow glass.  He took a flaming red ball of glass from the oven and easily turned it into a fancy wine decanter with curved spout and handle.

He turned another hot ball of glass into a prancing horse, complete with ears and jointed legs.  All pieces in the shop downstairs were marked "especially for you."  We could have purchased a set of six goblets and a decanter for only 2,500 euros rather than 4,200 euros.  This "original" price in American dollars would have been over $5,000.  We didn't bite.

I waited until we got to the island of Burano, where I bought several pieces of glass jewelry that I could wear as sliders on a neck rope or neck chain.  It's beautiful and colorful and not very expensive, at least compared to goblets and decanters.

Burano was the prettiest island in the Venetian Lagoon.  Houses were painted in bright colors and begged to be photographed.

We ate that evening on Burano, a scrumptious seafood meal consisting of calamari, shrimp, cod, fish lasagna, and a tuna rice dish.  We were also treated to Italian almond brittle, which was sweet and chewier than our familiar peanut brittle.  Each of us received amaretto plus unlimited wine.  What else is new??  There was always unlimited wine at dinner.  It was poured like water.  Their bottled water, by the way, if oftentimes carbonated.  One must always specify "with gas" or "without gas."

After dinner we experienced a most delightful boat ride back to our hotel on the sea at Chioggia -- the one with the beamed ceilings.  The sunset was a fabulous red-orange.

Our group of six friends sat in the open-air bow of the boat with Mhairi and a few other people.

It was warm and lovely, not hot.  We hit the hay and the land of nod that night at 10:30 p.m.

Wake-up call came at 7 a.m., rather late for a change, and rather nice.  Luggage was out by 7:45 a.m.  Bus left this area of Venice at 8:45 a.m.  It was Wednesday, September 13th.  "Get your bloomin' arses on the bus," exclaimed Mhairi.  We had been straddling the nearby stands, purchasing one more piece of Murano glass, taking one more photo of the picturesque village, enjoying the morning sea breeze, knowing only one more night remained for us in this part of the world under the Tuscan Sun.

Reported Mhairi, "Well be doing a fair bit by motorway today."  That was an understatement.  We drove west most of the day, learned more about Italy from Mhairi's informed narration, and listened to CD's of Italian operas.  "It's just a wee bit further," she'd say.  Finally we arrived in Como where we had a late lunch.

Then we strolled in the nearby park and read monuments to the Italian Resistance.  One Belgian schoolteacher wrote, "My death will testify that an intense love of life is not incompatible with the acceptance of a necessary death."  One Danish student wrote, "That a people may live, it is necessary that some must die."  They were all killed in the Second World War.

We finally arrived in the city of Baveno -- in the northwest part of the Italian boat -- and were introduced to the most extravagant and luxurious hotel of the entire tour.  It was called the Grand Hotel Dino and was located on Lago (Lake) Maggiore. 

Our spacious elegant quarters on the second floor overlooked the lovely Lago Maggiore, with the Alps a spectacular backdrop behind the lake.  It was awesome in every way.

Another view from our balcony overlooked the city built into the mountainside.  See my Murano glass?

But we only had two hours to enjoy the vista, alone and with our friends, before catching our ferry to dinner on a nearby island.  If Allan and I come back to Italy, we'd choose this place as our headquarters, and drive ourselves south into parts of Italy heretofore unseen and also north into Switzerland.

In our evening ferry boat excursion to dinner, we continued to be surrounded with the luxury of fun and friendship as well as lake and mountains midst a colorful city.

From a distance, over the bow of our ferry boat, we saw the island where we'd dock and dine.

Dinner was also special in both taste and presentation.  It included , among several other dishes, a slice of thin hot salmon with a warm bernaise sauce drizzled over it.  Mmmm.  Dessert was a slice of spumante -- cool, creamy, colorful.

We were aware this was our last night together , so I snapped a few final photos.  Thank you, John and John Flora, for another wonderful time together.  Thank you, Mhairi, for your guiding hand, your lovely voice, and commanding knowledge of the area.

Thank you, Lloyd and Rosalie Pauly, for your continued friendship.  It's always good to be with you.

Wake-up call the next morning of Thursday, September 14th, was at 5 a.m.  Bags were at the door by 6 a.m.  We left the fancy hotel at 6:30 a.m., having spent less than twelve hours there.  Rain moistened this morning.  Not a single drop had touched our days these past two weeks.  Our touring, walking, boating, shopping, cruising, riding, and dining had all been under the sun.  Mhairi led us in song one final time

Oh, the sun has got his hat on,
Hip, hip, hip, hooray!
The sun has got his hat on
And he's coming out to play.

It was about 30 minutes to the Malpensa Airport in Milano, during which time we ate our bag of breakfast on the bus for the sake of expediency.  People were quiet.  We watched the raindrops form little rivers on the windows.  We were no longer under the Tuscan Sun.  It seemed Italy was crying because we were leaving.

By 9:40 a.m. we were in the air, headed for Amsterdam.  We arrived in Amsterdam at 11:05 a.m. and left there at 1:20 p.m.  We were told the flight to Minneapolis would last 8 hours and 15 minutes.  They were right. 

And now, as everyone knows, things that have a beginning have an ending.

The End

Love, Sue