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Posts tagged ‘Venice’

La Serenissima

As reluctant as I am to use the adjective crazy, it is the one that immediately comes to mind when I think of our arrival in Venice.  The crazy boat traffic in the Grand Canal –  the gondolas, the motoscafi, the vaporetti and traghetti.   The crush of crazy tourists in the Sestiere di San Marco and lining the Ponte di Rialto.  The completely crazy notion of building an entire city upon soft, marshy islands in the first place – its foundation consisting of tens of thousands of long wooden poles driven deep into the mud, topped with slabs of water-impervious marble … materials that had to be hauled in from crazy distances, far, far away, centuries ago.  The crazy labyrinth of canals and calli, the countless bridges, the water entrances into nearly every building…

And the crazy, crazy, exquisite beauty of it all.

When we first arrived and stepped out of our motoscafi onto the damp stairs of the water entrance into our hotel, I wasn’t really sure if I could love La Serenessima … a name she was given long ago, the Most Serene Republic of Venice.  Upon introduction, she seemed anything but serene.  Far too many tourists, too many pushcarts of made-in-China Venetian masks, glass trinkets, tee shirts and souvenirs.  The obscenely over-priced designer district – a parade of Versace to Valentino.  And even the excess of clichés everywhere I turned – from the singing gondolieri, to the striped mooring posts along every canal, to the crumbling decay of layers of plaster upon brick.

I own a book with some of Canaletto’s magnificent works, and this just looked too much like I had stepped into one of his paintings – and (except for the tourist trappings) so largely unchanged from what he captured in the 1700’s to be believable.  It felt more like an artfully crafted movie set than reality.

But then you wander out, away – well away from the crowds and noise and gondolieri.  You discover that maps are useless in this place.  You find yourself in an empty calle, light filtering down against honey-colored walls.  You hear what sounds like an opera singer in the midst of a lesson – a soprano’s scales – from a shuttered window just overhead.

You are finally alone.  Away from the tourists, you can breath again – and you begin to see and hear her.

A couple passes by in quiet conversation.  Children with books walk home from school.  The inflection in their voices, their words, are their own form of music.  The most beautiful language… la bella lingua.  It truly is.

You get lost crossing small bridges, tiny canals, and puzzle through small crooked calli – some of these small corridors are barely a shoulder’s-width across.  Pieces of laundry hang to dry,  like a dare,  above the green water of a narrow canal.

You stop in the small empty shop of a book binder, eyes drawn to the exquisite hand-bound leather books and journals that line the wooden shelves.  And you enjoy an unexpected and smiling conversation with the proprietor – part English, part Italian, heavy with gesture – about books, dip pens and fine Fabriano paper.  And also about Elvis… when he learns you are from Tennessee.

As the sun gently comes to rest against the horizon and the tourists of the day make their exit, you feel the serene more than the crazy.  You stop at a sidewalk cafe for a glass of wine and listen to the music of a string quartet playing off to the side.  You understand Vivaldi’s muse, and imagine his genius being brought to life by the young girls of the Ospedale della Pietà.

Goden-pink light fills the water-edge of the sky and illuminates the domes of distant cathedrals and their halos of clouds.  Slender, violet-black crescents – the silhouettes of gondolas now empty of passengers – gently rock against their moorings.  It is Monet’s Venise, le Grand Canal before your eyes.

The moon rises and the trattorias glow with candles, wine bottles, and the fragrance of delicious food.  Someone laughs and lifts a golden Colombina mask to their eyes.  And in this strange, beautiful city, within in the maze of canals and calli, you instantly imagine all of the old stories of intrigues and assignations, of lovers and disguises.  La Maschera.  It is romantic beyond measure.

Like so many before you, and countless numbers yet to come, you have been seduced by La Serenissima.  She has cast her spell – and you know you will never, ever, forget her.

of music, mountains, and folktales…

I am not an exceptional cyclist.  Yet somehow, I have managed to have extraordinary and exceptional journeys.  Slowly.  Purposefully.  Sometimes accidentally.  On two wheels.

For me it is the love of slow travel.  It is not about pushing through to a destination, or about arriving. Rather, it is a conscious savoring of each meter, each mile along the way – under my own power, and to the beat of my own heart.  It is about letting the day unwind before me as it will.   It is about the diversions and accidental discoveries.  It is about seeing the beauty through all of the senses – through touch, sight, sound, smell and taste.

We – my beloved and I – spent mid- through late September traveling and cycling through three magnificent countries – Austria, Slovenia and Italy.  We began in Salzburg and finished in Venice.  And in between, we fell in love with the mountains, the people,  and the villages of Slovenia.  We were in the land of the Julian Alps, a region whose heritage is rich in music, folklore, and mountaineering.  It often looked and felt like something taken out of a fairy tale … and in a way, I suppose it was.

It is difficult for me to write, at least publicly and impartially, about this adventure.  There is so much that goes beyond even the best words and photos.  But for the benefit of our boys (who are spread far and wide right now), our families, a few close friends – and anyone else who may be interested in a glimpse of this region as seen from the saddle of a bicycle – I will share briefly and as well as a I can.  I will spare you all a day-by-day, blow-by-blow account, and instead provide a few posts and a few photo galleries about each of the regions.  Just to give you a taste.  Just to (hopefully) inspire you to visit this region a create your own journey…

We arrived in Salzburg several days before we were to begin cycling.  Salzburg is a picturesque city, surrounded my mountains and watched over by the old fortress – the Festung Hohensalzburg, or the “High Salzburg Fortress”.

At the heart of Old Salzburg are magnificent baroque churches and architecture, the meticulously manicured Mirabell Gardens, and the gentle blue-green ribbon of the Salzach River.

The city is rich in its musical heritage, with Mozart being the biggest draw for me.  It is the birthplace and childhood home of Mozart – and the resting place for his wife and father.   It is home to the renown Salzburg music festival and the Mozarteum University.  And more recently, it was the home of conductor Herbert von Karajan – as well as being the setting (and home of Maria von Trapp ) from The Sound of Music, which was filmed in and around the city and continues to be a major tourist draw.

Like many other old European cities, Salzburg is wonderfully bicycle-centric.  In the heart of the city, bicycles are the rule, rather than the exception.  The streets are mostly void of vehicular traffic, with the exception of a few delivery trucks and a network of electric buses.  People walk or bike, or use some combination of the two – coupled with public transportation when needed.  It is a beautiful thing to see.

After three days of walking and seeing Salzburg on foot, we were ready to get on our bicycles … but that will have to wait for another day, another post.

To be continued …