Escape to Giudecca
Story and photos by Tom Weber
just been punched, a real roundhouse to the old breadbasket, by that
"time flies when you're having so much fun" realization that
your temporary taste of la dolce vita (the sweet life) is about
to come to an end.
You see, today's the final activity day
for our now tightly knit band of merry media 23 travel writers
and photographers along for the ride on Insight Vacations' (Insight)
abbreviated Country Roads of Italy journey through Umbria
and Tuscany, bookended by Rome,
and where we are right now, Venezia (Venice).
All together now. Repeat after me: veh-NET-zee-ah.
It's a jam-packed "signature"
day, too, filled with plenty of "Kodak moments," as we take
to the calle (streets) for an informative, non-touristy look
at Venice, watch an artisan demonstration at a traditional glass-blowing
factory, get serenaded during a gondola ride, and, perhaps, a few other
surprises will be thrown in for good measure, just because Insight can.
Excited about what we'll see, hear, smell
and savor, we're also a bit preoccupied. Sometime late this morning
11:07 to be exact the phenomena known as AQUA ALTA
(high water), which raises its ugly head at this time of the year, will
crest and parts of La Serenissima will be under a lot of saltwater;
so, getting around the Lagoon and staying on schedule will be challenging.
Umbrellas open, we better get moving.
Meet Anna, Insight's resident Venetian
art-history expert. Under an overcast sky and a light drizzle, this
grand lady in a floppy hat leads us through two of the six sestiere
(neighborhoods) that define Venice's Centro Storico (historic
center), San Marco and San Polo, stopping here and there to point out
landmarks, discuss everyday life of the anonymous Venetian, and keep
us out of harm's way as the Adriatic begins to gurgle underfoot. Looks
like we'll be puddle jumping the rest of the way.
Living in Venice, our sweet grandmotherly
guide notes, is a real struggle. Mainlanders have it easy compared
to us. Our buildings are quite old, the majority without elevators,
she says with a sad look. We travel mostly on foot, sometimes
on the ferries, and have to carry everything we purchase back to where
we live then lug it all up many flights of stairs. Anna wraps up
this little nugget of insider info by admitting, We shop often, but
as light as possible.
Despite the daily struggles to keep one's
head above water Venice IS slowly sinking, you know locals
wouldn't have it any other way. We love our city, Anna notes,
It's like no other place in the world. So rich in art, culture and
history. We're quite an innovative people, we Venetians, and take whatever
Mother Nature throws at us with a smile.
From the Teatro La Fenice, where world-class
tenors and mezzo-sopranos perform, to the Ponte Rialto, filled with
fine shops open for business underneath its ornate porticos, we pause
often for cultural and historical footnotes that only "Nonna"
Anna can describe, then quickly move on as she announces softly through
the radio ear buds: Yoo-hoo! We all giggle; she's a hoot.
The walking tour now over, cut short by
the rising aqua alta, we regroup at a watercraft landing in the
Bidding an ARRIVEDERCI! to
"Granny Annie," we hop aboard the fleet of awaiting motoscafi
(water taxis) and immediately shove off and into the traffic along the
Grand Canal, zigzagging towards Giudecca Island and our scheduled visit
to a glass factory.
With 150 canals, Venice, just like cities
on terra firma, has its fair share of traffic, only instead of
cars, trucks, motorcycles and scooters, it's simply boats, LOTS of boats.
Some 30,000 watercraft traverse the Lagoon daily, and of those, between
4,000-5,000 maneuver up and down the Grand Canal.
Our skipper's cruising as fast as legally
permitted 7 kph (4.2 mph) max along Grandlasso
staying close to the rest of the Insight flotilla.
We bob and weave around larger craft, slowing
down as we enter the mouths of the smaller rio and riello
(canals), then almost drop to the floor as we glide under bridges where
clearance continues to get tighter and tighter as the aqua alta
rises and rises. It won't be long before passage will be impossible.
Not to worry, Insight's little armata
(armada) is past the threat and in the clear, and gunning it, at a reduced
speed of 5 kph (3 mph), to Giudecca.
Just south of the center of La Serenissima,
Giudecca is an island in the Venetian Lagoon. It's separated from the
rest of the nearby islands by its namesake canal that eventually merges
with the Grand Canal in the latter's basin. Giudecca was historically
an area of large palaces, but became an industrial base at the beginning
of the last century. Once bustling with shipyards, a gigantic flour
mill and a full-time film studio, Giudecca fell into decline, but is
now getting its second wind and making a comeback.
We're ready for an all-stop as our pilot
throws out a line and the water taxi snuggles up to a small dock that
fronts the Arti
Veneziane alla Giudecca (AVG) Venetian Arts on the
Giudecca a fairly new glassmaking factory. Our band of merry
media disembarks and is immediately greeted by Franco, the head of AVG's
public relations department, and our host for the next hour.
Not simply centered on glass, AVG also
showcases other Venetian artisan traditions: Carnevale masks,
fine lace and pearls, and gondolas. Outside the entryway to AVG sits
one of the sleek, flat-bottom boats from the mid 1800s. According to
Franco, a new, handmade gondola fashioned by expert craftsmen will run
about $45,000 USD.
Inside, we take our seats in a small industrial
theatre where two artisan glass-blowers, fronting a more than 2,000°F
solar-orange furnace, begin a demonstration showing how they skillfully
turn liquid silica into works of art, just like it was done back in
800 A.D. Today's demonstration highlights two pieces of glass: a horse
and a snail. Unlike the slow moving terrestrial pulmonate gastropod
mollusk, this little show clips along at a pretty brisk pace.
Demonstrations are nice, but I'd prefer
to see the big-ticket items coming out of these high-priced, glassmaking
furnaces. Franco obliges, and we head into the showroom.
Once behind the counter, he jumps right
in with a Venetian Glass 101 primer, warning us that there are lots
of imitations out there, but only one original. In the end, it's more
a sales pitch than a class on the basics of the fine art of glassmaking.
But, hey, they have to pay their bills, too, right?
It's nice to browse around and see gorgeous
handmade Venetian glassware up close, but I don't want to go into debt
for the rest of my life. Some of these items on the shelves are leaving
me with sticker shock.
No, I'll just keep my hands glued inside
my pockets and continue window-shopping. Care to join me?
Did we just hear something shatter over
M...G. There's a BULL in
the glass shop!
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Vacations' 12 Italian premium and luxury-escorted itineraries
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Meet me in St. Mark's Square next and we'll
join the masses and go for a walk...ON WATER.
Ciao for now.
La Serenissima; The
Good Humor Man of San Gimignana; Scorgiano:
A Dark and Foodie Night; San
Gimignano: Scraping the Tuscan Sky; Chianti
Pours Forth from Fonterutoli