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Country Roads: Escape to Giudecca
Country Roads:
Escape to Giudecca

Story and photos by Tom Weber

've 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. Bravissimo!

row of gondolas by the Grand Canal, Venice

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.

Venetian art-history expert Anna

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.

old buildings in Venice

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.

gondolas docked beside an arched bridge over a waterway

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 Quartiere Rialto.

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.

boats passing under an arched bridge at one of Venice's 150 canals

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.

the Venetian Lagoon

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.

a gondola from the 1800s on display at the entryway to the Arti Veneziane alla Giudecca (AVG)

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.

artisan glassblower's work: a glass horse and snail

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.

Franco, the head of AVG's public relations department

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?

finished glass items on display at the AVG

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 there?

O…M...G. There's a BULL in the glass shop!

For complete information on Insight Vacations' 12 Italian premium and luxury-escorted itineraries – where you'll be surprised by "signature" moments when you least expect – and over 100 journeys throughout Europe, just click HERE, or call toll free (888) 680-1241, or contact your travel agent.

St. Mark's Square during pala alta or high water

Meet me in St. Mark's Square next and we'll join the masses and go for a walk...ON WATER.

Ciao for now.

Related Articles:
Venice: 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

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Let Tom know what you think about his traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Destination Bosnia: Inside Sarajevo's Tunnel of Hope

Spent time in Sarajevo in the fall of 1973…beer was excellent!

--- David

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Hi Tom,

I must say, you're photographs are always amazing. They are top notch. You bring so much class to Traveling Boy. It's photographs like yours that make me want to go out and do my own traveling. Please don't get tired of sending us your amazing adventures. It's such a delight for the soul.

--- Raoul, Whittier, CA

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Hi Tom:

I'm also an American living in Italy. I've read with interest your blog and articles. I'd like to speak with you regarding residency and citizenship for Americans in Italy as you do seem to have a great deal of knowledge on all of these subjects. Would it be possible to give you a call on the phone? If so, please let me know how to reach you. If not, I can ask my questions via email.

Thank you!

--- David

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Hey Tom – Wow! Love those photos – they are so super that they make me A) Want to start eating NOW. B) Go there myself. C) See all that pristine beauty that looks so restful and peaceful. Great story, superb pix!!! Bravo!!

--- John, Los Angeles, CA

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Feedback for Destination Southwestern France: Saint-Émilion

Good job, Tom, and timely info. St. Émilion is in the list of places Jim Hayes and I will visit in September 2014. If we get the chance, we will exploit your experience to enhance the trip!

--- Bobby Harper, Dameron, MD

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Feedback for Vicenza Walks – Monte Berico

I lived in Vicenza for 4 years in the U.S. ARMY from 1963 to 1967. A wonderful place to explore. Palladio’s works are amazing. Have been back twice since and find new places to visit. My favorite is MONTE BERICO where I have some wonderful photos of my family.

--- Dr. Albert Pizzi, Hanover, MA

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I liked the new TB particularly the Vicenza article that took me back as a youth when we lived in Naples and travelled up there for a baseball tourney (U.S. Military Bases dependent schools played each other.)

Took me back to the plaza.

--- Bill

Feedback for A Canterbury Trail (Sutri)

Very interesting note. I have wedroned which route the early pre-Christian and Christian pilgrims travelled to Rome from England. Is it still possible to travel the Francigena trail?

--- Pawel

You can find out more info on walking tours of Via Francigena at this site: Thanks for stopping by and commenting..


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Good article, enjoyed reading it. Saved your recommended sights for future use.

--- Dardenne Prairie, MO

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You're going to be great at this Tom. Congrats.

--- Donna Vissa -Montreal

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