A Teen in Europe (Part 3): Exotic Venice

It is easy to think of Venice as an otherworldly place. The geography sets it apart, but there is more. On foot, Venice is a maze of walkways. Everyone knows about the water, but Venice also bridges a cultural gap, a legacy of its rich trading past. It was so much more than expected.

Day 3: Innsbruck to Venice

Our hotel room in Innsbruck was sparsely decorated. A lonely print adorned the wall, a triumphal arch located in Orange, France. Weird. Particularly strange because of all the prints that could have hung there–and all the places it could have shown–it was where my sister lived as an exchange student. So, a print of a landmark in France, encountered in an Austrian hotel room, connected me to home. It was grounding moment before stepping into another world.

We drove through the Alps and our guide mentioned Liechtenstein. Looking at a map, we shouldn’t have been any closer to it than when we left Innsbruck. The mountains defied description. My family went on several ski trips, including one in Colorado, but I’d never seen anything like the Alps. They seemed to rise impossibly high on each side of the highway as we headed for Italy.

A Teen in Europe (Part 3) - Chris Oler Author
The Grand Canal and me, but not my jacket.

The memories of our arrival in Venice are a bit hazy. Soon enough, we boarded a large boat to head to a “glass factory.” The route should be lost to time, but I took a series of photos as we cruised toward then past the Piazza San Marco. We swept down the Grand Canal. It was cooler than I expected, almost certainly the wind whipping off the water. Unfortunately, my jacket was on the bus.

A Teen in Europe (Part 3) - Chris Oler Author
A Murano master at work.

This brought us to the Murano Glass Factory. They took us to the workshop first. The gentleman made his work look effortless. It was truly something to behold. Apparently the demonstration is free…then they herd you into the store, which, honestly was almost as impressive as watching the craftsman. The variation in color and design. I thought a whole tea set didn’t stand much chance of survival in my suitcase, so I opted for a small vase, a pale and transparent blue with gold detail. This was the gift selected for my Mom.

Piazza San Marco

We re-boarded the boat and headed for tourist central. The Piazza San Marco is a small-ish, rectangular (well, trapazoidal, really) plaza with the Basilica San Marco at one of the long ends (facing east). Just to the basilica’s left, the area opens to the waterfront. This is the area you enter the square. The Doge’s Palace and bell tower for the basilica, the Campanile, are the dominant features here. You likely know this tower, whether you’ve seen photographs of Venice that include it or visited Disney’s Epcot Center.

A Teen in Europe (Part 3) - Chris Oler Author
Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square): the Clock Tower with the statues and bell at the very top. The arches to the right are part of St. Mark’s Basilica.

Walking into the square, St. Mark’s (the basilica) is on your right and directly in front of you is the Clock Tower. We arrived just as the tower acknowledged the hour. Two bronze statues took turns hitting the bell and, as you can see in the photo (left), many people gathered to watch.

St. Mark’s Basilica was unbelievable. The architecture is Italo-Byzantine and I saw nothing else like it during the trip. Inside, the ceiling is covered with gold mosaic that depicts various Christian themes. What was truly humbling was the altar containing St. Mark’s relics. I’m not Catholic, but I struggled to process this. “Awesome” is an over-used slang word, but that is exactly what St. Mark’s is.

The remainder of our scheduled time was spent touring the Doge’s Palace. I usually have a good sense of direction, but was quickly confounded by the corridors and steps. Perhaps that was the intention of the various Doge, but, more likely, it was the distraction of St. Mark’s.

The Disco

A Teen in Europe (Part 3) - Chris Oler Author
The Bridge of Sighs. This is the photo everyone takes in Venice, they just don’t normally take it off center and a bit crooked. Daring.

We had an hour of free time before heading back to our hotel (on the mainland). The “streets” around the Piazza San Marco were tiny. The one thing I’ll never forget was the seeming proliferation of Benetton stores. There seemed to be one in sight at all times, though maybe we were walking in circles.

In any case, we made it back to dry land. Our guide Giovanna announced our hotel had a “disco.” Now, I studied German throughout high school and knew the word for a nightclub or bar in German was “Disco,” but that was a classroom. It was a little strange, given the bad associations we often had of “disco” in the United States, to hear the word in 1990 Italy. Nevertheless, we gave the disco a go, and a disco it was: all the lights you expect to find at a skating rink, but without the skates. The music was about what you’d expect in a European dance club at the time: a bit ethereal with plenty of bass. I was just happy to catch up with my jacket.

The Presence of History

Salzburg opened my eyes to the beauty of travel. Venice revealed what an incredible learning experience travel often is. A social studies teacher could assign a report on Venice, but looking up facts and photos simply does not make the same impact. The presence of history, as I felt it in St. Mark’s Basilica, was dumbfounding. The feeling is easily recalled. It is, in fact, there when I research our books. When I wrote The Shield of Horatius it was a constant. Ah, Venice!