Saturday, September 19, 2009

Looking through the glass

As we already had our bus tickets, we did not rush to breakfast this morning. The breakfast at Hotal Adria is quite ok with 'fresh' (caterers pack) blood orange juice, good coffees, croissants and rolls with jams and cheese spreads. Once we have kitted up the backpack for the day we set off, just missing the No 7 bus into Venice. Bugger, a 20 minute wait. Oh, hang on, here is another one! The bus is very full and its part way before I can get a seat. The day is bright and very warm, and that bus is getting hotter and hotter. Again, we play dodge the pedestrian, the scooter, the car, other buses and lots of limos as we arrive on the island.

Helen has postcards to post so heads for the post office while we suss out the best way over to Murano. Poor Helen has a long wait in the queue at the post office, moving well down the line before realising that she needs a ticket for service - and then watches while the locals ignore the number system and just push in. To make matters worse the service clerk is not only disinterested, he is quite abrupt and rude.

Finally she is out and we head for the long route ferry to Murano. This takes us around the outside of the island stopping at a number of jetties before heading out across Laguna Morta firstly to the Cimitero Island and then Laguna Veneta to the much smaller island of Murano. As we arrive, we actually see our first example of the plight that faces all of Venice - the tide is high and as the ferry docks, the water is washing well across the pavements - we have to dodge not only the puddles, but the waves of water as they come forward and then ebb, time and time again!

We are hoping to see venetian glass and in particular the Millefiore glass being made. Its not long before our hopes are dashed - while there are plenty of glass shops, the factories closed on the weekends. Bugger bugger bugger. One of the retailers draws comparisons to factories in Australia, to car factories and anything else he can think of - they are all closed on the weekends - and he obviously gets asked the same question plenty of times.

We do the rounds of the shops along the main Rio dei Vetra, the main canal that leads from the ferry pier. There are amazing sights and wondrous things to peruse. We see lots of ornaments and jewellery and chandeliers and vases and more. Much of it is very similar from shop to shop, although each one does seem to have one or two items that are fairly unique. Helen has been looking for presents and texts her sister with a question about whether her mum had a piece of Murano jewellery. Back came the answer, "Save your money, but if you can find a hatpin . . ." Gosh that was not something we had seen to date but at the very next shop we enter we find the perfect gift!

We stop for cold drinks before continuing to graze up the street - yep, I do mean that, we buy little mementos at various shops. My eye is drawn to a shop that sells Venetian Glass miniatures - oh, they are so intricate and beautiful! And oh so expensive! We are working our way to the next islet where the Museo del Vetro (Glass Museum) is housed in the Palazzo da Mula over a footbridge. Ha ha,it is closed - for lunch. Like many other things here in Italy. We want to see more of Venice itself and so decide not to wait the 1½ hours until it re-opens.

One of the collection of photos that I have been gathering during our trip has been that of the windows and window boxes of Europe. And I was not about to miss this one on Murano where the flowers are - GLASS of course! Blown glass, just like the collection I have in the bathroom at home!

On the way back we get the fast ferry which makes two collections on Murano and deposits at the railway station and the main ferry terminal. And of course, as luck would have it, we realise as we go sailing past them that there were indeed a couple of factories open to demonstrate for the tourists. Bugger again. (although they were not the main factories).

Our aim when we return to Venice today is to get the ferry right down to the other end of the Island so we can visit the Piazzetta Di San Marco with the Loggetta, the Clock Tower and St Mark's Basilica and the Doge's Palace. Unfortunately the ferries that ply the Grande Canal stop at least at every other pier, so it is a 20 minute trip. We are amazed at the dexterity of the ferry captains, and the frenetic passage of water craft up the canal. I keep having to remind mself that this is the equivalent of a road network, complete with buses (ferries), trucks (barges) family cars (boats) and those out for a Sunday Drive (the gondolas)!

At last we arrive at the San Marco stop and alight. Across a small bridge and we are on a wide (for Venice) foot avenue where artists have their easels set up and paintings for sale out. These are balanced out with the 'trash and treasure' sellers that seem to be found everywhere today with the same mostly junky items that are mass made. Unfortunately, these are always the more aggressive sellers who turn the tourist off when it comes to buying.

We continue to walk ahead and then all of a sudden, there is the amazing sight of the Piazza San Marco with the Doge Palace, the Basilica Di San Marco with it's Campanile, the standards of the City with the statues of Saint Mark, the patron saint of Venice and the winged lion (Griffin) and the extravagant shopping arcades that surround the square and the restaurants that spill out into this lively place. The Basilica San Marco is an amazing building. It is not really a beautiful building in terms of symmetry and harmony. Quite the opposite in fact. It is a busy, sometimes jarring combination of various styles of building that brings the most major example of Byzantium to Venice and Italy. There are domes above the Greek cross layout and the arches that face the square are filled with amazing mosaics on golden backgrounds.

We sit in the Piazza San Marco in the shade of the colonaded shopping malls at the Caffe Florian contemplating their menu. When finally we attract the attention of our waiter, he tells us there is a €6 music charge per person - hmm, do we have any choice? We are sitting out on the piazza and life doesn't get much better. The menu is not huge, but there is enough to appeal to each of us. Which is good, I guess, because the prices do not really appeal to anyone, but what the heck, we are only in Venice for today and the setting is like a fairytale. So we sit with a coffee and dessert while watching the world go by and just embracing the ambience. However, Michael is unable to contain himself as he dashes off in an attempt to reach the summit of the Campanile. Oh, well, it appears his coffee and dessert will have to wait....

The Campanile di San Marco is the bell tower of St Mark's Basilica in the Piazza San Marco, Venice. It stands 98.6 meters tall and is the centre piece in the piazza opposite the Basilica. Built initially during the 9th century upon Roman foundations, it original use is believed to have been as a watchtower or lighthouse for the port and an observatory. The Campanile has been the inspiration for the design of other towers throughout the world; this includes the Brisbane City Hall, Queensland, Australia. Over the centuries the Campanile has undergone various stages of restoration as it had been subjected to several collapses due to the weakening of its superstructure. Today, however, it stands as the beacon to the port of San Marco.

Visitors to the Campanile can enjoy virtually uninterrupted views of Venice from the belfry. The five bells in the belfry are now silent, although, each had a specific purpose. The largest bell 'Marangona' was rung at the beginning and end of each workday. Of the smaller bells: 'Nona' was rung to signify midday; 'Trottiera' was rung to call Council Members to meetings; 'Mezza Terza' rang to herald the session of the Senate; finally, 'Renghiera' (or the 'Maleficio') was rung to announce executions!

However, my interest in the Campanile lay in the initial telescopic observations made by Galileo Galilei which inspired him to write his brief treatise entitled 'Sidereus Nuncius' ('Starry Messenger'). It is Venice in 1609, where a short and stocky man with red hair, heard of the new Flemish invention - the telescope. The news electrified the fortyfive year old Galileo, inspiring him to construct an example of the 'spyglass'. In one night he stepped up the magnification which rendered the device's amplification equal to the of an opera glass. Racing up to the top of the Campanile to test his telescope, Galileo was not satisfied with its magnification. Making new and larger lenses and increasing the focal length to the tube of his new telescope - he soon discovered the magnification was increased three fold. He now had a real telescope.

Uses for this invention were profound and no less than for military use; which would have been more beneficial to the Brokers of the Rialto. However, Galileo turned his invention towards the heavens and in particular - the moon. Galileo's 'Starry Messenger' and his later volume, 'Dialogo Sopra i due Massimi Sistemi del Mondo' ('Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems
') would bring him into direct conflict with the Catholic Church and the Roman Inquisition. In 1632, Galileo was tried by the Inquisition, found guilty under the suspicion of heresy and forced to recant. He would spend the rest of his life under house arrest. On the day Galileo died, 8th January 1642, Isaac Newton was born.

Michael returns on a high and just beaming after his rendezvous with the bell tower. As he returns to our table, he excitedly blurts that he stood at the very spot where Galileo Galilei tested his telescope. Yes, and Michael has taken a photo of the marble plaque attesting to Galileo's contribution to astronomy - oh, well....

And as we finish up in the Piazza, we take one last stroll past the up-market shops to be found around the square, marvelling at the artistic skill on show in the beautiful glasswork pieces.
Then its back up the Grande Canal to catch our bus back to Mestre. Gosh, there was still so much that we didn't get to see on Venice. You could spend a lifetime here wandering the back lanes and canals, making all sorts of interesting little discoveries along the way. But time is marching and other locations in Italy beckon . . .

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