Italian Folktales ~ Day 13 (July 7, 2011), Venice

Morning broom

We woke to the sound of sweeping, and when we went out, we stepped into a sparkling city of alleyways, piazzas, and canals.

The first thing on our agenda was to grab a quick breakfast (fruit, water, and bread) at the shop around the corner from our hotel, and then proceed to the Palazzo Ducale (the Doge’s Palace), by way of the vaporetto down the Grand Canal.

Piazza San Marco - La Piazzeta and Palazzo Ducale

Palazzo Ducale - Arches

Palazzo Ducale

Palazzo Ducale

Palazzo Ducale

The Palazzo Ducale was the historical residence of the Doge, and the government seat of the Republic until Napoleon took charge of Venice in 1787. Today the Palazzo is a museum and a very popular tourist destination. Our plan was to arrive early, before it opened, to avoid the lines.

Palazzo Ducale - Waiting

Photography isn’t allowed inside the Palazzo, so I only have pictures of the exterior and the courtyard, and while they’re stunning enough, I wish I could show you the treasures inside: the grand staircase, the gilded detailing, the terrazzo floors, the tapestries, the walls and ceilings covered, edge to edge, with paintings and frescos by Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese.

Palazzo Ducale - Inside the courtyard

Palazzo Ducale

Palazzo Ducale

But most of all, I wish I could show you the Sala del Maggior Consiglio (the Hall of the Great Council). This is the room where the council met, in all its numbers, to decide the law of Venice. At the time the hall was built, it was the largest room in Europe (today it’s still among the largest in Western Europe).

Its size and opulence are stunning. Breathtaking. You can get some idea of it yourself by watching this panoramic video. First, let the video tour you 360º around the perimeter of the room, then click the ^ button at the bottom of the video window to tilt the view up to the ceiling.

Every inch is covered by massive, gilt frames, inset with paintings depicting the victories of the Venetian army against those of the mainland. How that heavy ceiling remains aloft, unsupported, is completely mystifying.

In a city of wonders, built on the sea, I suppose defying gravity is just no big deal.

Italian Folktales ~ Day 12 (July 6, 2011), Maniago and Venice

If you want a sharp souvenir from Italy, go to Maniago.

Metalworking has been an important industry in Maniago for much of the town’s history, and the small collection of artisan blacksmiths and knife makers busy at work since the 1400s blossomed into a cooperative of factories in the early 20th century.

Today, Maniago’s main piazza is studded with shops that carry everything from kitchen cutlery to swords. One of the former factory buildings houses the Maniago Knife Museum (Museo dell’Arte Fabbrile e delle Coltellerie).

Maniago Knife Museum

I took that picture of the museum while I sat outside, trying to recover from an unexplained queasy stomach that attacked me that morning. I sat on a bench in the Italian sunshine, while M and H explored the museum. I watched people briskly criss-cross the little square by the museum’s entrance: families with strings of skipping children; women pulling small carts filled with grocery bags; businesswomen clacking on the stones in impossibly high heels. I thought about Jany Kenyon’s poem, The Sick Wife, and I thought about my mother in her last days of illness, watching the world pass by. I began to worry a bit about being sick in a foreign land, but before I could get myself too worked up, my stomach started to quiet. I sat and watched, took a picture, rested my eyes, and slowly began to feel better.

In a little while, M and H came to collect me, and we all went in together to see the knives, the scissors, the axes, the corkscrews.

I got to watch M and H throw sharp things at each other (within the safe confines of a plexiglass box).

Knife fight

And I got to see H get cut in half by a large knife.


And we toured an immensely large exhibit of corkscrews. According to the museum, an astonishing percent of the world’s corkscrews are made today in Maniago. I don’t know if I believe the number we were told (somewhere in the realm of 80%), but I’m still willing to bet that it’s a very large number.

Pig tail

After you’ve seen a pig tail corkscrew, what’s left to do other than get in the car and drive to Venice?

I write, “drive to Venice,” but, as you know, there are no cars in Venice. You drive to the airport, drop the car, and then you take the water bus, Alilaguna, to Venice.


The water road

Approaching Venice

Had I been sick earlier in the day? I could hardly recall. Suddenly we were in Venice, the floating jewel of Italy, leaning against the railing of the Accademia bridge. The sky was blue, the canal rushing with traffic, and everything felt exactly right.

From Ponte Accademia to the southeast

Postcard from Venice

We arrived in Venice yesterday and finally have a semi-reliable Internet connection, so I’m taking the opportunity to upload a few photos. We’ve taken over a thousand (most of them in the mountains), so complete uploading and curating will have to wait until our return.

For now, though, I give you one photo of Venice, taken during a post-dinner stroll, after I had a few glasses of wine at an outdoor cafe. In spite of my unsteady hand, Venice is a beauty.

Wish you were here.