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Venice on the Map
Venice on the Map
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Around the Lagoon of Venice
Around the Lagoon of Venice
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Venice, of course, is the Italian city with the canals and the gondolas and the distinctive, somewhat Byzantine architecture. The city is technically comprised of many islands scattered across the Lagoon of Venice, as well as a chunk of mainland, where most of the city's 270,000 residents live. But one principal island is the main focus of interest for tourists and historians.
The Main Islands
The Main Islands
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The Island of Venice
The Island of Venice
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The beginnings of Venice are a little hazy, but the city was probably started by Roman citizens seeking refuge from unwelcome visits by Huns and Germanic invaders. Venice became its own city-state in the Middle Ages and eventually became very rich and powerful, thanks to a strong navy and a strategic position which allowed it to control the central Mediterranean Sea. The Venetian sphere of influence was an unavoidable waypoint for Western Europeans travelling to Asia to trade, and much of the wealth resulting from that commerce found its way into the city. Venice also participated in the 4th Crusade and helped itself to a great deal of riches from Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1204. All of this wealth led to the construction of many opulent palazzos and churches on the main island, most of which are still there. These buildings were built on top of many many wooden pilings, largely logged from regions of modern-day Slovenia and Croatia which remain deforested to this day.

Veniceís monopoly on the Asia route was broken, however, when Vasco da Gama of Portugal figured out how to get to Asia by sailing around Africa in the late 15th Century, and the New World discoveries begun by Christopher Columbus further diluted interest in travelling to Asia by way of the Mediterranean. Venice experienced a steady decline in military and economic power beginning around this time, though its influence in culture and the arts continued through the 18th Century. Venice lost its independence in 1797, thanks to Napoleon Bonaparte, who later made it an Austrian possession. The city briefly became independent again around the middle of the 19th Century, but joined the newly-formed Kingdom of Italy in 1866.

We began our approach to Venice from a distance, with a relatively uneventful taxi ride to the Aeroporto Internazionale di Napoli, where we boarded our inexpensive easyJet flight. On taking off, we had a nice view of Vesuvius, marveling at the density of civilization surrounding the killer volcano on all sides. One can only hope that volcano science is sufficiently advanced at the time of the next eruption to give ample warning to the residents, and that the residents at the time are smart enough to pay attention.

Mt. Vesuvius from Naples Airport
Mt. Vesuvius from Naples Airport
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Mt. Vesuvius from the Air
Mt. Vesuvius from the Air
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The flight to Venice was a short one, taking just over an hour. We landed at Marco Polo International Airport, located on the shore of the lagoon.

Venice and Bridge to Mainland

Venice and Bridge to Mainland
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From the airport, one has a choice of a few ways to get to the main island. The island is connected to the mainland by a single bridge which carries both auto and rail traffic. The cheapest way to get to the island is to take a bus across the bridge to a drop-off point near the train station. Unfortunately, beyond the train station, no vehicular traffic is allowed on the island, and itís a long and confusing walk to the main points of interest (including our hotel). But the island is cut roughly in half by the S-shaped Grand Canal, and the islandís ďbus serviceĒ, commuter boats called vaporetti, travel regularly up and down this canal, making many stops along the way. At the opposite extreme price-wise, one has the option of taking a water taxi from the airport directly to a chosen location on the island (as long as itís on the canal). In between, but not too much more expensive than the bus-vaporetto option, is a boat called the Alilaguna, which travels directly from the airport to selected stops around the lagoon. We opted for this choice, as it seemed like it would be less crowded and less of a hassle than taking a bus and transferring ourselves and our luggage to a vaporetto.

It takes a few minutes to walk to the shore from the airport terminal (to the left on exiting the front of the building), and on reaching the water, water taxi signs and the ticket kiosk for the Alilaguna are hard to miss. We bought our tickets and waited about 20 minutes before a boat arrived. We boarded the boat (luggage is left in a large pile in the middle of the boat, near the driver) and found comfortable seating in the enclosed area below. The route was roundabout, with stops at the islands of Murano and Lido before eventual arrival at our destination, the San Marco stop on the main island.


Alilaguna Ticket Booth
Alilaguna Ticket Booth
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Waiting for the Boat
Waiting for the Boat
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Inside the Boat
Inside the Boat
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Pile-O-Luggage
Pile-O-Luggage
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Gas Station, Murano
Gas Station, Murano
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Building, Murano
Building, Murano
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Buildings, Murano
Buildings, Murano
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Votive Church of Santa Maria Elisabetta, Lido
Votive Church of Santa Maria Elisabetta, Lido
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Riding the Alilaguna
Riding the Alilaguna
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San Giorgio Maggiore
San Giorgio Maggiore
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Santa Maria della Salute Church
Santa Maria della Salute Church
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San Marco Area
San Marco Area
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San Marco Area
San Marco Area
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Venice Landmarks
Venice Landmarks
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On our map, the San Marco stop looked very close to our hotel, the Westin Europa & Regina. Unfortunately, a small canal was in the way. One thing a visitor to Venice quickly discovers is that the island is crisscrossed with numerous narrow canals, and that bridges over them are often not located where one would like them to be. When exploring, itís best to have a good map and pay close attention to where the bridges are. We struck northward, away from the Grand Canal, and eventually found a bridge that crossed the small canal between us and the hotel. Unfortunately, there was no longer any sign of the hotel at this point, and no obvious way of getting back to it. We dragged/carried our luggage along a crowded thoroughfare lined with shops, and eventually noticed a small sign with the name of our hotel, pointing into a narrow alley. We followed the alley, which seemed to go nowhere, and after awhile found a perpendicular alley, which also seemed to go nowhere, but which eventually dumped us into a small courtyard with the hotel entrance forming one of its sides.

Now What?
Now What?
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Down Here Maybe?
Down Here Maybe?
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Westin Europa and Regina Hotel

The Elusive Westin Europa and Regina Hotel
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Normally we wouldnít stay at a place like the Westin Europa & Regina, as itís very nice but outside our price range, but we had some credit card points that made it possible for us to stay for a few nights. Or two of us, anyway Ė there werenít any available quad rooms, and they were pretty strict about trying to squeeze extra people into the room. So Philip and Connie got a room of their own, in a different hotel Ė the Starhotel Splendid, located between the Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge (more on these attractions later; for now, it suffices to say the hotel wasnít very close to the Westin). We deposited the Bob and Nella luggage into the Bob and Nella room at the Westin and dragged the rest all the way across the Piazza San Marco and over to the Starhotel Splendid, which was slightly easier to find than the Westin. Philip and Connie got checked into a small room which they thought was wonderful, as it was someplace other than where their parents were staying.

A Gondola
A Gondola
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The Piazza San Marco
The Piazza San Marco
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Crossing the Piazza
Crossing the Piazza
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Bridge and Canal Near Hotel
Bridge and Canal Near Hotel
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The Starhotel Splendid

The Starhotel Splendid
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From the Starhotel Splendid, we continued north in search of food. This led us to the Rialto Bridge, a stone, shop-lined bridge which was completed in 1591, and which crosses the Grand Canal near the geographic center of the island.

The Rialto Bridge
The Rialto Bridge
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Grand Canal (North) from Bridge
Grand Canal (North) from Bridge
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Grand Canal (South) from Bridge
Grand Canal (South) from Bridge
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On the Rialto Bridge
On the Rialto Bridge
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North of the bridge we passed through an outdoor shopping area and eventually found a promising restaurant which turned out to be closed until 7:30. So we continued on until we found a reasonably-priced Chinese restaurant which was open. It was a little weird being served by traditionally-clad Chinese waitresses who were speaking Italian at us, but the food was very good.

Shopping Area
Shopping Area (Ruga degli Orefici)
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Chinese Restaurant
Chinese Restaurant
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Chinese Food
Chinese Food
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More Chinese Food
More Chinese Food
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Venetian Chinese Restaurant

Venetian Chinese Restaurant
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On the way back to the Starhotel Splendid, we stopped for dessert at a gelato stand, and then stopped at a fruit stand to get some drinking water (donít touch the minibars if you value your fiscal solvency) and some healthful snacks.

Gelato
Gelato
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Fruit Stand
Fruit Stand
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We then continued the long walk back to the Westin, dropping Philip and Connie off at their hotel on the way.

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