Friday, February 23, 2007

Venice and Peter Ilyich's Suite

If you've ever dreamed of vacationing in Venice, now would be the time. Don't hesitate, as Europe's most famous waterfront antiquity is about to change forever. Already battling back the Mediterranean, Venice's many canal-front villas are soon going to be dealing with the rising tides of global warming. And when you're already situated at sea level, that can be a problem. Especially if your city is already sinking. Built on thousands of now petrified wooden pillars, Venice is, in fact, sinking. The Italian government has an ambitious plan to "raise" the entire city, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

The city is also slowly morphing from a real, working metropolis to a tourist- and student-driven destination that has been losing population for a couple of decades. Add to that the humongous cruise ships that regularly ply the entrance to the Grand Canal, releasing waves of tourists every hour or so, and you've got Disneyland in the making. So go now. Venice is still grand.

A cruise along the canals reveals an architectural diversity that is stunning and instructive. Gothic palaces next to Baroque. Villas with one floor evidencing medieval construction, and upper floors appearing distinctly Renaissance. Then there's the bridges. The Rialto, Venice's largest bridge, is one of the most photographed locations on the planet. Go and you'll see why.
Home to Antonio Vivaldi, Venice was popular with composers. If you go, consider staying in the very room where Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovski penned his Fifth Symphony while on extended holiday. The room, appointed in antiques and red velvet, is at the Londra Palace overlooking the Grand Canal. On the second floor, the suite has shuttered windows that look over the activity below and the canal a few steps away. The Londra Palace is located just around the corner and a few steps down from St. Mark's Square, the center of Venetian life. Visit the cathedral as well as the Basilica across the canal.

If you want to take home a piece of Venetian history, consider a work of glass. Murano glass is famous, but quite ornate. And you should be aware that trips to the glassworks on the Isle of Murano are always accompanied by the best hard sell you've ever experienced. And why not? The vendors there have been at it a while. For that reason, many guides recommend making your glass purchase in Venice proper. We found a wine-red glass plate that now graces our mantle. If you like lace, Venice is also famous for its own handmade styles. Personally, I'm partial to the milifiore glass beads that Venetian traders took to Africa hundreds of years ago. The African recipients of these beads thought so highly of them that they were frequently used as currency for trade. For that reason, Venetian beads became known as African Trader Beads.

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