Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea (part 4)

Lest you be concerned: having returned to Ma’ale Adumim on Dec. 12 from our Study Trip, my venturous wife and I had just enough time to get back on board the virtual helicopter. It took off from the parking lot next to our building and landed on the Golden Iris’s heliport, bringing us back in time to Oct. 28, enabling us to join our ship mates the afternoon before we reached Venice. I should have had time to get in a nap before we left the ship in the late afternoon, but I’ll get to that shortly.

Venice has always been high on Barbara’s “while and before” list of places to visit, the “while,” in general, being while she is still physically able to handle the journey. In this case, the “before” meant before the city sinks into the sea. (No joke.) My wife had broached the possibility of going on a trip there in the summer of 2018, but I had strongly objected to that idea. You do not want to go there during peak tourist season. (Between twenty and thirty million visitors come every year, and it becomes standing room only in the center of town.) There’ll be another cruise next year, I said, and maybe it won’t be at peak season.Of course there was, and Venice would be, as always, the highlight of the trip. I know this statement to be a fact because a few hours before we landed, the loudspeaker in our room suddenly came alive – in Hebrew and Russian – with announcements every ten minutes or so about what we would be seeing once we arrived. The rest of the journey we could hear the announcements elsewhere on the ship (the day’s activities, when the safety drill would be held, stuff like that), but I could repair to the quiet of our cabin if I so chose and ignore what they were saying.

All I wanted to do was to get a bit of a rest before the ship actually docked, but it was not to be. What I should have done was join the rest of the passengers who were lining the decks to get a preview of this magical city. It’s always exciting, after a day or more of watching the waves at sea, to espy a port of call, even if it seems like an industrial dump. But when it’s one of the world’s most enchanting places……

Before I get into why our day and a half in Venice maybe wasn’t the best planned part of our trip, I need to explain or remind you about the geography of this city. It’s not just an island or a series of islands, it’s really islands within islands – if that makes any sense. The only way to get around is either by boat or by foot. There are several different kinds of boats – not just the gondolas – that ply the waters of the canals. As for getting around on your own, you can change your shoes, but it’s still your own two feet. As I have more than hinted before, some of our fellow travelers……. Let’s just say that their two feet have seen better days.

When we left the ship for our evening out, we should have taken one of the floating buses, but as there was none around, we set off on foot, taking probably half an hour to get to the main part of town. Once we arrived, we did get on a boat, one that gives tourists a grand tour of the Grand Canal. From there, we hiked to where the gondolas were stationed.

Let me make an emphatic statement. If someone you know is going on a ‘first date’ and wants to make it the most romantic evening ever, suggest a gondola ride through the canals of Venice. Mark my words, the couple will be engaged within a month. Just don’t ask them later what they saw on that moonlit evening. I can tell you that they saw nothing, and not just because they were too absorbed to notice. It’s too dark in the back alleys where the gondoliers row their vessels to see much of anything. It would make more sense to go during the daylight hours, but that was not an option for us. We had a full schedule the next day – maybe too full for some of us.

You might assume –and you would be correct – that if the cruise was stopping in Venice, the AACI contingent would head off lickety-split to what remains of the Jewish Ghetto. If you were going on your own, you might look at a map, realize how far away it was, and at least inquire if some water taxi could drop you off as close to the ghetto as possible. But you would miss seeing the unique charm of the city, which you can only see if you can stop and look.

On the other hand, if you chose the most efficacious way of getting to the ghetto, you might arrive there on time if you have an appointment. We did, a guided tour of the museum and several of the synagogues. Guess what? With all the feet that have seen better days, we were woefully late, and the museum staff had no choice but to let another group take our time slot. When we did show up in the ghetto, we were told we had to wait another forty-five minutes before they could take us. Some of our group simply stood around or wandered about the not-so-large area. Barbara and I decided to take matters into our own hands. We needed a place to sit down, have a cup of coffee, check our e-mail on some establishment’s wi-fi, and most especially, use the facilities. We headed out of the ghetto and around the corner where a friendly coffee bar beckoned to us. (Except that the coffee there was awful, something unheard of in Italy, where coffee is a way of life. Old-time readers may remember a picture I posted several years ago of a coffee machine on the bus that took us to Rome.)

Our group was not going to have time for the complete tour as scheduled. The guide took us around to the two synagogues that are still in use, although not at the same time. The ‘Spanish’ synagogue is used in the summer, and the ‘Levantine’ synagogue, which is heated, is used in the winter. However, we had to leave before we could get more than a glimpse at the well-regarded museum.  We were off to the island of Murano, one of the 118 that make up Venice. What’s there, you ask? That’s where they make Venetian glass, ‘they’ being the several such establishments on the island.

You get to the island by boat (no surprise!), but first you have to walk a long way to get to the appropriate vessel. This part of the tour I could have skipped. I’ve seen glassblowing before, and I know the drill. You’ll get a little show, and then you’ll be ushered into their showroom where it’s assumed that some of the group will start buying stuff. Somewhere along the line, somebody will get a piece of the action for steering the group there. My ‘piece of the action’ was to wait outside and admire the view. No charge for that.

Finally, everyone was finished, and we could board another boat and head back to the main part of town to visit the Doge’s Palace. I think it’s safe to say that this building would be on any ‘top 10’ or ‘top 5’ highlights (or even ‘top one or two’) of Venice. You can spend a lot of time there looking at the architecture and the artwork: Titian, Tintoretto, etc. We got the standard tour: a reasonable historical account of the building and its place in Venetian history, but we were pretty much on our own to admire the artwork – which would have been the subject of a different tour altogether. What was the real problem? We were all dog-tired from the day’s walking, even those of us who are reasonable fit. I could use another visit to Venice and spend most of a day wandering through the palace and checking out the many other sites we did not see. (Don’t anybody tell Barbara I said this; she’ll have me on the next plane heading in that direction.)

I watched as my fellow AACI-ers headed back to the boat that would take us back to the ship, some of them using the last bit of energy they had, knowing that, if they dropped along the way, there was no one there to pick them up. Not the best planned part of our trip by any stretch of the imagination. I forgot to mention one thing of interest: all the guides in Venice spoke English like Chico Marx.

To give you a sense of how special Venice is, here are some of the photographs I took along the way. Sometimes words aren’t enough.

Nighttime on the canals
The Grand Canal
Store window in the ghetto
Yours truly in a coffee shop
Synagogue interior
Outdoor café by a canal
A shop window
The Murano glass work factory
Late afternoon crowd

One thought on “Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea (part 4)

  1. Been there with the family, during a Chol Hamoed Pessach. Magical place indeed! If/when you go next: they do have a kosher bakery in the Ghetto, so you could get a decent coffee & pastries … (it was closed for Pessach, darn it). Definitely worth a repeat visit (next time without the kids, promise)


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