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Island-Hopping in Venice

As your train approaches Venice, it’s surprising to see other islands out the window, some minute and others large enough to contain whole villages. There are reedy marshes in the shallows and areas deep enough to welcome massive cruise ships. It’s a delicate ecosystem that, as you know, has scientists scrambling to prevent its extinction.

Motoring away from Venice on the vaporetto, this extensive lagoon holds evidence that every inch of mushy land was a personal challenge to someone: if you can make it stay upright, you too can have your own private island in paradise. Not sure how it compares to Bora Bora, but obviously things did not always work out:

The lagoon won.

Our first stop was Torcello. This area was the first of the lagoon to be inhabited and contains the requisite basilica and campanile. The ruins can be perused after paying a fee to the guardians there, and are quite interesting. True to our mantra of “climbing all the things”, we ascended the little tower and discovered some curious facts: it was held together with baling wire and duct tape (Was it really safe to climb? Too late), it utilized ramps instead of stairs (nice), and the view is by far the prettiest view from a campanile that we had seen in all of Italy. Have a look:

The walk back.

Torcello had it’s own little canal, a beautiful restaurant and event venue, vineyards and agriculture, all enjoying this peaceful corner of the neighborhood. The brick walkway leading to and from our landing invited a leisurely pace, an opportunity to stop and smell the roses. Which we did. An elderly gentleman stood to one side, playing an opera selection on his accordion. So far as I could tell, it was purely for his own pleasure. I made the decision immediately to live on Torcello if I ever get the chance. It will bring the population up to eleven, I think.

Across the way is Burano, known for lace, brightly colored houses, and a leaning tower that we did not even attempt to approach. The tower reminded us that – oh yeah – we are all perching on stilts over a marsh. After Burano, we realized every tower in Venice was tilted.

The cheerful homes invited us to wander the island, the lace shops let their wares ripple in the sunshine. We ate some overpriced calamari, considering the options. I’m not so very into tapestries and doilies, but stepped into a shop and put some serious thought into a bodice. It was an intricate hand-tatted green glory fit for a princess. It also had a princess price tag: 380E.

I was expecting lace pantaloons.

Our next stop was the larger isle of Murano. Murano is famous for the art of glass-blowing, and you can take tours of the glass factories or even a class there. You can browse drifts of cheap glass souvenirs made in China, or consider high-scale one-of-a-kind glass sculptures made right here on the island. I had already made up my mind, before taking our trip, what I wanted. I could see it in my imagination but none of the shops seemed to be selling it.

All hand crafted Murano glass beads take time to create. The specific ones I sought have layers of colors from smaller millefiori cane beads, which are rolled together into larger beads, then eventually strung together into necklaces. The detail work, the patience under heat and pressure and the creative drive behind these little beads fascinates me. The colors, both bright and deep, swirled around each other, repeatedly fused together with fire, and knotted individually by hand represent a lifetime of marriage to me. This symbology is also used in tapestry; but a necklace can be worn over the heart.

I dragged Hubby over Murano – twice – before we found the exact right one:

The pretty stretch of Lido forms a buffer island, and helps protect the lagoon from the larger Adriatic Sea. It’s also a divider between the swirling Carnival within Venice and the cold industrial business in the grey waters without. Homes here appear to strike a gracious balance between them.

Lido is home to the famous yearly Venice International Film Festival. The mainland and other islands surrounding Venice host the multitude of art, architecture, dance, cinema, music, and theater people who attend. Probably someone stayed in Torcello, but I hear many of the private islands are rented complete by big celebrities. We had just missed the 75th year of the event, four weeks prior.

Lido boasts sandy beaches, both private and public, and we walked across it to put our feet in. Santa Maria Elisabetta dead ends in a “free, self-serve” beach. At one time in history, it must have been a bustling area with shops, a fancy restaurant and a bar. Only one out of three was operating, and I was thankful because a restroom was high on my list of priorities. Following the arrows on the floor through an abandoned cafeteria, past a broken euro turnstile, I entered a bathroom that made a gas station in Yuma look pristine. Doors were off hinges, empty dispensers hung from the wall, rubbish littered the floor. It was a perfect spot to get mugged…only the people I saw loitering in the area looked so apathetic that I felt sorry for them. I wanted to add a tag on the wall, “This too shall pass”.

Reappearing on the dark sand, I took Hubby’s arm saying, “You don’t want to order a drink here. Let’s go.” He nodded. The party hangover was pervasive.

The slate-colored Adriatic Sea licked at our ankles as we watched cargo ships in the distance. Where were they from? Where were they going? It felt piratey. Impersonal. Harsh even. But perhaps their pilots had other stories to tell.

I sighed a little.

Our love affair with Italy would end tomorrow. Like Lido, we had protected our bright anniversary bubble from the matte roughness of the daily business back home.

But like Murano, we have more beads to make.

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