Although Chantil and I prefer the isolation of riding our motorcycles on a twisty coastal road or a desert dirt path, we both agree that there are some cities that are definitely worth visiting. Iconic cities like New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Dubai, Hong Kong, Sydney, Tokyo, and of course Venice, Italy.

We arrived to the city via an early morning bus ride that dropped us off at the station just after sunrise. The city was in it’s “just getting out of bed” phase. The shops were all closed and most of the narrow streets were empty except for locals walking their dogs, and the occasional street sweeper.

Early mornings are a wonderful way to watch a big city come alive. In a few hours, the city will be energized with thousands of tourists visiting the sites and landmarks of this iconic tourist destination. In 2019, it is estimated that 60,000 tourists would visit here in a single summer day!

During our visit, there was substantially less tourism due to the impact on cruise ships and international travel from the COVID pandemic. However, there were still plenty of pigeons!

The city of Venice is a group of 118 small islands that are connected via canals and 400 bridges. Bring a map or have a smart phone because it’s easy to get lost in the rat-maze of narrow streets, canals, and bridges.

This city gets its name from the Veneti people who first settled here in the 10th century BC. In the late 7th century it became the capital of the Republic of Venice and continues to be a major center for finances and commerce.

We continued to walk around and explore the various alleyways until the museums opened at 10 AM.

The combination of the early morning and lack of tourism from the COVID pandemic provided a unique opportunity to capture Piazza San Marco and the walkway at Doge’s Palace with hardly any travelers.

Gondolas – A Symbol of Venice
A gondolier apprentice prepares the gondola for the day.

A long standing tradition of being a gondolier has existed since the Republic of Venice and was strictly controlled by the “guild of boatmen” where gondolier licenses were issued and often handed down from father to son over many generations. Today a school teaches prospective gondoliers where they study foreign languages, history of Venice, and Venetian art. After their studies and exams they start a 6-12 month apprenticeship program. They must then pass a practical exam in the presence of five gondolier judges before they are issued their license.

The Venice gondolas are steeped in tradition and designs that represent the history of Venice. The ferro di prua (or “dolfin”) protects the bow from collisions and balances the weight of the gondolier. They can be quite heavy (>10 kg) depending on the metal used. The S-shape and comb of six teeth represent the six districts of Venice. The tooth that extends towards the back represents Giudecca Island. The three leaves between the teeth represent the other three most important islands of the Venetian lagoon.

You may be wondering if we rode a gondola? After all we were in Venice! Unfortunately, we didn’t. The cost of 80 euros ($90.50 USD) for a 30 minutes ride seemed to be a bit too high for us. We decided to skip the gondola ride and enjoy a museum instead.

Doge’s Palace

While in Venice we toured the palace where the Doge of Venice, the supreme authority of the former Republic, lived.

Doge’s Palace was built in 1340, extended, and modified in the following centuries. As of 1923 the Gothic styled palace is a museum where visitors can enjoy the extensive collection of paintings, sculptures, architecture, tapestries, and armory.

Bright beautiful frescos decorate the administration chambers.

This palace was the heart of the Venetian Republic and included housing, offices, courtrooms, and institutional chambers of government.

The political and judicial administration chambers were impressive with ornate carvings and statues, imported fabrics, and detailed frescos.

The Doge’s Palace is considered to be a masterpiece of Gothic architecture.

The palace also featured a collection of weapons and armor used by the Palace Guards in the 15th and 16th century.

In the second half of the 16th century, a prison was added and was connected via the Bridge of Sighs. This prison was intended to improve the conditions for prisoners with larger and more light-filled cells.

After visiting the Doge’s Palace we decided to continue exploring the narrow streets looking for street art – one of our favorite things to do in a large city.

Street Art of Venice

We found that the street art in Venice is much more subtle than in other European cities. During our walk, we didn’t find any large murals, just some small pieces that still managed to convey a message, a smile, or a bit of humor.

Venice has many small art galleries and shops selling unique versions of famous Venetian landmarks.

Blub is a mysterious artist from Florence, Italy. His artwork started in 2013 in Catalonia Spain and can now be found in many European cities.

His project L’arte sa nuotare – or ‘Art Can Swim’ is inspired by famous paintings but with his own unique style. He says his artwork is a metaphor to the challenges of human life and illustrates the fact that the art survives and swims on regardless of whatever happens.

Blub doesn’t spray-paint his artwork on walls. He creates posters on thin paper that is pasted on gas box access covers.

We also noticed a handful of these small pieces depicting everything from love, to praising the ‘all mighty euro’.

This beautifully crafted tile mosaic Catholic shrine seemed to fit perfectly within the old streets of this historic city.

More Exploring

Our tour of Venice mainly consisted of just getting purposely lost in the extensive network of narrow streets, canals, and bridges. We didn’t really have any agenda other than being surprised by what was around the next corner and trying to get a feeling of what life was like for the typical Venetian citizen.

The Monument to Victor Emmanuel II – Most pictures of this imposing monument focus on the large equestrian statue of the first king of Italy. I was more interested in the contrast between the metal sculpture expertly crafted over the stone steps.

My camera’s eye was drawn to everyday things like potted plants that decorate windows and walls which are centuries old and this pigeon that was quickly pecking at a cantaloupe before the store owner shooed it away.

There are also many cats that would lounge about on windowsills enjoying the afternoon sun that casts unique shadows on the stone stairways.

The cruise ship industry hasn’t been operating since 2020 and many Venetians are quite happy about this. The large ships are a major pollutant and bring overcrowding to the small walkways of Venice. On the other hand, the cruise ships bring tourists and tourist bring money. Many shops, restaurants, and hotel workers rely on this income to support themselves and their families.

After eight hours of walking around the colorful streets, visiting the Doge’s Palace, eating some Italian ice cream (Gelato), and enjoying some wonderfully tasty pizza, we felt like we had covered a good portion of Venice. It was time to return to the bus station and catch a ride back to our Airbnb where we would be reunited with our motorcycles. More adventure awaits…

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Join us as we share a day of ups and downs. The ups of the giddy excitement of entering a new country! The downs of having a minor problem with our motorcycles that needed to get fixed in a major way…

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27 Aug 2020

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