MSS 01 - 21 - 2010

Venice was outstanding. It was very surreal to finally see, feel, and hear the host city of dozens of movies, pictures, and paintings that have been subconsciously engrained in my memory. I feel that people have an obsession with this city, a curiosity and wonder that makes them long to see it. In every preceding city on our tour through Spain and France, it was easy to see a significant American influence through automobiles and buses, large roads and nearby highways, and bicycles. None of that existed in Venice. I had to stop and wonder, watching the boats go by. Everyone is familiar with the average Venetian "street". A calm, narrow canal winds between aging three or four story buildings on either side. People cross the waterway over an arching bridge of brick and stone, while a gondola passes underneath. This scene is truly common across Venice, but many people would be surprised to see absolutely no cars, buses, bikes, or horses within the city proper. The roads are not made for any vehicle with wheels, and horses were long ago removed from the main island for sanitary purposes. For this reason, Venetians travel primarily by boat. To travel far from the city, they can walk or ride the public bus - by water - to the train station. Beyond the train station, there are roads for buses, cars, and mopeds. Within the central area of the city, however, pedestrians own the pavement. In place of highways, Venice uses its widest canals as modes of heavy transportation, including imports and exports. It was fascinating to watch giant ferries from Greece pull into the city, carrying the equivalent of hundreds of semi trailers. They were almost silent. Beside them, taxis, buses, and private boats sailed by, occasionally pulling off into a side canal to reach their destination. We got a laugh out of all the different boats we saw, especially the construction vehicles. We watched workers shovel dirt and crushed stone into the "dirt boat", and palettes and torn out building interiors were casually tossed into the "wood boat". We even saw a backhoe boat. These vehicles were designed to do work in a much more specialized way than the work vehicles we know and take for granted. Because heavy transportation is so separate from pedestrian pathways, it is incredibly comfortable to walk anywhere in the central city. There is nothing to worry about except crowds. No traffic signals, no emergency vehicles, no bikes. Nothing but people walking. Small shops and restaurants line the streets that guide people from small open spaces to large plazas. Even on a frigid, cloudy day that sent many of us back to the hotel to find warmer clothes, the city was bustling with people. Venice is truly a people's city, and truly a place to visit again. Top right: The train station, in the distance to the left, opens to a riverfront courtyard, where people can board the public bus and set sail to other stops around Venice. Bottom right: Pedestrians enjoy streets that surround and cross over waterways.

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