Since we only had one day in Venice, it was really hard to decide what to see and do. Sadly, much our time on the trip as a whole has been spent discussing, deciding on and getting to our destinations. We thought we definitely wanted to ride in a gondola and tour St. Marc’s Basilica, but when we learned the price of a gondola ride and saw the line at St. Marc’s, we reconsidered all of our plans.
In the end, we had breakfast at the hotel (dry croissants and a cold cup of coffee) and hopped on a “vaporetto” (water bus.) We stopped at every stop to let locals on and off, and finally got off at Saint Marc’s. Of course, when walking around St. Marc’s square, surrounded by thousands of tourists from all over the world, we ran into none other than Veriato! He was with some friends, hitting the hot spots. Veriato became our very own Where’s Waldo?
We didn’t end up touring the Basilica, though I’d really like to do that some day. It is supposed to be incredible inside, but it would’ve taken most of our day and the girls’ were a bit exhausted of fancy old buildings by this point. The outside of the Basilica was memorably in-and-of-itself. I’ve never seen mosaics like we saw in Venice.
We did, however, end up jumping a gondola—and I’m SO glad. The rides are very pricey, but our gondolier had dropped his prices throughout the day. Each gondolier pretty much has one “stop” where they take on new passengers, and if your stop hasn’t been popular that day, you may need to offer a discount. The gondola ride was super fun. It did not disappoint and the time passed too quickly.
Our gondolier is named Alarico and he is a third generation gondolier. He is part of the biggest family of gondoliers in Venice. All of his brothers, his father and grandfather are or were gondoliers. Gondoliers retire at sixty-five, they each own, decorate and maintain their own gondolas and take great pride in their work. Alarico was obviously very proud of his family’s legacy and told us the names of everyone in his family, including his sisters. He hopes to marry and have sons one day, to pass the trade to (though there is ONE female gondolier in Venice, whose name is Georgia!)
He told us the exact number of official gondoliers in Venice (four hundred and something) and where each of his brothers work around the city. Alarico was very friendly. Unlike the other places we had visited thus far, most of the people we encountered in Venice speak minimal English and with a heavy accent. The ride was forty minutes long, and Alarico explained what we were passing along the way. My favorite part was riding past the music academy where we could hear beautiful music ringing out of the upper windows. We also had a little traffic jam with some of the gondolas, one of which had an accordion player on it! That was a highlight, for sure.
All of the gondoliers know each other and yell to each other in a friendly way as they pass. They use their one oar to scoot off of buildings and other boats as they go through narrow canals. They really do wear stripes and, when in the sun, straw hats.
I bought a purple necklace at one of the many shops, made of Venician glass. I sat in the square near the funny statue of a man conquering a crocodile, and drank a cafe latte. Lattes are called something different in every country, and Mommy’s order of coffee with cream was always confusing!
We kept some old bread in our pockets for feeding pigeons (one of my favorite things about everywhere we went!) and ended up having a blast near the end of our day in Venice, feeding the pigeons of St. Marc’s Square. Pigeons were landing on our arms and heads and shoulders and eating out of our hands. It was really fun.
There was one woman in the middle of the square who had lots of soft bread crumbs and the birds positively flocked to her. They even started attacking her boyfriend’s backpack where the bread was being kept! After a while, we ran out of bread and they let us use some of theirs.
The next morning, the coffee was still hot when we got up. Daddy slipped out around dawn to photograph the canal. He said the boats were just unloading at the markets, the gondolas were being prepared for the day and he only saw a total of ten or fifteen people the whole time he was out. But, in a narrow alley, when he came upon one, solitary person, who was it? You get one guess.
At this point, he and Veriato finally exchanged contact information. He was flying out that day as well, but we were heading to Moscow and he was going to Madrid. Sadly, this did turn out to be our final encounter with the Waldo. For now!
We had to take the vaporetto straight to the bus station and the bus straight tot the Marco Polo Airport. Lots of “Marco?” “Polo!” jokes ensued en route.
We flew from Venice to Moscow and spent our entire time in Moscow “power walking” through the enormous airport to our gate. When we got to the gate, they were already boarding, so we hopped on our flight to Riga. The airport in Moscow had English announcements on intercom, non-stop, so you felt a bit like you were in a Dharma training center. The flight boarded about twenty-minutes early, so we didn’t have time to even stop and breathe. When we got on our plane, I was famished. They tossed us boxed sandwiches (three slices of bread, one thin slice of chicken, cheese and pickles) and I devoured it with a cup of coffee. I don’t even like cheese!
We have now been in Riga for two days and I love it here. Thankfully, our time in Latvia is going at a slower pace than the firs part of our journey. We went to Turaida Castle in Sigulda today. It is around 1,000 years old still stands, strong and authentic. We climbed to the top of the tower and, though it was VERY cold and windy up there, the view was worth the climb. I had never been to a real castle before, so that was another “first” for me!
Got to go to bed now. Pancakes and visa appointments in the morning…