|A beautiful spring day welcomed us to London.|
|Stonehenge - in 1974 you could actually walk in amongst the stones.|
|Changing of the guard outside Buckingham Palace.|
We were ushered onto a plane - this time Alitalia - and we settled in to comfortable seats as, much to our amazement, the stewardesses offered us wine! The adults supervising us quickly put a stop to this, much to the amusement of the flight crew. This was the first crack in the doorway that would soon swing open and lead us to the magic that we discovered in Italy.
A short two hours later we were landing in Venice's Marco Polo Airport. It was a short bus ride to Venice itself and onto a boat to take us along the Grand Canal to the Piazza di San Marco.
|Venice, out into open water.|
|A corner of the Rialto Bridge.|
Eventually we pulled out of the Grand Canal and into open water. The taxi docked shortly and we found ourselves disembarking in front of stunning hotels - I felt sure that if I looked hard enough I would see Roger Moore dressed as James Bond come walking through the ornate doors. Beautiful Italian women dressed in clothes I had only seen in magazines walked on the arms of handsome Italian men - dark haired and romantic, towards the Piazza di San Marco where they, like so many Italians do all over the country, would walk about to see and be seen. We all stood, mouths open, awed by the splendour of medieval meeting modern. We followed the pedestrian flow into the piazza. Almost immediately we were surrounded by pigeons, hoping for a scattering of crumbs from the new tourists entering the square. Once more, we were awed by the size and grandeur of the piazza. At one end was the duomo, the cathedral, towering above the square, quietly but inexorably dominating the participants in the life of the piazza. On the other sides, the piazza was surrounded by tables with umbrellas hiding lovers whispering nothings, shading giggling school girls, and protecting the pale skinned tourists from the sun as they drank their espresso or ate their gelato. As with the rest Venice, this place was bewitching. People swirled around us, dance-like, to enter the Basilica in order to admire the art or to pray to Saint Mark. They search for an empty table at a cafe, or they left the piazza to enter the dark, mysterious alleys that took them into the heart of Venice.
|An entrance into Saint Mark's Basilica.|
In small groups we wandered off into the narrow alleys, wanting to explore this city, so foreign to anything we had yet experienced. Shop windows displaying long-nosed, colourful masks and beautiful glasswork were everywhere we looked. The smell of freshly baked pizza wafted into the streets, covering the unpleasant odours from the canals. We wandered, crossing bridges, turning down narrower and narrower alleys. Finally, we realized we were lost and it was nearly the time we were to meet back in the piazza. Giggling, we approached a group of darkly handsome young men - Italian gods to this little group of teenage Canadian girls. Clutching each other, we prodded one another forward until one of our group stepped out and boldly said "Piazza di San Marco?" The men, together, gave us directions in fast and, to us, unintelligible Italian. Realizing that their directions were useless to us, they laughed and gestured for us to follow them and they led us back to the piazza, filled with Italian life.
|The dome on Saint Mark's Basilica.|
Sadly, that was the end of my first visit to Venice. Once we arrived back in the piazza, we were put back in the water taxi and taken out to a magnificent white cruise ship - the SS Nevasa - that would be our home for the next 2 1/2 weeks.
A cultural aside: Italy is filled with piazzas, from tiny open spaces ringed with tall stone houses in Sicilian mountain towns to wide, impressive public squares surrounded by cafes and bars where Italians and tourists sit doing nothing but watching people and discussing the state of the world. Since this first Italian exploration, I have visited many piazze and have come to realize how vitally important they are to the life of the Italian people. It is here that they make daily connections with their neighbours, that they share gossip and find support from each other and celebrate the wonderful place they call home. In my travels, apart from Piazza di San Marco, one other piazza in particular stands out for me. In 2010, we visited a small town in Sicily, Polizzi Generosa. To get to this town we had to follow a winding mountain road until we reached this tiny community hanging off the side of the mountain, looking over the Sicilian countryside. Our first night there, along with many of the residents of Polizzi Generosa, we walked out to the piazza in the evening.
|Nick and I on the piazza in Polizzi Generosa.|
|The sunset over Polizzi Generosa.|
|Our new, if brief, friendship.|