Amy’s alarm awoke us from a hot and restless sleep as a result of a faulty air conditioning system that I couldn’t get to work properly even though I tried again at 2:00 am. Regardless, we had a schedule to keep and we were soon up, packed with our bags outside the door and down to breakfast. The coach dropped us at another dock to catch a shuttle to the docks at St. Mark’s where we were guided to one of the original Murano glass companies to be shown a glass blowing and forming demonstration. It was interesting, but you get nothing for nothing, so we were given the sales pitch for Murano glass, which we bit on and purchased some gifts for the girls and Amy’s mom. I had considered these sorts of souvenirs in the forecast budget as we were planning the trip, so it was fine.
After escaping with only minor damage inflicted on the budget, we were greeted to a walking tour of Venice with a local resident, a lovely and lively seasoned lady called Daniella who shepherded us in and around some of the most charming alleyways and corners of the city of canals. I felt confident enough in my familiarity with how the city was patterned that after we finished our tour and were given a couple of hours of free time, I led Amy and Leah our exploring.
We first followed the crowds to the Rialto Bridge for a photo or two after which we set out to find some lunch. On our way, we stopped in at a church that was mostly empty and was a welcome relief from the press of the crowds and the oppressive heat and humidity of the late morning sun. It wasn’t long before we were back on our quest for more wonderful Italian food we have been enjoying throughout the trip, which we found in the same small square through which we had passed earlier on our tour. There was a small farmer’s market set up that was selling fresh fruit and vegetables and from which we bought some fresh grapes to enjoy with our lunch of warm pizza and calzones. We wandered into a quiet alley with a short set of steps next to a waterway where we decide to sit and eat and watch the gondoliers navigate past with their passengers seated comfortably for a ride. It felt good to sit and relax and eat for a few minutes, but with an eye on the clock, we had to get going to make it back to the water shuttle at the designated time.
I set out feeling pretty confident that I knew the way back, so I led us deeper into the maze that is the back streets to Venice. I relied on a crude map to keep us oriented, which was a mistake. After thinking we were going the right direction, I realized that I had gotten us lost and we had to quickly backtrack and retrace our steps until we found a sign to the St. Mark’s Piazza and then back across the four bridges to the right dock where Emma greeted us sternly for being 10 minutes late and keeping everyone waiting. We sheepishly boarded and left Venice a bit more humble but grateful for the time we had there to explore one of the world’s most interesting and unique places. It will be interesting to observe the evolution of Venice in the coming years as the citizens and leaders wrestle with how to handle changes due to climate, economics, and civic influences.
There was no need for us to return to the hotel of the previous night, so we headed inland to Verona, the city of course made famous by the writings of William Shakespeare with the classic Romeo and Juliet along with several of his other tales set in northern Italy. We arrived in Verona after a short 90-minute coach ride – it could be done faster in a private car; a Ferrari anyone? – and arrived at the Hotel Leopardi on schedule and ready for an evening of history and exploration.
Emma had arranged for us to be guided by a local woman called ‘Ceccilia’ or ‘Cecilia’ who turned out to be a lovely older lady who spoke very good English with a
distinctive Italian accent she spoke in a lilting, sing-song manner that reminded me of one of the narrators of the old, educational programs the Walt Disney company used to produce when I was a kid. The entire evening was quite enjoyable as we learned about the ancient Roman influence, the crusades, architecture, the trades that were centered there along with the old Roman Arena constructed in a similar fashion to the great Colosseum in the capital but is much older, yet actually better preserved, (although ‘preserved’ is a definitely a subjective description. The building is a crumbling heap of stone walls and gravel filler from what I could see). We walked past the house where it is said that Romeo would have lived upon which is mounted a small bronze plaque showing poor Romeo on his horse riding to be with his beloved Juliet after hearing that she had died. It is only a few streets over that we arrived at Juliet’s house and her famous balcony. There were mobs of people there milling about the arc phew corridor leading into the small garden courtyard in which you can see the house, it’s balcony and a bronze statue of the young Juliet.
The tradition is to have your picture taken with a hand cupping her right breast, which has been worn very shiny over the years. As I watched this spectacle of unabashed groping of a fictional girl by both men and women alike, I could only think of hanging a sign on Juliet with the #metoo hashtag to call attention to how desensitized society has become to the respect we should have for women. I also felt the whole thing was akin to inventing the birthplace of Mickey Mouse and making pilgrimages to see it. It was a tourist trap if there ever was such a thing. Fortunately, we didn’t spend much time there and were happy to leave and walk through the narrow, shop lines streets toward the Arena di Verona where we bid ‘arrivederci’ to our local guide and a ‘Grazie’ for a fine and informative tour.
The rest of the evening was ours after Emma gave instructions on the options for dinner and when we all needed to be back for the coach ride to the hotel. Amy, Leah, and I had made some friends on the second day when we were at the Vatican and we invited the mother and her daughter to have dinner with us, they both accepted along with several others of our traveling companions. We set off to find a dinner spot with about a dozen in our party. It was quite fun and a rollicking evening of conversation and laughter. The three of us split an antipasti dish of penne with a fresh tomato sauce, which was lovely. We the. Each got our own entree of beef, gnocchis, and grilled salmon. We were stuffed by the time we finished and just about the time I paid the check, the clouds had rolled in and broke gracing us with a torrential downpour. I wasn’t too worried because we were seated under a sturdy awning and that I had brought along my umbrella just in case something like rain made an appearance. Amy had hers too, but Leah didn’t, so I bought her a four Euro plastic poncho so she wouldn’t get soaked. By the time everyone had congregated to head to the coach and were frantically trying to figure out how we would all stay dry, the rain stopped literally as quickly as it had started and neither umbrellas nor ponchos were needed.
Emma found us grouped together and directed our course towards the bus across the old city and through the castle guarding the southern access, across another bridge over the Arno River, to the bus and back to the hotel. The three of us have continued our reading and sharing from the Book of Mormon throughout our travels and did so again before turning in for the night.