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  • From Washington, United States
  • Currently in Ancona, Italy

Insegnare in Italia

Documenting three months of language tutoring in Civitanova Marche, Italy

Venice, Burano, and Murano

Italy Venice, Italy  |  May 16, 2012
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 There’s just something magical about Venice and I think it’s one of the must-see cities in Italy for any first-time traveler. 

- for additional journal entries and more photos, visit my website www.abirdinthekitchen.com - 

The last time I was in Venice was during the winter. It was overcast, bone-chillingly cold, and all-together rather dreary. Surprisingly, that doesn’t really diminish the city’s splendor. There’s just something magical about Venice and I think it’s one of the must-see cities in Italy for any first-time traveler. This time the weather wasn’t exactly ideal, but we managed to get nearly a full day and a half of partly sunny skies – and no fog, a veritable miracle for this coastal island.

Because my friend Z hadn’t yet been to Italy, we immediately made it a priority to get to Venice. Despite the glut of tourists, the mind-boggling labyrinth of alley-size streets and canals, and the never-ending supply of vendors trying to sell you their mass-produced knock-offs, there’s just something magical about the “City of Water.”

Once a trade capital of the world, Venice now survives almost solely on tourism – in fact there are fewer Venetians actually living within the city each year. Between the rising cost of living, the city slowly sinking into the sea, and the constant hum of the thousands of tourists that pour into the city every month, it’s just not that appealing anymore to the locals. There’s the diehards, of which you’ll see a few when you inevitably get lost on some tiny back street, but most of the people you see are tourists.

Still, it’s great fun to just putter about the city, getting lost and browsing through shops, tasting a little tidbit here and there, and conversing with the shopkeepers. It’s even better when you speak Italian (even if it’s not the right dialect), because then they’ll want to bend your ear for as long as possible. As most travelers know, there’s no better way to get to know a city than to talk with the locals. You’ll get the best recommendations, the best prices, and it just feels so much more authentic to speak the native language with the people – especially when every other voice around you is English, German, French, or Japanese.

Because the weather was so sketchy last time I was there, I never made it out to the islands of Burano or Murano. The Venetian archipelago consists of many big and small islands, the most famous of which are Venice itself, Burano, and Murano (and Lido, but we didn’t get off the vaporetto there). Burano is most famous for its strikingly colored homes that encompass all shades of the rainbow, but it’s also historically known for its exquisite lace. Although there’s been an influx of mass-produced junk from China, if you look carefully you can still find the handmade creations from Burano’s residents. Like most artisan crafts, however, it’s a dying trade.

Z and I were lucky enough to stumble across a woman hand-tatting lace in her shop. She was quite delighted when we spoke to her in Italian, instead of English, and spoke with us for several minutes. She happily granted permission for me to take her photograph and I was even happier to record the moment. When we returned a short time later she had departed for the day to rest – what a lucky happenstance to have caught her during that short period of time!

The colors of the houses on the island of Burano are amazing. The community has managed to find a happy medium between a chaotic mish-mash of color and something truly psychedelic. I’m not sure I’d ever be interested in living in a lime green house myself, but it sure is fun to look at!

Murano is world-famous for its glass-blowers. As kitschy as it is, it’s a must to go see a glass-blowing demonstration if you’ve never seen one before. Usually the artists just bust out a quick glass prancing horse, but this artist actually took the time to blow a quick vase to demonstrate the technique. I was quite impressed. I’ve taken a glass blowing class before and had quite a good time. I look forward to my next lesson in Annapolis this summer. Equally as impressive was the woman who provided a narration of the man’s techniques to the assembled audience. She provided commentary in English, Italian, German, and French, with a little bit of Russian and Japanese to boot – talk about a tongue twister! We were all mightily impressed and applauded her when she finished all the languages.

I think Z and I both ended up buying most of our gifts for friends and family in Venice and Murano. It’s just so easy to find such amazing little trinkets and jewelry. I couldn’t resist buying myself a little glass clock and a jewelry dish on top of all my gifts for everyone else.

For just a quick 5 hours away by train from Civitanova, Venice was definitely one of my favorite destinations while I was in Italy. I’m not overly fond of the tourist traps that polka-dot the city, but it’s easy enough to steer clear of most of them (just stay away from St. Mark’s and the Rialto). I’m not sure if I’ll ever return. I know I won’t ever make it a point to return myself, now that I’ve seen Burano and Murano, but I don’t think I could resist showing the city off to another friend if they wanted to go. No matter how much it might drive you crazy, there’s something special enough about Venice that just keeps you coming back. 

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