When visiting Venice runs in the family

Tomorrow is the funeral of Adeline's grandmother. Her death wasn't a surprise - she'd recently turned 93 - but it's still a great loss. She was a cheerful, grand lady, and I can still hear her standard response when we asked how she was - "All the better for seeing you, dear!" she'd smile, sitting in the sun on the verandah of the old age home where she stayed.
I'll miss her, particularly because, like me and Adeline, she loved to travel. When she heard we'd been to Venice and loved it there, she gave us a photo that ever since has been hanging in our house. 
Grandparents on a gondola in Venice, 1956

 She and her husband had spent three weeks in 1956 traveling in Europe, and among other, they'd visited wonderful Venice. And, like tourists still do today, they'd taken a gondola ride. 
It's a special photo to us. I'm a little sorry that there's no bridge visible in the photo, because that means I would have been able to pinpoint exactly where the photo was taken, and perhaps visit the spot to see how it's changed, and perhaps we could do a reprise photo. Wouldn't that be nice?
Ouma, rest in peace. We'll be sure to continue the family tradition of traveling all over, but especially to Venice.

A picturesque little bridge we missed...

Every Venetophile worth their salt knows there are more than four hundred bridges in Venice crisscrossing the city's labyrinth of scenic canals. Let me say that again: FOUR HUNDRED BRIDGES. Stone ones, brick ones, old ones, new ones. On the 100 Venice Bridges Challenge we visited, well, one hundred of them, so therefore there are more than three times as many bridges in La Serenissima that we 'missed'.

We'll leave the obvious question, 'When are you going to do the next three Bridge Challenges to cover the rest?' aside for the moment. I mean, we're still recovering from that little 1000 kilometer walk we did a while ago.

On the Challenge we did try to include the most scenic bridges in Venice. We were at the Rialto, the Calatrava, the Scalzi and the Accademia, the four bridges that span the Grand Canal. All the bridges had something or other that made them special.

But there is a bridge that springs to mind, that I'm rather sorry we didn't, or couldn't, include.

This bridge is located on the island of Torcello, a longish vaporetto ride away from Venice itself. This sleepy little island is where the story of Venice began, shortly after the fall of Rome. It has a well-restored cathedral dating from the year 639, which is its present claim to fame. But in pre-medieval times Torcello was a bustling trading port when Venice was still nothing more than a swampy mass. Gradually the harbour and surrounding areas silted up, and a malaria mosquito infestation and other factors gradually reduced the island's population of thousands to a dozen or so today.

Torcello is also known for the Ponte del Diavolo, or Devil's Bridge, one of only two Venetian bridges that don't have hand rails of any sort. During the Challenge we did pay a visit to the Ponte Chiodo, the other 'blank' bridge.

The Devil's bridge is well-restored, neat and tidy. There are few buildings on the banks of the canal it crosses, giving it a wonderfully pastoral ambience in a garden setting.

Perhaps, in general, it'll be good idea to broaden the challenge next time and include bridges on the many other inhabited islands such as Murano, Burano and Sant'Erasmo in the Venice lagoon. Could be fun, because some of the islands are very, very different from Venice, the tourist hub.


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And so we headed home after completing the 100 Venice Bridges Challenge...

On the vaporetto home I thought about the bridges and just how much history they held, both told and untold. Each bridge represented the history of a person, or a neighbourhood, or something the people of Venice once cared about. Woven together it told the tale of a city that once was a world power, and then slowly over the course of a few hundred years waned in importance as a trading centre. Yet it never lost its power as a historical, cultural and art centrepiece, and today convinced me of the importance of the bridges in maintaining that heritage.

But the bridges also taught me a great deal about contemporary Venice. When people speak of a city overrun by tourists, they're really referring only to a relatively small part of Venice. For the most part it consists of neighbourhoods almost totally ignored by tourists, where life goes on much like in other cities. But in the areas that do carry heavy loads of people traffic, there were clear signs of the infrastructure coming dangerously close to faltering.

Most importantly I disagree with the notion that Venice is a 'living museum'. It's a city that's alive, and while it derives most of its income from tourism, and many of it features are world famous tourist attractions, it's also a proud community of citizens that still call it home. Indeed, many of them have done so for hundreds of years. Who are we, as outsiders then to call their city a museum? It's much, much more than that, if we'd only take the time to take a peek beyond the cover of the guidebook version of Venice.