A Lovely Short Trip to Venice

It was early afternoon and the Romanian Professor and I had a lovely lunch on the veranda of this restaurant on the east side of Venice. My Canadian colleague just called me on my cell to tell me that he is ready to join us, we were close to Calle Varisco and Calle Stella and our friend was coming from Palazo Ducale where he was visiting all morning with other conference participants. Not far away, but in Venice? You travel by boat, nothing is moving fast... This place makes you a believer in fairy tales. Cars are banned, so the only way to move around the 1,500 year old city is by foot or on the water.

We were on our 4th day of this 'time off', for the 1st 3 days we were in a Conference in Bologna named 'The Future of Global Automotive Engineering' invited by the organizers from the Canadian Automotive Institute, it was the beginning of December, there were 11 Canadians invited in this Conference of approximate 380 people from all over the world. Pretty big! It was organized by a consortium of Automobile Manufacturers and it was mostly theoretical meaning that we were presented with theories and opinions of the Engineers representing the Organizers. It was pretty cool nevertheless, we saw some remarkable presentations about our profession.

Much to my surprise that I was invited to this Conference, I am a Tooling Designer owning my Engineering Company in Southern Ontario and a member of several Automotive Associations and... I am glad that I am close to retirement because our Industry in North America is decimated by the competition, mostly Chinese, Asian, South American. Not that they are better than us, they've never been and I don't think they will ever be better, just that they are working for something like 10 to 20% of the prices we charge in North America. This is one of the reasons this Conference was organized for, to look for ways to stay competitive... God help us! Oh, but enough of our troubles, let's get to the purpose of this short article.

Some of us decided to use this chance of being in Italy and go visit some cities around for few days after the Conference. Today was Thursday, we were three guys coming to Venice in a rented car on Highway A13, this was our first day in Venice.

These days a lot of places claim to be "the Venice of..." For example, cities claiming to be "the Venice of the north" include Amsterdam, St. Petersburg, Russia and there are others. But there is only one Venice. And it is beautiful.
Founded in the 5th century and spread over 118 small islands, Venice became a major maritime power in the 10th century. The whole city is an extraordinary architectural masterpiece in which even the smallest building contains works by some of the world's greatest artists such as Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and others. The physical remnants of the time when Venice was at the heart of a great trading empire are everywhere. There are grand palaces designed to impress visiting dignitaries and magnificent paintings of daily life in the galleries. Cobbled alleys lead to stone bridges over canals so narrow there is barely room for one of the brightly painted gondolas to pass through. The network of islands feels like one big, creaky, aging, ambitious trading ship, tethered to port, but still ready to conquer the world. La Serenissima, (the most serene one), is filled with palaces and art, fine shopping and excellent food. Relax in Piazza San Marco, at Palazo Ducale, visit the basilicas, drink a bellini at Harry's Bar and wander the alleyways and bridges.

Consider an off-season trip to have more of the city to yourself. Now this is important, if you appreciate art you should visit in the winter or early spring or late fall like we did. In the summer time everywhere in Italy there are just too many tourists around, you wait in line for most things.

The Professor had worked in Venice for a while and knew the hidden gardens and galleries. And so we wandered. And admired. The physical surroundings at least.

It must not be easy to live in Venice. It is like trying to live in an amusement park. Your corner café is clogged with transient tourists and poorly trained tour guides stand outside your window shouting historical nonsense to bored couples who just want it to be over with so they can go buy some Murano glass. This will describe the American tourist pretty well, won't it...?!

That's the only reason I can think of for why the Venetians can be so, err, unhelpful. I watched as tourists were seemingly deliberately given wrong directions and a limping man with a cane was left standing on the rocking commuter boat, with no one willing to give him a seat. The tourists were no more considerate, treating the town like a hotel room someone will clean up later.

Yes, the city of Venice was one of the most beautiful I'd ever seen, but the stress of the human interactions quickly got to me. After yet another unhappy encounter the Professor and I had given up and were trying to find a boat back to the train when we met with two of my Canadian colleagues. We all wonder a little further and the Professor finds a local restaurant that he knew about, a little out of the tourist path, very charming, we all eat and argue politics.
We covered everything from climate change's effect on Venice, to the most delicious local cakes. Given enough time (the two colleagues had some engagements) I'm sure we could have solved the world's problems. Or at least, with the Professor's help, predicted them. It was one of those perfect moments, when travel not only makes sense, it seems like the only thing worth doing.
This trip to Venice showed me, yet again, that the most beautiful city doesn't leave as much of an impression as the warmest hearth. It was close to mid December now and the Christmas preparations were in full swing. And the music of Christmas...! Truly believe to be the most beautiful moments of creation of the human race. Why the humanity put so much feeling in a religious holiday. It is truly wonderful!
We all went back to our families with the promise to come back to this ancient and historic city.