Venice Week 4: Torcello Tower, Murano Glass, & Padua Chapel

June 26, 2017 Monday

Today was a fun day because it was excursion day! I had class as usual from nine to twelve, and then had lunch on the island. But around 1:30, the whole class met up to go to Torcello. It was a bit hectic because we had to walk pretty fast in order to make the vaporetto stop we needed to be at, and one of the girls from my class had missed the first vaporetto. We were worried she wouldn’t make it, but at the last minute she came huffing and puffing towards us and got on just in time. It was a somewhat long vaporetto ride to the island of Torcello because we made a lot of stops in places like Murano and Burano. Once in Torcello, we walked towards the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. Once close to it, we sat in the grass in the shade since it was incredibly hot and sunny outside. Rachel gave a presentation on the history of Torcello which is very interesting and I recommend looking up at least a summary of the history. After the presentation, we went inside the Cathedral, which is one of the oldest religious edifices in Veneto, and which houses some of the earliest mosaics in Venice. It isn’t too aesthetically amazing because it is falling apart and pretty plain in terms of the usual majesty of cathedrals. However, it is still amazing to be standing inside something clearly very old, and it does have some unique mosaic artwork. The mosaic on the west wall is a floor to ceiling mosaic of the Last Judgement. That was the main reason my class visited; this mosaic was referenced in one of our readings. It is mostly gold with a bunch of other colors put in, and it is breathtaking. After looking around for a bit at the other mosaics, paintings, and possible tombs of dead priests, we walked up the campanile. It was a long walk up slanted stairs and low ceilings, but the view from the top was so worth the climb. I could see essentially the whole island and even other parts of Venice. We stayed up there awhile, just changing positions and going around. As we were looking at everything, we saw a man jump off of his boat into the water to cool off, which was pretty funny. There wasn’t a lot to do in Torcello besides these two activities, and the island is pretty much devoid of people (at least in my experience), but it is still a beautiful place that I recommend visiting if you’re ever in Venice. It’s filled with history and natural beauty.

June 27, 2017 Tuesday

Today was an early day because instead of having class as usual, we travelled to the island of Murano. We had to be there for around 10:00 which meant I had to get up around 7:30. That was so hard! But I did it, and I met the class at the vaporetto stop in main Venice around 8:30. When we got to Murano, it was so quiet and empty because of the early hour. It was kind of eery but also really neat to be the only people walking around. It was peaceful. The reason for our early trip to Murano, the island famous for its glass works, was because we were going to be given a private tour of the Seguso glass factory. They don’t normally give tours, but for the past couple years the Seguso family and my college have set up tours for the students. When we arrived, we were introduced to Gianluca Seguso, the son of Giampaulo Seguso who our class had read about in John Berendt’s Glass Warfare. Gianluca was incredibly kind, asking each of our names about three people at a time so that he could address us directly. He showed us first the history of the Seguso family legacy which began in 1397. He then walked us outside to an area with various glass making objects and glass designs themselves that decorated the fenced in area. Through this area, we entered the workshop part of the building in which the glassblowers were crafting beautiful creations. We saw the drawn out initial designs for a project, were able to watch some of the pieces being made, and hanging from the ceiling we saw completed intricate chandeliers. Everything was amazing to behold. The amount of detail that went into everything was astounding. I’ve never thought about how the beautiful glass that I see in stores is made, but being in that work environment I now recognize how much time, effort, and skill goes into it all. We walked through the workshop, careful of the heat and the dangerous objects that were burning hot, and made our way into what I believe was the showroom. Once inside, we were given the opportunity to meet Giampaolo himself. He was a very funny man, who told us about his life and how he started glassmaking. He even went and got the book of poetry he had written (in Italian of course) and read some poems to us. He had one of the boys from my class who knew a little Italian translate the poems so that we could get the full message. When he was done reading, he offered us the chance to ask him any questions we had. After that, we were guided back downstairs and each person was given a beautiful piece of circular dark blue Seguso glass with the Seguso emblem on it. And we were handed it by name from Gianluca who remembered everyone’s name. Overall, it was an amazing experience, the Seguso family was incredibly kind and generous, and I am beyond glad that I was able to have this once in a lifetime experience.

After the tour, we were all hungry so our professor took us to a great restaurant where he knew the owner. We each had a salad, spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams), and a dessert. The food was delicious as was usually the case in Italy, but there were birds constantly surrounding us since we were sitting outside. At the end of the meal, we were offered coffee in the normal Italian way, and then we all headed off to do our own things. I went with a couple of my friends to look around and do some (window) shopping. I did buy one souvenir from Murano because I wanted something to remember it by (although I did have the gorgeous Seguso glass- which I think is a paperweight). I found a very pretty (and inexpensive) glass ring from one of the shops that said Master glassmaker on it, which I’m pretty sure means it is legitimate Murano glass. I put the ring on and then headed back with my friends.

June 28, Wednesday

Today was another no class day, because we were headed to Padua to the Scrovegni Chapel! It was also an early day again because we had to catch an early train. It was a fun journey, and I got to eat at the yummy train station cafe again. Once in Padua, we went to the museum where the chapel is located and got our tickets. We were then taken to the waiting area for the chapel, and we had to watch a video before going inside to learn about its history. We of course already knew some of its history because the main reason we were visiting the Chapel was because of its reference in one of Henry James’s writings . After watching the video along with all the other tourists, we were taken through an air sealed (I think) area because of the sensitivity of the Chapel and its art to the air. It was smaller than I thought it would be but stunning. The whole place was covered in artwork depicting various scenes from the Bible. The ceiling was a beautiful blue with yellow stars painted on. The back wall was amazing and depicted what would happen to the saved and the damned. Everything had so much detail and color and was so well preserved that it felt like the artist had just left. Because of the sensitivity of the art though, each session (aka group) was only allowed twenty minutes to look around. Because we were a school and some provision had been made, we were allowed to stay for two sessions.

After we left the Scrovegni Chapel, we gathered outside to meet with our tour guide. She walked us towards the center of the city and talked about the history of the city. We walked through the Università degli Studi di Padova and looked at the crests of all the people who had attended, and there were quite a few famous names from history included. We walked around the city as we made our way towards the Basilica of Saint Anthony. This was an incredibly elaborate and intricately decorated church, and probably one of my favorites from my visit to Italy. There were different sections of the Basilica that had various artworks, some in marble, some painted, others carved. There was one section, the Chapel of the Relics, where parts of St. Anthony’s body were on display, that was really neat to see. There were a set of small stairs that we could walk up to look up close at parts of his body, most notably his famous tongue. Everything about the Basilica was absolutely stunning and something I would love to go back and spend more time in because there is just so much to see.

By this point, we were all very hungry and tired, so we headed towards a restaurant to eat. We were seated at a bunch of tables placed together outside in the back garden area. It was a lovely area surrounded by trees and greenery, but by this point in the day it had become overcast and we knew the rain would fall any minute. But, I enjoyed the meal immensely because it was risotto, and I love risotto! We all talked and laughed and ate. It was a really nice afternoon… but then we heard the thunder. It was a surprise when the first sound struck our ears, but not totally unexpected. Luckily, we were all pretty much finished with our food. We decided to split up, and I went (in the rain) with some friends to go shopping because we had spotted some stores as we were walking around. It was a nice rainy afternoon activity and who can say no to shopping in Italy? By the time we were ready to head back on the train, it had stopped raining and the sun came out. The four of us went to the train station utterly exhausted from everything we had done today, and enjoyed a quiet ride back to Venice.

June 30, 2017 Friday

I didn’t do much Thursday except go to class and we visited the Academia. Friday, however, was our very last day of class and it was bittersweet. We watched a movie, Pane e Tulipani (2000), which was a beautiful film, and then talked about it in relation to our time in Venice. After this, we went to the Museo Fortuny, where I gave a presentation on the history of the museum and the man who lived there. Museo Fortuny was once the home of the man Fortuny who was a man of many talents but probably most notably as a dressmaker. His home was nicely decorated with art and clothing designs. There was one room that was showing a very strange film that was simply images and video of things like x-rays of people kissing or writing, etc. The upstairs had a diorama for one of his theaters. At the very top of the museum was an interactive art piece with balls of clay on a table that one could add to. Past this was the book shop, which I enjoyed looking at.

I decided to head back with a couple of the guys from my class, and in order to catch the vaporetto on time and not have to wait another hour, we had to run all the way from Fortuny to the vaporetto stop. While I was running, who should I literally bump into but my parents and brother. It was just like a scene from a movie: I’m running through Venice and I hear “Alexandra?” and I turn around to see my brother. I told the other guys to go on without me, and I chat with my family for a bit outside their apartment. I knew that they would be arriving today, I just didn’t know when. I offered to come and hang out with them for a little bit, but they said they were tired after the long flight and just wanted to rest. So, I hugged them goodbye and sprinted off again towards the vaporetto stop. I caught up with the boys and we made it to the vaporetto with about a minute to spare. I was red in the face and sweating, but man I had a fun time running through Venice.

That night was the farewell dinner for everyone studying in Venice from my college. We all got dressed up and went to a nice restaurant where we had amazing food buffet style. After we ate, and toasted, and reminisced, we were all brought to the gondola stops. There was enough money left over from the program that we could all have gondola rides, which was so exciting. I got to go around a small part of Venice dressed up in a gondola with five of my friends. If that’s not the perfect ending to an amazing month in Venice, I don’t know what is.

July 1/ July 2, 2017 Saturday and Sunday (and a little bit of Monday July 3)

These were the last couple days that we all had together, and some people were already leaving. They were two days packed with goodbyes, hugs, and promises for reunion back at school in the fall. One of my favorite parts of the weekend was going back to the nice and green park overlooking the water and just sitting and reading with Iulia. It was a simple and calm way to end the weekend. My family was coming to meet me on Sunday morning, so I got to say goodbye to everyone who left before I did. When my parents came, I showed them around San Servolo, my room, and then we got my suitcase and headed back to their apartment/ hotel. I took a nap, and then my family and I walked around the city together, reminiscing about the last time we had been there. Except this time, I could show them around the place I had called home for a month. We went to dinner on the water because my mom loves the view, and then explored the city at night. Of course we had to get gelato, and then we went back to the apartment around midnight. Monday, we traveled the city even more, and ended out day with a visit to Saint Mark’s Square at Florian’s Cafe, somewhere I had wanted to go for so long but never got the opportunity to. This iconic cafe has been in countless movies about Venice and is an essential part of the tourist experience. (It is also quite expensive, so if that’s a factor in your trip, I wouldn’t recommend.) We sat in the piazza as the sun was low in the sky and the air was getting a little cooler. We stayed until dark and listened to the band play songs that we only partially knew. And then we went back to the hotel for our very last night in Venice, before we took the train to Napoli in the morning.

Where is some place you have always wanted to visit for an extended period of time? Leave a comment below.

Ciao for now!

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