topics: tiramisu (food), Venezia, Piazza and Basilica San Marco (St. Mark Square and Basilica), the Venezia boat system (vaporetti), Marco Polo; jump to dispatch

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: May 3-4, 1998

Food of the Day: Tiramisu (tea-rah-MEE-SUE)

Tiramisu, which means "pull me up" in Italian, is a cake that was created in Venezia as part of the decadent society that once dwelled here. This rich delicacy is made of several layers, all of which are extremely delicious. In Italy today, you can find tiramisu in just about any restaurant.

Strips of sponge cake are soaked in strong (Italian-style) coffee with an added shot of amaretto (or rum if you prefer), and placed at the bottom of a cake dish. Layered upon this is a special filler, which is a mixture of eggs, mascarpone (or whipped crème) and sugar. Powdered chocolate is sprinkled over this. Three layers as such make a truly delightful and mouth-watering dessert. Served very cold to keep its shape, tiramisu is sort of like a coffee-flavored cake with ice cream, all in one "torte."

Person of the Day: Giorgio Miolo and his family

Giorgio Miolo and his family are (from left to right in the photograph click to view a photograph) Giorgio holding little Marta, his cousin Amber, his parents Octavio and Mardelena, and his wife Marcia (not pictured are Teresa, the matriarch of the home and land, and Allah, their gentle and patient German shepherd.)

Our hosts, living in the village of Zelina , near San Giorgio di Nogaro (about half way between Trieste and Venezia) are the People of the Day today for several reasons. First, their willingness to host us on such short notice and with such open arms was humbling. Second, they're just really neat people! As you read in yesterday's dispatch, we met them on their farm and had an opportunity to get to know both friends and family. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph

Giorgio was the person contacted by our new friend Loris (see more about Loris in the Rider Notes) as part of the extended FIAB (Federazione Italiana Amici della Bici) network, as he is a bicycling advocate in the Friuli (northeastern) region of Italy. He teaches driving, motor vehicle safety in general (which we think is desperately needed in Italy), and "extreme conditions" driving techniques. click to view a photograph A staunch supporter of safety belt laws (and air bags when used with seat belts!), Giorgio also focuses on helping drivers learn to be aware of and considerate to bicyclists. For this alone, plus his resourcefulness in finding beds for us click to view a photograph, and all the hospitality on the family farm click to view a photograph, our heartfelt thanks and a warm "Mandi" (a word from the language spoken in Friuli meaning a combination of bon voyage, good luck, and God bless you)!

Place of the Day: The Piazza and Basilica San Marco

The Piazza and Basilica San Marco are at one of the more famous places in all of Italy, and one of the most typical examples of grand plazas combined with impressive cathedrals to be found throughout the country. click to view a photograph

And hence, as with most of Venezia, the place is chock full of tourists! Renowned not only for its history and architecture, Piazza San Marco is also well known for its pigeons, which are multitudinous and maddening, and a popular tourist attraction on the square. click to view a photograph

The whole square and cathedral are not only a tribute to Saint Mark, but also an elegant and grandiose architectural reminder of how power and influence played an important role in Venetian society. The three-blocks-long buildings which create the sides of the square were once homes to the rich and politically powerful in Venezia. click to view a photograph

Saint Mark's Basilica is the fourth side of the square, towering dramatically above it. click to view a photograph With five gold domes, the Basilica's extensive decorations and elaborate ornamentation doesn't stop there. click to view a photograph Additions were even brought (and sometimes stolen, as the case may be) from North Africa and Asia. You may remember the four bronze horses that the Crusaders looted from the old palace that used to be on the Hippodrome in Istanbul. Well, here they are (in replica)! click to view a photograph

The interior of the cathedral continues the motif of lavish designs with fine, multi-colored marble, gold ceiling mosaics, ornamental floor mosaics, and an abundance of little statuettes in all parts of the ceilings of chapels and domes. The religious patriarch of Venezia still advises from this cathedral, and legends abound regarding the remnants of Saint Mark himself being contained somewhere in the building. In fact, it is believed that his body was stolen from Alexandria, Egypt to be placed here.

Tech Fact of the Day: Venezia is composed of 115 islands connected by tons of big and little bridges, and an uncountable number of boats.

So, OK, imagine you live in a city where you can only walk (or drive, or bike) on, say, 70% of the roads - or even less. Now imagine that you can't even (really) bike or drive (at all) in that city, so you have to walk. In other words, imagine you're in Venice, known in Italian as Venezia! In Venezia, upward of 180 passageways that serve as "streets" are really canals full of water. And the only way to get around is to walk a lot (there are only three bridges that cross the main thoroughfare, a backward s-shaped Grand Canal) or take one of a variety of boats.

The area around Venezia is equally, composed of the water-surrounded districts of la Giudecca, San Giorgio Maggiore, and San Michele. There are also more isolated "outer" islands like the Lido, Murano, Burano, and Torcello, all of which also rely on the boat network. Looking at a map of this island-rich coastal area, you'll see that their close proximity to one another makes life fairly manageable.

Hence the charm and fame of Venezia, where just about everything thing that has to happens by boat. The only means of transportation - besides walking - is by boat, since it is practically impossible to move around the island using anything on wheels thanks to the 400-plus stepped bridges of all shapes and sizes. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph But life goes on in Venezia as it must; and living with the waterways is second nature to the Venetians. click to view a photograph

Boats are used for all aspects of life, including garbage collection, mail delivery, the distribution of groceries to shops, stalls, and homes, as well as all goods to all vendors, fire and police protection... everything. Really. While there is a causeway along which run a railway and major highway to connect Venezia to the mainland, that is where they land connections end. For, really, Venezia is most easily accessible from the water. There is a huge port that plays a central role in the docking of cruise ships and freightliners. More, smaller stations and private landings handle the endless flux of tugboats and barges.

Within Venezia central, at any of a number of "bus stops" click to view a photograph, you can catch a "vaporetto" or motorboat "bus" that is a small-sized ferry, to take you along the Grand Canal, the central "avenue" of Venezia. click to view a photograph There are also taxis and taxi stands, as you'd see in any city, but again, these taxis are boats! click to view a photograph

Another famous aspect of the Venezia boat system are the black gondolas, which look like long, narrow canoes, and are "paddled" by one man, or sometimes two. click to view a photograph Gondolas are most frequently associated with romantic interludes for couples click to view a photograph, but they are also used for small crowds wanting to cross the canals quickly or sightsee. click to view a photograph Faster than waiting for the bus, and cheaper than a hired taxi, group gondola rides are the perfect in-between for short crossings.

Group Dispatch, May 3-4
photograph of Corinne

We rose from our beds in Zelina to share breakfast with Giorgio and his family, our Person of the Day, and to say goodbye to the new friends we'd made. After we arranged a group photo portrait click to view a photograph, Giorgio made some very helpful fact-checking, host-finding phone calls for us, and we were off.

It would still be over 100 km (62 mi) of biking and quite a few kilometers on boats before we would arrive in Venezia, so we had to get pedaling. After only a few hours of battling some tough headwinds, we made a call to Loris, the FIAB person who has been so incredibly helpful finding us host-homes with fellow cyclists who live along our route. Loris Tissino helped us find housing twice, first in Trieste, and then again last night. Loris' home is near Portogruaro, so we stopped to meet and thank him in person, and have an early afternoon ice cream in the quiet village of Concordia click to view a photograph click to view a photograph, just off the main road we were following.

When we met click to view a photograph, Loris not only interviewed us for an online biking journal, but shot videotape of us as well, to prove to his wife that we truly exist. You can imagine she wondered what people LOOK like who have biked all the way from Morocco. We wonder if she was surprised... Again we thank Loris for his interest and assistance with BikeAbout, and, of course, for the delicious ice cream we shared!

Making our way the remaining distance to the ferries which would take us across the Laguna Veneta to Venezia - the capital city of the Venezia province and Veneto region, and both a World Heritage site visit the World Heritage Site page and a World Heritage city visit the World Heritage City page - it was more flat fields, and more headwind, in the mediocre Sunday traffic. In the ferocious wind, "drafting" is an important and useful way to make better time. Stopping to inflate a somewhat smushy tire, Padraic snapped this shot of Corinne making her usual attempt to "draft" with the boys. click to view a photograph Today she set her record, of about 3.5 seconds in line with them, before falling further and further behind... However, we all knew it when we started closing in on the coast and Venezia. The traffic was outrageous during the last stretch past one tourist hotel strip after another - which was how we knew we were getting close - complete with traffic jams and big old busses taking the weekend seaside sun worshippers back home for the evening.

And so began a series of island-hopping ferries that would continue for the next 2 days. We first caught a ferry click to view a photograph off the sandy stretch of mainland we were on to go to the island called the Lido (or Beach), and then another that brought us to Venezia proper just as it was getting dark. click to view a photograph

Hauling bikes with luggage through this notoriously "charming" city is simply not so enamouring when you have to go over the many step bridges withOUT ramps. But we were glad to have arrived nonetheless. The usual hunt for housing - hosting had not been possible - brought us to the realization that hotel prices have gone UP recently, so unfortunately we could only afford to stay in Venezia for a day (not the two we had hoped would be possible). Of course, this meant some careful planning for the following day's events, and less time to catch up on dispatches.

We figured in the morning we could get a jump on things early, and see all there is to see. And you, lucky reader, can simply pretend like you're spending the day with us in romantic Venezia, it'll be heaps of fun.

Sure, it was raining when we woke up, but that just gives you the chance to witness the fascinating process of dispatch writing. Watching IJs cross-reference guidebooks with tourist info brochures, checking their scrawled notes, looking up little facts in the CD ROM encyclopedias, swapping disks, and touching up digital photos is pretty cool, huh? The editing process is even more exciting than that!

Just before you get bored out of your mind though, the rain subsides, and it's away we go. A late morning outing en mass brings Ethan and us to the bank, where he got into a 45-minute line to change travelers checks. But hey, this is Venezia; we can keep ourselves entertained. click to view a photograph After that small delay, Ethan heads back to the hotel to work on an enormous backlog of emails and dispatches - he's been to Venezia a minimum of 35 times in his life so far...

Then it's a rush for the rest of the BikeAbouters through the labyrinthine streets of Venezia to the Galleria dell'Accademia, which houses many rooms of religious and classic art. The restored paintings, murals, and whole reconstructed rooms were all part of an enormous undertaking, the effort of which was not lost on us. Noticing the nuances of the images from close up and further away in the vast rooms also gave us an opportunity to enjoy the art as well as the dramatic intent given the original setting of the images.

Our first meal of the day was sandwiches, around 2:30. Then we hit Saint Mark's Plaza and Basilica for a quick look around. It was impressive enough to make Place of the Day, and to re-visit later on, so we'll come back to that. Returning to the hotel for a new digital camera with fresh batteries, Corinne fell asleep, while the boys got to work. It's the Italian siesta time anyway, so this little intermission will give you a breather. How do you like Venezia so far?

Once the city - and Corinne - came back to life a little before 6 p.m., it was time to get back on the street, this time with the video camera as well. Since all the guys had work to do and had been to Venezia before, Corinne was on a solo adventure to explore the town. So, Corinne will be happy to show you around! click to view a photograph So, "Andiamo!" click to hear an audio clip - Let's go! If you know as little about Venezia as Corinne did when she set out, this will be a path of shared discovery.

First and foremost, it's a matter of catching the right boat down the canal and to the right part of the right island. The island network and enormous boat system for transportation and everything else, is actually the Tech Fact of the Day.

Hopping on the first likely boat to take us the length of the Grand Canal (starting at the railway station and ending at San Marco's) click to view a photograph, we have a few moments to admire the architecture and sometimes gaudiness of some of the structures on this "main street" of Venezia. click to view a photograph The facades of the buildings facing the Grand Canal are wonderful examples of Byzantine, Renaissance, and Gothic design, all meant to awe, enamour, and impress those passing on boat. click to view a photograph

You know you're getting close to our ultimate destination when you go under the enormous and famous Rialto bridge. click to view a photograph This is the largest bridge in Venezia - big enough to house a number of shops in its structure! click to view a photograph Actually, almost all bridges originally had shops on them (people had to cross the bridges so traffic was guaranteed). Today, however, only the arched Rialto bridge shows us what it once must have been like.

Coming out of the Canal with an open view to the expansive bay click to view a photograph, the boat stops at Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square), which just happens to be our Place of the Day.

But now that we're better oriented with Venezia itself, and we've disembarked at the right stop, how, you wonder, did a strange little place like this get to be such a big deal anyway?

Well, since the early days, Venezia has been the unlucky city that found itself situated in the center of raging conflict. The Romans, marauding barbarians, Ottomans, Italians, and Austrians all fought over this area at one point or another. It's said that the first inhabitants lived here just to escape the madness of the mainland and enjoy the protected isolation (and peace) as fishermen.

However, the strategic placement of this area between West and East was noticed early, and the secluded nature of the islands was very appealing to the astute merchants and others who began making their living here. As a trade hub it also became the place for nobles and "doges" (political rulers) to take up residence. They seemed to spend a great deal of time "working" mostly to out-do one another with elaborate designs and decorations on their palaces, public buildings, and churches, all of which have now become buildings for public institutions or museums of one sort or another.

Basically, Venezia experienced its hey-day in the 15th century when it was the major naval power in the region and at the center of its own extensive empire that included most of the Adriatic and many trading posts beyond. However, when new (sea and land) trade routes were opened to the Orient and Africa, and when other sea powers' strengths grew to rival that of Venezia, the realm started to crumble. Venezia itself and its many treasures did fare well, however, through the reigns of Napoleon and the Austrians, as well as surviving both World Wars.

Now that we know what we need to about Venezia's history, let's take a look at today.

Wow, there sure are a lot of tourists around. Still in Piazza San Marco, Corinne will happily point out the various renovation projects taking place, such as the one on the Campanile click to view a photograph, the 99-meter tall bell tower that dominates the square. This tower is actually a brick-by-brick reconstruction of the one that stood here until 1902 when it suddenly collapsed... after countless criminals were executed on it... There is also the scaffolding-clad clock-tower click to view a photograph whose moving pieces and bronze hammer-wielding bell-ringers have entertained the masses for centuries. It's a bit of a dark and dreary day, but maybe you can see symbol of St. Mark - the Winged Lion - just below the bell itself? If not, there's another one facing it opposite the square, high on another column, close to the harbor. click to view a photograph

Saint Mark isn't the only notorious Mark from Venezia, either. Marco Polo, the famed adventure traveler and writer, was a Venetian who set out overland on a very long trip to China in the late 1200s with his father and uncle. One of the families of merchants and traders, the Polos were hoping to increase their wealth by trading goods from and with Far Eastern Japan and the East Indies. We've even heard that Christopher Columbus used "The Book of Sir Marco Polo" as a reference when he was lost at sea 200 years later! If the BikeAbout journals inspire readers to check out more books on fascinating journeys, we suggest that one for sure. But be warned: it covers a 24-YEAR trip, not just nine months...

So, where were we? Well, the truth is it doesn't really matter. Everyone has advised Corinne that the best way to enjoy Venezia is to get lost. Ever-busy looking at the different sculptures of women in battle click to view a photograph or gazing over the various canals and bridges (especially at the famous "Bridge of Sighs" click to view a photograph, the place where prisoners sighed at their last glimpse of freedom before being dragged into the doge's dungeons), we'll be sure to see and find everything we need to on the street. click to view a photograph

There's quite a bit to appreciate in Venezia, especially while it lasts - because Venezia is sinking! Little by little, about 3 millimeters (1/8 inch) year (which is pretty fast), the muddy foundations that have withstood so much time are giving way to the bay. The occasional flooding that takes place can't be helping much either... And other types of pollution also threaten Venezia (as pollution does most in places), but nothing keeps the tourists away. Nor does human inventiveness. One thing we did witness is the first part in a mammoth undertaking to save Venezia. A 15-year, $4 billion project has been launched to clean every canal in Venezia and shore up most of the foundations to keep them from deteriorating further. We definitely hope that it works.

Meandering around and away from all of the bigger distractions, Corinne finds a few quiet corners and squares where locals walk their dogs, and itty bitty kids kick soccer balls around on the pavement as they do in any inner city neighborhood. But despite all the scenic wonder (and sidewalks that end at the water) of Venezia and its winding, narrow streets that twist like catacombs, we never get that far from the Grand Canal. In fact, try as she might, Corinne just can't seem to get lost. All these (pesky!) helpful signs keep the tourists oriented in Venezia. click to view a photograph Sometimes the signs aren't so clear - there were even some spray-painted on walls or scrawled on cardboard with magic marker and stuck to the other street signs - but most were prominently on display where you just can't miss them. click to view a photograph

And so, a rendezvous for dinner with the BikeAbout gentleman happens right on schedule, giving us plenty of time to WanderAbout, doing the BikeAbout Shuffle... also known as looking for a restaurant for dinner. This is one our favorite evening events, during which we're happy you can join us. We explore more of the immediate neighborhood away from the tourist tread areas, looking for the "right" (cheap, good) restaurant, and, as usual, have some trouble deciding. Due to mounting hunger though, we end up eating a late dinner not 100 meters (109 yds) from hotel Harry...

This is the end of our day and yours. Hope you enjoyed it.

On to Ferrara tamarra!

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