This portion of the web doesn't cover current events. The four characters (N.E.W.S.) represents the compass points: North, East, West and South. Here you will find information about various world-wide destinations. This page is updated with facts and images on a number of destinations. Previous themes and topics have been moved to the ARCHIVE section of the web.
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Venice – City on the Water
One of the world’s most renown cities – and a must see destination of many a person’s bucket list – is the aqueous port of Venice. A romantic city known for its gondolas, canals and picturesque bridges, Venice began as a place of refuge where the early Venetians fled to this swampy lagoon to escape a barbarian invasion of the mainland around 400 AD. It was a poor location and offered the invaders no advantages, so it was passed by in their conquests. The area offered no fresh water, no building materials, and no place to grow food. It would, however, provide the early settlers with an abundance of salt, a product much in demand during that era for cooking and the preservation of food. It became the city’s source of wealth which they could trade and became the seed of Venice’s fame in early medieval commerce.
The lagoon that contains the city of Venice is protected from the Adriatic Sea by two long ribbon-like islands that surround the lagoon and reach the mainland to the north and south of Venice. Between the islands and the mainland are three narrow channels which allow water to flow into and out of the lagoon with the rising and falling tides. The early settlement was built on the 118 island that now make-up the city. All of the settlements were built with similar components that made it similar to the other islands; each had its own church, a square, one or more rain water collection wells, and at least one canal at the edge of the square.
St. Marks Square
To prevent land from eroding by tidal action, the edges of the islands were clad in brick. Smaller canals between some of the islands were filled in with soil and were converted to pedestrian streets. As the population grew, land was reclaimed from the lagoon, and the size of the islands grew, eventually becoming the city we know today. Venice has changed little over the centuries and much of the city would still be recognized by Marco Polo and its earlier citizens.
Church of San Giorgio Maggiore
The soil at the islands was not suited to support heavy buildings, so the early Venetian builders drove a forest of wooden pilings deep into to muck to make the ground more stable. These were then capped with a layer of marble slabs that were impervious to the salt water of the lagoon. Over these marble slabs the Venetians constructed their buildings, streets, and plazas.
As the islands expanded and the canals became narrower, bridges were built to make access between islands easier. Today there are 438 bridges in Venice, most of which are made of stone. However until the end of the 18th century there were far fewer bridges and most Venetians moved from island to island by boat. Also, bridges could only be built where streets of two adjacent islands lined up so most bridges are a "straight line" continuation of the street. However, in some cases the bridges were built askew because streets from two adjacent islands did not line up.
View at Grand Canal
The three and four story merchant residences that famously line the banks of the Grand Canal are known worldwide for their intricate beauty. These are the homes and businesses of the wealthy Venetians and their design is based on the principle of a "home warehouse". The lower floor was the business portion of the building where merchandise was stored, bought and sold. The upper floor provided apartment housing for the hired servants. The one or two floors between the lower and upper floors were the home of the merchant and his family, and contained all the opulent "formal" spaces.
These buildings were constructed so that the load bearing walls were all located inside the structure and usually ran perpendicular to the outer walls. That permitted the outer walls to have large expansive openings for tall windows. And, since life in the city revolved around the canals and goods were provided by boat, the main façade of these building always faced the canals and not the "land-side" streets.
The most well known Venetian bridge is the Rialto Bridge, which is one of only four that crosses the Grand Canal. Located near the Rialto marketplace, the bridge was originally a pontoon type crossing but was made a more permanent wooden bridge in 1255. After the bridge collapsed from the weight of the crowds in 1444 and again in 1524, it was decided to rebuild the bridge in stone (first proposed in 1503). The present bridge was completed in 1591 and is considered a Venetian icon and one of the must see attractions for tourists.
Tourists also flock to another bridge — Venice's Bridge of Sighs. Designed by Antoni Contino (nephew to the designer of the Rialto Bridge), it connects the old Venice prison with the interrogation rooms of the Doge's Palace. Built of white limestones, construction of this bridge was completed in 1603. It has windows with stone bars offering convicts their last view of Venice before imprisonment. Passersby could hear the sighs of the convicts as they took their last look at Venice before being locked in their cells. Unfortunately for the romanticist in us, there is no truth to this tale; the bridge was built after Venice's period of intense inquisition and criminals who crossed this bridge seldom served harsh sentences.
Another icon of Venice are the black gondolas; flat bottomed rowing boats that ply the city's waterways. During the 17th and 18th centuries it is estimated as many as ten thousand served the city. Today about four hundred remain in service, most of which offer rides to the visiting tourist.
The Gondolier, who rows the gondola, stands at the back of the boat. A single oar projects from the boats right side and both propels and steers the gondola. To prevent it from veering to the left with each stroke, these boats are built asymmetrically – the left side being made almost a foot longer than the right. Every gondolier is approved by a guild, which issues a limited number of license after the applicant has not only learned the skills of handling the craft, but must also demonstrate knowledge of Venetian history and its landmarks as well as demonstrate proficient foreign language skills.
Be aware that much of Venice is not "handicapped friendly". There are thresholds, stairs, and passageways that may be hard to navigate for those visitors who have difficulty getting around. Check that your hotel can provide you with the access to comfortably move within the building and within your room. There will also be limitations on some transportation choices. Check with your travel agent before you book your trip.
Swimming is not recommended in Venice. The sewage system still depends heavily on old city technology, and waste water runs into the canals. Although the daily tides flush away the water and replace it with new twice a day, avoid the urge to take a dip in the canals.
Dining is expensive at the restaurants and eateries at and near St. Marks Square and other areas heavily visited by tourists. Some of the smaller side streets away from the Grand Canal have good restaurants at more reasonable prices (this is where the Venetians go to eat). At some restaurants where music is provided, there is an added fee to offset the cost of hiring the musicians. While it might be nice to have the entertainment accompany your meal, the price is excessive for most travelers.
If you intend to add the experience of a gondola ride to your trip, be prepared for the price. Expect to pay up to $100 for the rental of the gondola and the oarsman, and expect to pay even more if you plan to ask to be serenaded. Some tour operators can offer you the gondola experience for a fraction of the cost, but you will be packed onto a boat with a dozen other travelers. If you absolutely must experience travel by gondola, bite the bullet and pay for the more personalized journey. Here is a tip – find a gondola that is away from the tourist destinations and you might be able to get a better offer.
Finally, between autumn and spring Venice often experiences Acqua Alta (high water); this is the time when the rains and exceptional high tides raise the water levels of the city and causes flooding through much of the city. For the Venetians this is a way of life; for the tourist, it can make or break a vacation. If you plan on arriving in Venice during this time of the year, check the Acual Alta forcast online. If you are caught during one of these flooding conditions, remember that it is only temporary, and the waters usually begin to receed within four to six hours. But, if they are accompanied by heavy rain, the condition could last a few days. Travel light and and bring your things in carryon luggage. If you must walk through flooded streets, you can keep your things dry by carrying your suitcase.
The Bridge of Sighs