By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
Marco Polo went to China in the 13th century and introduced pizza and noodles to the Europeans. Marco had inspired me to visit Venice last October, but the inspiration I got from Venice turned out to be something else.
Reaching Venice is adventurous
You cannot fly into Venice because it is a town comprising 118 man-made islands, connected by bridges and canals. Built 600 years ago, Venetians escaped from war to swamp lands.
To ward off foreign attacks, they diverted more water into the lagoons.
We flew Delta non-stop from Seattle to Amsterdam and then transferred to Venice. At the airport, we had to carry our own luggage, walking about five minutes to get a water taxi (boat) to go into the city. It costs 80 Euro ($90 US) for a 20-minute ride. You can ride for much cheaper on a crowded waterbus (about 2€ to 4€), which stops at different islands, but it won’t be in front of your hotel. Luckily, we learned a long time ago that it’s wise to travel light.
The boat ride gave us a great view of Venice’s unique architecture from island to island. Many of the waterfront buildings were once palaces, now remodeled into hotels, museums, and even regular residences. Most of the islands have at least two to four churches, each with distinct style and color.
Some Italian shop owners greeted us in Mandarin, “Ni Hao!” thinking we are rich Chinese from China. And yes, Chinese tourists were all over Venice. It was a change of scenery compared to the past, when Japanese tourists used to dominate global travel. Now, there are Chinese language signs installed in some Italian shops.
Venice’s beauty produces flaws
Each year, about 20 million tourists pour into tiny Venice, which has only 8,000 residents. You can imagine how jammed the streets are during summer.
The best part for the tourist is that you can walk all day long without being stopped by traffic. There is not a single car on the streets.
All goods have to be transported by boat. You can understand why things are so expensive in Venice, just like Hawaii. A 200 E hotel room in Venice is just like a $100 room in Seattle. The closer you are to St. Mark’s Square, the more expensive the rooms are. The Square offers lots of free events day and night. It’s fun to watch.
The city is dirty. It has no outlet, so garbage has to be removed by boats. The city doesn’t have a well-designed sewage system. Its water looks very polluted. My friend complained to me about seeing big rats in the city. They were not afraid of people or other animals around them. The animals have no way to escape if they can’t swim in the lagoons.
The buildings are ancient. Venice’s architecture is distinct and beautiful, but some buildings also stink. You can’t tear them down and build new ones because every part of the city is tinged with history.
Food in Venice
Our meals in Venice were spectacular. From pasta and pizza to chicken and veal, I was impressed by the meticulous care, heart, and pride Italians put in preparing their cuisine. Every restaurant we visited was an adventure for me, including a Chinese restaurant called Ocean City. After three or four meals, I craved Chinese food.
I especially enjoyed Venice’s fresh bread, soup, and pasta of all types. I dislike Seattle’s pasta. In Venice, it opened my eyes. Seattle just doesn’t have quality pasta. It isn’t fresh enough and has too many preservatives.
China invented pasta thousands of years ago. Appreciating pasta simply means I am appreciating what once belonged to my native land.
Now, I not only enjoy pasta, I love cooking it. It is a symbol of unity between Italians and Chinese.
So what did I bring back from Venice? Venice has many fun street shops. You can bargain a little, but not too much. If the item is 40 E, the salesperson will only give you 2 E off.
Glass is famous in Venice. Dale Chihuly studied in Venice. I brought back different sets of miniature glass animals for my staff. It added very little weight to my luggage.
Music in Venice
There were two concerts that aroused my emotions to tears last year. One was Nobuyuki Tsujii, the blind pianist who performed in “Celebrate Asia” with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, and the other was in Venice, performed by a seven-piece orchestra.
We were in Venice for four days. One afternoon, a woman dressed in opera costume handed me a flyer about a concert at St. Mark Square. My husband was sick. So I went alone to a concert hall, with grand pillars outside like a Roman courthouse.
I was the fourth guest to arrive 15 minutes before the concert. I felt bad for the orchestra with so few in the audience. Then, people kept walking in.
Inside, the small space only seated about 100 people. The organizers kept adding more chairs in the back. After 20 minutes into the concert, the hall was packed.
Sitting in the fourth row, I could hear every note. For 25 E, the orchestra performed 17th century Antonio Vivaldi’s best-known work, “Four Seasons.” For an hour and 15 minutes, I was in heaven listening to Vivaldi’s music. Even with several people shouting “encore!” and thunderous applause, the violinist refused to perform again. I was disappointed.
Venice was not Antonio Vivaldi’s birthplace, but his death place in 1741. There is a Vivaldi museum inside a church. It’s free. I recommend you see it if you visit Venice.
When my friend heard that I visited Venice, the first thing she asked was, did you go to Vivaldi’s concert? Her eyes were filled with envy when I said yes.
I didn’t even know Vivaldi’s connection with Venice before the trip. Now that violin music is still in my head. I just feel so unexpectedly lucky and blessed. (end)
Assunta Ng can be reached at email@example.com.