Lucerne, Switzerland to Venice, Italy

On August 7 after leaving Switzerland on our way to Italy, we went through the Saint Gotthard tunnel which is the second longest road tunnel – it is 17 km (10 miles) long! We left the German–speaking part of Switzerland, drove through the tunnel and came out on the other side into the Italian-speaking area of Switzerland, as evidence by the street signs in Italian.

I experience another first when we visited a rest stop in Italy. The rest rooms have attendants and it is customary to leave a tip if you use the toilet. There was a man standing outside the rest rooms with a tip jar who greeted everyone with a friendly buongiorno (good day). Tipping to use the public bathrooms is an accepted norm in various European countries.

On our way to Venice we also drove by the area where the Von Trapp Family Singers of The Sound of Music fame escaped to Italy and then took a ship to America (the movie is not completely historically accurate).

We arrived at our hotel, quickly ate dinner, and then took a boat to downtown Venice for our gondola excursion. This was another very relaxing and amazing experience. I never imagined that I would be enjoying a gondola ride in the Grand Canal while serenaded in Italian with guitar accompaniment.  It was also very interesting to note how the gondoliers steer their boats; at first I thought it would be somewhat similar to canoeing, but I was wrong. The gondolier stands in the back with the paddle and uses more of a fast back-and-forth motion to propel the gondola.

View from our gondola of Piazzo San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) and the Doge’s Palace.

One of our 21st century gondoliers! (They wore athletic shoes and texted during the ride).


View of the Grand Canal from our gondola!

After gondola-ing, we walked around St. Mark’s Square at night (St. Mark’s is the principal public square of Venice and often referred to simply as the Piazza) and then took a smaller water taxi back to our coach bus. Our water taxi had engine trouble but we made it back without having to go for a swim.

Our last morning in Venice began with a Venetian glass blowing demonstration. Yeah, it was as cool as it sounds! The artist begins with bringing the sand mixture to an extremely high temperature, so much so that the mixture is white-hot. Then he turns it around and pulls on the glass and shapes it. You can also blow air into it, but you don’t use that method when creating sculptures.

Inside the Venetian glass blowing shop.

After the demonstration, we bought some gelato and did a bit of shopping. When I ordered my gelato, I actually couldn’t help myself from answering the worker in Spanish since it is so similar to Italian. Even cooler was the fact that she understood me!

Along the Grand Canal.

For lunch we took a boat over to a nearby island called Burano Island which is famous for its hand-made lace, fishing, and colored houses. We were grateful that the restaurant had AC since it was a very hot and humid day. We enjoyed a very traditional Italian meal: it began with fresh mozzarella and tomato slices, antipasti with peas and mushrooms, and was followed by meat lasagna, a main dish of grilled chicken and fries, and then iced fruit, and finally coffee. After, we had time to walk around and look through all the lace and glass shops.

Among the beautifully colored houses on Burano Island.
Along the canal at Burano Island.

Interesting facts about Venice (and other things I learned about while in Venice):

Venice is sinking because of rising water levels and silt, so the government is building movable dams (the project is called MOSES) which will be ready in 2015

Most European people are cremated to waste less space

In England and Italy the bathrooms are called WCs (water closets)

Many tourists purchase not only Venetian glass objects, but also Venetian-made masks

People used to drive/walk on the left side of the road because it was easier to mount a horse and have your sword in your right hand in case of attack. The plebeians walked on the right side. During the French Revolution, the French nobles began walking on the right side with the commoners to avoid being killed.

Italian is another Romance language and is the closest (besides Portuguese) to Spanish; I felt less out of place in Italy than in France since I could read a sign and understand it. (On a side note – I am also enjoying listening to my Pharmaceutical Sciences professor this semester; his Italian-accented English reminds me of my summer travels)

Next: Florence and Rome