Betty and Ken’s Eastern Mediterranean Adventure #3 – Wednesday, April 17: Venice, Italy

A typical Venetian canal

The Venice islands were constructed to be defensible: The shallow canals and low bridges meant that invading naval vessels would run aground or get stuck.

It’s easy to get around Venice by canal. By street, not so much. You can’t navigate by landmarks like the San Marco tower, because the whole city is a maze with four-or-five storey buildings blocking the sightlines. Navigating the city was sort of like those old text adventure games: “left, right, left, cross bridge, straight for fifty paces…”

Police, garbage collection, ambulances are all boats. No horses, no scooters. No cars, of course. No grass. No wild flowers, no fields, few trees. Very little litter. No hills. Only bridges.

The gondolas’ paddles double as poles. There are regulations limiting how ornate a gondola can be. They need something like that in India and Mexico.

At the entrance to San Marco Palazzo, pigeons landed on my head. Fortunately for both of us, I was wearing a hat.

We toured the prison that’s attached to the Doges Palace. Prison cells, torture chambers. Our guide had stories about a legendary prisoner, none other than Casanova. How he dug through his floor to discover some metal obstacle. He asked his keeper for vinegar, which would dissolve the metal, probably aluminum.

One of the prison cells. At least this one had a bed.

Stairs in a torture chamber

The inquisitor would climb these stairs to have a face-to-face chat with the victim, who was undergoing strappado, that is, hanging by his or her hands by a rope tied behind the back.

Another fun fact: The Doges employed immigrants and prisoners to copy their important legal documents. The scribes didn’t understand Italian (or whatever they called their language in those days) so they just copied the letter shapes and therefore never knew what they were copying. I quipped that this is like Facebook: People copying things they don’t understand. I got an appreciative laugh for that.

Different courtrooms had different artwork and décor. One would have stern artwork suggesting a punishing God. Others featured Madonna and Child artwork, suggesting a merciful God.

Our guide to the Doges palace

A graffito near our hotel

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