The Little Stone Bridge That Stood…

Venice’s elegant Rialto Bridge spreading her lacy petticoat across the Grand Canal

The single span Rialto Bridge is the oldest of four bridges straddling the Grand Canal in Venice.  Completed in 1591, this unique stone arch was built to replace the original wooden structure that had twice collapsed.  The bridge’s twin incline ramps meet to form a central portico which is lined with shops catering to Venice’s tourist crowd.  The bridge includes three separate walkways—two along the outside and one wider passageway down the center.  Its high arching design was intentional as ships required adequate space to pass under the bridge.  Some so-called “experts” predicted future ruin, but the regal Rialto has defied her critics to become the most famous—and most photographed—bridge in the city.

We visited the bustling Rialto district first thing on a Tuesday morning.  The Grand Canal teemed with activity as boats of every size and description jockeyed for position—loading and unloading freight, hauling passengers, or motoring to and from the lagoon.  Locals and tourists alike mounted the ancient stone steps of the Rialto Bridge as vendors set up kiosks and hawked their wares.  We had witnessed crowds and activity in other parts of the city, but the atmosphere in the Rialto district was different—businesslike and efficient.  Here and there a gondolier loitered; others deftly threaded their gondolas through the maze of watercraft on the canal.  This area is the oldest settled part of Venice and originally boasted exclusive shops, banks, and the fish market (which was later moved to the opposite side of the bridge to avoid assailing the noses of the bankers with less than appealing odors!).

I understand that the Rialto is scheduled to undergo restoration and cleaning in the near future—if work has not already begun.  Italy has employed innovative measures to fund its recent restoration efforts—seeking paid sponsorship by large businesses in return for free advertising during the work effort.  It is entirely possible, therefore, that the bridge will be shrouded in canvas for a period of time and bedecked with ads for Diesel, the Italian clothing company reported to be footing the bill for the restoration project.  Times, how they are a-changin’…

My Italy Top Five

A trip to Italy was the “biggie” on my bucket list and something I had dreamed about for most of my life.  When I finally got to go–and I do mean FINALLY since it seemed I’d been waiting for an eternity–I was a tiny bit worried that the reality might not live up to my expectation.  I plotted and planned and saved my pennies, and eventually boarded United flight CO44L headed to Milan.  For the next ten days I walked, climbed, ate, admired, experienced to the fullest—and slept precious little.  Choosing my Top 5 favorite things is not easy, but I will give it a shot…

1.    Water Taxi Ride on the Grand Canal in Venice…

This is how we traveled from the train station to our hotel.  The half hour ride afforded us an up close and personal view of the city that was beyond spectacular!  Though a bit pricier than the vaporetto or water bus, it was well worth the expense–and a lot more convenient considering that we were hauling our luggage along with us.

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2.  Visiting the Republic of San Marino…

Surrounded by Italy, it is the oldest surviving sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world.  The town of San Marino is situated 700 meters above sea level on Mt. Titano and has no natural level ground.  We walked uphill and climbed tons of stairs as we trekked to the peak of the mountain.  What an incredible view!  I am amazed–and worn out–just thinking about how difficult if must have been for the original inhabitants to hack and hew their way through all of that rock!

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3.  Climbing to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa…

Climbing the tower gave me one of the most unusual sensations I have ever experienced.  Even as we climbed upward, there were times when we almost felt as if we were going downhill.  This was due to the combination of the spiral staircase and the tower’s lean.  The marble steps are worn smooth and slick from years of traffic and most are noticeably concave in the center.  I was awestruck by the beauty and brightness of the tower as it glistened in the sunlight .  Photographs do not do it justice!

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4. Walking on the city wall in Lucca…

Lucca is famous for its fully intact Renaissance-era city walls.  No longer necessary for defense purposes, the walls have become a pedestrian promenade.  What makes that particularly unusual and interesting is the fact that there is a 40-foot drop from the top of the wall to the ground outside the city–and no railing.  People walk, jog, and bike along the path.  At one time they also raced cars around the top of the wall!  Lucca is a place I would like to return to–and live in for a month, or even an entire summer.  Serene and beautiful.

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5.  Climbing to the lantern atop the Duomo in Florence…

It is a matter of some dispute as to exactly how many steps there are along the way to the Duomo’s rooftop lantern–and, admittedly, I did not count.  I will say that the generally accepted 463 seems about right to me.  While the trek up the stairs may be arduous, the scenery along the way and from the top is well worth the effort!  We passed within feet of the unbelievable fresco painted on the ceiling of the dome (The Last Judgment), crept along a narrow catwalk roughly two hundred feet above the floor of the cathedral, and eventually emerged to stand at the tiptop of the Duomo where we were treated to a breathtaking panoramic view of Florence.  As an added bonus, the bells in Giotto’s Campanile began to ring just as we finished our climb and stepped out into the afternoon sunshine!

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