Northern Italy: Venice to Florence


Most of us love travelling, but having to stay home during these unique times, can be quite frustrating. Thanks to the folks at Rogers TV and YouTube, my travel show is doing very well and gives me a fantastic opportunity to reminisce about some great locales around the world.

One of my favourite memories was a recent trip to the north of Italy. I flew direct to Venice, arriving at Marco Polo airport, where my guide whisked me off in a water taxi to beautiful St. Mark's square. It was built in 1100 as the central government area for the Republic of Venice and thrived until 1797, when the republic surrendered to Napoleon. The square is the most visited part of Venice, with up to 20 million tourists a year (pre-COVID), nearly half of all the annual visitors to Italy.

The bell tower of St Mark's Cathedral is one of the most recognizable symbols of the city, and stands surprisingly separate from the church with the same name. I was amazed at the spectacular views from the belfry, nearly 100 metres from the ground.

Across the square is St. Mark’s Basilica, built in 828 when Venetian merchants stole the relics of Mark the Evangelist from Alexandria, Egypt. The church was burned in a rebellion in 976 and reconstructed into its present form in 1017. The upper levels of the interior are completely covered with bright mosaics.

Next to the Cathedral is the Doge’s Palace built in Venetian Gothic style in 1172.The palace was the residence of the Doge or magistrate, the supreme authority of the Republic of Venice. A corridor connects the palace with a prison, and is known as the Bridge of Sighs, named for the moans from prisoners who took a last look at freedom through the small windows en route to their cells.

Of course no trip to Venice is complete without a traditional gondola ride. For centuries, gondolas were the chief means of transportation, and are steered by a gondolier. Their primary role today is to carry tourists on rides at a fixed rate of 80 Euros or 130 dollars for 40 minutes. More than 500 gondolas travel the 50 kilometres of waterways drifting under 409 bridges, and along 177 canals in this city with a population of 270,000. Venice's gondoliers invest about €20,000 ($30,000) for a traditional hand-built wooden gondola with a useful life of about 20 years.

The Grand Canal is the main waterway of the city and carries the bulk of Venetian transportation, as automobiles are banned throughout much of the city. If you're thinking of a summer house on the grand canal, be prepared to spend in excess of 1.5 million euros or 2.3 million dollars for a two bedroom unit.

From Venice I continued to Verona, home of several Shakespearean tragedies.

Verona, with its 700,000 inhabitants is one of the main tourist destinations in northern Italy. This is due to its artistic heritage, as well as shows and operas. Many of these are held in the ancient amphitheatre built by the Romans around 30CE.

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