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‘Hey Antonio! What news on the Rialto?’ These were the first words that came to my mind, as I stepped on to Venetian soil for the first time. It seemed as if Antonio, Salerio and Solanio of The Merchant of Venice were all round me, chatting, shouting, lolling, having a drink and making merry! What a feeling! Oh Shakespeare, where art thou?

Source: Evening Standard                                                                                      Source: Klook

Well, I was in Venice or “Venezia”, the capital of the Italian region of Veneto, a city of my dreams. Standing just beside the statue of Victor Emanuel II, I took in the breath-taking view of the blue waters of the Adriatic Sea we had just ferried across, the gondolas anchored in rows and the clear sky above. The area was swarming with excited tourists determined to drink life to the lees. Laughter, drifting out of roadside bars and cafes, mingled with the live music that seemed to flow out from every nook and corner.

This archipelago of 118 islands, 150 canals and 400 bridges has aptly been marked a UNESCO world heritage site. Venice can boast of beautiful architectural marvels like the Ducal Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica. The latter is unique since it is perhaps the only church in the world that is shaped like a mosque and is said to be one of the most photographed squares in the world. A picture of this building is a must-have. And that’s when reality dawned upon me − My CAMERA!

Since I had set foot on Venice, my camera had stopped working and I was not able to switch it on. Perhaps an issue with the batteries. No. For the result was a big zero even after trying out a new pair. Something had to be done, for I just couldn’t miss out on this opportunity of a lifetime. So, I started walking through the alleys and asking whosoever I set eyes upon for the direction to a photo studio. By chance I stumbled upon a salon where a beautiful girl was filing her nails. Hearing my pleas, she was kind enough to point in the right direction and utter the single word that I would remember to this day -“Fotolab”.

Started walking again through the maze of alleys, until I arrived right in front of my destination − fotolab. An old gentleman with flowing white hair seated right behind the desk listened very carefully to my problem. He thought for a moment, brought out an old toolkit, took out the batteries and did some sort of fidgeting with the battery chamber, pushed in the batteries and voila − my camera sprang back to life. I checked it properly, no harm done. As I asked him how much to pay, he smiled a little, winked and said – “free”!! The only word that came out of my mouth was “Grazie”, Italian for “Thank You”!

I rushed back to the spot where the others were, all ready for round 2. Next in line was a visit to an infamous prison and the ‘Bridge of Sighs’ but it definitely took all back to a dreary past. Who knows how many poor souls had crossed this bridge and perhaps stopped to take one last look at the world outside before getting locked away for years in the dungeons? This surely does send a chill down one’s spine.

                                                                                                                Source: Wikipedia

To dispel the gloom, our Guide once again pointed towards the Piazza San Marco no doubt the most popular spot of the city. On one side there is St. Theodore (the patron saint before St. Mark) slaying the dragon and on the other is the winged lion i.e. the Lion of Venice, the symbol of St. Mark. Even the beautiful clock tower has a story of its own. I am sure we have all seen this place in both Hollywood as well as in Bollywood films. But seeing it on screen and being there in person are quite different experiences, my friends! Nothing could pull us away from the spot till we heard the word GONDOLA!!

Can one imagine standing in Venice and not taking a Gondola ride down its famous canals and waterways? Stepping into those slender, black, long boats is not easy, let me tell you and quite a few were helped in by dashing Italian boatmen. One hundred-tonner was finding it very hard to maintain balance. There were smiles on many faces including mine at the thought of the slim gondola’s fate! However, my smile vanished when I realized that I too was “horizontally challenged” and thereby my poor Gondola could also go face down! But, there was some consolation − the rotund gentleman was at least six inches shorter!!

It took some time to get over the effect of the great gondola ride and no one wanted to move on. But, as we had been instructed to assemble at a particular point by our guide after exactly two and a half hours from our arrival, like obedient children we did just that.

More excitement in store as we proceeded towards one of the world famous Murano glass factories to witness ‘glass blowing’ first hand. We were led through a large room filled with lots of glassware, from paper-thin wine glasses to large vases embroidered with gold. A command rang out from all the mothers in the group − “Children, Hands in Your Pockets. Do Not Touch Or Break Anything”. I also overheard Dr. Sharma telling his kid, “Even If you sell me in the market, you will not be able to recover the cost of anyone of these, beta”. Good advice indeed!

What happened in the next five to seven minutes left all of us just awestruck! The master craftsman pulled out a hot blob of glass and within minutes his pincer was at work, pulling and pushing on the blob in order to give it a SHAPE. After a while he looked up, smiled and held up a small statuette of a galloping horse, full of energy and zeal as if all set to take on the world. A thunderous applause was his remuneration for those ‘intense’ few minutes’ labor. Not one of us was willing to leave the place, but all good things do come to an end.

It was time to board our bus and we had to we walk back to our ferry which would take us close to the bus parking lot at Tronchetto. The huge ocean liners passed our small boat, as if the “petty traffickers” i.e. the small boats and water buses were ‘doing courtesy’ to these Leviathans. Shakespeare once again! Smiles and cheers enlivened the atmosphere as people from both sides waved at one another. As we approached Mussolini’s bridge of liberty, we could see both the lights of the Marco Polo International Airport and flights take off and then dot the dark sky with points of light. It was sheer magic, an experience that was totally out of this world.

Moving towards our hotel Park Hotel Villa Fiorota in Mestre after a day in Venice, was a real anti-climax and no one had the heart to say, “Arivederci Venesia”, Goodbye and Farewell. Still we had to − couldn’t change our nationality overnight, could we!!!