Shortly after leaving Florence we ran into a series of short tunnels. I am very sorry that I did not count them, but there must have been about 30 very close together. Then we ran into one long tunnel through the Apennine Mountains which is the second longest tunnel in the world. It is 11¾ miles long. Half way through there is a station and as there is a gully above a lift has been constructed which takes any passengers or goods to the top. It was a queer sight to see this station underground. We continued with more tunnels until we were right through the mountains and then we ran into flat country until we arrived at Venice after a four hours journey.
We were ready to see this wonderful city, but I believe we all got a greater thrill than we had anticipated.
There is only one Venice. It can never be repeated. The train took us to the closest of the 116 islands and then we got out to travel by gondola. We had seen the pictures of these and we had an idea of what they looked like, but neither picture nor printed description can tell you all about these unique boats and the men who send them swiftly and silently through the water. Venice has been rightly called the “queen of the Adriatic”. We were all too interested to say anything when we got out of the train at the water’s edge and we just stood and watched the gondoliers bring their weird craft up to the landing stage for us to get in.
Each gondola can carry five people.
The gondolier stands in the stern and with one paddle sends it along at an unexpectedly fast rate. It is tilted on one side a little and it is on this tilt that the gondolier depends for steering.
We entered the grand canal, the place we had heard about in story and song, and got a real thrill out of the scene and the experience.
It took half an hour to reach the hotel and we got out of the gondola at the front door.
Next day we visited the Doges Palace, which was the royal palace when Venetia (Venice) was a state of its own.
This was not only a most interesting piece of architecture, but it was intensely interesting from an historical point of view. It contains the largest oil painting done on canvas which the world has yet produced and the guide told us that the room in which this painting was situated was the largest single room in Europe.
Adjoining the palace is the prison and we visited the dungeons. We saw the room where the council tried the prisoners and decided whether they were to die or live.
As there was a canal between the palace the the prison a bridge was built so that the prisoners could be taken to the court to be tried. This is the world famous “Bridge of Sighs”, so called because those condemned to death were given their last peep of this world through the iron bars of the bridge as they returned to their dungeons before being executed.
I went to the top of the Campanile (325 feet) and got an excellent view of Venice and its surroundings, but the others preferred to sit in the square and have some cool drink and a rest after the sightseeing of the morning.
In the afternoon we were split into small parties of five or six and we went round the city in gondolas.
One would have thought that all the afternoon would have been sufficient for us, but apparently it was not, for I had to hire a gondola for the evening and go through the various canals again by moonlight. The night was cold and not very bright as the moon was only about half. We kept warm by getting up close. After we had been going for a few minutes we started singing and we sang every song we could think of. It was an experience we are not likely to forget. People came to their windows to see who was singing in that strange language.
The next day was wet and we could not go to the station in our gondolas, so we caught one of the large motor boats which run a regular service. The steam ferries and the motor boats are taking most of the ordinary business traffic, but I do not think the gondolas will ever be displaced completely. It would be catastrophe for Venice if this happened.
We said goodbye with a feeling that the time was far too short and a determination that if ever we took such a trip again Venice would be included.