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Ancona – Venice Italy:
Searching for the Ghost of Marco Polo
6–8 June 2019 (Thu–Sat)
Only one mishap on my train between Ancona and Bologna to connect with my train to Venice.
I had purchased a first class seat and found six seats in a closed compartments. I really hate that kind of configuration. I pay for first class as I want privacy and there is no privacy when three seats face three seats.
The door to my compartment was closed with curtains drawn so I open the door and find a sleeping woman on the two seats that block the doorway. Well, now she is awake and I apologise and explain that I have the window seat in this compartment. I explain that she need not get-up, as I will climb-over her. She says she does not understand English, as I throw my bags over on my seat and step over her. We say no more but she does not return to sleep.
A train official comes around to check my ticket and this young woman engages him in a heated-and-protracted discussion. At first the topic is unclear but slowly I realise that it is about her wanting this compartment to herself. Well, obviously she did not purchase all six seats as they sold the window seat to me.
Eventually, the train official asks me if I would consider moving to the next compartment and I say yes - I will certainly take a look. And I do. There is one fellow in that compartment seated at the window and so I return and decline. Explaining that I bought this window seat and this is the seat I will sit in. The train official’s say's: OK that's it. I think he had had enough of her at this point.
When my words are translated this women begins - I sense - to verbally abuse me and so I swear at her and tell her she can move to the next compartment. Well, those may be the only English words she understands, as she swears at me, grabs her suitcase and several fashion-store shopping bags and departs - never to appear again. So, I guess she spent the next two-hours in that compartment, as she got off in Bologna also. The train official came around later to reassure me that all was OK and in broken English explained that he figured the woman was crazy. Latino-crazy - the worst kind, I suppose.
I arrive at the Venice Santa Lucia station and boats are waiting. I take Line 1 toward Lido, as instructed, and arrive at the Rialto Mercato stop and walk several blocks to find Residenza Laguna - my Venice home.
My very first visit to Venice...
Getting to Venice did require a bit of back-tracking, as it is the first time, I have travelled East in two months - but It is really no more than a couple hundred km out of my way.
I am visiting Venice to pay my respect to Marco Polo, as he spent most of his life in Venice except for the 24 years travelling between Europe and Asia.
Venice is world famous as a city surrounded by water and sometimes inundated by water. Everyone has seen pictures of Venice, as there are very few places that integrate land, water and life so effectively.
The problem with travelling around Venice especially by water but even by foot is that I cannot stop taking pictures. Every time I turn a corner there is something that is jaw-dropping beautiful (see pictures). The combination of the water, ancient buildings, the sunlight and some undefined quality turns life into art.
Venice is not all cannels, but there are a lot of cannels and an extensive water-based public transportation system, taxi-boat system, of course, the world famous gondolas - which cost a fortune to rent. The combination of these large and small waterways, village paths, historic buildings and more is really something special that is completely destroyed because everyone wants to visit Venice. And they do - including me.
Too many people in too little space...
On my EurAsia journey, the only cities I have visited that had this massive influx of tourists are Xi'an, Samarkand and Istanbul but these three cities do not compare at all to the number of foreign visitors in Venice.
Now I've seen Venice and I appreciate how special it really is, and I will not return simply because of the crowds.
I went out into the evening air looking for dinner and found lasagne on a pier looking over the Grand Canal - nice.
Found the world famous Rialto Bridge, just around the corner from my guest house, the next morning and tried to get an unobstructed picture but impossible - next time I am on a boat (see picture).
My destination is San Marco Square (see picture), as I had been told that there is a museum honouring Marco Polo at this Square. I am impressed that this city would name an entire square and a Catholic Cathedrals after him.
Well ... this is not how it turned out - I learned upon arriving at the Square.
Piazza San Marco is named after Saint Mark also known as Mark the Evangelist who was one of Christ's disciples and credited for written the book of Mark in the Bible. The Latin translation of Saint Mark is: San Marco.
How disappointing, as the Square, the Basilica di San Marco (Cathedral), the Campanile (Bell Tower), etc., etc., are all so impressive.
The memory of Marco Polo is distinctively more modest within Venice, as the tourist information office points me back toward the Riato Bridge and the Malibran Teatro (Theatre).
But first - since I was at the Piazza San Marco I might as well visit the Cathedral - which is massive. Free to enter but the line is so long and they require that visitors book a time to get in line. Maybe next time I visit.
Near the Malibran Theatre and I asked others and eventually learn that there is no museum dedicated to Marco Polo in Venice. The Italians named the airport after him - Venice Marco Polo Airport - but no museum for their favoured-son? How odd.
There is, in fact, a museum dedicated to Marco Polo in Yangzhou China - near Shanghai - a city where he was appointed as a kind of government administrator by the Chinese and worked and lived there for three years: The Yangzhou Marco Polo Memorial Museum. I visited this museum in June 2018 and although it is not so grand, the museum at least commemorates Marco Polo's life and accomplishments.
The manager of the Malibran Hotel, next to the Theatre, explained that Marco Polo's home burned down years ago and now this Theatre stands where he once lived. A commemorative plaque on the back wall of the Theatre is the only recognition of Marco Polo in Venice - that and the airport.
Look at the picture with a white building and look below the red sign, which is the name of the theatre, and you see the plaque dedicated to Marco Polo. Enlarge the picture and you can read the words - in Italian.
Gondola's operators slide past this building in a small canal next to the Theatre and each, without fail, point to the plaque and note that here was once the home of Marco Polo (see same picture).
Down the street is an abandoned business with empty shelves and the following words painted in red on the window: "Libreria Marco Polo Bookshop" (see picture). I wondered when this shop closed? Pity, as it would have been interesting to talk to the shop owner and look at the books collected.
On one side of the Theatre is Plazza del Milion, which was part of Marco Polo's estate, I was told. Today there is a small cafe with outdoor seating. I had a cup of coffee and contemplated all I had learned that morning.
Here I am told that the Theatre has scheduled a performance that very evening with tickets being sold later. Well if I can't visit a museum then at least I can listen to a symphony in the location where Marco Polo once slept.
I secure a ticket for a box seat on the third level and enjoy a collection of music including a bit of Mozart and something experimental. Many are dressed formally and I am pleased that I decided to test-drive my dark blue Bulgarian Jacket - without the pants - for this event. I fit into this international milieu.
Marco Polo, I think, would be pleased that others - representing cultures from all over the world - come to the place where he once lived to enjoy music, as Marco Polo's life was a cultural symphony.
One last story about my engagement with Venice and Marco Polo is inspired at lunch - later that afternoon. I am getting hungry and there it is: Ristorante Marco Polo. How can I walk past after all that occurred that morning?
So, I order the set lunch for 19 Euro, which includes sea bass. I rarely order fish - and sea bass can be a bit too oily - but being surrounded by water must have had some influence on my judgement. I enquire about the restaurant's name as my waitress - a middle-aged woman with good English - serves my bass.
I am hoping to hear how Marco Polo's great-great-great-etc. granddaughter opened this place to share family secrets from the kitchen. Or I hope to hear that Marco Polo once ate at a small cafe on this very site - before it burned down in the great Venice fire ... or something along those lines. But nothing like that emerges from this moment - something better.
I am told that the Ristorante wanted to honour that man that discovered America - this is the truth - and so the owner decided to name the restaurant after Marco Polo. I say "America?" And she says Yes. It was an important discovery at the time and one that should be remembered today. How could I not agree... It seemed to put my visit to Venice into perspective.
Packed-up the next morning, said farewell to Marco Polo and Venice, and boarded a high speed train to Milano.
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