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     Volume 4 Issue 59 | August 19, 2005 |

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A Floating Experience

Sumana Sharmin Mimi

Dhaka was known as the "Venice of the East". Since childhood we have heard this gimmick and have always wondered why it was called so. Fortunately, this July I was able to go to Venice to see for myself how far such comparisons were valid.

My husband and I)left Chicago on Friday night (1st July), after work. We reached Munich on Saturday (2nd July) early morning and from there we took an Italian airline "Dolomiti".

The first thing we did as soon as we reached Venice was take the water bus (called "Vaporetto") to our hotel. No matter where you go in Venice you have to take some water transport. Venice is built on 117 small islands and has some 150 canals and 409 bridges (only three of which cross the Grand Canal).

If you take the Vaporetto, it's better to buy a whole day or 3 day or one week ticket at one time, that way you save money. If you don't then each way Vaporetto travel is 5 Euro per person, but if you buy a ticket for the day (it's 10.50 Euro) you can get on the Vaporetto for an unlimited time. Plus the bus from the airport to and from the ferry station is free. You can, moreover, get on any number and go anywhere in Venice including many of the famous islands. Number 85 is the fastest to travel from the ferry station to Venice, number 1 is the most romantic and slowest Vaporetto. You will get a map when you purchase a ticket and if you are still confused you can always ask the conductor. If you miss one, don't worry, the next one will come soon. In the meantime go and buy another scoop of gelato and enjoy it. Or stand by a local artist and see how he is painting Venice.

If you want to see the real Venice and avoid crowds, take Vaporetto number 1 and go to the northern side of the Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge). You will see people singing, playing harps, guitars, drums and saxophones on the streets. A few times we just followed some music and found a man or a group of people playing musical instruments, indeed a very pleasing experience. This was in Venice Ghetto, the oldest ghetto in Europe that has five synagogues, a Jewish museum, and a kosher restaurant (the only one in Venice). People in Venice don't sleep on Saturday night. They party, sing, dance, drink, talk all night. They wake up late on Sunday; fish or fruit markets are not open on Sunday.

Fortunately we found a nice apartment for one night (as someone canceled at the last minute and they gave it to us at half price, still 90 Euros! Usually tourists book their hotel 3-4 months prior to the trip to stay in Venice). Venice is the safest place to travel for tourists in Europe. We were out well after midnight. It's a place to walk, to see things around and to get water rides. It's also a place to get lost so that you can see more beautiful things and get back to your place again safely without even asking people for directions--as long as you have a map.

Venetian Roads are like those in Puran Dhaka, very narrow and going zigzag. There are lot's of small bridges over the Grand Canal and its branches. You will see a"Gondola" every where and the boatman will persistently ask if you want a ride (very expensive, around 100 Euro for an hour or so). Gondolas are like our own sampans only the boatmen are usually dressed in black trousers and blue and white or black and white T shirts. They have a long paddle and ride just about everywhere -especially in the Branched canal, singing songs. We saw a Gondola driver singing and playing guitar in his boat and

Trying to lure every couple he came across, whether they wanted a ride or not.

We mostly walked and took Vaporettos. I was so surprised at myself for not being afraid- riding boats or steamers and being on water. I actually enjoyed it! We took a 45 minute ride from the north eastern part of Venice to "Lido" Island (south west side from Venice, 10 km or 6 mile long). It was awesome! We passed the Grand Canal a few times to see things around Venice; we passed part of the Adriatic Sea (Mediterranean Sea) Venice Lagoon to go to Lido which is less crowded and nicer looking than Venice.

In Venice we passed San Marko every day, I had one of my best experiences there. There were thousands of pigeons, people were selling corns for them, I bought one pack to feed birds. The moment I started spreading my hands in front, hundreds of them started flying towards me, some sat on my hands, on my neck, head, they were even eating from my hand! We went there to visit St. Marks Square, the Tower and St. Marks BasilicaWe also visited Gallerie dell'Accademia. It has Venice's single most important art collection, from the 14th to 18th centuries.

We took Vaporetto rides and got off at different places in Venice and walked around. The best thing about these walks was that we got to eat lots of Italian gelato (ice cream), the most famous in the world. Water melon, kiwi, peach, lime, yogurt, plane, hazel nut, pistachio, you name it we tried them all !

We met Bangladeshis selling flowers, working in Hotel front desk, selling gift items in small mobile store. Among four Bangladeshis, one of them was Munna Bhai. He worked in one hotel and arranged hotel room for us for the next night. He was friendly and very helpful, and also very entertaining. We met two other Bangladeshis in St. Marks Square selling red roses and hiding from the police because they didn't have work permits. When they found out that we were also from Bangladesh, they wanted to take half the price for the roses we bought (one Euro per rose instead of 2 Euro). But still we paid them full.

One word of caution though--there aren't many public toilets in Venice and the ones that are available are really crowded. You have to pay 20 to 50 cents for using it as well. So think before you drink too much or go to any local café, order tea or coffee or whatever you like and use their toilet, but make sure before ordering that they do have a toilet.

The best time to go to Venice is during the Carnival but if you can't make it don't worry, as there are plenty of things to do and see in Venice at any time of the year. If you want to buy a mask you will find it every where. Street vendors sell them, and you can buy anything from mass-produced paper or ceramic miniatures to handcrafted papier-mâché and leather masks by skilled artisans. You can also go to workshops to buy the fancier ones. If you can't make it to Murano or Burano Island to see how they make glass and laces, you still can buy samples from Venice stores.

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