The Bucket List: I’ve just crossed one item off of mine – visit Italy. I got there by an unexpected route; I went with my church choir. Not your average choir, it’s comprised of professional singers, semi-pros and serious amateur voices. At the bottom of the choral hierarchy are folks like me: willing to make the commitment to learn the challenging music and not embarrass ourselves or our fellow choristers. After months of rigorous practice, 60 singers and 20 companions departed June 23 for a singing tour of Venice, Florence and Rome. Read more to get my scoop on highlights of Venice, traveling with a tour group, and packing and fashion tips.
After a blessing from our assistant rector, Ann Dieterle, we departed via motor coach from the steps of our church, St. James’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. This would be the first of our numerous boardings of airplane, bus or boat, jockeying for seats and traveling companions, suitcases in tow. Traveling with so many requires a certain mindset to cope with the “hurry up and wait” herding necessary to get to any destination.
But the trade-off was worth it to me. Our patient and energetic tour guides worried about our accommodations, meals and transportation, while at the same time spoon-fed us with interesting anecdotes about our destinations. All we had to do was be in the moment.
Foremost on my mind at this point (other than my musical preparedness) was whether I had packed properly for the extensive walking and the religious venues I knew we were to encounter, while not sacrificing the few fashion options I had at my disposal. Would my shoes be comfortable and yet somewhat stylish? Will my dress be appropriate for St. Peter’s? Will I be too cold/hot? Do I look flagrantly American, and was that a bad thing? Should I have taken a larger suitcase, so I could bring home Italian treasures?
Inspired by a veteran globe trotter in our group, I chose to edit my wardrobe down to what would fit into my two small carry-on suitcases (using my tried and true zippered packing cubes from Eagle Creek). After schlepping these two bags on and off the water taxi from the airport in Venice to our hotel, I was thankful to not be lugging my “Big Blue” suitcase, no matter what fashion compromise I had to make.
Without a doubt, Venice is the most unique city I’ve visited. Built on 118 islands in the Gulf of Venice on the Adriatic Sea over 1000 years ago, it oozes charm from every turn of the gondola. Its proximity between eastern and western trade routes was its only natural resource, and it prospered for hundreds of years due to the cunning and skill of its merchants. Each island became its own commercial enterprise, complete with a church, which is why one encounters a St. Something every few paces while marveling at the city’s sights.
After a vaporetto (water taxi) ride on the Grand Canal to dinner,
our first stop was St. Mark’s Square,
the main focal point of the city, marked by the Campanile (left photo), St. Mark’s Basilica (the dome in the right photo) and the Doge’s Palace (below).
St. Mark’s relics are said to be buried in the basilica (we heard the word relic several times; it seems bones symbolized power and were prized for their ability to draw tourists). The Lion is the symbol of St. Mark, and now Venice, and the lion motif dominates the city.
Back to our choral mission. Our first concert venue was
seen above showing off its facade of colored marble in early Venetian Renaissance style. This performance would not be our best, but we were glad to stretch our vocal legs and work out the jitters, for our next day in Venice we were to sing at public mass at St. Mark’s Basilica and needed to be on our game.
On our tour of St. Mark’s the first day, we saw the original bronze horses
that used to adorn the facade of the basilica until they were removed and restored inside the Galleries. Metaphorically they represent Matthew, Mark, Luke and John bearing the good news. As awe-inspiring as they were, truly awesome was the experience to sing on the floor of the basilica in the service on our second day.
Following the mass, our fearless maestro, Mark Whitmire,
led us in a flash mob singing our spirituals, This Little Light of Mine and Battle of Jericho. Spectators rewarded us with applause and photos, putting to rest the nagging question, “Can we really pull this off?” For more coverage of our singing, click here for a Richmondmagazine.com article written by a fellow Richmonder Harry Kollatz, Jr. who happened to be in Venice at the same time.
Our visit to Venice was all too brief. With more time, I would have ridden a gondola, dined leisurely at a picturesque cafe on a canal, actually tried on shoes instead of drooling over them through the store windows, visited the Manet exhibit at the Doge’s Palace, taken in the performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, visited the public gardens where the Biennale 2013 showcased art from 37 countries, taken a dip in the Adriatic from our perch on the Lido,
strolled through the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, visited the San Giorgio Maggiore and climbed the stairs of its tower for a view of the city, journeyed to the island of Murano to see the bona fide Venetian glass, to name just a few. Guess I’ve just put a new item on my Bucket List: Return to Venice with enough time to thoroughly embrace its magical charm.
As much as I regretted our departure from Venice, I was confident more Italian awesomeness awaited me as we journeyed to Florence, via Ravenna. The saga continues on Wednesday, July 10. Arrivederci!
July 8, 2013