Once we left Austria, we wove through the southern Tyrol. Gazing out the window, I spotted tiny villages, isolated homesteads, and ancient castles dotting the mountains. What caused travelers to settle in this remote region thousands of years ago? No super highway. No stores. No neighbors.  No schools. Everything had to be produced by the family. No exceptions.

But back to traveling.  We approached Italy, stopped at the ancient Bomarzo Park full of bizarre statues and then headed to Bolzano, a border city that both Germans and Italians have claimed over the centuries.  Hence, German and Italian are commonly spoken there.

Our afternoon visit included a stroll through the open-air market so prevalent in Europe, topped with an outdoor meal of wagyu beef. Yum. Then on the road again.

Next stop Venice, the magical city built on water. Did you know that when the Germanic tribes invaded northern Italy around 500 A.D. that locals escaped to this marsh? Then they remained and figured out how to build a city on water. As in Holland, they drove millions of timber pilings into the ocean bottom for foundations. With age, they petrified, becoming like cement. Pretty amazing!

We stayed on one of the many islands comprising Venice that surprisingly had a few roads for cars. However, in Venice proper, there are no cars.  The only transportation is by boat, bike, or walking because the entire city is sitting on water. Due to the lack of outdoor space, the city provides indoor playgrounds and sporting arenas.

Boat-buses transport visitors and residents alike.  To maintain an 8-10 feet depth, the city dredges the traveling sea lanes regularly. Boats collect trash, deliver goods to businesses, serve as ambulances and police transportation, along with numerous other services normally provided by cars or trucks elsewhere in the world. However, most locals also own a private boat for recreation.

And don’t forget the gondolas! What a historic and charming experience, complete with a serenade – Frank Sinatra style. For hundreds of years, this one-of-a-kind tradition has been handed down from father to son. 

Due to the many canals, bridges are everywhere, just like in Amsterdam.  Strolling along those ancient cobblestone streets was inspiring. 

Another tradition unique to Venice is the art of mask-making.  Our tour provided a visit to a professional mask maker complete with the art, history and meaning behind various masks.  Intriguing, each mask tells a story. Then across a tiny bridge, he sells them in his store. Interestingly, this artist is Iranian by birth. What a surprise!

During our tour through the Venetian streets and alleys, we saw laundry strung between buildings, open-air markets in plazas, historic statues, boats bustling with their particular services, and ancient buildings. 

One of those buildings was St. Mark’s Basilica situated in the famed St. Mark’s Square. Like a jewelry box, the interior glitters with 40,000 square feet of golden mosaics with each tile depicting a Bible story.  I questioned the extravagance when so many were likely poor, but at least the construction provided jobs. 

Our two-day tour slid to a close all too soon.  As our bus meandered south toward our Tuscan retreat, I wondered what treasures that fabled area would hold for us.

Terri White is a veteran homeschool mom from the 80s and 90s and the founder/director of T.E.A.C.H. Cleburne. She can be reached at teachcleburne13@gmail.com.

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