Ever since I watched ‘The Tourist’ starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, I thought it would be cool to ‘arrive’ in Venice via water taxi. Speeding along, the wind and water spray in your hair….
So after two flights, one from Nice to Lyon and then onwards from Lyon to Venice, we are boarding the orange line Alilaguna boat (not at all like Johnny’s transfer) to the Rialto stop and dragging our suitcases up and down the many stairways over the canals, and navigating the twisting turning alleyways towards our Venetian hotel.
For our time in Venice, we are staying in Locanda Ca’Amadi – a building that dates from the 13th century and was the house of Marco Polo between the 13th and 14th centuries. Marco’s family apparently owned several buildings in town. In fact the balcony that overlooks the canal from the breakfast room of our hotel dates back to the 13th century, as its delicate state proves.
During the 15th century, the palace was the residence of Count Francesco Amadi (hence the name) – a family of merchants who had great prestige in Venice and included important members of the political and clerical life of Venice.
History never ceases to amaze me and the more I travel and explore, the more amazed I become.
So who was Marco Polo? He was the son of Matteo Polo, himself an explorer. In 1260 Matteo and his brother Niccolo had sailed from Venice to the near east, ending up in northern China. They met the Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan, who was very curious about their homeland, asking them all sorts of questions. He gave them a message for the Pop to send 100 Christian priests to China. Unfortunately the Pope died before they got home and they had to wait almost two years to give the message to the new Pope.
At the age of 18, Marco left on a voyage with his father and uncle, where they discovered interesting things such as ‘a peculiar kind of spring that spat out a black, oily liquid’ (oil). People used it to smear onto rashes and for curing ulcers on animals. They used sign language to communicate and ask directions.
Meeting back up with Matteo and Niccolo’s friend the Khan, Marco became the Kublai’s attendant, returning with him to Beijing. The Great Khan sent him to different parts of his empire to investigate and report on conditions. He even followed the Khan onto the battlefield in Manchuria.
After 17 years, he became homesick, and in 1293 the three sailed back to Venice to find it at war with Genoa. Marco somehow landed himself in prison, where he dictated his story to a cellmate, a romance author who later released the story to great acclaim. Upon his release, he became a wealthy merchant, marrying and living happily with his wife and three children.
It would seem Marco became more of a household name than his father simply because of his luck in landing himself in prison – he had no intention of writing about his travels.
We will start to explore Venice tomorrow, but for this evening – a nice pasta in front of the Rialto Bridge is in store.