"Look through the window" I said to Nicole "We should see Venice in a few seconds, after we get past the cloud cover."
I was wrong. Before I saw anything of Venice, I felt the sudden impact of the wheels of our jet on the concrete of the runway. Out of the window, it was a strain to see more than ten yards either way. venice was blanketed in fog.
"What did you expect, this is not a beauty contest" came the voice of the German pilot. Not surprisingly a round of applause reverberated around the cabin as relieved passengers deboarded after a turbulent descent and bumpy landing.
Venice had not been one of the expected destinations on this trip to Europe. The strongest pulls have been towards the South of France, Cathar country, and an area which appeared to bare witness to some of my ancestral roots. It was Nicole's idea, and I am glad that she suggested it, for unexpected links to my Rosslyn leads would follow us here. Thankfully I am blessed to have family living in the city, who were exceptionally kind. Not only that, but they are connected to the world of publishing, something I am very much appreciative of at this time.
I can write much about this trip to Venice, the locations that stood out, the experiences of eating and wandering through the famous churches, the costumes adorned by keen Carnivale attendees, or the fog that enveloped the city for most of our stay. But I am going to only briefly mention some of the highlights that travellers would want to know about this place, as I have another purpose behind this blog. I definitely recommend picking up a guidebook to Venice. It was very helpful in making sure that we avoided the lavish looking, but hopelessly flawed, food outlets that promised high, but delivered pre-packaged goods. For the authentic experience, it is definitely worth consulting the book, or a local with a knowledge of fine eating. Thankfully our host helped write the guidebook so we were set!
The architecture is exquisite to say the least, and abound in medieval as well as modern art ( graffiti primarily ), and all else that comes with houses that have an ocean for a doorstep. Seeing the Palazzo San Marco, the Doge's Palace, the Basilica San Marco, the Rialto, the Arsenale, and other sites I had only ever seen on postcards, truly inspired me. I would be lying if I said that I did not get lost at various points throughout the trip, because what is marked as a main road on many maps, is actually more of a back alley leading to another famous back alley. But there is no better place to get lost.
Street vendors are everywhere, with lots of gimmicks to sell. The venetian masks that are in high fashion are blasted across the stands on the waterfront, wherever you go. We were enlightened on the whole matter of mask making, by one who made the real deal. He was able to help us identify the cheaply made plastic ones, and showed us what to look for in an authentic one. Due to luggage space we wouldn't have been taking one back with us, but they are definitely quite remarkable to see being made.
For a photographic highlight of the traditional sites of interest, may I recommend you check out the photo album dedicated to Venice, over on my facebook page.
For me and my personal grail quest though, a highlight was when I asked my host to translate a plaque that I knew existed somewhere within the city. All I knew was that it was a plaque dedicated to the Zeno brothers, Nicolo and Antonio, two gentlemen from 14th century Venice, who may or may not have made a trip with Henry Sinclair, of Rosslyn Chapel fame, to the Americas, a century before Columbus.
He translated the plaque which read:
"To Nicolo and Antonio Zen, wise and courageous navigators to the seas in the fourteenth century"
My host kindly translated it for me and then followed up with a question.
"What makes you ask about this?"
"The Zeno brothers are apparently tied in to the history of Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland" I replied "Nicole and I were there a few weeks ago and I thought while I am here I would check in to them a little bit. There are few books about the two and so I wondered what Venice might know about them ."
"The reason I ask is because a friend of mine just wrote a book about these brothers last year."
Well that was a helpful, synchronistic and much welcomed piece of information. Now, how would I find such a book in English, in a city where they speak mainly Italian ( well Venetian actually, something which I learned is quite different to the language of the rest of Italy ). The next day would answer my question. We walked in to a rather fun looking bookstore just beyond Pallazzo San Marco, with a Gondola full of books situated in the centre of the aisle, and an interesting gentleman talking away quite happily to himself. I was about to resign to the fact that the book would not be here, and was walking out, when out of the corner of my eye I noticed it lying by some other Italian titles, "The Venetian Navigators" by Andrea Di Robilant, in English. And, as luck would have it, they had mispriced it and so I was able to buy it at half the price, which they realised prior to the sale, but continued anyway. This book wanted me and I wanted it.
As I flew out of Venice on the Saturday morning, I was engrossed in the reading of this book, about avid young explorers, setting sail from Venice to discoveries in far off lands, similar to what I myself was in the process of doing. The author followed in the footsteps of the Zenos, looking for the landmarks featured in the narrative, that would collaborate with locations on a twenty first century map. His travels took him to Iceland, Greenland, Finland, and other realms within Scandinavia. Some fascinating places, but at the same time bleak, and I could only feel grateful that Di Robilant had taken this quest on for himself. He did not travel the full length of the journey indicated by some of the additional narratives, for they were not on the map, but they did make mention of the Mayans. Very interesting! Rosslyn is quite possibly a temple to Venus, and the Mayans placed great value on Venus. In Rosslyn Chapel, built a hundred years after the journey, by Sinclairs grandson, William, there are a number of carvings of Maize and Aloe. These are plants that would not have been known to Scandinavians at this time, and it is what a number of researchers consider to be evidence that Sinclair made it to the Americas ahead of Columbus. The plot thickens!
He seemed pretty certain that, though the work was discovered and translated by a slightly inept ancestor more than 100 years later, that it contained a lot of places that would not have been mentioned by previous European explorers. As an Italian himself, he had not known anything of the two explorers, prior to an American stopping him in the street and asking him about the Zeno plaque. It seems Venice has misplaced these two adventurers somewhere in the history books. With other award winning history books behind him, Di Robilant's interpretation of the original maps and work of the ancestor ( who he calls Niccolo the Younger ) is well worth a read if you are intrigued by the whole Rosslyn Connection.
What I loved was, in fully trusting my girlfriends pull to go to Venice, I was able to uncover greater awareness of the connection between Venice and the voyage of the Sinclairs. It at least broadened the range of questions I asked myself, and it gave me more possible insights to check in with via my internal truth monitor and research by others. I may have been able to find this out without going to Venice, but I would not have been able to make it to some of the other amazing places that have captivated my attention since I first watched "Indiana Jones And The last Crusade" when I was but a wee lad. In fact here is a video of me sharing my own little magical moment upon finding the locale in which one of the famous shots was filmed. And coincidentally it ties in with another Grail Quest adventure related to Leonardo ( I need not say his last name for I am sure you will know who I mean ).
"I tried to find Him on the Christian cross, but He
was not there; I went to the Temple of the
Hindus and to the old pagodas, but I could not
find a trace of Him anywhere.
I searched on the mountains and in the valleys
but neither in the heights nor in the depths was I
able to find Him. I went to the Ka'bah in Mecca,
but He was not there either.
I questioned the scholars and philosophers but
He was beyond their understanding.
I then looked into my heart and it was there
where He dwelled that I saw Him; He was
nowhere else to be found."