Sunday 1 June 2014

A 'GONDOLAN' AFFAIR - perspective of VENICE from a KOCHIITE ...

Every one who has gone to primary school any where in the world might have heard of this place - Venice. Other than natural canals around which multi storeyed buildings edge out to water, Marco Polo, Gondola and Venetian blinds were synonymous of Venice for me. Of course I have heard of Shakespearean work 'Merchant of Venice' but not read to this date. A city of love , full of natural  'serpentine' canals frequented by a lot of tourists-plus the spot of dazzling acrobats of James Bond( and also done by some young lovers in open, as I found later) -is what all I knew about Venice till we- Geetha and I-visited  her recently.

Kochi , my home city is not known very well in international tourist map but deserves  to be there. A developing metropolis in  southern India ,unique not only in India but rest of the world, could out beat Venice given a chance. This is what came to my mind within minutes I could set my eyes to the canals and sea around Venice!! More than  being just port cities from time immemorial , advent of transgressing international forces- Dutch, French,Portuguese and British, water taxis, canals and back waters, string of churches,  plus a lot of temples,mosques, synagogues and historical buildings accessible from water are trade stamps of Kochi similar to Venice.Added spice is the astonishing natural greenery no other place in the world can compete with plus capital of the spice world trade itself.I could not let my home town away from my back of my mind all the days we were in Venice!

"We prefer India to China"
We wanted to spend less than a week in a place in Europe in April which we have not visited. Since we did not want to 'enjoy' places with less than  10 degree C ,natural choice went to those in the Mediterranean coast, finally either Madrid or Venice. Spanish visa could take some time to be issued, I was told. It could be only coincidental that the issuing officer, a 'I-mean-business' looking lady at the Italian Embassy at Doha told us that Venice is her home town!We were picked up at the Marco Polo airport at Venice and dropped off at the Hilton promptly. The airport, highway which runs to the city and the hotel which is located mid way in between, all  looked very quiet and orderly- typically European- to me . It was 5.00 PM and we decided to have a quick glance , more of a familiarization trip of the city. At the hotel reception, we were told that there would be an announced bus/ boat strike from 7.00 PM till mid night but assured us to pick us up in case we wanted that way later. They had to, later at 11.00 PM but we could give a 'lift' to the same hotel for a French /Belgium  couple who looked stranded at the bus station like us in the city. The lady was talkative like most of them universally, but sounded intelligent. "We look for and prefer India than China to keep our nations running in the future decades" , her remark sounded honest at the end of our conversation meaning rising Asian economies of India and China which is expected to fuel, if not already, the life line in the the developed countries of the world.

They have very high expectations on India for future like many Indians esp now in India following a major shuffle in political scenario two weeks back!! After all India is predicted to be the third highest economy in the world in another 20 years...I wish this to be true but equally it is important that such a status should reflect in the standards of living of people in the country. It is also to be made sure that Indians travelling or living/working abroad get the  treatment we deserve legally which should directly reflect what we give out to non Indians in India.

Largest pedestrian city in the world!
This we never knew. The old city of Venice, centered around many canals is only accessible by walk or by boat, which makes her unique. The 400 odd bridges-big and small, famous Rialto bridge or Bridge of Sighs included- across Venetian canals, make life line of the city not only  attractive but active as well. Of course the city has an international airport, a reasonably large terminus for the trains and national highways linking to the rest of the world. But all stop near the start of the canals , thereafter one can walk or take boat only.

As we walked down through the alleys, with brightly lit shops selling curios on both sides, I could notice a lot of 'poor looking' Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans in the shops  and restaurants as glorified  'assistants'.This is a sight in most of the European cities I have visited plus many times few Indians,Pakistanis or Nepalese also can be seen!It is not a rare sight to see they selling flowers or cheap toys since begging is not permitted. Indians , those who read this back home, has to keep this also in mind when thousands of professional and other Indians are working abroad in Europe.I don't think that they have proper visas but authorities turn  bit of a blind eye so that somebody will be there to do cheap manual labour, like Mexicans in US.

 The road cum railway bridge particularly on the way to airport and other highways, I think it runs 4 KMs , is very similar to Wellington  island bridge at Kochi. We too have one here at Kochi , thanks to a British engineer named Bristo who masterminded those parts of Kochi about 100 years back. Only striking difference I noticed is that at Kochi bridge there is a mechanism where  the bridge can be lifted up like London bridge to facilitate movement of ships underneath! Bristo not only carved out the modern port at Kochi but artificially created an island using the dredged earth from sea, from where there is access rest of the world by ships,trains, buses and planes !  Even  the other day I had been there in order to clear the container of our personal belongings sent from Doha and I was enjoying the big old warehouses, clearing houses, wide roads with big trees on both sides and offices of customs and port  over looking the Marine Drive at Ernakulam, the main land of Kochi city..those places which I might have not visited for the last 30 years.

                         Marine Drive at Kochi- day and night views from a boat

Gondola is more than a row boat!
Gliding ride in enchanting Gondola was enjoyable as expected.Could be a bit expensive - Euro 80 for 30 minutes but worth it. Gondola is more than just another row boat, it is icon of Venice. A Gondolier is a position a bit noble in Venice, I am told. A Gondolier with striped shirt, black pants and hat is well known to all but one has to under go a series of tests including Venetian history and land marks to get professionally licensed which normally goes as a family tradition!

A gondola is made up of eight types of wood, painted in black by law and every part of gondola has its own symbolism.Its unique features includes a curly metal tail  at the rear, pair of sea horses on sides and multi pronged iron prow at the head which balances the weight of the gondolier at the stern. The 'S'shape of the prow stands for the shape of the grand canal of Venice. The tail is shaped reminding the hat of a Doge (ruler) of Venice and has six 'teeth'  representing six districts of Venice.

Until few decades back Gondola used to have small cabin fitted in it with windows which were covered with shutters to respect the privacy of the traveler."Venetian blind" originates from that!!

                                               Tail of a Gondola

Vaporetto- water taxis and the jetties is well managed for the tourists and locals. I have seen trains and planes meeting perfect scheduled timings (not in India) but not boats. I could correct my watch if needed!! This is a area Indians including Kochiites are below average- in keeping timings.Except for the scheduled prayer timings in a temple or mosque or a church, keeping times do not come natural for an average Indian.

Venetian cuisine .. and from Kochi
We had pizza,spaghetti or pasta- all typical Italian- while we were there plus a lot of sea food, specialty of Venice. Geetha got surprised the way I was enjoying the pizzas, which normally I try to avoid.What I could observe is that there was hardly any international brands like KFC,Pizza hut, Mc Donalds etc- junk food as we call it but still enjoy- being sold out. I don't know whether it is controlled by local law or not.

Coming to cuisines , Kochi can offer much better. Traditionally Kochiites are non veggies known to eat 'everything which fly except aero planes and anything which has four legs except a table'! Since the cuisines of Kochi has evolved over the centuries from local and international fusion of various cultures, it is unique in India and rest of the world. The other day we visited a new restaurant in the town named 'Dhe Puttu'  selling puttu, steamed coarsely ground rice or wheat, layered with coconut in cylindrical shape served with curries of different choices , which was found to be good and tempting.It is  good to see that a traditional food item ,mainly for breakfast, unknown to others is being relished by all .

Saint Mark Square....'drawing room of Europe'
All the walkways converge to Saint Mark Square which is built around old church and the rulers palace 4 centuries back. The square, actually rectangular in shape, is thronged by visitors from all over the world especially in weekends.It fits in  the  acronym it is famous for since Napoleon Bonaparte is believed to have called it as 'drawing room of Europe'. When it is empty it is frequented by thousands of pigeons. We could see both situations while we were in Venice. One of the old photos exhibited over the entrance of a bar in the square attracted my attention. It was an old ad of Coco Cola using the pigeons in the square! I did dig out later more info on the photo. Coco Cola made such an advt in 1960, 54 years back. Th ad firm seems to spread out huge quantity of bird feed in the square in the shape of the brand name to attract hundreds of pigeons when it was clicked at the right time!

                          Old photo but theme remains novel
                                                             -  Photo courtesy : Coco Cola
Our decision to spend a day at Padova, another city close to Venice was not wrong. It takes only less than 25 minutes to reach Padova by Italian fast train Frecciarossa. Padova is a quiet town , built around the famous church named after St. Antony. The well laid roads with century old cobblestones reserved for pedestrians and cyclists, different type of small sized doggies-Maltese,Pugs,Pomeranian- taken around by a lot of locals- even in bicycle baskets, a town band playing live in the city centre at noon were all enjoyable sights. But we were surprised to see a live bar named after the saint  opposite of the famous basilica,just across the road!! Although Christians are known to drink , this scene was not expected , at least by us!!!

Twin cities?
I would strongly recommend that Venice and Kochi to be international twin cities officially so that both can grow into each other in a tourist angle of affairs, sharing specialties of both history ridden port cities.

Images:Courtesy Google.


  1. Loved the way Jaison juxtaposed the 2 cities..... yes, our very own Kochi needs a lot more publicity!

  2. Hello Jaison Uncle,

    Glad to read the post, as usual in the beginning of every month. The narration was so good that we have almost saved the future travel charges for a trip to Venice (I hope convince Reetha on this).

    While I would prefer not to be prejudiced, but I liked your dig "The lady was talkative like most of them universally, but sounded intelligent."
    ;) Ha ha ha !

    Its been a long gap and look forward to catch up with You and Geetha Aunty soon at our new residence.

    Warm Regards,




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