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Venice – once in a lifetime opportunity

Last November, I was selected to represent World Travel Bureau at the Virtuoso Chairman’s event, being held in Venice for four days. Every year this annual event is held at a different city and about 200 guests are invited from the member travel agencies. Our group was split up and hosted by Virtuoso and three hotels Belmond Hotel Cipriani, Hotel Danieli and The Gritti Palace. We just had to get there on our own. We had also signed up for a 4-day post Chairman’s Fam (familiarization) tour to Florence making it about 9 days total.

I brought with me my friend, Marianne, who also happens to be the other Gamma to our shared grandkids! We have fun traveling together and enjoy new experiences.

We flew nonstop from Los Angeles to Barcelona via Norwegian Airlines arriving in the early evening. We reserved a nice modern hotel, Ayre Hotel Rosello, a block away from the Sagrada Familia, and after a few tapas on Gaudi Street, we walked around the Sagrada Familia. It was closed for the night, but it was so beautiful because it was lit from within and without. This was our first view of the famous Basilica designed by Gaudi who worked on it about 43 years starting in 1883 until his death in 1926. The Sagrada Familia has been under construction following his plan, being funded by tourist entry fees. It is expected to be finished in 2026.

The next morning, we explored Barcelona by taking the hop on, hop off tour bus for the 2-hour ride before heading to the airport to fly to Venice. Arriving at the Venice Airport we were greeted by our transfer company, Idi Travel, and they walked us from the airport to the boat which would take us to Hotel Cipriani, which was located on an island. We settled into our room which had a nice view and enjoyed a Welcome Reception and Dinner at our own hotel – the rest of our group took the boats from their hotels to join us.

The following day was our first day to explore Venice – we boarded the 6-person Hotel Cipriani boat to go to St. Marks’ Square and we saw that the square was flooded! It was November and this is the time (October – January) of extreme floods (acqua alta). We had heard news reports about the flooding problems the previous week. It is a regular occurrence and the hotels will hand out plastic boots to keep your shoes dry. Also the Square offers three-foot-high wooden platforms that we can walk on. It is interesting that the water comes up through the bricks of the St. Mark’s Square.

We then proceeded on a tour of the city by foot for a 4-hour tour. It was raining lightly so we used our umbrellas to keep dry. Some alleys were so narrow that we had to close our umbrellas to proceed. Our tour guide told us that Venice was built on a swamp and that the wood posts had petrified being under the water for so long without oxygen. So, we have no worries about the buildings collapsing from decay, but rising ocean waters is a big concern. Our guide took us through lots of alleys, over canals, all through the city telling us the history of Venice. On this gray rainy day, I took some wonderful photos of the canals that looked like paintings!

We saw the Jewish quarter and the memorial there. There was also a little green building in the square, which is manned 24 hours a day by 3 guards on a rotating basis in case of threats to the area. This process was set up after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. I was surprised of such far reaching effects from that horrible day. There were brass memorial tiles set into the cobblestones – I think they called them Stumbling Stones. I had seen them on our River Cruise through Germany & Austria.

We were treated to lunch at one of the nice hotels, Aman Hotel Venice, and then afterwards we walked to our special Hotel Cipriani dock with benches. We could call the hotel on the phone provided in a box, and then wait for them to come get us whenever we wanted to return to our island. The tide had dropped 4 steps worth, exposing green moss and seaweed on the steps, which tells you how often these steps are covered with water. The sun came out as we rode back to our hotel. That night we enjoyed dinner at the Ca Sagredo Hotel.

On the second day, after our business meetings in the morning, we were taken to the Murano glass factory on one of the Murano islands. In 1291, all the glassmakers were moved to these islands to prevent fires from destroying Venice. The Murano factory was immaculate like a museum and they allowed us to get quite close, maybe too close, to observe the craft of glass making. In the adjoining factory room, they had set up a great buffet of all sorts of appetizers and drinks. This room showcased beautiful glass chandeliers and glass mosaic abstract paintings. There was a store attached to the factory, showing lots of their creations. A simple cup was very expensive, but all things were beautiful. Outside we had a little bit of time to explore the other factories on the island before returning to our hotel.

That night we had an exclusive private evening tour of Palazzo Ducale (the Doge’s Palace) in the St. Mark’s Square. After exploring beautiful art in the rooms inside, we also toured the jail cells and walked the secret passage over a canal. A nighttime tour of the St. Mark’s Basilica was dramatically lighted for us and then we were treated to another lovely dinner at the Hotel Danieli.

On the third day, we needed to be fitted for our Masquerade dresses and masks. We had submitted our measurements well before our trip and they needed to make final adjustments. We toured some hotels during the day and sampled some interesting foods — it’s a tough job for a travel agent, but someone’s got to do it! We explored more of the city, and made a few purchases. That night we went to the Masquerade Ball, which was an over-the-top-once-in-a-lifetime event. It took a long time to get dressed and I had to ask for help to get laced up in my dress. Then we walked down to our hotel lobby and they crammed about 30 of us in full dress into a boat to a palace on the Grand Canal. Trumpets announced our arrival and there was music, entertainment, people on stilts, opera singers, juggling, food, dining, and dessert. And did I say beautiful girls with tables attached? See my photos. This was a night to be remembered!

Finally, we had to say goodbye to Hotel Cipriani, and to the swimming pool which we swam in during some free time we had. The pool designer wanted it to be 20 feet long, but it was interpreted as 20 meters, so it was a very big heated pool. Our last look at Venice was our ride through the Grand Canal to meet our tour guide and driver from IC Bellagio. We were on our way to our next stop, Florence, which we had selected to be a post trip – to be continued…

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Wendy Swenson

Wendy Swenson, CTC, first joined World Travel as Controller in July 1986 The travel industry became her favorite industry because it was constantly changing, and there were always new things to learn and changes to make, which is what makes life so fun for her. Wendy was quickly promoted to VP of Finance in 1986 and most recently to VP of Finance and Operations in 2012. Wendy’s most recent projects were to upgrade the World Travel Email system to Microsoft Exchange/Office 365, change payroll vendors, and to change internet providers for better cost and service. Wendy’s personal mission is to provide the best accounting and administrative support for our agents, so they can provide the best service to our customers. "Travel ~ Your Inspiration ~ Our expertise ~ Your dreams fulfilled"
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