TRAVEL STORY contest entry (1994)
My pen pal from Venice, Serena, and I have been exchanging letters for about a year now. She talks about Venice being boring. She claims this is because she has lived there all her life. When she gets older, she wishes to travel and experience other cities. At least in that respect, we both have the same idea.
On numerous occasions, Serena has asked me about my city. I think it’s strange, because who thinks about their own city. So far I’ve told her about its location. I’ve written her that Milwaukee is a city in the southeastern corner of the state of Wisconsin. The motto of the city is “A great city by a great lake”. This motto fits because Milwaukee is located on the shores of Lake Michigan, one of the United States’ five Great Lakes. My favorite spot of beauty is the lakefront. Although it is more crowded during the summer, there is always something to do there year round. Milwaukee is the 17th largest city in the United States.
After reading about my city, Serena felt encouraged to write me back about hers. She noted that our cities lay at about the same latitude. Venice is the name given to a group of islands at the northern end of the Adriatic Sea and about 2 ½ miles off the coast of Italy. The whole city is connected by a series of about 400 bridges. It is the only city built entirely on water. Serena tells me that people get around the city by using waterways or walking. There are no motorcars. This sounds pretty neat to me, because I’m so used to traffic, traffic and more traffic.
Through her letters, I can tell that the history of Venice is much older than that for the city of Milwaukee. Venice was originally formed by coastal dwellers that were fleeing the barbarian marauders in the 5th century. One of the earliest settlers of the Milwaukee area were the Potawatomi Indians who called the region Mahauwaukseepe, which means “gathering place by the river. In early history, because of their locations by water, both cities were known as trading centers. By 1000 AD Venice was independently ruled, but it wasn’t until 1849 that Milwaukee became a chartered city that elected its first mayor. The 1400’s were known as the peak of Venetian power. It was a maritime empire and a major cultural center because of its Gothic architecture and classic beauty. During the 1700’s the empire started to fall and in 1861 Venice became part of Italy. In Milwaukee during the 1800’s, people of various nationalities came and settled in the city. These nationalities included the Germans, Irish, British and Polish.
One of the major changes in our city was the move toward industrialization. This change was used in making weapons and weapon materials for World War I. Unlike the United States, European countries were bombed. Venice sustained over 600 bombs, but did not sustain as great a damage to their monuments as was feared. In 1966, Venice experienced a great flood. In about 13 hours, the water had risen 6 ½ feet. In 1987, Venice took preventive measures to ensure that a future flood would not be as disastrous. Both cities continue to grow in the modern world.
After exchanging this amount of information, Serena got a bright idea. She suggested that we visit each other at different times so that we could act as tour guides in our hometowns. I thought that was a splendiferous idea. So, I decided that the best time for her to come would be around July 10th, when our Great Circus Parade is held. She suggested I come around September 5th to experience the Regatta Historia.
SERENA'S TRIP TO MILWAUKEE.
Serena arrived in early July for her visit. I told her to bring light, comfortable clothes suitable for heat and sometimes-humid weather. I also told her to pack a light jacket or sweater being as it is sometimes cooler near the lake. I said I’d help her exchange her lira for US currency if she helped me do the same in Venice. She agreed.
I met Serena at General Mitchell International Airport. She was worried we would miss each other. She knew what I looked like from a picture I had sent her. I also had a photo of her, so it wasn’t very hard to spot each other. I helped her claim her luggage and we met my mother who was waiting for us outside. Boy, Serena spoke English better than I did.
After getting her settled, we had a picnic in our backyard. We had an all-around American meal of hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, and soda. We visited the rest of the evening and then settled in to bed to be ready for the next few days of visiting the city of Milwaukee.
The first day we showed Serena three architectural buildings. We saw the Pabst Mansion which is built in the Flemish style; the Annunciation Greek Orthodox church in the Byzantine style, which was the last major building of the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright; and the St. Josephat’s Basilica, designed by my great, great grandfather, Erhart Brielmaier. Out last stop was at the Art museum, which is in the War Memorial Center at the lakefront.
The next day we decided to chill out and head to the lakefront for some fun in the sun. We had to use the bus to get there because no one was available to drive us. Serena was amazed at how many people could be packed into one bus. In the afternoon we walked over to the Grand Avenue Mall. True to its name, it is four city blocks of shopping til you drop. Serena and I did exactly that. Serena picked up some nice items to take back to Venice with her.
Because of the weather, rainy today, we decided to visit the Mitchell Park Domes and the Pettit National Ice Center. The Mitchell Park Domes are a horticultural structure. It is the only one of its kind in the world. Its three glass domes feature three different plant displays in a natural setting. (A tropical, arid, and an ever changing season display.) The Pettit National Ice Center is the only one of five like it in the world and the only one like it in the United States. I told Serena that this was the place where gold medallists, Dan Jansen and Bonnie Blair, trained for the Olympics.
Out visit to Discovery World, a “hands-on” museum of science and technology captivated Serena so much that we stayed the whole day. She was both surprised and pleased to find a museum that allowed you to touch its displays.
In our visit to the Milwaukee Public Museum, Serena was thrilled at seeing the dinosaur, rain forest and different cultural exhibits. She didn’t want to miss a thing and insisted on seeing all the floors. In the “Street of Old Milwaukee”, she was interested to see what the city looked like 90 years ago.
Since in previous years, the Great Circus Parade has had such a crowd, we decide to join the many others who camped out on the sidewalks of Milwaukee the night before. We all did this to secure our spots for the parade the next afternoon. We had a great time with food, radios and sleeping bags. We met some very nice people. The next day, we enjoyed the parade and Serena mentioned that the decorations on the circus wagons looked similar to those on the boats of the Regatta Historia. I will get to see that when I do to Venice.
On the last day she was in Milwaukee, a Friday, we went to a local fish fry. I told her that Milwaukee was noted for its fish fries and that beer goes well with the meal. She wanted to know more about and taste some beer. My parents ordered sodas for us, but my parents allowed her to take a sip of their beer. You should have seen her face. She said she would prefer to stick to the soda. (See Milwaukee map for the locations on Serena’s tour.)
MY TRIP TO VENICE, ITALY.
I have just started back to school, but will be leaving for my trip to Venice on September 1. Serena has written me that she will meet me at Marco Polo airport.
I just arrived in Venice and I can’t understand anyone. I hope Serena gets here soon. I was very nervous about going through Customs. I had never done this before. I hoped everything would be in order and it was, of course. I came through it just fine. Serena was already waiting for me at the other end.
Serena had told me what type of clothing to pack for my visit there in September. The temperature ranges from 63 degrees to 77 degrees F. We boarded the water launch to San Marco and Serena’s home. She had prepared risi e bisi. She told me it was made with rice, peas, onion, ham and herbs in chicken stock. It looked good, and the house was filled with the sweet smell of it cooking. After tasting it, I smiled at her to let her know that I was enjoying the meal.
Over the next several days, Serena showed me Murano with its glass blowing museum. She wanted me to see how glass was blown, and I purchased a beautiful piece to take home. We visited the lace museum in Burano where some women were demonstrating their work. We also visited Tercello’s medieval cathedrals. They were breathtaking.
She was an expert guide around San Marco. I asked her how she figured out her way around. There weren’t any street signs like I was used to in Milwaukee. She explained that they used landmarks and signs on building to navigate around the area.
She showed me the first digital clock, which is still working today. Since I had shown her the Milwaukee Art Center, she insisted that I tour the Academia Gallery. This gallery contains the world’s collection of Venetian art. I thought it to be very impressive and told her so. Our next stop was at the Ca’ Rezonicao. This museum explained what it would be like to live in the 18th century. She said it was like taking a trip back in time.
From the waterbus, the vaporetto, she showed me the Ca’ d’ Oro, which means house of gold. Serena explained that it was once covered in gold leaf. Serena was very good at the use of the waterbus, and I really enjoyed the ride down the Grand Canal.
She wanted to show me the beaches in Lido. The weather was predicted to be warm and beautiful, so we hit Lido’s beaches. It was also the perfect weather for biking. We rented bikes and toured the coast. Lido is the only island that has motor vehicles and roads. It seemed strange after being without them for a while to have to be careful and watch out for traffic again.
On September 5th we went to see a parade of boats on the Grand Canal, named the Regatta Historia. After arriving early, we secured a spot on the Realto Bridge, which spans the Grand Canal. Looking down at the boats as they disappeared beneath us, I noticed they were decorated with “circus car” type designs. Serena says the Ringling Brothers got their ideas from this yearly event. It was spectacular.
Another meal I had that I wished to mention was pasta e fagioli (pasta and bean soup) and fish. Fish is a frequent part of their meals. Because of my visit we had a special desert, which is a favorite of the islands. It is called tiramisu. It is made of an alcoholic coffee and chocolate gateau. It literally means “pick-me-up”.
Serena heard that I like to read and so she thought I might like checking out the Armenian library on San Lazzaro Degli Armeni. It was different; I’ll give it that. It contains the most complete collection of Armenian manuscripts in the world.
She also took me to see the Doges Palace, pointing out the Bridge of Sighs as well. She said it led to the old prison. Serena explained and pointed out the secret mailboxes built into the staircase. Serena said these were used to leave anonymous notes for a person of authority. That way no one could be his own hangman. The doges Palace is also an example of Gothic architecture.
The last thing she wanted me to see was the Basilica di San Marco. It is the shrine of the republic and a symbol of Venetian glory. It houses the four bronze horses that were taken from Constantinople in the 13th century during the 4th crusade. The basilica is beautiful with its domes, mosaics, carvings, and marbles. (See Venice map for the places Serena showed me.)
At my request we took a ride in the less expensive version of a gondola called a tragedy. It was fun, but more crowded than a gondola would have been. I treated Serena to this ride because she said she doesn’t ride them very often.
The next day at the airport, before I got on my flight, I said I had a wonderful time. Serena said the same but reminded me to continue to write to her. As a sign of parting, we gave each other hugs and I waved good-bye as I boarded the plane.