We woke this morning with a continued threat of rain. After a hearty breakfast in the apartment we saw grey skies but no moisture so we headed toward the water taxi. Our destination was the island of Murano – home of the famous glass blowers of Venice.
Many of you are aware that we aren’t the most forward planners. We often ‘wing it’ and most of the time it works out ok, often with minor inconveniences. That was our experience today getting tickets to the water taxi. We didn’t buy them online when we had wi-fi so we found ourselves first walking from one station to the next and then waiting in a bit of a line. Not terrible, but a little annoying.
Originally under the control of the Byzantine Empire, Venice eventually became an independent state and flourished as a trading center and seaport. This trading allowed Venetian glassmakers to improve their skills by learning from more advanced techniques in Syria and Egypt. Introducing improvements in materials and creating innovative techniques – as well as a merchant class creating demand for its goods – led Venice to be the European center for glassmaking peaking in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The island of Murano 1 mile across the lagoon from Venice became the center of glassmaking in 1291 when all glass factories were required to move to there to reduce fire risk in the main city. It is still the main industry on the island.
It seemed that 80% of the storefronts were glass shops and the remaining 20% were restaurants so it wasn’t hard to get immersed in the artistic creations. Our first destination was Ferro Toso which is a small shop specializing in murrina glass. This is not blown like much of the glass on Murano but instead is formed by taking small rods of glass, breaking it into pieces showing a decorative inside, creating a pattern with those decorative ends showing and then firing it in a kiln or oven until it melts together. After firing it is polished and set. It’s a bit like the plastic fuse beads the kids make patterns from and we melt together with an iron. Only way more cool.
We got a tour of the small workshop to see how they cut the glass rods, assemble them, fire them and eventually polish. They made beautiful bowls, jewelry and other small pieces – even keychains set with the unique glass patterns.
Then we got to make our own murrina glass. 4 Adventurers chose to make a pendant, one chose a bracelet and soon we were all busy picking our glass and making our patterns with our giant tweezers.
After we were done with our designs the piece went into a mini-kiln and then into a standard microwave. After a few minutes, it came out red hot – literally – and fused together.
From there it was set aside for about 45 minutes. With our new art souvenirs cooling in the kiln we wandered the island to window shop at the many art glass stores. We watched a very talented musician for a while – appropriately playing water glasses. The song we heard was ‘Yesterday’ by the Beatles and she did it quite well.
Then we went into one of the workshops. We got a 15 minute demonstration of the art of glass making. The first piece was a blown glass vase and the second was a figurine of a horse.
It was certainly a display of expertise and was really fun for us to watch – both parents and kids. Tiffany decided to buy a similar horse to take home as a memento of a cool experience and the boys bought themselves tiny glass rooster and hedgehog souvenirs.
Then it was time to pick up our own glass masterpieces. The pendants weren’t quite dry so we couldn’t wear them home, but CreeperKitty was quite proud of his bracelet with a bear claw design.
For our last afternoon in Venice we decided the only thing to do was spend more time on the water – this time in that quintessential Venetian transport – the gondola. We found a five seater with a trustworthy guide and were off. He didn’t sing, but he did share some interesting tidbits about what we were seeing. We paddled through the Grand Canal and then spent most of the time in the smaller side waterways. It was a great way to end the day and our visit.