Finally. I’d been waiting in line and now it was my turn to pay the fee to ride the elevator to the top. I handed my credit card to the cashier who nodded back and forth and said a bunch of Italian words, which I assumed meant, “We only take cash”. So I reached into my wallet and pulled out one ten Euro bill and one twenty Euro bill. “Mom, it is 32 Euros – 8 each,” Anne, my daughter, pointed out. Quickly I reached back into my wallet again and found a 2 Euro coin and handed it to the lady so my family of four could ride the elevator. We were at the San Marco Bell Tower called a Campanile in Venice, Italy on a brisk, sunny December morning. After a 2-minute ride, the elevator door opened and I exited, stepping onto the observation deck, a narrow four-sided walkway already filled with tourist crowding around the open window spaces. I patiently waited to move to an opening to see this city from above.
“Wow! What a view,” I thought as I stepped up to an open window. Terra-cotta roofs extended as far as my eye could see. Each building seemed glued to the next, a blanket of stucco walls dotted with shuttered windows. For the next 20 minutes, I moved from opening to opening. At times, I had to wait for other tourists to move on before I could look and take my picture, but it was always worth the wait. Then I scooted forward and snapped pictures with my iPhone. Around me I heard conversations but most, I couldn’t understand. They sounded German, French. Japanese, and Italian. So many, like me, had come to see this dense city of ornate Palazzos and large stone churches on the Adriatic Sea.
Once, while waiting for another tourist to move away from the windowed opening, I noticed a plaque on the wall written in Italian. The first two words were Galileo Galilei. The remaining words were all in Italian so I couldn’t read it, except for the numbers 1-6-0-9. I knew the name – Galileo was a famous Italian astronomer who proved that the Earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around. Then suddenly, it hit me. I must be standing at the very spot that Galileo also stood but in the year 1609. As I snapped a picture of the plaque with my iPhone, I thought to myself, “I bet he had his telescope with him!”*
As I descended on the elevator, I thought again about the plaque. Galileo was here in 1609 and now I am here in 2014, over 400 years later. I knew I would love visiting Venice. Now I realized that many people, both ordinary, like me and famous, like Galileo, have been visiting this beautiful city for many, many, many years. “What an amazing city this is!” I thought to myself.
*After my trip to Venice, I read the picture book biography called I, Galileo by Bonnie Christensen. On one of the pages, it states:
“Rumors were circulating through Venice of a new Dutch gadget – a spyglass capable of magnifying distant objects. I seized upon the idea and immediately began designing, calculating, and grinding lenses for a far superior instrument. Within a matter of weeks, I held in my hands the world’s first truly scientific telescope.
The doge and senators of Venice eagerly climbed to the top of the bell tower for a chance to look through my telescope. Through it they saw tiny ships on the horizon – ships that would not be visible to even the sharpest eyes for hours. They were astounded by my new creation.”