Google Earth is a free downloadable application that gives you an omnispheric photographic view of practically any spot on the planet. You start with the Gods-eye-perspective, slowly, smoothly zooming in from the outer atmosphere right down to a full-res 1000 foot vista, where you can hover and drift like a hawk. You can even tilt the axes toward the horizon for the looking-out-the-window-of-a-plane effect.
You can easily program it to fly to/from any two points on the globe. This morning, I skipped Alitalia and flew from Laguna Niguel, California to Venice -- a 20-second journey that sends one skittering across the US, skimming over the Atlantic, and ultimately, homing in on La Serenissima like some kind of next generation intercontinental ballastic missile.
So here are some snapshots from my mental mini-vaykay. Click on them for an enlargement.
Piazza San Marco, from a little more than 1000 feet ... close enough to see the throngs fighting their way into the Basilica. If you squint, you can see customers at the tables of Caffe' Florian.
This is a tilt-down view that sort of gives the illusion of relief, though of course the image is actually flat.(The closer in you zoom, the more obvious the flatness). On the right you see the Rialto.
The lagoon is well-documented for the most part, too. Here's the seminary island of San Francesco del Deserto, with Burano in the background. At the blurry horizon, you can see Torcello.
Here are water-taxis on their way to the airport, which you can just make out at the top of the image.
Thanks to Michael W. (who always has great ideas) for reminding me about Google Earth. I had zoomed around Venice using its predecessor, a program called Keyhole, before Google gobbled it up. (I had a long, interesting conversation with Keyhole's brainy, and now unspeakably rich author when I was at the TED conference last February. Genius.)
More Venice map fun coming shortly. I've been steered toward two other cool, free programs you'll love.