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Published: July 28th 2019
We decided that as long as we had to wait a few days for the part we ordered for our autopilot to arrive we would take advantage of the time and take a few days away from the boatyard in Brindisi. Our goal for quite some time has been to visit Venice and arrive by boat, but as exciting as that sounds we have been rethinking that. With getting a later start this season, having a couple of problems with the boat that needed fixing which had us stopping here in Brindisi and finally with looking at the winds that seem to be coming out of the north pretty constantly lately we figured going to Venice by train was not a bad alternative. It also would take the pressure off of trying to get that far north with Tsamaya and allow us to get over to Croatia sooner. Sounded like a win-win to us so I quickly did a little research and we were on our way. It was going to be an 11 hour train trip so figured we'd buy first class tickets which promises air conditioning and more comfortable seats. When we have done long trips in Italy before
there had always been a dining car so figured we could pick up lunch on the train. Well, we did get the seats they promised, but unfortunately the air conditioning only worked for a short time and they didn't sell any food. We started on the trip at 8:40 am and we got to Venice at 7:20 pm. At least we had taken some cut up veggies and a couple of oranges so that became lunch. The one thing we missed was something to drink as we didn't take water with us, but at one of the larger train stations Bob hopped off and bought some from a vending machine and made it back on before the train left the station again thankfully.
We were sitting with a person on the trip up that has been living in the US for quite a few years but was originally from Belarus so had a great time talking to her which made the time go by faster. It was interesting having a chance to hear her thoughts of how things compare between the two countries as well as plenty of other topics during our trip. We didn’t seem to have
a problem with finding things to talk about (Bob says I never have that problem!)
One nice thing about such a long trip was that we also got to see quite a bit of the country as we traveled by many seaside resort towns as well as through a major agricultural area filled with everything from olive groves, fields filled with sunflowers, numerous vineyards, past many greenhouses and fields of other crops as well as many bales of hay. We had to change trains in Bologna and when planning this quick trip we had thought we would stay in Bologna for a couple of days, but with the heat wave here in Italy as well as elsewhere when we checked the weather forecast we found that Bologna would be over 100 degrees while Venice would be in the 90’s. Needless to say we decided a visit to Bologna would need to be at another time!
We had booked an AirBnB which was only about a 15 minute walk from the train station. We could either get there by walking or taking what they call a vaporetto (by water) but decided we needed to stretch our legs
and it would give us a chance to take our first impressions of Venice. We also figured we'd find a store to pick up a few things for breakfast the next morning. In fact there was a grocery store quite close to the AirBnB that worked out great for us. As an aside though the next day we were admiring an older building labeled as the Teatro Italia, but in fact it was now a grocery store. We decided to go in and were impressed that much of the artwork on the walls remained. We learned that it was an early 20th
C. Art Noveau building originally a theatre, then a cinema before becoming University offices. When it was vacated, the idea was to save it and the grocery store decided to move in but with the mind of keeping the frescoes on the wall and ceiling so they were very careful about the type of lighting they used. Nice to see when the history (even though in terms of the rest of Venice quite recent) is kept.
We met Veronica who showed us around the place (we have the apartment to ourselves). Most important was how to
turn on the A/C which we were anxious to do as we were dripping wet with the heat due to high humidity from our short walk there. Once she was gone we both took showers and relaxed for a while in the comfort of A/C before heading out to get some dinner and a feel for Venice. Veronica gave us a couple of suggestions of areas to check out so figured we’d do that as well. First impressions? We are going to enjoy our time here!
The next morning we took to the streets again and did some major wandering down the Main Street (note that no cars are allowed here so these are all pedestrian only streets) and lots of small inviting alleyways. We figured we'd head in the general direction of the Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari as this popped up as a place to see as recommended by Rick Steves. The Franciscan friars first came to Venice in 1220. Their first church was built in 1231, but by 1250 they outgrew that and another church was built. Pilgrims started to flock here in the 1330's and this current larger Basilica was built in
All Deliveries Are By Boat or Hand Power in Venice
and garbage containers picked up as well (top left)
1492. It now contains a wonderful collection of magnificent artwork covering the period from the 13th to 20th C. We listened to an audio guide by Rick Steves telling us about what we were seeing which was very informative. A real bonus was that it was not crowded which we had been somewhat concerned about with coming to Venice in July.
We of course made it across the famous Rialto Bridge. There are only 4 bridges that cross the Grand Canal and this was the first one. Unfortunately as with many things we have seen, this is not the original as that dated from 1180 and was only a platform supported by boats tied together. The one we see today is the 3rd
bridge built here, this one from 1588. It was built with buildings on top as the government felt that rent from them would pay for the building of the bridge (which they were right about). The shops that are there are similar to the original as many were with luxury gold and jewelry shops. Many of the shops are still selling the same types of items hoping for the tourist dollars.
lovely late lunch we headed back to the apartment to cool down again with the AC as the plan was to head down to St. Mark's Square later in the day. About 6pm we walked to the train station to catch the vaporetto to take a cruise on the Grand Canal. Think of a vapporetto as a bus but on the water. It has numerous stops along the canal where you can get out, but we took it from the train station near the first stop when arriving in town down to where St. Mark’s Square, the Doges Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica are located. We learned that this would be a great to see the numerous Palaces that line the canal as that was the side they were meant to be seen from. The “best face” of the Palaces was toward the Grand Canal and we were now able to view them from this angle. We had downloaded the audio guide which explained what we were seeing. A great way to get to St. Marks Square, learn about the sights and all for only 7.50 Euros each- what a deal. As Bob said this tip alone made the price
of Rick Steve's Guide to Venice well worth the price!
As we were told the palaces were built to show off their best side to those that traveled on the Grand Canal. They are impressive today, but many had been frescoed in reds and blues, some had gold-leaf trim and others had black and white borders – they must have been something to see in their day! One of the palaces now houses an art museum, the Ca' d'Oro (House of Gold). It is the best example of what is known as Venetian Gothic architecture. It consists of three different balcony designs, a different one on each floor. Venetian Gothic is a combination of the traditional Gothic pointed arches with the Byzantine style which is made up of tall, narrow arches with thin columns and it then filled in with Islamic designs. This palace had been painted and gilded giving it its name. It is impressive now, can imagine what those traveling this canal in the past must have thought.
We learned that the Grand Canal is more than 2 miles long, almost 150 feet across and 15 feet deep. It is the major highway in
The Pillars At the Fish Market Show The Purpose
of the place for the long time as been selling fish!
Venice and it is obvious it is well used by a wide variety of water craft.
It was wonderful to walk around St. Marks Square with very few people there in the evening. It also gave us our first glimpse of St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doges Palace which we planned on visiting the next day. We had heard that a great place to see the sunset was on the Academia Bridge over the Grand Canal so walked over there as it was close to time for the sunset. We were in time but the clouds decided not to cooperate and hid the sun instead. Oh well, it got us to another part of Venice we hadn't walked to yet. By the end of the day we had walked a little over 8 miles in a city that only covers a total of 3 square miles (and some of that is military area that you can't go to anyway) Not bad for the day.
We had bought tickets online for the Doges Palace as we learned that there could be quite a line. We always like to get to sites of interest early in the morning
before the crowds fill in. It is always nice to see that this strategy works with being in a very short line for entry and having the ability to get around easily. There had been a palace built here in 810 AD, but a fire in the 10th C. partially destroyed it. A new palace was built in the 12th C. but with political changes which increased the number of Council members a new gothic palace was built in 1340. Of course that is not the palace we see today as more was added to it over the centuries due to a few more fires. It was the residence of the doges (the Venetian ruler known as a doge is more commonly known as a duke) but also housed the judicial, legislative and administrative sections of government.
In some ways it reminded us of the palaces we saw in St. Petersburg due to the artwork and gilded frames. The magnitude of some of the rooms was almost overwhelming with the height, overall size and the intensity of the gilded framing of the artwork on the ceilings and walls.
As it was also the judicial home it
not only housed the areas where trials were held, but it also housed the prison which we were able to visit by walking across the Bridge of Sighs. Glad we were only visiting! The story states that people were tried and convicted, then walked across the bridge to the prison. The Windows on the bridge gave them one last look at Venice and their last "sigh" of freedom (don't blame me on that one as that is what we were told!)
After our tour of the Palace we had time for a coffee before heading to St. Mark’s Basicilia as I had pre-booked tickets for 11:30. By the looks of the line waiting for tickets we were very glad we booked online. Today had a much different feel of St. Marks Square from the night before as it was obvious that there were cruise ships in town as you could see groups of people trailing behind their guide everywhere. Sure glad we had a chance to see the place when it was close to empty last night.
From the first glimpse of St. Mark's Basilica you know it is unique as it combines a number of
architectural details including various shaped domes, statutes, mosaics, numerous styles and colors of columns and is overall much lower than the soaring heights we have seen previously in Gothic or baroque churches we have seen elsewhere. What hits you at first are the mosaics on the exterior and then again when you enter. A point that the audio guide made was that much of the symbolism seen here are more of the style found in Eastern Orthodox churches rather than of the West. Fortunately I had read that the interior is only lit for a portion of the day so I booked our time accordingly. We were glad we did to be able to better see some of the details of the stories being told by the mosaic designs on the domes and walls. They cover the history from the Apocalypse to Christ's Old Testament origins. The mosaics glistened due to the fact that they were done using the Byzantine method of baking gold leaf into small cubes of glass (tiles) and then cutting them unevenly to capture the light. As stunning as the whole of the Basilica was, one piece was almost overwhelming. What they called the golden altarpiece
was made up of 250 enamels of religious scenes set in a gold frame and then covered with numerous large rubies, emeralds, pearls, amethysts, sapphires and topaz. One point that was made was the fact that much of what you see in St.Mark's Basilica is a result of plunder from other places over the centuries. The altar was no exception as it was a result of Byzantine plunder from 1204. The enamel pieces were put together by Byzantine craftsmen at a later date for this location.
You have an initial fee for entering the Basilica, but once inside you have options to access various other areas after paying an additional fee. Seeing the altar was one of those areas. We also decided to pay to enter the museum which provides you with a wonderful view of the overall interior from up high, a magnificent view outside of St. Mark's Square and finally the Bronze Horse statues. There are replicates of the actual ones on the exterior, but in the museum you get close to the real ones. The actual date they were made is in dispute by the experts. Some say they are from Ancient Greece in the
4th C. BC or another theory is that they were from Ancient Rome during the 4th C. AD. Quite a range of time difference, but either way they have excellent detail, even though most of their gold gild is gone as well as the rubies that were in their eyes. They are made of bronze and as such it is amazing they survived as anything made of bronze used to be smelted down by many conquerors due to the high percentage of copper in it. These were tested and they contain 97% copper. These horse sculptures have been in numerous places before landing here at the Basilica. One belief is that they were made in the time of Alexander the Great and then were then taken by Nero of Rome. Constantine next took them to his capital in Constantinople which the Venetians then stole from them in 1204 and placed them in the Basilica in 1255. It did not end there as Napoleon conquered Venice in 1797 and took them to stand on top of the triumphal arch in Paris. Once Napoleon lost power the horses were returned to St. Mark's Basilica. There was one more move from the outside
to their current location in the museum in 1975 due to the damage being done by pollution. For statutes, these horses really moved around!
When we first walked into the Basilica there were signs that you could not take photographs which we were disappointed to see. Most places we have been allowed photos, just not flash photos. In this case the rule was that you couldn’t take any so we dutifully obeyed. After being about half way through the tour, we realized that everyone else seemed to be taking photos, but still felt that two wrongs do not make a right so still didn’t take photos. Finally when we saw that guards were walking right by all the people taking photos and not saying anything to them, we broke down and took a few ourselves so you will get a chance to see a couple of shots that we took. It seems that if it still is a rule, it wasn’t being enforced at all.
Touring both the Palace and the Basilica in one day took up quite a chunk of the day so we meandered back toward the apartment keeping an eye out for a
place to stop for a late lunch. Fortunately by now we had become familiar enough with some of the side streets to stay away from the main road which was congested with lots and lots of tourist there for the day from the cruise ships. There is quite a push in Venice to stop the cruise ships from stopping there and with what we saw we could understand. Venice is very small and is having a very difficult time handling the number of people that come from a multiple number of ships in one day.
Gondolas are definitely seen here in Venice as advertised and seem to be well used. It was interesting to see the actual shape of them as they are not completely “straight” and have a curve to them. They are kept up beautifully with wonderful interiors to make them attractive to the tourist that use them. There is quite a skill to being a gondolier and they must attend school for many hours before qualifying for their license. There is a large metal plate on the bow of the gondola and we found out that this is not just for decoration – it is
in fact a counter-weight to the gondolier that stands in the stern. The design also has a meaning – there are 6 bars which represent the 6 districts of Venice and the curve at the top is to represent the Doges traditional hat. Everything has a purpose and a meaning. We read however that some of the gondoliers have had to make modifications and make the metal plate foldable as they are not able to go under some of the bridges during high water so they must fold down the plate in the bow. Changes in water height are even affecting this traditional design of the gondola!
One point I want to make which we just hadn't thought of before was the fact that no vehicles of any kind are allowed in the city of Venice. When I say vehicle that includes cars, motorcycles, bicycles or scooters. Think now about the shops, restaurants, hotels and the residence that live in Venice. How do they get all of their supplies, furniture, building materials, laundry, and everything that is needed to live and work somewhere? It all comes by boat or by porter. Every canal you look at you will
see building supplies, cases of food supplies for grocery stores and restaurants, and even garbage containers all being moved around on boats. Then how do they get to their final destination if not next to a canal? Items are loaded into carts that are then pushed by human power. Another thing to note when picturing this is that the bridges over the canals are not flat but arched therefore have stairs on both sides which these carts laden with goods must be pushed up, over and down! That is sure one heck of an exercise program for all of these porters that bring everything that is needed in Venice to your doorstep. Quite a thing to think about. I'm real sure if I lived there I would live a minimalist life so I would not need to have much brought in or out especially when I moved into the city!
The days were still quite hot due to the “heat wave” that was hitting Europe so we enjoyed our wanderings around town in the evenings. We decided on the last evening in Venice, we would wander in the opposite direction from the Grand Canal and we were delighted
that we did. When we finally reached water again (remember Venice is an island) we were treated to a wonderful view of the mountains and a great sunset. We then wandered along the waterfront and walked pass the hospital. Hadn’t really thought about it until we saw that the ambulances were all boats! Life definitely is different when you are completely dependent on the water system and the boats that ply them.
We were sorry that our time in Venice was so short, but we felt we had a wonderful introduction into the wonders of this amazing city. Yes, there were plenty of tourist here and many of the souvenir shops that you see elsewhere, but if you can stay overnight and enjoy the evening light walking by the numerous canals or even taking a ride in any of the numerous water craft options, it can more easily open up your imagination about what this city was like in his hey-day. Those of you that have followed us know that we enjoy buying artwork in the various places we travel, but we decided that in Venice we would choose something different and unique to Venice so we finally
decided on a Venetian mask made the traditional way of papier-mâché. Fortunately they are used to packaging these up well for travel so we know of one thing that will definitely be in our luggage the next time we fly back to the US.
Besides the well known Venetian masks that are traditional here is Venetian glass. You could see numerous shops with the glass made on the island of Murano here in Venice. They have been making glass here since the 1200's and if you have time you can take a trip to the island to see glass-blowing demonstrations, but with our limited time and having seen glass blowing in other areas we decided to skip the tour and just enjoy our time wandering the alleyways of the city.
This was a wonderful way to spend a few days waiting for parts. We were very concerned about traveling to Venice during the busy holiday month of July, but it worked out well for us. Once we were there we decided that we were glad we didn’t travel there by boat and used the train as it definitely made for a simple entry to the city.
A bonus was that we could relax on the train and on the way back to Brindisi we met two other lovely people, this time from Switzerland. We definitely love having the option of traveling by train and try to use it as much as possible. If you have a chance to visit Venice, we would definitely recommend it!
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