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Published: April 30th 2005
Venice: a feast for our sleep-deprived senses. Pigeons, gulls, the clickity-clack of suitcase wheels on cobblestone. Brightly painted gondola poles. Salt air. Church bells ringing. Stepping out of the train station we felt, for the first time since leaving home, that we’d entered another time and place. Sunset cast a beautiful glow over the well-worn, but still elegant buildings along the Grand Canal. Even the air we breathed reeked of history. Dragging our suitcases behind us, we made our way across the Scalzi Bridge to our nearby hotel, Hotel Carlton
, checked in and learned that Pope John Paul II was near death. We planned to be in Rome on the 6th and 7th so we were quite curious. After watching the news for a bit we set off to explore the quiet streets around our hotel and find a bite to eat.
Venice would be a great place to learn orienteering. The maze of canals creates a mind-boggling twisted maze of streets where one’s sense of direction gets lost by the third turn. In our nighttime wandering we zigzagged our way past several quiet (either closed or filled to capacity) restaurants neatly tucked away on quiet streets and just as
often found the narrow passageway we were on open up to the star-filled sky when we stumbled into one of many squares. We settled on a quick bite from a pizza place and took our slices to a quiet side canal where we sat and watched the lights of the buildings reflected on the water.
Exhausted from close to 20 hours of travel, we wound our way back to our hotel getting there after only a few dead ends and wrong turns. Our room had a small balcony that overlooked the Grand Canal so we left the windows open and drifted off to a very peaceful sleep as we listened to the night sounds of the canal.
Feeling well-rested we made good use of the hotel’s breakfast before setting off on foot to find our way to the Rialto Bridge and Saint Mark’s Square. Fortunately there are numerous signs pointing the way as orienting oneself is only slightly easier by daylight. Our meanderings led us to some amazing shops with beautiful displays of carnival masks, marbled paper, gelato, salami, artfully displayed produce as well as tourist trinkets. Following the signs we started to find ourselves amidst
more and more people and the street we were on spilled us out onto the flanks of the Grand Canal and Rialto Bridge without warning. Tourist heaven. We were early and most of the shops were just beginning to open so after poking about for a bit we continued on to Saint Mark’s Square again seemingly wandering in circles.
After not too many minutes had passed it was if the curtain lifted revealing an amazing set: the narrow street we were on opened up into an amazing square. Venice’s front porch: Saint Mark’s. People and pigeons by the scores. St. Mark’s Basilica. Words cannot even begin to describe the scene. While there we visited the interior of St. Mark’s Basilica and took the elevator to the top of the bell tower for an impressive view of Venice, but for the most part, we spent the rest of the morning people watching, shopping and eating gelato.
St. Mark's Basilica was built in the 11th century (replacing an earlier church) and is decorated with with the treasures of sea captains. Both the exterior and interior glow from the gold Byzantine mosiacs. Some of the more interesting include the
stories of Adam and Eve as well as Noah and the flood that decorate two of the domes. The marble floor is beautiful although quite uneven - remember Venice is built on a lagoon and is slowly sinking. The Golden Altarpiece was stunning. It is decorated with a wealth of jewels (15 huge rubies, 300 emeralds, 1500 pearls, amethysts, topaz, and sapphires) all set in blue enamel panels and framed in gold. Beneath the high altar is the body of St. Mark himself. St. Mark's Basilica also houses an impressive bounty of loot from raids into Costantinople - much of the art was made in about A.D. 500 and is quite impressive although creepily scattered amongst the art are bones and skulls of saints.
When we’d had our fill we bought a 24 hour Vaporetti (water bus) pass and took the slow boat back to our hotel to pick up warmer clothes for the boat ride to Murano - a nearby island famous for hand-blown glass. What a fantastic way to see the sites along the Grand Canal! During the ride we had outstanding views of many of the buildings that border the Grand Canal including San Stae
St. Mark's Basilica
Fresco above one of the doors
where we could barely make out some of the frescoes that once decorated San Stae and many of the buildings of ancient Venice and Ca' d'Oro (House of Gold) which is a great example of the Gothic architecture found in Venice. Pointed arches, round medallions that are stamped with 4-leaf clovers mixed with Byzantinian tall, narrow arches with an Islamic touch.
Once on Murano we found it to be quaint and interesting, but we missed the glass-blowing demonstrations and had to settle for wandering in and out of all the shops. Some of the work was absolutely beautiful; other pieces were…. interesting. Chandeliers sprouting a wild assortment of brilliantly colored flowers, for example. There were, however, no crowds so wandering in and out of the shops was very pleasant. We could have easily spent a small fortune. All of the shop keepers seemed to have a son or daughter working in one of the factories and were all (rightfully so) very proud of the work they had for sale.
Once again back at our hotel, we checked the travel books and set off to find a place to eat called Osteria de Carla located not too
St. Mark's Square
View from Campanile (bell tower)
far from St. Mark’s Square. We hadn’t made reservations (foolishly) but only had to wait about 30 minutes for one of their 6 or 7 tables. Yummy. They were out of most of the antipasto dishes so we sampled their wines and ate our fill of pasta and a creamy dessert flavored with a bit of Amaretto. Absolutely delicious. Osteria de Carla is definetly worth looking for should you ever find yourself in Venice. It's just a few blocks away from the end of St. Mark's Square (away from the Basilica).
After another night's peaceful sleep we were eager to make the most of our last day in Venice before boarding the train to Florence so we headed out by Vaporetti to explore the area around the Rialto Bridge and St. Mark's Square a bit more. The square (Venice's only 'piazza') is bordered by the offices of the republic: 16th century Renaissance on one side and 17th century Baroque on the other. Pigeons make wandering about in the open a bit of an adventure, but we fortunately avoided being 'bombed'. We enjoyed watching people feed the pigeons (pigeon food in Venice contains birth control!) while sipping a late
La Salute Church
Built by survivors of the 1630 plague and dedictated to the Virgin Mary.
cappuccino and listening to an orchestra at one of the restaurants on the square. Afterwards we stopped in several shops and looked at the masks, paper products and Murano glass. I fell in love with a feline mask that I thought would be great fun, but my pocketbook wouldn't allow for such an expenditure - nor would it have packed well (or so I keep telling myself).
I think what I enjoyed most about Venice was simply wandering around eagerly awaiting the suprising vista that was just around the next corner or two and riding outside on the back of the Vaporetti (much cheaper than a gondola). That, and eating gelato while sitting in a quiet place along one of the side canals watching the tourists go by in the gondolas. I'd heard so much about how crowded, noisy, and smelly Venice is. For us, that simply wasn't the case - at least not in early April and certainly not as little as a few blocks away from the three bridges over the Grand Canal and St. Mark's. A pretty sweet spot to start our honeymoon! Recommendations and Links:
Osteria da Carla - tiny restaurant
Bridge of Sighs
Bridge connecting Doge's Palace to the prison.
near St. Mark's Square
La Boutique del Gelato - the best gelato we tasted in Venice; it's next to Hotel Bruno near Campo Santa Maria di Formosa St. Mark's Basillica History Page History of Venice
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