To me Venice is an beautifully eccentric grande dame, bedecked with heavy jewels and with a bit too much makeup. I picture Her with bright red lipstick, slightly askew. She’s seen everything–from the elegance of the Renaissance to the slow but steady claim the tourist kiosks with knock-off Venetian masks and keychains from China have on her narrow streets. I think this makes Her walk a little slower, stoop a little lower.
A city built on water. What can get more romantic than that? Venice has sparked my imagination ever since I read an adaptation for kids of ‘The Merchant of Venice.’ I could imagine smelling the sea salt in the air while reading about Casanova; I could feel the terror while that guy in Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Don’t Look Now’ ran through the dark alleys of the city.
We arrived in the evening. Venice was absolutely beautiful with the lights reflecting off the canals. I was too busy gawping at everything and forgot to take photos.
We queued very early the next morning for Basilica San Marco, but we weren’t the first ones there.
The inside of the basilica is Wow, with the ceiling seemingly flecked with gold. But because of the super-long wait I was slightly put out by the fact that photos weren’t allowed inside and we were limited to 5 minutes before they shoo-ed us away. There was not enough time to gaze and gaze and take it all in.
As we usually do, we went up a tall structure for wide angle views. Piazza San Marco has a 323-feet Campanile (bell tower), which thankfully has a lift to the top. This tower isn’t as old as the other buildings in the square, as the original collapsed early 1900s.
There’s something about looking down at the brown tile roofs and seeing Sky blue meet Sea blue on the horizon that made me feel absolutely at peace with the world.
Piazza San Marco is a great place to people-watch. You don’t have to buy coffee from the pricey caffés around the square. We each had a bottle of Lipton peach iced tea and sat on the bench a little way from the Columns of San Marco and San Teodoro (where public executions used to be held, imagine!) and observed.
Venice has a lot of lovely bridges. One of the oldest and prettiest is the Rialto Bridge, designed by Antonio da Ponte. That amuses me, that the winning bridge design is by a Mr da Ponte.
To get from station to station one rode a waterbus or vaporetto. Before you start thinking about boats traveling at breakneck speed à la The Italian Job, our guidebook pointed out that there are actually speed limits for boats because of wave-induced damage to stonework and building foundations. The vaporetto travels at a measured, leisurely pace–as does life in the rest of the city.
We went to the Doge’s Palace Itinerari Segreti or Secret Itineraries Tour, which I’d highly recommend. The places you visit on the tour really are secret, because they’re not accessible by the rest of the museum-goers and you have to enter through a tiny, ancient, wooden door–which leads you to an equally tiny, ancient, wooden office.
You are thereafter led to the place where old Venice kept its official documents, the torture chamber where political prisoners were detained and made to confess through a disturbing yet ingenious device constructed from rope and water, and the very cell/s where Casanova stayed (and escaped, and stayed, and escaped again…).
I loved the way the old floors creaked. The small barred windows in the cells left me with a heavy feeling. There was barely any sunlight and the stone walls felt cold to the touch.
However my favorite part of our trip was when the Fiancé and I just walked aimlessly along the back streets, chatting. The back streets were quieter, with less tourists and fewer souvenir kiosks. While the map was helpful, the streets didn’t behave and stick to straight lines. They twisted and turned and leapt over canals, via bridges with railings and without. We both liked the city better this way.
We even found a genuine Venetian mask shop, La Bottega dei Mascareri, in the market. The shop crafts intricate, detailed masterpieces and even supplied those creepy-ass masks that they used in Eyes Wide Shut.
We bought gelato and had deep fried cheese sandwiches. I enjoyed the fresh seafood best though. This is a photo of the sampler we had at Muro.
In sum I’d say that while the main attractions are must-sees, I would include a healthy dose of quiet walking time in any Venice itinerary to get to know Her better underneath all the noise and gaudy makeup.
P.S. I am slowly trying to get through my backlog of past cities visited before I go off on new adventures, but methinks this is not happening soon. Oh well.