Saturday, October 21, 2006

Thursday, 19th October – Venice

Venice!! What can I say? It’s everything we dreamed about, we are thrilled to be here. Its unlike anywhere we have ever seen (even Bourton-on the-Water, the Venice of the Cotswolds!). There is a lot to see here, but just being in Venice is incredible. The best fun is just walking, wandering, and getting lost in the maze of tiny streets and bridges. Around every bend is a picture-postcard scene. And it is a widow-shoppers paradise – shop after shop of beautiful things – fabrics, glass, jewellery, masks, art, paper, wools, leather, antiques …

The first place everyone goes to in Venice, the most famous piazza in town is St Mark’s Square, or Piazza San Marco, so along with every other tourist in Venice (or so it seemed) there we headed. Napoleon called it “the finest drawing room in Europe”, and it is quite beautiful, despite the crowds and the pigeons. Enclosed by historic buildings, including the striking Basilica San Marco, it is a wide open space which contrasts with the narrow alleyways and canals of the rest of the city.

The shortest queue seemed to be at the campanile, so that was our first stop. It’s a 300 foot high bell tower which (to our great relief) has a lift, and offers great views of Venice. It was really cold up there, but otherwise great – the views are excellent, and it was good to orient ourselves on our first morning. Then after a detour to buy concert tickets we went into Basilica San Marco itself. What an incredible building. It was built to house the purported bones of St Mark the apostle, stolen from Alexandria in 828. The façade is incredibly ornate, with mosaics, marbles of many colours and stone carvings. Inside it is even more stunning – with 8000 square metres of mosaic (much of it gold) covering the ceilings, domes and arches and elaborate mosaic and tessellated marble floors. There is a little museum containing some beautiful gold and jeweled items (chalices, lamps, icons & more from 1000 and more years ago) and a large collection of “relics” – mostly bones of various saints housed in special containers which were a little too anatomical eg leg bones with a silver foot attached – quite a gruesome little collection. In contrast is the Pala D’Oro, a glorious altarpiece created over several hundred years so that it has elements of the Gothic as well as the Byzantine. The Pala d'Oro is made of gold and is set with enamels, jewels, semi-precious stones and pearls – quite a sight!

Next we took the vaporetto to the famous Rialto Bridge. It’s a busy spot with lots of shops, tourists, gondolas and other boats, but we managed to find a spot next to the water to sit for a drink and soak in Venice. Somehow we managed to bump into the only other people we knew in Venice (the Aussies from the shuttle bus in Paris). We nursed our drink and sat for as long as we could get away with, before finding a little out of the way Trattoria for dinner. A night-time stroll back to our B&B was a pleasant ending to the day – we try to take a different path each time, and always make it back eventually.