July 25-26, 2012
We left Verona and headed to Venezia. We ditched the bus on the mainland and packed into taxi boats that sped a long the waterways and Grand Canal to our hotel, Hotel Monaco and Grand Canal.
After a quick freshen up in the hotel, we joined some of our tour for a gondola ride through the Grand Canal and some smaller water ways, serenade included.
I call it Pigeon with Flower
After the gondola ride, we made our way through the streets of Venice to Piazza San Marco. Standing on the stone of the piazza, it was as if we stepped into a film. It was surreal. The pigeons, the crowds, the noise, all part of something greater.
We diverted away from the crowds and wandered along narrow side streets lined with shops selling masks and glass jewelry, crossing bridges onto neighboring islands. We explored the endless maze of streets until the hunger overpowered us. Noticing a cute little Italian restaurant near the hotel, we meandered our way back only to find a few members from our tour dining there.
Famous Harry’s Bar where Hemingway sipped his Bellinis
Day two in Venice began with a breakfast of cappuccino and croissant on a terrace overlooking the Grand Canal.
Our group was then set up with a local guide who walked us through St. Mark’s Square to the Doge’s Palace. The Doge was merely a figurehead of Venice, subject to the authority of members of the Senate. The Doge was voted into position, a position holding little power, and served for life. The politics of old Venezia are quite fascinating. I won’t go into much more detail, but I highly recommend looking it up.
Our guide took us through the rooms of the Doge’s Palace beginning with the waiting room for visiting dignitaries. Gorgeous high ceilings and artwork are on display to show off the wealth of Venice as its visiting dignitaries often had to wait days for an audience with the Doge. We continued on to where the Doge met with visitors, never alone, but always with 6 supervisors from the Senate. Then on to the Senate chambers themselves before visiting the judicial chambers.
We soon crossed over the Bridge of Sighs into the prison. These cells were where they kept regular prisoners. Political prisoners were kept in a separate jail above the judicial chambers. Often time prisoners escaped by bribing the guards.
Back over the Bridge of Sighs, we walked to the largest room in Europe known as the Sala del Maggiore Consiglio, or the Chamber of the Great Counsel. Tintoretto’s painting Paradise sits above the Doge’s throne and lining the top of the walls are portraits of all the Doges.
This was a slot for whistle-blowers to drop of letters accusing others of not paying taxes, or other crimes. The letters had to be signed and if the accuser was wrong, they would be punished.
View from the Doge’s Palace
Walking across the Bridge of Sighs looking out towards the Grand Canal
The Bridge of Sighs – While it has turned into something quite romantic, the bridge’s name originated from the sighs of prisoners as they enjoyed their last view of freedom before being brought to the square to hang for their crimes.
Scala dei Giganti – Sculptures of Mars and Neptune at the top of the stairs, the lion with wings is the symbol for St. Mark
From the Doge’s Palace we went to the Byzantine Basilica in St. Mark’s Square. A rainbow of mosaics, the cathedral was a stunning collection of Byzantine art and design. Sadly no photographs. We then made our way to a glass blowing demonstration. In roughly 90 seconds, an expert glass blower (10+ years experience) created a stunning Ferrari horse with the skill, precision, and ease of someone who has created hundreds. With tongs, he stretch, twirled, and pinched the glass, shaping the legs, mane, tail and face.
That afternoon we took a ferry out to the island of Burano. Photos and details of that excursion will be in my next post.
Our last night in Venice, we wandered even deeper into the city, exploring the hidden nooks and crannies until our feet grew sore. My Father and older brother made their way back to the hotel, but for my younger brother and I, the sense of adventure had yet to leave us.
We strolled along the Grand Canal, so far that it lead us to private homes with large yachts docked out front. We continued until the people grew scarce and the sky dark before working our way back to the hotel for the evening.
Graffiti on a side alley off the Grand Canal
It seems customary when in Venice to stand in the center of St. Mark’s Square and feed the pigeons. It is actually illegal to feed them. They have become a bit bold and adventurous. On our walk back we witnessed a very young girl hold out her arms and immediately get covered in pigeons. Despite my natural distaste for the birds after living in New York City, I dared to step along side her and hold out my arms. Within seconds the birds were sitting on my hands and forearms looking for food. A man selling roses strolled over and, despite my strong “NO,” dumped a pile of corn into each of my hands bringing more birds. Having no money on me, I refused to pay the man. He left quite annoyed. The pigeon pictured here landed on me about 5 minutes after the corn was gone and the other pigeons left. I took a long, hot shower after this adventure.