Venice, Italy

Saturday 23rd June 2018

We had found the Walks in Italy tour in Florence so informative and visiting all of the difficult to get into sites in one day was fabulous, so we searched for an option for Venice. We booked on a tour that explored the streets and markets that local Venetians use, including learning about the Rialto Bridge, and heading towards St Mark’s Square and having a gondola ride. The afternoon component then headed into St Mark’s Cathedral and the Doge’s Palace.

We met our tour guide Elizabetta (I think that is how you spell it) over in a square just off the Rialto Bridge – Campo San Giacomo di Rialto. This was an area that we hadn’t explored at all. Phil got us there (with the help of Google maps). We arrived a little early and found some of the same people who had done the tour with us in Florence. They were from the USA and we had a lovely little chat with them. Our guide arrived and she was really lovely. She had lived in Venice her whole life. Elizabetta’s local knowledge was really nice to explain how the locals live amongst this amazing city, with no cars. She pointed out that everyone has to carry their groceries home and that most houses (apartments) don’t have lifts, so you need to choose – light and airy generally means many stairs whilst more convenient on the lower floors, the rooms are usually darker.

We walked around the fruit and vegetable and fish markets. There were many different kinds of seafood, yet we didn’t see any butcher shops. Obviously everything has to be imported in (except the seafood), so things are quite expensive. She explained how Venice started as refugees fleeing the mainland ahead of marauding armies and how people worked together to set up communities. The first multicultural community in the world. She also pointed out that the religious and political sectors were quite separate and the church had no say in how the country was run. Due to not having a lot of natural resources, the early Venetians set themselves up as merchants and travelled along the Mediterranean and Adriatic Sea to import and export goods. Near the Rialto Bridge was the original political and business area of old Venice, whilst the religious hub was St Mark’s.

Throughout our meandering around the streets of Venice, we ended up in a courtyard, where Marco Polo had lived. The ground level of the house didn’t appear to be as grand as the rest of the houses throughout the courtyard. Elizabetta explained to us that Venice is sinking at the rate of about 15 centimetres (15 mm) every 100 years. Given that these houses have been here since the 1400 – 1500’s that’s 1.5 metres that buildings have sunk. When the pavers start getting really crooked, they lift the pavers, add more sand / land fill and then pave on the top of that. This consequently means that the bottom levels don’t appear to be as grand or majestic.

We wandered into St Mark’s Square and Elizabetta showed us where to meet her at 1:30 pm. We then went around the corner for our gondola ride.

Phil and I had the seats at the back. It was such an amazing experience. We were rowed around the canal ‘streets’ by our expert gondolier. It was so peaceful and beautiful. We really got to see just how beautiful this city is. I think we both fell in love with Venice a little more after this. We went out onto the Grand Canal and then back into some quieter canals. All of Venice’s buildings are built to the edge of the canal so to see these beautiful buildings from this perspective was just amazing.

All too soon our gondola ride came to an end. The gondolas have a flat rate charge of 80 Euro for 30 minutes or 100 Euro for 45 minutes. After 7 pm, however, they go up in price to 100 Euros for 30 minutes and 120 Euros for 45 minutes (I think). Obviously this was going to be our only gondola ride. We headed out for lunch and Phil and I headed away from the square (where the huge prices are). We found a restaurant near the square, but a couple of blocks back.

We ordered bruschetta to share. I had handmade ravioli and Phil had chicken with mushrooms. We then shared an apple pie. Gorgeous. We headed back to the meeting point – with Phil getting a gelato on the way. We also checked out some handbag shops to see if we could find any that met my specifications – nope – not a one.

 

We met the group again and headed across the square. Initially the square was smaller with a canal running through it and a church opposite. When Napoleon came to Venice, he filled in the canal, knocked down the church and built a house for himself. She also pointed out holes around the square and actually inside St Mark’s Cathedral – these are there for when they have massive high tides and lots of wind, which can prevent the lagoon from emptying, so there’s so much water, it’s better to relieve the pressure to have points where the water can escape, rather than letting the water find its own way through and destroying the paving and / or the buildings.

 

We headed over the St Mark’s Cathedral and Elizabetta stopped in front of the clock, which we had seen on our first venture into the Square. The clock was constructed in the 15th/16thCentury. It had a 24 hour time and the ‘digital’ time – in Roman numerals clicks over every five minutes. It also has the phases of the moon and mechanical figures at the top who ring the bell. One of the figures rings it in the final two minutes of the hour that the hour is almost over and the other figure rings the beginning of the hour. Each hour they ring the bell the amount of time for the hour, so we were there at 2:00 pm so they rang it twice each.

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This mosaic on the outside of the church depicts how the Venetians were able to get the bones of St Mark through to Venice. They hid them underneath some pork meat that they were bringing in, which the Muslim people found repulsive.

We then went in the skip the line line at the St Pauls Cathedral. We got through and were absolutely blown away by the sheer detail in the mosaics that decorated the church. They are stunning.

Unfortunately photography was not permitted inside the church as it is a religious building and is still used for mass and other religious reasons. I managed a few sneaky ones. I wanted to buy some photos or postcards that detailed some of the images and mosaics inside the church, but they didn’t sell them. All of the images that decorate the church are made of glass mosaics or tile mosaics on the floor. This is because they don’t weigh a lot and look stunning.

Inside the church is was obvious the way that the floor had buckled and moved as the building sank. The lines of chairs were all up and down almost like a wave. Elizabetta also pointed out the holes around the church on the inside, however the main church had stairs going up into it and then the altar and other precious items were up higher again. The part of the church between the exterior and the part going into the church floods fairly frequently.

After St Mark’s Cathedral we then joined the skip the line line for the Doge’s Palace. The Doge was appointed for life, so they generally appointed an old man, so that his time in the job was less. There were strict rules about the role of the Doge, essentially he was there to serve the people of Venice and act as a figure head, but was powerless in terms of governing the city. He was unable to use any influence for his own gain. The politicians were appointed for one year only. During this time they served the city away from their businesses. They weren’t paid by the city or government, it was their way of paying back the city for their good fortune. Consequently, it was generally people who could leave their businesses for a year that took up these positions.

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Looking from the entrance into the courtyard of the Doge’s Palace, with a view of St Mark’s Cathedral

Learning about how the Venetians governed themselves back in the 15thCentury sounds advanced. This system worked so well that it continued until French rule in the 1850’s.

The palace was adorned with many wonderful paintings and other decorations. Many columns looked like marble, however were just painted to make it look that way. There were many scenes depicted in this palace, especially where people had to wait to speak to the politicians. All of the pictures depicted the Doge on his knees ready to serve the people of Venice. There were pictures of Mary and Jesus within these paintings, however they were rarely the focal point. It was really interesting hearing the history and how this system worked.

We then crossed over the Bridge of Sighs – so named as the prisoners were tried in the Palace and then crossed the bridge directly into the prison. It was said that they sighed as they crossed the bridge as they had lost their freedom. Generally it was only political crimes that were tried here, as other crimes such as theft and murder were dealt with over near the Rialto Bridge.

Our tour concluded in the Doge’s Palace near the Grand Staircase. This would have been the entry for people visiting or doing business here and was consequently impressive.

 

Our heads were spinning because we had learnt so much in such a short time. (Our feet were aching too after the big day yesterday and walking around so much today.) We headed back to our room and up the massive 7 flights of stairs – which always seemed much bigger at the end of the day than going down them in the mornings.

I started working on editing the photos from the photo tour, Murano and Burano, updating the blog and downloading and editing the photos from today. Phil went to the laundromat that was just down the ‘walkway’ from the hotel. I also kind of watched the Korea vs Mexico game. Mexico got the win 2 – 0 and were a far better team.

I was getting hungry (it was 8:00 pm) so we decided to go out for dinner. We wandered in the direction of St Mark’s Square and found a little restaurant. They offered for us to go out the back, so we did. It was a lovely little courtyard. We had a delicious meal and a shared a bottle of Prosecco for our last night in Venice – this time. Phil had a pizza and I tried a typical Venetian meal – gnocchi in crab sauce. It was quite tasty. We decided to head towards St Mark’s Square to take some night shots of the Cathedral, but we didn’t have the tripod. It didn’t look that great, so we only took a few photos.

We headed home and kept working on the blog. Slow start tomorrow as we have to check out of the room by 11am. We will fix the bags tomorrow morning after breakfast.

 

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