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La Dolce Vita (Part 5) Venezia (Venice)



(Grand Canal, Salut Church, Old Custom House)


So it was finally our time to visit the legendary travel destination of Venice.  With increasing excitement we journeyed from Florence through Tuscany and finally over the long bridge to this island city.  I usually try not to have ‘great expectations’ about big name travel destinations because they've not lived up to my expectations; fortunately this was not the case with Venice.  When we walked out of the train station it seemed that we were walking onto another beautiful planet named “Ocean”, not “Earth”.  The sky was a mesmerizing blue color and there were no roads or cars — just boats cruising along the calm waterways of the Grand Canal, past elegant old buildings.  If there’d been a few spacecraft floating by I could have believed we were on the set of a Lucas Star Wars sequel.  It was fabulous!  There’s nothing like it anywhere and its a place I’d recommend everyone try to visit once in their life.



(Venice, Grand Canal, viewed from train station) 


A brief history of Venice


Part of Venice’s appeal is how improbable it is that this city should even exist.  With the fall of Rome and invasion of barbarians into Italy during the Dark Ages, many Italians fled to the small sand islands in the Laguna Venita to try to eke out a living.  The barbarians didn’t follow them into the lagoon and they slowly began building a society on these small sand banks.  Islands were built up by sinking timbers into the sand and on this reclaimed land homes and churches were built.


Venice is quite an engineering feat, a coalescence of a hundred smaller islands into a functional city, separated by dozens of canals.  With time, a great city emerged from the sand bars which a thousand years ago was the greatest city in the world — a leader in trade and commerce (and accumulating great wealth from trade between Asia and Europe).  With the fall of its power and influence, Venice entered a state of “elegant decay”; the city seems locked in time, although it is slowly losing its battle with the sea and elements.  With the decline in Venice as the dominant city in the world came a rise in tourism, the wave of tourists still flooding the city centuries later and providing its lifeblood.

  Venice -- Grand Canal, close to Train station

(the Marco Polo on the Grand Canal, Venice)


Given that it’s a city literally built on sand, a major problem Venice has faced for years is that it’s slowly sinking.  Usually the water is not a problem but when high high tide rolls in there is significant flooding of the city and it’s walkways, including Piazza San Marco, the city’s main square.  The high salt water's undermining of the city’s foundations and a massive flood gate is being built (a multibillion Euro project) that will hopefully be able to control the water levels.  Venice is certainly worth trying to save.


I’d like to throw my voice in with those who recommend staying in Venice, rather than making a day trip to it or staying on the mainland and just taking the train over for several days.  Venice during the day is hot, crowded and can have lines that will test your patience.  Venice at night is charming.  The crowds are thinned by the departure of the tour ships and trains.  St. Mark’s square becomes a center of live entertainment, as three bands compete for your attention and patronage.  Rooms in Venice aren't cheap but we found it well worth while.



(Crossing the Grand Canal by traghetto) 


Things to do and see in Venice


1) Tour the Grand Canal.  Venice has a main central waterway known as the Grand Canal, which is worth cruising several times (preferably once at dusk or early evening so you can see the lights of the elegant buildings that line it lite up).  It’s only two miles (3 km) long and houses dozens of former palaces that are fun to study.  You can take a water taxi (expensive), gondola (very expensive and only will cover part of the canal’s length), or you can take the Vaporetto — the water bus.  It's often very crowded and busy but it’s affordable and how the locals and most tourists travel so buy a multiday pass and enjoy the journey — and the elegance of this old waterway.   An option to an expensive gondola ride is to take the traghetto — gondola shuttles that just ferry you across the Grand Canal at 8 set locations. Straddling the Grand Canal are four bridges, the most classic of which is the Rialto Bridge, about midway down the canal and definitely worth a few minutes of your time to explore.



(Rialto Bridge, Venice) 



 (St. Mark's Square, viewed from the Grand Canal)


2) St. Mark’s square is the main piazza in Venice and if you have only one day in town, spend most of your time here.  The square is historic and lined by elegant old buildings (at least some of which are always undergoing refurbishing). The square is always busy, especially during the peak daytime hours and, as such, it’s a good place to people watch (and to watch out for pick-pockets).



(The domes of St. Mark's Basilica, Venice) 


The highlight of St. Mark’s square is its Basilica which is about a thousand years old and one of the most unique churches I've ever visited.  The church was built to house the bones of Jesus’ disciple, the Apostle Mark (they were smuggled out of Egypt in barrels of pork  — justification was that St. Mark visited Venice during his lifetime).  St. Mark’s Basilica is decorated with items plundered from the known world including copies of the famous bronze horses atop the entrance. It’s architecture is an interesting hybrid of eastern and western, with distinctive Byzantine domes, Greco-Roman columns and dozens of absolutely incredible mosaics. Entry to the basilica is free but there are areas requiring small admissions (the treasury, lavish Golden Altarpiece and San Marco Museum which houses the original bronze horses; all are worthwhile). This church is an absolutely must-see attraction!



(Doge Palace, Venice) 


The Doge Palace sits beside the Basilica and was home to the ruler of Venice, known as the doge (pronounced dohzh).  The Doge’s Palace was one of the most influential places in Europe for hundreds of years.  The Palace tour takes you through the private home of the Doge, executive, legislative and judicial rooms, and you finish the tour by walking across the Bridge of Sighs to the prison.  There’s great art throughout the Palace including works by Veronese and Tintoretto.


The Corrier Museum sits at the far end of the square and has a nice collection of Venetian art (with works by Titian, Canova) and offers glimpses of Venice’s history including armor, weapons and doge memorabilia.


The Campanile (bell tower) can’t be missed and offers elevator rides to the top, with memorable panoramic views of Venice from 300 feet high. There are a number of photos taken from the top of the Campanile below.



(Peggy Guggenheim Museum, Venice) 


3) Churches and Museums.  As with much of Italy, some of the best art you’ll see will be in churches where it’s displayed as the artist originally intended it to be viewed.  If you have time visit the Guggenheim Museum, Accademia, Frari and Salut churches.



(Gondolas, Grand Canal, Venice) 


4)  Shopping.  Glass and lace, and beautiful Carnevale masks are traditional gifts from Venice.  You’ll find lots of shops with fine fashion and crafts available through the city.  As you might expect, the best prices are found in less frequented areas of the city.


5) Wander and try to get lost.  Venice is a small island and as such you really can’t stray very far.  The charm of Venice is the city itself and it’s kind of fun to wander canals and alleys and see some uncommon sights (eg. clothes on lines hanging out to dry over a canal).



(San Giorgio Maggiore church at dusk)


Even if you only learn a few words of Italian, try to use them with a waiter or a clerk in a shop.  They will almost certainly speak English but your efforts will be greatly appreciated and will endear you to them.


Enjoy Venice!



 For an extended high resolution slide show of Venice, please go to this link.  The slide show is at the bottom of the post.  Click on the right sided icon of the slideshow's toolbar for full screen enlargements.




Images (30)
  • Venice -- Grand Canal, close to Train station: The green domed church is San Simeone Piccolo.
  • Venice -- Grand Canal, close to Train station
  • Venice -- Canal bridges
  • Venice -- Vaparetto stop: The cheapest way to get around Venice is on the water bus, or vaparetto
  • Venice -- Grand Canal at dusk
  • Venice -- Grand Canal at dusk
  • Venice -- crossing the Grand Canal by Traghetto: The traghetto allow people to cross the Grand Canal at a few locations (where no bridges exist). It is an inexpensive form of transit & a cheap "gondola ride". Locals usually stand; tourists seem to like to sit
  • Venice -- Rialto Bridge
  • Venice -- Peggy Guggenheim Museum: Peggy Guggenheim lived in this home. When she passed away, her collection of fine 20th century art was donated to the city of Venice and now is displayed here
  • Venice -- Old Custom's House: The old Custom's House is now a museum of modern art (Punta della Dogna)
  • Venice -- St. Mark's square: Viewed from the Grand Canal, the Campanile and Doge Palace dominate the Canal frontage.
  • Venice -- St. Mark's Square, facing Grand Canal: The Doge Palace is on the left; the Campanile on the right. This smaller square, off the main Piazza, is known as the Piazzetta.
  • Venice -- St. Mark's Square: Viewed from the far end of the square, looking towards the Campanile and St. Mark's Cathedral
  • Venice -- St. Mark's Square: Filled with cafes, tourists and pigeons. One of the icons of European travel
  • Venice -- Orchestra, St. Mark's Square
  • Venice -- St. Mark's cathedral: One of the most unique churches I've ever visited
  • Venice -- St. Mark's cathedral: Colorful mosaics on the front are one of the main features of the church
  • Venice -- St. Mark's cathedral: The winged lion, symbol of Venice, sits atop the cathedral.
  • Venice -- St. Mark's cathedra: The elegant bronze horses were bootie. These are copies but the originals are in a museum inside of the church. They are thought to be over 2000 years old.
  • Venice -- Mosaics at entry, St. Mark's Cathedral: An closer view of an ancient and beautifully detailed work of art.
  • Venice -- Doge Palace: Home to the ruler of Venice, the Doge. It was also the official seat of all actions of government
  • Venice -- Doge Palace entrance details: A detail of the entryway, the leader kneeling before the winged lion, symbol of Venice
  • Venice -- Doge Palace, Stairway of the Giants
  • Venice --San Giorgio Maggiore at dusk: One of the classic sights of Venice. This church sits on a island directly across from St Mark's Square and is easily reached by vaporetto
  • Venice -- gondolas: Each gondala is hand craft and exhibits fine workmanship
  • Venice -- View from the Campanile: St. Mark's Square
  • Venice -- View from the Campanile
  • Venice -- View from the Campanile: St. Mark's Basilica (L) and Doge Palace (R) sit on the Grand Canal
  • Venice -- View from the Campanile: Entry into St. Mark's Square from the Grand Canal
  • Venice -- View from the Campanile: The Grand Canal in the foreground, the Old Customs House (L) and Salut Church (R)

Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

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Comments (2)

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Great pictures...makes me want to go back!


Interesting to note: the Mayor of Venice has been very active lately in trying to get the large cruise ships re-routed to keep them out of the fragile space between San Marco and Guidecca...and last month hundreds of people swam out to try to block the ships!

Thanks for your comments, PHeymont.


The cruise ships are BIG business in Venice, and certainly allow a lot of people to enjoy the destination if only for a day.


But there are easily places the ships could park that wouldn't hurt the delicate lagoon, then shuttle people into the city.

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