We arose early,showered and met the Meads for an early breakfast at 7:30 A.M. Like most tours and cruises, meals are the less harried periods of the day and the time to share impressions and experiences of the day before. It was also a chance to get to know the people with whom you are traveling.At 8:30, we met our local guide, Alessandro. He was escorting us on a narrated walking tour of Venice this morning.
We walked the narrow pedestrian alley ways and delighted in the architecture and charm of this magical city. Arched pedestrian bridges crossed the many small canals as we made our way to the center of Venice,The Piazza San Marco. The Square itself was completed by Napoleon .He closed off one end of a U shaped court.It is now lined on three sides by two story stone structures, with a colonaded walk beneath each.Shops line the interior of the colonnade. The fourth side is the wonderful Byzantine Masterpiece,the Church of St.Mark , from which the area takes its name. This marble covered and gilded apparition is an architectural delight.The soaring bell tower next to it dominates Venice.
The immense square is populated by throngs of tourists and locals feeding an enormous army of the aerial rats that we call pigeons. The Italians refer to the square as Europe’s living room. Alessandro informed us that on 100 days of the year the square is entirely submerged in the waters of the nearby Adriatic. The merchants construct a series of duck walks around the square to negotiate the water. It must be some sight.Luckily for us it was dry as a bone when we walked it.
On the corner of the square, near the Church, sits the former seat of the Venetian Republic, The Palazza Ducale. It is an enormous, two-story structure that once housed the Senate and House of Rep. of the Venetian Republic.We toured this grand edifice and admired the beauty of the many Tintoretto and Varonese murals that depict the History of Venice in the “Four Grande Rooms” that were allotted to the Doge, the elected reps and the judiciary. Careful restorations had brought to life the color and splendor of Venetian history. I had never experienced Varonese or Tintoretto on such a grand scale before and enjoyed immensely the sweeping saga in oil that lay before us.
The guide told us of the Doges. Each one was elected for life, but not until he was over ninety years of age. In this way, the Venetians insured a reasonable turnover in their chief executives.The average Doge ruled for 9 years.
As we walked along the polished marble looking floors, our guide explained their unique construction. This building and all of Venice is built upon pilings sunk into the bottom of the lagoon.Minor tremors and other earth movements often shift the surface below. Hard marble floors would be too rigid and soon crack apart. Instead,the artisans used fine marble chips, mixed with a plaster paste. When dried,it is saturated with vegetable oil three times yearly and buffed to a high finish.The result is marble in appearance, yet vibrant and giving to the various strains of the building. Similarly, the floor joists and timbers between floors are constructed all of wood so that thebuilding will give with the stress and strain of frequent movement.
Next, we walked the path of the condemned over the famous “Bridge of Sighs” and down into the dungeons of the palace. It was dank and dark and cold. People who came this way seldom returned.
From the Palazza Ducale, we walked a few streets away and toured the showroom for the “Murano” glass works. After a brief demonstration in glass blowing, an army of sales people descended upon us to show us the many colored and world famous Venetian glassware. The Venetians had developed the techniques for making transparent glass in the 16th century and later the technique for making glass mirrors by adding silver to one side of transparent glass. We had a new appreciation for the ornate glassware that we previously thought somewhat tacky. The main production facilities lie on an island complex a few miles from Venice.
After the glass works, Mary and I walked the Venetian promenade along the Adriatic. .Huge car ferries and all manner of water traffic were busily scurrying about. Famous old hotels like the Londra and the Daniella give a flair to the area. Gondoliers, a babble of languages and cultures all mingled harmoniously. One began to appreciate the cosmopolitan sophistication of Venice.
We strolled the streets and alleys of Venice buying some postcards and stamps for friends and window shopping. At 12 Noon, we met up with our group for a Gondola ride down the many small canals of Venice. These vessels are sleek, ebony, highly -decorated canoe -like structures that operate with one large oar working off a stern mounted fulcrum and a hearty gondolier to propel them. They are expensive vessels and can cost up to $18,000 each. How they manage to steer these fragile craft around the narrow turns and in and out of the crowded boat traffic is a mystery to me, but they did. One of their fellows played Italian folk songs on an accordion to accompany a robust operatic tenor who sang with the heart and passion induced only by the melancholy of great opera.We absolutely enjoyed this quintessential tourist ride along the canals of Venice.(cost $28 ea,)It is one of the many high spots of our tour. An enterprising photographer took snaps of us in the gondolas when we left and had them developed upon our return. For 10,000 Lire we had a wonderful souvenir of the event.
After our gondola ride we strolled the Piazza San Marco and bought some Panini vegetarian and Mineral water from a small stand (14k).We ate our lunch in the square, like the Venetians, and dodged the dive bombing aerial rats that were the delight of squealing children.
We returned to the Saturnia for a brief R&R. Later that afternoon we set out along the narrow alleyways to find the Academia Art Museum. After some exploring, we came upon the Museum but did not want to fight the hordes of students and tourists already occupying the place.We continued walking along the quaint back alleys and passed by the renowned “Peggy Guggenheim” Museum of Modern Art.
Finally, we came to the church of St.Basil. It sits across the wide grand canal from the Piazza San Marco. How were we going to get across without retracing our steps to the nearest bridge far behind us? A gondola would take us of course. We saw some energetic young men oaring a sleek black gondola across the choppy waters of the Grand Canal.
When they returned, we followed them to their anchorage and inquired as to the price of the crossing.The young lad in the stern, perhaps tired of being asked that question 5 million times a day, answered in English “One million dollars.” Then, gracious as most of the Italians are, he smiled and said 700 Lire.We gave him 3,000 and were duly oared across the canal to the Piazza San Marco.We strolled the promenade once again and stopped for a cappuccino in the square.(5K)
Next, we entered the charming Correr Museo, a repository of Venetian art and history from 1300 onward. We enjoyed the
various array of art and sculpture and military arms that depicted the life of the Venetian Republic. I was quite taken with a bizarre painting by Heironymous Bosch. He must have been Salvatore Dali’s inspiration.It is weirdly beautiful.From the Correr Museo, we walked back along the alleys to the Hotel Saturnia and relaxed before dinner.
At 7:00 P.M., we assembled in the lobby for a 10 minute walk along the back alleys of Venice to “Giardinetto’s Trattoria.” It is a small and charming family -run restaurant that treated us like kin. We had eggplant with grilled tomato and vegetables, pasta with clams, sole, insalata, and tiramisu all washed down with Soave Bolla and Mineral Water. Marie’s nephew Michael and girlfriend Jennifer were able to join us for dinner and we enjoyed their company.
After this wonderful dinner we walked back towards the hotel, stopping briefly at the Piazza San Marco. for a last look.We were leaving Venice tomorrow morning, regretfully. It is a charming and magical City and we hope soon to come again.
We returned to the hotel, packed our bags for tomorrow’s departure and read for a while before sleep took us.