Tuesday, July 12, 2011

April 18th: Falling in Love With Venice



Pretty much the Best Day Ever.

I didn't have any goals in mind for the day, other than to find the perfect Venetian mask to take home with me, I didn't wait in any lines, I ate amazing food (and lots of it!) , the weather was perfect (sunny and warm, but not too warm!) and I left Venice feeling completely contented but with a burning need to go back to the city again someday. :)

We were staying on the mainland and took a boat across the water into the city early in the morning as the sun burned away the clouds.

The boat motored past St. Mark's Square to the dock , where we disembarked and then walked back along the water's edge into the square itself.

Before getting to the square, we passed the canal where the Bridge of Sighs is located. It connects the prison to the interrogation rooms in the Doge's palace and I've seen a fair number of photographs and art prints of it, so I was curious to see it, and of course to take my own pictures of it.

Lets just say reality wasn't quite as arty (?) as the current reality.

There was a fair bit of restoration work being done on the buildings surrounding so they were covered in plastic sheeting. The city was kind enough though, to leave the bridge itself uncovered.....quite a lovely shot, no? With the extra dash of Toyota just for added flair? :)

Above, a long distance view of St. Mark's Basilica, with the bell tower standing tall. You were able to climb the tower if you wanted, as well as go inside the Basilica, but even first thing in the morning before either of them were open, the lineups were already huge.

Above, a closeup of some of the detailing along the Basilica's roof line.

And below, one of the musical groups was playing along the edge of the square. Although, as you can see, not many people were taking advantage of it at this point in the morning. This particular group was competing with another similar group on the opposite side. We did get a peek inside the cafes themselves, by walking past the windows, but too pricey for my wallet to actually eat there! :)

We had a lovely local lady guide us through part of the city to give us some information and to get us orientated. She met us at St. Mark's Square and ushered us through the twisty turny streets and alleys in the general direction of the Rialto Bridge.

There were many chances along the way to stop on top of the bridges and snap shots of the buildings and the gondolas. Poor tourists in the gondolas, the amount of pictures taken of them is probably uncountable, and it is slightly unnerving to be in their situation as I would find out later.

We wandered through the fruit and vegetable market along the canal, which was next to the building where the fish market was held. It was Monday on the day I was in Venice, so the fish market wasn't open for the day. The fishermen don't go out fishing on Sundays, so there was no fish ready to be sold for Monday.

That was probably a good thing though, because even without there being any actual fish around, the smell was still there! And not a very good smell either! :)

We walked across the Rialto Bridge, the oldest bridge spanning the Grand Canal. I had a lovely view of the canal itself, as well as the cafes and the hundreds of gondolas moored along the walkway.

Water traffic was especially busy here. The narrower canals only see the smaller boats and gondolas, but the Grand Canal is more involved in the movement of goods and cargo. I was highly entertained by the gondolas that carry people from one side of the Grand Canal to the other. No sitting down on those. Just cram as many people on as possible, standing room only, and push them to the other side. I can only imagine how well my crummy balance would manage on one of those. I think I would be sticking to the bridges, even if I had to walk a fair distance. This was not water that you wanted to be swimming in. :)

It really was a shame, with all the water literally inside the city, that you couldn't actually use it for any sort of swimming or water sports. It was way too dirty and polluted. What's that saying? Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink? (I'm sure I've butchered that, but you get my point.)

Wandering down the alleys, you would very occasionally pass an area with a small garden such as this place below. Considering that the city is surrounded by salt water and is constrained by lack of space, only the very wealthy would have been able to afford such a space. 

I had a great time looking at the old buildings...

And the streets were always an adventure. You could head down this tiny, shady looking alley, which looked like it was heading nowhere, and then it would take a sharp left and you'd be dumped out in front of some ritzy shops in a busy tourist area. We followed signs for the bathroom down one of those dingy little alleys where it was 1.50 Euro to use a very dirty bathroom. About $2.25 Canadian for a toilet. Yikes.

Our guide led us back to St. Mark's Square...

...and then we went into the Murano glass factory for a short tour. We had a Master glassblower give an incredibly quick demo. In about 60 seconds, he had gone from a round glob of heated glass to a tiny little horse using only a few twists and pulls with what looked like a pair of large tongs. I had barely found a seat, and already he was done!

Of course we were then funnelled into the store. I managed to escape with a couple of pairs of sparkly earrings....and without knocking anything over. Including the life size horse head and the thousand dollar vases. :)

We also made a quick stop at the Burano lace school where we were give some information on the history and process of lace making. The school is now highly subsidized by the government as they try to preserve the historical significance of the Burano lace. It is painstaking work that I cannot imagine attempting myself!

We were told that a centerpiece similar to the one shown above would take (and I think I'm remembering this correctly) about 6 months to make with 8 women working on it (or maybe it was 8 months and 6 women? lol) and then would only sell for about $800. That's not going to be enough to live on in any way.

So it was at this point that our tour group scattered, the majority of us had done the walking tour, the glass factory and lace school, but now we split up to do some more exploring.

Brooke and I took off with just the two of us as we had the same goals (or lack of them) in mind. We wanted lunch....pizza.....and we wanted to eat quickly so we could shop and wander and take photos.....and eat.....and then shop and wander...some more.

We split pizza in the upstairs of a tiny little restaurant with a window overlooking the street.

And then started wandering, with many side trips into little shops and at touristy stands looking for souvenirs for her and a mask for me.

It was at one of these cheap outdoor stands that we managed to lose each other. Some how we got split up in the crowds, and even after we both spent 15 minutes looking for each other in the tiny little square we were in, didn't manage to see the other in the crowd.

Of course, that was after I took this picture of her with her icing sugar sprinkled crepe with Nutella, strawberries, and bananas.

The only reason I didn't have one myself, was because we'd followed our pizza lunch with a stop at a pastry shop. Where I bought a chocolatey-liquery cakey square thing and something else that tasted like a lemony cream puff. And Brooke had already had a cappuccino and pastry too.

Seriously, it was amazing. :)

So after losing Brooke (or she lost me?) I decided not to worry about it, and kept on meandering. The atmosphere was just lovely. Happy. Content. I can't quite describe it. Just this feeling of warmth and happiness. No commitments. Lovely weather and a lovely city. Good food.

Yes, yes, it was amazing.

<insert happy sigh here>


Towards the end of the day I wound my way back to St. Mark's Square.

The black & white photo below is hung above the entrance to a cafe/bar. The words Coca Cola are actually spelled out by pigeons eating bird food left out for them. Fairly interesting advertising that.

Of course, its now illegal to feed the pigeons in the Square as there were so many of them at one point that them (or, mostly what the leave behind) were damaging the buildings surrounding.

By this time in the day, St. Mark's Square was even busier than it had been in the morning. And the lineups even longer.

Next time I'm in Venice (and this is another city I'm determined to return to) I'll have to go inside the Basilica. Our tour manager gave us a handy tip to try though, apparently there is a bag check for the Basilica, which is separate from the actual entrance. So instead of standing in the massive line, you can go directly to the bag check around the corner, check your bag, take the ticket that they give you and that ticket will get you directly into the church as the people manning the entrance think you've already stood in the line.

Cheating? Yes. Definitely. But maybe worth a try. Of course, with my luck, I would try doing that and it wouldn't work. Or they'll have changed the setup.

Or Karma will get me. :)

To top of the goodness of our day, we went for a gondola ride before leaving the city.

We were split into groups of 5 or 6 for the ride, each boat with it's own name. I signed up for the Black Pearl of Pirates of the Caribbean fame.....I thought skipping over the first option, the Titanic, was a good idea.

Naming one of your gondolas/gondola groups after a ship that sank seems too much like a bad omen don't you think? :)

So we headed out, six people in total in our gondola. Some of us were happier to have our pictures taken (below) than were others (above).  But that may be because James didn't have his Prosecco and strawberries yet. :)

Another photo of us below. Cam in his pirate hat.

I like this shot a lot, even if my plastic cup is blocking poor Bianca's face. Oops. :)

A precariously perched addition above, and laundry below, were just a few things we passed that made me grin. It was like being in the backyards of the houses...since they don't actually have yards....so you can see more of the day to day life of the city's residents as opposed to the touristy face you see most of the streets.

I love the way the light shines on the underside of this bridge below.

This is about when it became a little bit....embarrassing?...uncomfortable?....to be in a gondola. You were fair game to the tourists taking photos, much as I had done earlier in the day. The change in perspective was quite interesting.

It was also interesting to see what people in the gondolas would do. Either attempt to ignore the existence of the camera, or pose for it.

And of course, the gondola traffic jam was entertaining too, haha.

Rush hour on the water!

And this, this is the bus.....with more cameras! :)

After our relaxing gondola ride, we walked to another one of the boat stops to get back on the boat to head to the mainland.

We were on an open topped boat for the ride back. Which was lovely as it gave us our last glimpses of the city.

And gave us a good view of these excited cruise ship travellers waving madly...

We arrived back on the mainland late in the evening after our short boat ride....

...With the sun still shining, several people from the tour were lounged on the grass with snacks and drinks. My roomates and I joined them. By the time dinner rolled around there was at least 20 of us, including the tour manager and driver, relaxing on the grass chit-chatting and laughing. It was the perfect end to the perfect day.

I'm smiling even now, in mid-July, as I think about. :)