Pre-Tour Day 2
Day 2 in Venice and we are on our own to explore this amazing city.
At our hotel, we have fruit and yogurt for breakfast. And caffe, not in paper to-go cups, not tall, grande, or venti, but in china cups with saucers. Energized, we head toward the Rialto Market. The sky is bright blue and cloudless, the temperature mild—the first of fifteen such perfect spring days in Italy.
At the Grand Canal near the Rialto Bridge, a traffic jam ensues during the morning rush hour. Vaporetti drop off and take on passengers next to delivery boats full of bottled water, fresh vegetables, toilet paper. We realize that everything must be delivered by water, as no vehicular traffic is permitted on the group of 118 small islands that make up Venice. It is wonderful to walk without the sound of engines, the smell of exhaust, or the fear of being run over.
The Rialto Bridge gleams in the brilliant sunlight. The arched stone structure dates from the late 16th century. Tourists armed with selfie sticks crowd the steps. We elbow our way to the top, and are rewarded with a spectacular view of the canal. We learn later that Italian police arrested four people who had been planning a terrorist attack on the bridge. We begin to notice an obvious police presence everywhere we go in Italy. We are not sure if this makes us feel safer, but it is interesting to see so many machine guns, and we are thankful someone is paying attention.
The Rialto Market is bustling with people, the stands are chock full of colorful peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, and some vegetables we’ve never seen before. Bouquets of artichokes are displayed in baskets.
We follow our noses to the Fish Market next door to discover the most amazing array of octopus, squid, shrimp, clams, whole fish of many varieties. We are looking at our evening meal, and it is still moving!
A whole swordfish is propped on a cart; it is almost as tall as we are. People pose with the magnificent creature. Its vacant eyes haunt us. My traveling companion and I vow never to eat swordfish again.
We begin our pilgrimage to churches. Around every corner stands a church. And every church is centuries old, with soaring ceilings, and majestic painting and sculpture. We visit Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. The 13th century edifice is dominated by Titian’s Assumption, the large main altarpiece. We have seen religious art hung in museums, but never in situ like this, where it was designed to awe and inspire. The Frari holds many other masterpieces, including works by Bellini, Tiziano, and the famous figure of St. John the Baptist by Donatello. Several important Doges, the chief magistrates of Venice, are buried here, along with Titian and Canova. We deposit a coin in the box, and light a candle.
Next to the Frari, we visit the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, named after Saint Rocco, the protector against plague. 50,000 Venetians died during the plague outbreak of 1576-1577, including the great Venetian artist Titian. The Scuola Grande de San Rocco is described as the Sistine Chapel of Venice. We are not permitted to photograph the ornate ceiling of the Upper Hall, covered with paintings by Tintoretto. His massive work illustrates Bible stories from Old to New Testament. We begin an action that becomes frequent to us in Italy: looking up. Looking up at soaring heights of architecture. Looking up at heavily decorated and gilded ceilings. Looking up at fresco masterpieces.
I steal a photograph in the Ground Floor Hall. With this detail from the Assumption of the Virgin by Tintoretto, I begin a photographic scavenger hunt for putti, or naked baby angels.
See More Putti
By lunchtime, our necks are sore, and it is time to refresh at a cicchetti bar. Cicchetti are typical Venetian small plates of food, meant to be nibbled with a glass of wine. There is a good chance you will cross paths with real Venetians at a cicchetti bar, especially if it is lunchtime or right after work. At Cantina Do Mori, we point to items in the case even though we are not sure what they are: cheeses, small sandwiches, cod on crostini, squid. All are tasty with the refreshing and inexpensive house wine. The bar is the oldest in Venice, dating back to 1462. Imagine who has crossed the threshold. Perhaps even Casanova.
At Cantina Do Spade, another establishment from the 15th century, we are served a more substantial meal of pasta and salad, and more wine. We admire the beautiful display of cicchetti at the counter.
We walk back toward our hotel by following the signs on buildings, already orienting ourselves to the city: first per Rialto, then per S. Marco. Venice is surprisingly easy to negotiate on foot. It is just as easy to get lost, but some of the best discoveries are made that way, and since Venice is an island, it’s hard to stay lost for long.
We are drawn to the center of Venice once more, the Piazza San Marco. The line is short at the Campanile, perfect time for a bell’s eye view of the city.
In line, we meet two American college students from Michigan on spring break. We travel up 300 feet in an elevator to the top of the bell tower, and are rewarded with a spectacular view of terra cotta tiled rooftops and the clear blue waters that surround Venice. We spot the islands of Lido and Giudecca nearby in the lagoon.
The wind is relentless in the belfry. We shiver. Maybe jet lag is catching up with us. We take an afternoon respite at the hotel before heading back out in the evening.
Our sense of direction falters a bit in the evening, as we search of one of the world’s most beautiful book stores, Libreria Acqua Alta. But getting lost in Venice has its own delights. We eventually find the shop, and are amazed at the offering of books and paper ephemera of posters, post cards, and old ads. As we are leaving, my traveling companion drags me back inside to see the courtyard, where old books are stacked to form a wall and stairs. Go up for the wonderful view, the sign says.
“Follow the books steps, climb, go up, wonderful view!”
We conclude our day in Venice with an expertly prepared dinner at Osteria alle Testiere. We made reservations for the tiny, eight table place many weeks ago, and it does not disappoint.
We experience the first of our Italian four course meals: antipasto, primo, secondo, dolci. How do they do it? We are full after one, maybe two courses, but we soldier on through grilled octopus, prawns, squid, all the way to cake for dessert. We are introduced to the locally produced Soave wine, which pairs perfectly with seafood. We strike up a lovely conversation with the couple from London at the next table; they are on their seventh trip to Venice. We share concerns for what is going on in both of our countries. Our worldview changes ever so slightly as we gain an international perspective. On the way back to the hotel, we decide this is a very good reason to travel.
“Antipasto, Primo, Secondo, Dolci!”