Tour Day 2
Our tour group meets in the morning, and everyone is on time. We set off to see Venice with Patricia and a local guide. First stop, the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo. The palazzo is renowned for its amazing arched spiral staircase. In the courtyard, we view a collection of cisterns, and learn how the Venetian used to manage their water supply.
We visit the area where Marco Polo lived as a child, Corte Seconda del Milion. Newer 16th century buildings are located on the foundation of Marco Polo’s original house. To think we are standing in the same piazza where the great 13th century explorer likely played sends chills down our spine.
We find the only hospital left in Venice, Ospedale Civile in Campo San Giovanni e Paolo, a gorgeous 15th century building. We regroup in front of another winged lion sculpture at Campo Manin for a short break before tackling the crowds at San Marco.
On to Basilica San Marco. “Little darlings, little darlings,” Patricia says, as we negotiate multiple chains of school children crowding the piazza. Even though we are traveling at the beginning of tourist season, many of the locations we visit are jam-packed with school groups. Even so, the beginning of April is a very good time to travel in Italy. The weather is perfectly beautiful, with clear blue skies, and temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s.
“Little darlings, little darlings.”
We bypass the long lines, and go right into the opulent basilica. The space is cavernous. A choir is singing. Mosaics of gold cover the walls and ceiling, symbols of Venetian power and wealth. Byzantine in style, the basilica feels more Eastern than Italian. Photography is not permitted inside the Basilica. We climb the stairs to the balcony for another bird’s eye view of the piazza.
We view the four famous bronze statues of horses. The statues are likely Roman, from the second century A.D. The sculptures were taken from Constantinople in 1204. Replicas stand on the balcony of the basilica above the entrance. The original sculptures are displayed inside St. Mark’s Basilica, for their protection. We learn that the Venetians stole everything: the columns in front of the basilica, the horse statues, the bones of St. Mark. We realize how far away and how far back in time we have traveled.
Our group separates for lunch. My traveling companion and I walk across Piazza San Marco to visit the Museo Correr. The elegant, neoclassical building was once the Royal Palace of Venice, used by the ruling powers throughout the 19th century. The Napoleonic wing was built by Napoleon I in grand style. The museum is not crowded, allowing us an easily digestible taste of Venetian art and life.
Fortified with a tasty lunch of salad and local wine at Birreria Forst, we are ready to tackle the landmark Doge’s Palace.
On the outside, the Venetian Gothic style Palazzo Ducale, or Doge’s Palace, is delicately lacy and imposing at the same time. For hundreds of years, it served as the Doge’s residence, the seat of Venice’s power, and the hall of justice. It helps to understand a little Venetian history here. The Republic of Venice was a major power during the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods. Venice commanded the seas. Trade in silk and spices made Venice a wealthy center of culture, art, and music. During this time, the Doge ruled with supreme authority. His residence and governmental offices needed to be imposing and grand: power equals wealth. This is amply demonstrated in the jaw-dropping Doge’s Palace.
Each room at the palace is more ornate than the next, with gigantic painted frescoes, massive wood doors, and carved and gilded ceilings. Most impressive to us is Tintoretto’s Paradise, the largest oil painting in the world, filling the wall behind the Doge’s seat in the Hall of the Great Council. Other notable paintings in the palace include works by Veronese, Titian, Tiepolo, and Bellini; some depict events from the history of Venice.
In Venice, another gorgeous view awaits around every corner. We could spend all our time taking pictures, and miss experiencing the moment. I decide to focus my photography on certain items—a scavenger hunt of sorts. In each city, I will look for a bridge, a dome, a campanile, a fountain, a market, a column, a symbol of the city. At the Doge’s Palace, I begin focusing upwards, on the beautiful ceilings. And I continue my collection of putti photos—naked baby angels.
See more Ornate Ceilings
We visit one of the most famous bridges in the world, the Bridge of Sighs. We have seen the bridge from the outside, but now we cross inside, as the condemned did on their way to the prison across the canal. The prison is primitive, claustrophobic, horrifying. We must get out, out into the sunshine and fresh air, out to look for comfort in a cup of gelato.
In the evening, gondolas await us. We go out as a group in four boats. We sit five or six to a gondola, plus the gondolier. We feel like we are on a water ride at an amusement park, or in Las Vegas, but we ignore that, and concentrate on the back canal views of the city.
We are accompanied by musicians: an opera singer and an accordion player. The tenor who serenades us is magnificent. We traverse a very narrow canal, surrounded by Venice’s beautiful decay. The singer reaches the high point in Santa Lucia. His voice reverberates from the building on each side of us, like in an echo chamber. A bell begins to toll. The moment feels sublime. I will hold on to that moment, truly one of the highlights of the tour, and not on the rush hour traffic of the Grand Canal.
“Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia!”
Afterwards, a group of us cross the Rialto Bridge to find the best chiccetti bars. We forge our way through a throng of the ubiquitous selfie sticks. At Osteria Al Diavolo E l’Acquasanta, we sample local wine and interesting fried cheese snacks. Later, we have dinner at an outdoor cafe with four others from our group. The pizza, wine, and conversation are all quite good. Our most excellent waiter brings us shots of limoncello, a lemon-flavored liqueur. We are comfortable with our new traveling friends, and with the city. We don’t get lost on the way back to the hotel in the Venetian night.