Venezia: Jewel of the Adriatic

Venice, The Grand Canal, Italy

After a long train ride from the Roma Termini Station in Rome, my husband and I finally arrived in one of the most beautiful and enchanting cities in the world; Venice. Born of old empire, when one thinks of this city on the apex of the Adriatic, a plethora of images immediately come to mind: romantic gondola rides, meandering canals, majestic bridges, charming architecture, and unforgettable sunsets. Stepping out of the train station and onto the street for the first time I can honestly say that Venice is every bit as magical as I imagined it to be.

It didn’t take long for my husband and I to find a water taxi and soon we were on our way to the Hilton Molino Stucky, the hotel where we would stay before our Mediterranean cruise. I already considered the view of Venice from the Venezia Santa Lucia Station to be spectacular so you can only imagine just how breathtaking the view of the city is by boat.

Encompassed by the beauty of this surreal blending of opulence and water, city and sea, I felt immensely blessed! A decade ago, I was just a teenager in El Paso, Texas dreaming of escaping to far off lands and studying the world. Little did I know that in a few years travel would become a very large part of my life. One of the most remarkable things about life is that you never know where it will take you or who it will lead you to. Who knew that one day a young woman raised in Texas would serendipitously meet a man from Washington State at an airport, fall in love, get married, and literally live the dream of traveling the world together? I didn’t but somehow in this vast world my husband and I found each other and have been together ever since.

Once we arrived at the Hilton Hotel, situated on the Giudecca canal, and finished checking in, we rested in our room before heading out to dinner. By this time daylight was slowly starting to fade and the Captain and I got to witness one of the most spectacular sunsets we’ve ever seen while waiting for the hotel’s shuttle boat.

We walked around and took several pictures before going to dinner. There were so many restaurants that it was difficult to choose, but we finally settled on a pizza place. The pizza was delicious and came at a generous size, but the restaurant wouldn’t let us take the leftovers. As much as the Captain and I wanted to see more of the city we were both too tired so we returned to the hotel and called it a night.

May 14, 2010

Early the next morning we headed to Saint Mark’s Square where we saw landmarks such as Saint Mark’s Cathedral and the Doge’s Palace. Unsurprisingly, everywhere we turned there were large crowds of people. Venice is definitely a destination on most travelers’ bucket lists! Undeterred by the overwhelmingly long queue my husband and I headed toward the crowd waiting to get into Saint Mark’s Cathedral, the most famous ecclesiastical building in Venice. Head up an alley on the cathedral’s right side to find a bag check and get a pass to bypass the line for free! It’s a little hard to find, but worth it to get around the line.

While I had seen Byzantine architecture before, I had never laid eyes on anything quite like the facade of Saint Mark’s Cathedral. Opulently designed with beautiful mosaics and statues both small and large, it is truly a feast for the eyes. Although it was built in 828 it was designed to look even older. Venice was an up and coming power in the region and needed religious and political clout. By making the church look old, it lent an air of timelessness and authority to the new city. The interior of the church is equally impressive – gilded with vibrant Byzantine mosaics of angels, saints, sonorous Latin quotations, and martyrs. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. I wish I had pictures but photography is not permitted inside the basilica. Plus it is a Catholic church and has a dress code, so ladies keep those shoulders covered!

While photography isn’t allowed inside you can go up to the balcony where you are free to take as many photographs as you like. From there you can get an amazing view of the plaza and the Bell Tower. Also near the balcony are replicas of the famed bronze horses. Taken from Constantinople in 1204 during the disastrous 4th crusade, they used to grace the Hippodrome. (See my post on Istanbul for more on that). When Napolean captured the city in 1797 he took the horses with him back to France. Venice finally got them back on native soil in 1815 where they were returned to their original place at Saint Marks. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the storied originals were put inside and replicas were placed on the facade of Saint Marks.

Immediately adjacent to Saint Marks are the gilded columns of the Doge’s Palace. Erected in the late 10th century, the palace symbolized the rising power of the Venetian city-state. The Doge (from the latin Dux for leader) was unique among European leaders at the time in that he was elected by a form of democracy. A rather elitist form, but a democratic system nonetheless. The Doge was elected from a council of nobles that were in turn selected by a Grand Council. When a new Doge was elected, the council announced its decision to the masses from the balcony visible directly above the square of San Marco. The herald initially announced “Citizens, here is your Doge if it pleases you!” Apparently it eventually did not please the masses, so the cry was changed simply to “Here is your Doge”. Ah, democracy. The interior of the palace is polished marble decorated with renaissance and baroque masterpieces, including many of the works of Venice’s famous native son Titian.

No trip to Venice would be complete without a visit to the canals that define the city so immediately after lunch we decided to check them out. Whether you choose to see them by gondola, water taxi, or the excellent public transportation systems of vaporetto (waterbus) or traghetto, nothing imparts the mystery and elegance of Venice more than its intricate system of canals and waterways. If you are looking for an opportunity to ditch the tourists and see how the locals have traversed the breadth of the Grand Canal for centuries, opt for the traghetto. Basically, a public gondola, the traghetto stations are a little hard to find but worth it for the experience and the cheap (half a euro) way to cross the canal. You may have to stand up as you make the crossing, but no Venetian experience is more authentic. Since the Captain and I were on our honeymoon, we opted for the romance of the gondola (Although we utilized the traghetto, vaporetto, and water taxis too). Gondoliers are woven into the very fabric of the history of Venice. The gondolier that guided us through the warren of old buildings and ancient canals had been a gondolier for 20 years. His family had been gondoliers for over two centuries. According to him there were only two ways into the trade: by being born into it or getting recruited by a professional. We also learned that singing isn’t a requirement. When asked if he sung, he responded as only a true Venetian can: “My dear, there are lovers and there are singers. And I am not a singer.”

As the gondolier navigated through the Grand Canal showing us landmarks such as the Rialto Bridge and Marco Polo’s house the Captain and I sat silently taking in the gorgeous view. The gondola ride was memorable and if we ever go back to Venice I’d like to experience it again. Exhausted after a long day of touring the extraordinary city of Venice my husband and I went back to the hotel to have dinner and to prepare for our Mediterranean cruise the next day.

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