La Serenissima….Venice. At some point in the distant past a pope called Venice “La Serenissima” (the Most Serene Republic). The nickname stuck. Having read about Venice in fiction, in history books, and in travel stories and having seen it in movies and pictures; I formed my own ideas about what it would be like to finally visit Venice in person. The reality had very little in common with my imagination! I wasn’t ready for Venice.
We didn’t find out until that morning, but there was a transportation strike in Italy today and the vaporetto schedules were affected. They were running some of the routes, but not all, which made getting around a bit trickier for us. We had to pass the nearest vaporetto stop and walk a bit further to one that was in service.
On the way to the vaporetto stop, I saw a delivery boat offloading some things onto dry land. That was the moment where it became real to me that all the normal things we take for granted in a world of roads has to mostly be handled by boat here. Deliveries, trash collection, pubic works, commuting…
We crossed to Venice and landed near St. Mark’s Square. This is probably one of the busiest, most touristy areas of Venice. Thankfully, it wasn’t too crowded yet when we arrived, which may have been because of the strike.
We had to cross the Bridge of Paglia (over a narrow canal from the vaporetto stop) to get to St. Mark’s Square where we’d be meeting the guide. This bridge is considered the best vantage point for a picture of the Bridge of Sighs and people throng there in order to get a good picture of the Bridge of Sighs. Today I was easily able to walk right up to the railing and grab my photo.
The Bridge of Sighs was built in 1600 and connects the Doge’s Palace to the prison across the canal. Its purpose was to take prisoners directly from their trials to their cells -do not pass GO. Legend says that the name came because the prisoners sighed when they saw their last glimpse of Venice through the small windows on their way to their cell. It was made famous by Lord Byron in his 1812 book – Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.
Elena located our guide, whom gave us a brief tour of the large area encompassing St. Mark’s Square, St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace and the clocktower.
Above is St. Mark’s Clocktower. Built in the late 1600s, it is a very elaborate clock that has many moving parts. There are two figures at the top (barely seen in this picture) that move and hit a bell on the hour. The circle in the middle of the building is the clock face that is engraved in Roman numerals for all 24 hours in the day. Part of the design also shows the signs of the zodiac and there is a pointer that shows which zodiac sign the sun is in at any given time. There is also a part that shows what phase the moon is in, which in the past was helpful to mariners who needed to be able to plan for sailing with the tides.
Above the clock face is a statue of the Virgin and Child. On each side of this statue, are blue squares showing the time (the hour to the left, minutes to the right). The minutes are only shown in five minute intervals. The hour and minute display are also doors. Twice a year -on Epiphany and Ascension Day- three magi statues led by an angel statue with a trumpet emerge from the left of the statue and pass in front of the statue of the Virgin, make a bow, and then exit through the door where the minutes are shown.
Also in St. Mark’s Square are the Lion of Venice, originally a symbol of St. Mark the evangelist that became, over time, also a symbol of Venice.
and St. Todaro, the city’s first protector:
After giving us an overview of St. Mark’s square, our guide took us back into the narrow alleyways. It seemed like we were wandering in circles, but it was obvious she was very familiar with the areas we were in. I was having trouble hearing everything she said, so I mainly focused on taking pictures.
We were walking down a narrow passage and our guide pointed out a very old bookstore. Then we saw this little courtyard/entrance. I love the stack of books against the wall. The guide said those are for effect -not for sale.
These old shoes were in a window display we passed. That’s one way to stay above the floods that happen in Venice regularly.
Venice originally relied on community cisterns as a water supply. They are sealed up, but still in place. I started photographing them when I saw them.
Once in awhile, a corner would be turned and unexpectedly there’d be a large piazza.
After the tour, the group was on our own for the rest of the day. Mike and I walked around a bit, but it wasn’t long before we started to feel a bit overwhelmed by the crowds.
Below is a display in a department store, which is located in an old trading hall that dates back to the mid-1200s. It was quite pretty in there. I saw a pair of shoes that I liked -let’s just say I have good taste! Jimmy Choo’s -only about $650.00. We went there in hopes of getting access to their rooftop patio for the views, but the tickets were sold out.
View from the Rialto Bridge, probably the most famous bridge in Venice (more about that in a bit).
A charming display for a clothing store as seen from a small bridge over a canal.
I knew in advance that Venice has more than its fair share of tourists, but I wasn’t mentally prepared for the unrelenting crowding -everyone wanting to be at the same point of interest with their selfie sticks and their Instagram poses. We are not comfortable in crowds in general and this was like the Super Bowl of crowding to us.
On the way to Guidecca, the vaporetto we were on had a stop at the island next door to Guidecca -San Giorgio Maggiore. The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, which was started in 1566, was on my “to see” list because I’d read that the views from the church bell tower there looking toward Venice were impressive. The original church was dedicated to St. George around 829 and by the late 900s, there was also a monastery. We decided to take advantage of the stop and get off there to see the church.
Mike didn’t want to go up the bell tower, so he waited below for me. I thought I’d be climbing stairs like we did in Milan, but got a pleasant surprise when I realized the only way up was on an elevator. OK!
There were only a few people up at the top with me. I really enjoyed the views!
There was a really cool hedge maze behind the church, but it was impossible to get a “not crooked” picture of it due to its location in relation to the opening where I could stand to take the picture.
One last picture of the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Campanile (bell tower to the left): The first tower in this location was built around the year 900, and was originally meant to be a watch tower against invaders. Over the years, the tower was added to and/or rebuilt for various reasons. The previous tower to this one collapsed in 1902 and the replacement we see today was finished in 1911. It is 323 feet tall.
Mike was surprised when I returned so fast and, I think, secretly disappointed that I didn’t have to work harder than I did to see the views up there.
Next stop for the vaporetto and us was Guidecca. We wandered along the waterfront and picked a restaurant randomly. We found a table waterside and just as I turned to go inside to place an order for us, a swarm of high school kids and their chaperones walked up and into the door to the restaurant mere steps ahead of me. Mike and I looked at each other and said… “Let’s head a bit further down the way!”
We found another restaurant nearby and had a great lunch and a great view. A time out in Guidecca was what the doctor ordered – quiet and relaxing.
We enjoyed the view from afar.
Time for dessert.
After lunch, we decided to head back to the Vita Pugna.
We had to walk down this side canal to get to the marina where the Vita Pugna was.
The building to the left seemed to be a business for restoring or providing body work/painting for gondolas. There was an open garage area where we saw this one, which looked very old:
Outside, we walked by these on the way to our dock.
We assumed we’d be the first ones back, but were surprised to see we weren’t. We had thought about going back to Venice later in the day when things quieted down, but never seemed to get motivated to do it. We were also a bit worried about getting trapped somewhere because of the transportation strike. We also knew we had one more day to go exploring tomorrow.
After our dinner, Elena told the group that she’d been wanting to check out a place down at the far end of Guidecca with a rooftop bar that she’d heard had a good view of Venice. About five of us decided to go see a bar about a view. I thought it was quite nice.
All good things must come to an end. We went back to the barge and started to pack our suitcases. We were expected to depart the barge immediately after breakfast the next morning.