Venice was absolutely fabulous, and even more so because I made friends with some nice Aussies at my hostel. For Australians, this is their summer break, so they’ve basically taken over Europe until they all go back to university in late February/beginning of March, and they’re all really nice.
I had a lovely first afternoon just wandering around and exploring this city of canals, the city of Marco Polo, of Cassanova. There are no cars in Venice, just boats, and everyone walks everywhere (well, unless they’re rich enough to have a private boat). In case you wanted to know, Elton John has a house there, too. But watch out, because if you don’t have a good map (or a private boat and gondolier) you will get lost quite easily, and it’s hard to find your way back. This was my first impression:
Just to give you an idea about how Venice truly relies on boats for transportation, here is a Venetian ambulance:
As I walked along some of the more commercial streets, I noticed that preparations for Carnavale, the Venetian version of Mardi Gras (please refer to my PoJo article in the A.Good Journalism section), were underway, and one of the very touristy things to do is buy a mask:
And what would a day in Italy be without going inside a church? Let’s Go recommended the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, built by the Franciscans in the 14th century in the Italian Gothic style. The exterior was quite plain compared to the other Gothic churches I had seen, but the interior was quite intricate:
The basilica is also a treasure trove of Renaissance art. Bellini’s Madonna and Child, Titian’s Assumption, and a really cool 17th-century clock that deserves an honorable mention:
Just as I cannot ignore a nice piece of Renaissance art, the bakery window displays were just as enticing. The puffy green cookies are Pane de Doge, which I think must be a local specialty because the Doge’s Palace is in Venice, and in other bakeries I saw signs with variations of the same name. Also, I finally got a shot of some canoli:
Don’t think I forgot about the pizza; the savory is just as important as the sweet. The spinach and feta looked heavenly, but the most intriguing was a pepperoni-and-french-fry concoction. And, after having been to Foccacia Bar in Jerusalem a number of times, I was equally fascinated by the real foccacia:
My destination was the Ponte di Rialto, which spans the Canal Grande. Venice’s public transportation only follows the Canal Grande, and you can only cross it at 4 bridges, which isn’t a lot when you think about it. The Rialto is the oldest, completed in 1591, and has always been a marketplace:
Today, the bridge’s most famous residence is Rivoaltus Legatorious, which has been selling hand-sewn, leatherbound journals for 30 years, all of them made by the owner:
My first trip there I bought one of the smaller journals with the paper cover, and the second time I got a small brown leather one:
Like I said, I went there twice. Put me in a store like this and I’m in heaven. I spent quite a few Saturdays of my childhood years perusing the journals in Barnes and Noble, I used to keep journals, I love to write, etc., and so I was happy to splurge on these.
It got dark, I didn’t want to get lost, you know the story by now, so I went back to the hostel for the night. The next morning I went to the Accademia, Venice’s foremost art museum, which is located on the Canal Grande next to the Ponte dell’Accademia:
Founded in 1750 as a school of painting, sculpture, and architecture, it now exhibits pre-19th-century works, the most famous of which is da Vinci’s Virtuvian Man (the drawing of the guy with his arms spread out). More about that later.
One of the first things I saw was a huge Titian fresco:
My favorite room contained paintings that depicted live in Venice during the Renaissance. It was interesting to see what the main tourist attractions like Piazza San Marco and the Ponte di Rialto used to look like:
What really got me, though, was a whole room of different versions of the Madonna and Child all painted by Bellini. My breaking point, so to speak. I’d seen every medieval and Renaissance artists’ depictions of the Adoration of the Magi, the Assumption, and too many other New Testament scenes; enough was enough and I felt like I was suffocating. I bumped into a hostel friend while at the museum, who I later learned was interested in Dutch and Flemish art, and we commiserated about the unfortunate fact that they all tend to blend together after a while to the point of becoming tortuous.
When we learned that the Vitruvian Man wasn’t on display, that it had been taken down and put away the day before (museums in Italy don’t display every piece all the time), we were really bummed. I whipped out the press pass and tried to persuade them, but it didn’t work. And so it goes. On our way out of the museum, we ran into someone else from the hostel, and from there we went to meet up with someone that one of them had met on the train the day before. After that, we began our search for a gondola. More on that in the next post!