Tuesday, November 11, 2008

October 3-5: Venice

This was mostly written whilst on the train to Florence, and I am just getting to it now...

In the canal by our hotel in Venice. The water is clearer than we expected, and there are FISHES!

On Day 2, our first full day after arriving, we got out in the morning to see the Basilica di San Marco. As we were in line, we saw the floods starting, first as a puddle in the front of the church, which grew as we were in line, so that the narthex (entry way) of the church was solidly flooded by the time we got in. They put out planks to walk on, as this is completely normal flooding. We paid the 6 Euro to go upstairs to the museum and loggia, where we saw the 4 Horses and stood out on the loggia just in time for the 12:00 bells, first from the Torre dell'Orologio, which is hit by a mechanical man with a hammer, and then across the piazza at the Campanile, a much louder bell. On the other side of the loggia, we looked down onto the top of two columns, one covered in dead pigeons, one with none at all. Is this where pigeons go to die? Some sort of pigeon executioner's square? Paul's theory was that people throw dead pigeons onto the one column, but I have my doubts.

It's a small world after all!

Where pigeons go to die?

View from the side of the loggia, out over the Piazzetta

The Basilica itself is amazing(ly overdone) but there are countless records of that elsewhere. We paid a few Euro to go to the Treasury to see a bunch of stolen and some legitimately gotten treasure, some very impressive Byzantine chalices, and, most importantly, reliquaries. I really can't get enough of this stuff: bones, teeth, the "True Cross," and best of all, a whole hand, apparently of Saint Martha.

On the way to the Basilica, on the Ponte Dell'Accademia

After the Basilica, we had some melty cheese sandwiches and headed to see the Ghetto. On the way, we had our first gelato of the day, and stopped to see St. Lucy in Saint Geramia's church. You can see her hands and feet, but the face is covered with a mask. There are several paintings and sculptures of St. Lucy in the church, which I always find funny because she is usually depicted holding a dish with her eyes in it, yet she always has eyes in her head. I suppose no one wanted to depict her with just sockets? Odd, since the religious art frequently relishes the grotesque.

We noticed the vending machines in front of the pharmacies offer all sorts of things you might need in an emergency.

We got to the Ghetto just in time to miss the last tour of the Museo Ebraico. I had done the tour last time and Paul said he just wanted to see the Ghetto. The buildings of the Ghetto Nuovo are close together, and stacked high with low-ceilinged apartments. You get a pretty good sense of the crowding just by seeing the dwellings. The Holocaust memorial in the Campo again nearly made me cry. Just as last time I was here, uniformed police were hanging around the Campo. Coincidence? Or because people have attempted some anti-Semitic crimes here? Either way, the history of his place is heavy. And? People still live here. As we left, we passed by several Jewish shops and bakeries, and on the way out, some guy said something unintelligible to us, and when we looked confused, asked "You speak Hebrew?" Uh, no. Not even a little.

We wandered around the Rialto markets and over the famed bride of tourists and knick-knacks. Heading back into St. Mark's Sestiere, we wandered and happened upon the Scala del Bovolo, a happy surprise sine I had been wondering where "that staircase" was but had no idea what I was looking for. As famous and sunning as it is, it is just stuck in a small backyard area, overgrown and hidden in an alley where no one can be impressed by it. I had assumed it would be posing on the Grand Canal, or an important piazza.

Scala del Bovolo

We also stopped briefly at St. Moise, generally thought to be Venice's ugliest church I'd been impressed by the dubious facade before, but this time we got to duck in and be astounded by the bombastic altarpiece. OMG. I wanted to get a better look at it, but some guy rang a little bell and a priest came in, so we scurried off.

Venice is beautiful everywhere you look.

Dinner was followed by gelato #2, and then we decided to go drink beers in the Campo San Margherita with all the adorable college students. We wondered if we were supposed to care when the Polizia pulled up in their bat and disembarked to walk the crowd. No one moved, so neither did we. The college students ranged from mall-punks to pegged-jean-unfortunate-hair metalheads to your run of the mill jeans-and-sweatshirts types. Venice is marred by more graffitti than you would expect, and we were consistently charmed by the earnest scrawlings against biotech and a "global Italy." On the square, we also had gelato #3, then retired for the evening.

day 3 we got out of the apartment even later, as I was starting to feel like I was coming down with something. The goal was to go the the Palazzo Ducale, and... success! We made it. The Palazzo tour gives you a close-up look at many architectural details, a lot of painting (some important, and others just over-the-top tacky) and a good background on Venetian history and the structure of society and government. you also get to tour the prisons and the armory. The weapons exhibit is large, with my highlights being the velvet-covered shields, weapons, and helmets, the funny artwork on some old rifles, and most importantly, listening to two children ask their respective parents "what is this?" in reference to a particularly gruesome chastity belt, and listening to the parents explain to their 5-8 year-olds in detail, in German and some other language. Where I didn't understand, I could tell by the looks on the little girls' faces that the explanation had been sufficiently accurate and detailed. I guess I'm a prudish America but I might have said "I don't know" and moved on. At least until they were a little older? It was hilarious and we were tempted to linger little longer for a third and fourth family.

The Palazzo Ducale from it's interior courtyard

Bling! The Scala del'Oro in the Palazzo Ducale

We spent several hours at the Palazzo Ducale and then puttered around for a bit before deciding to get warmer clothes and then take a few water buses to see Venice from the Canal and maybe visit Giudecca. Unfortunately we came to the realization that we were having banking problems, so after watching perhaps the most spectacular sunset ever, we spent about an hour trying to figure out how to get through to Paul's bank by phone. UGH. We seem to have figured out (no help from the bank though) the problem and may actually be ale to pay for our meals and lodging. I think. Given all of that and a lot of confusion with the bus information, we canceled on our idea to visit Giudecca in favor of having dinner (there's a small window of opportunity for meals at certain hours, and if you miss it, you are SOL) After dinner we saw a few more vistas, and called it a day. No gelato!

The most spectacular sunset ever

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