Sunday, September 23, 2012

Day 6: Venice

There is no driving today.
Nigel has been to Italy but never to Venice. I insist he must see it even though it is my second time. He said we would have to make the trek to Assisi for me if that was the case. I agree immediately! We begin by taking the very early ferry over from the peninsula to Venice.
It is amazing arriving by boat, although I wouldn't do it that way again. I would recommend people stay in or near Padua (the nearby university town) and train it in for very cheap. You will find it is less pricey and the environmental impact on Venice is much less. We experiment this time but find that driving around the peninsula too much, the ferry pricey, and the camping not as quaint as we had hoped.
The speed of the boats really slow down the closer into the marina you get.
Finally we are here and about to dock.
It is still early morning which we are finding is the best time to visit places. One avoids the masses of tourists and the main heat of the day. The evening is also very nice. The Italians already know this as they take a daily afternoon siesta break (and leave town for peak summer season).
The main pier is so quiet except for the birds and the occasional city worker sweeping.
As we only have one day we begin by following the Lonely Planet's "Venice Labyrinth" which explores the city's crooked lanes and charming hidden squares.
We have enough time to wander the city and get the feel of the place. There is no time for museums and in-depth tours.

We start at the Basilica di San Marco, probably one of the most famous places in Venice. The tower is pictured above.
It is a huge square that I have never seen this empty before. It is still early.
The square is known for its tame pigeons. Anyone holding food will be covered in pigeons sitting on their head, shoulder's and arms as well as surrounded by mobs on the ground and in the air.
The Basillica took 800 years to complete.
And in the early hours this dead pigeon lying in the middle of the square makes a strange statement.
Torre deli'Orlogio (clock tower). Legend has it that the inventors of this gold-leafed timepiece (which tracks lunar phases) were assassinated so that no other city could boast a comparable engineering marvel. But the sinister plan backfired: the 1497 mechanism malfunctioned and bells rang randomly, because no one knew how to fix them. A recent renovation has restored the clock to working order.
We follow small streets and canals into the heart of Venice.

Zanipolo is a massive Gothic cathedral built by the Dominicans to rival the Franciscans in the 14th century.
As we wander we wonder where all the drinking water comes from and where all the sewage goes.
With over 22 million tourists a year, Venice does not seem an ideal place to live. It is a series of small passages in stone with not a single tree or piece of greenery. It would be an exhausting place to live for any long period we imagine.
Chiesa di Santa Maria die Miracoli is a little marble clad church/chapel. Instead of Gothic grandiosity it is scaled back to classical architecture. It is built with scavenged multicoloured marble from San Marco's slag heaps. The neighbourhood commissioned this church to house Niccolò di Pietro's Madonna icon when it miraculously started weeping in 1480.
Masks are a common site in shops in Venice. They are elaborately made and worn with costume during Carnevale, a masquerade madness that stretches over 2 weeks in February before Lent. Tickets start at 200 Euros, but there is a free-flowing wine fount to commence the event, public costume parties in very square, and a Grand Canal flotilla marking the end of festivities.
Here a father teaches his son to steer a gondola.
Near the Ponte di Rialto pastries are cheap and delicious.
For all you artists out there…a call for art in Venice!
Here we come out at the Grand Canal which winds its way through Venice in an S-curve. it is the main artery the boats take.
Sculpture on a fountain.
Another skill Venice is known for is glass. When I visited years ago you could buy little glass candy in many shops.

Ponte di Rialto (ponte is bridge).

The Grand Canal.
Me trying to get a picture with tourist trying to get a picture.
Campo Rialto Mercato and Pescaria (seafood market) are nearby, but unfortunately they are closed as it is a Sunday when we visit.
The empty market.
I like seeing the old wells in the piazzas (squares). They have been covered up now. But where was the water being drawn from originally?
Campo San Cassian or Campo Santa Maria Mater Domini (I can't remember the name of this square). It was my favourite place in all of Venice. We came upon it unexpectedly and there were trees, shade, benches, fountains, kids playing, and Venetians relaxing in their neighbourhood. Perhaps I could live here!
Laundry drying is inventive in Venice. I remember this method from living in Florence. If it fell into the courtyard below we would fish it up with fishing wire and a hook.
You can even dress like twins and see Venice.

I like the random saints on corners and hidden streets.
For lunch we stop at a tucked away place where the pizza dough is handmade in front of us and cooked in a wood fired oven. Next we eat gelato at Alaska (next door), an organic gelato joint that has a house-roasted local pistachio flavour along with others like fig-marscapone.

We finally make it back to San Marco square to find it is over run by people and we are being suffocated. We head for the ferry quickly.
We hop in our camper van and begin the long journey to Assisi through the mountains. We are hoping to arrive late that night, but with our early start that morning we find ourselves drifting to sleep by 9:30pm. We pull over in a rest stop and after eying the Carabinieri who slowly cruise by we sleep rough and bed down in our van at the side of the road. We treat ourselves to an Italian breakfast at the standup bar at the same stop: coffee and pastry (or for me, hot chocolate as thick as pudding and pastry).

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