After An Unexpected Delay... Ahhh, Venice!
Trip Start Oct 21, 2009
52Trip End Jan 12, 2010
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Yesterday (11.28.09), as you may remember, both Murray and I were feeling great and we enjoyed a lovely day trip to Siena. Last night, we got back to our hotel room in Florence, skipped dinner (due to the large, wonderful lunch we had earlier in the day), and booked four nights at a hotel in Venice (non-refundable nights, I might add, which saved us a ton of money).
Well… shortly after booking those non-refundable hotel room nights, I got sick. Really, really sick. About fifteen hours straight of no-sleep, violently-ill sick. Enough said. By 10am Sunday (11.29.09), Murray had to call a doctor to our hotel room. The doctor came and (fortunately) ruled out amoebas or other parasites, instead diagnosing me (again – same thing happened in Jordan) with a bad case of gastroenteritis (it's amazing how painful it can be)
[Side note: seeing a doctor in a foreign country – especially when pregnant – is a huge leap of faith. Aside from the doctors in England, of course, the Jordanian and Italian doctors’ English was not great, so much of that they told me got lost in translation. Also, in both Jordan and Italy, I’ve had to blindly accept the doctors’ assurances that their medical recommendations, and the medications they’ve prescribed, are safe for pregnant women. This acceptance is especially hard for me, given the fact that I’m pretty resistant to taking anything at all while pregnant. So… definitely a leap of faith.]
Anyway, within an hour after getting that shot, I was in much less stomach pain. I slept all day Sunday and into Monday (11.29.09). On Monday afternoon, I felt well enough to attempt the high-speed train trip to Venice. Less than three hours later, we were in Venice, and I was doing fine! Just outside of the Venice train station doors, we could see the Grand Canals with boats and gondolas passing by. We boarded our first vaparetto (water bus) on the Grand Canal to Ponte di Rialto (the San Marco side) – a major area of Venice, and the stop nearest our hotel – and soon we were immersed in busy Venetian life.
I think it’s accurate to say that Venice defies description. Instead, you have to see Venice, and experience it, to really know what it’s about (and even then, you’ll still be trying to pin it all down)
We are staying at the Hotel Ca’ Bragadin e Carabba, a place that got high reviews on bookings.com but a place that was described as being very difficult to find (the Venice labyrinth is no joke – it’s very easy to get lost in Venice! You need to orientate yourself to all the famous "Per Rialto" and “Per S. Marco” signs that are hung here and there…). Armed with a few Venice maps, we actually made it to the hotel relatively easy – and found it a very enchanting little inn! Our room was recently renovated (so big, modern bathroom) but still is decorated in beautiful 18th-century Venetian stylings
Once dropping off our bags, Murray and I headed out to explore and grab a late lunch – I had a slice of pizza (although the doctor encouraged both bread and cheese, I’m sure a slice of pizza was not what he had in mind – yet, starving by then, it was the best I could find on our first walk out of the hotel!). We then made our way to the post office to (finally) mail the Egyptian papyrus prints we bought several weeks back (we’ve been carrying around that damn poster tube for several cities now!). After the post office, we decided to take a (now nighttime) vaparetto ride to Piazza San Marco so we could see the infamous piazza at night.
Even though my nighttime pictures of Piazza San Marco don’t look great, it was great to see it all lit up. We also saw a lot of evidence of high tide, with seaweed and other trash scattered here and there about the square! We walked from the piazza back to our hotel, stopping into a quaint little church (Chiesa San Zulian) and a fun pub (L’Olandesa) on our way back. We were in bed by 10:30pm – my stomach still intact.
Today (12.1.09 – happy December!), I am feeling back to normal, and we have greatly enjoyed our first full day in Venice
After breakfast, we crossed the infamous Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge) to the neighborhood of San Polo, where again we saw evidence of high tide all around us. [For example, some piazzas were still covered in inches of water – other sidewalks and side streets were either completely submerged or seemed to merge right into the adjacent canals! Since 1900, Venice has sunk more than 23cm – some say that estimate is closer to 60cm – partly due to rising sea levels and partly due to subsidence. From November through April, Venice also can be flooded by high tides, and when floods hit – as they did the day we arrived – passarelle, or raised walkways, are set up in Piazza San Marco and other major tourist areas.]
San Polo contains many of Venice’s biggest markets. Indeed, the other side of the bridge was full of life and activity! Murray and I walked through the fruit and vegetable markets, seeing many that we could not identify. It was fun and interesting to see all the variety! We passed by local butcher shops, too, even seeing horse meat for sale (my thought: yuck)
After San Polo, we made our way back to the Grand Canal and jumped aboard a vaparetto to Piazza S. Marco. The Grand Canal is always teeming with life – gondoliers; postal delivery boats; garbage boats; “beverage” boats containing kegs of beer and cases of soda; and, of course – as on land – water taxis darting in front of and in between all of the above! During this particular vaparetto ride, we passed by a small pier with a bride and groom posing for photographs, so everyone on board cheered for the couple as the vaparetto driver madly honked his horn! It was fun.
When we got to Piazza San Marco, or San Marco Square, in the daylight, we saw what all the hoopla was about. Napoleon once described the piazza as the “finest drawing room in Europe.” It is a HUGE square, enclosed by the basilica (Basilica di San Marco); a campanile; a clock tower (Torre dell’Orologio); and several galleries, palaces, cafes, and stands selling brightly colored Carnivale masks and other tourist tat
Our first stop was for some refreshments – we went to the historical Café/Tea Room Florian, where Lord Byron and Henry James, separately, used to breakfast. (It was neat to dine at, sitting right there on the big piazza, but you do not want to know how much we paid for a cappuccino and a tiny pot of tea!).
After our high-priced but tasty drinks, we toured the Basilica di San Marco, a blend of Byzantine, Romanesque, and Renaissance decorative and architectural styles. It was built after the design of a Greek cross, with five domes, and completed in 1094. For many centuries, it remained the doges’ private chapel, and during this time, they filled it with untold treasures and artwork, largely plundered from the East (particularly Constantinople) during the crusades. In 1807, the basilica finally became Venice’s public cathedral.
While no photography was allowed inside the basilica, I was able to take a few shots inside the entrance hallway to the church (including the raised walkways over the flooding that had occurred inside this entrance hall!). These pictures provide a glimpse of what the basilica’s interior was like – dazzling gold mosaic ceilings (then complimented by whimsical, geometric marble floors)
After touring the inside of the basilica, I went outside and waited in the piazza while Murray went to the top of the Galleria (a balcony overlooking the church’s interior, and containing the original gilded bronze horses) and the Loggia dei Cavalli (a balcony overlooking the piazza). (I’m finding myself fairly short of breath these days, so I decided to forego all those steps!)
After the basilica, we passed by the Procuratie Nuove (a former royal palace of Napoleon); Procuratie Vecchie (former residence and offices of the procurators of St. Mark); and Piazzetta di San Marco (featuring two columns bearing statues of the Lion of St. Mark and St. Theodore, Venice’s two patron saints) – all still in Piazza San Marco – on our way to Palazzo Ducale. The Palazzo Ducale was the doges’ residence as well as the seat of the Republic’s government, bureaucracy, and main prisons, established in the 9th century
From the Palazzo Ducale, we passed by the Ponte dei Sospiri, or Bridge of Sighs – so named because of the sighs the prisoners made on their way into the dungeons! We continued walking along the waterfront all the way to the Museo Storico Navale, or Historical Navy Museum (covering the Republic’s maritime history), which Murray wanted to tour. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the museum, it was shut for the day! So, we continued walking for quite a bit longer, away from the San Marco region and through Costello and then La Tana.
After several minutes of walking, we finally got to the Arsenale, the greatest medieval shipyard in Europe (again, of particular interest to Murray). The dockyards were founded in 1104, and at their peak, they were home to 300 shipping companies and employed up to 16,000 people.
After Arsenale, we jumped off the beaten track and explored La Tana a little more. We found a little café for lunch, surprising our waiter when we said we wanted to sit outside. (It was a bright, sunny, clear day in Venice – chilly, but not freezing – and yet everyone we see is rugged up like it’s the Antarctic!) Murray tried a new Italian beer and had grilled sea bass, while I stuck to a pretty plain (but still yummy) pizza
After lunch and making our way back to a main road, we jumped on another vaparetto (we bought 3-day unlimited usage passes), this time taking the canal around the backside of Venice (passing the Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore, Guidecca, and Sacca Fisola. PS – I really am amazed at the sheer number of spectacular churches contained in Venice and its surrounding islands! So many churches, so little time…). We jumped off the vaparetto at the train station where we arrived yesterday, this time walking through the San Croce neighborhood back to our hotel in Rialto. (In fact, we walked along the Cannaregio, a long, busy, and infamous pedestrian thoroughfare that connects the station to Piazza S. Marco.)
By this time, of course, I was pooped, so we had a few hours of R&R back in our room. Around 8pm, we headed out for dinner, finding a random little place called Planet Earth (which, inexplicably, had both a Minnesota Twins jersey and a Minnesota Timberwolves jersey hanging in frames at the front of the restaurant!). I had some bruschetta and spaghetti with meat sauce (Italy is heaven for carb-lovers like me), and Murray had spaghetti with clams followed by beef Milanese and fried potatoes (plus – you guessed it – a few beers). Happy that both of us are feeling well, and high after a great first day in Venice, we went to bed around 11:30pm.