The Sights, Sounds, Tastes, and Smells of Venice

Trip Start Apr 03, 2007
Trip End Jun 16, 2007

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Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Venice is the original "tourist trap".  Literally, you're on an island, so there's no place to go.  Luckily, despite the hoards, it's a big enough place that there are plenty of spots to explore without the "human gridlock" factor that the most touristy spots have.
After getting my reservation for tomorrow at the train station, I bought a 24-hour pass for the vaporetto, so I could ride anywhere I liked for the whole day.  I hopped on the #82 route (which goes the length of the Grand Canal, but only stops at a few locations).  My first location to see was the Rialto bridge, so I got off there.  It's a cool-looking bridge, but unfortunately, it's also ground zero for tourists.  The whole area was swarming with people, looking in all the tacky shops and eateries.  Every kind of trinket could be had (for outrageous prices).  Particularly abundant were masquerade shops (selling masks like you'd wear to a costume ball).  I made my way through the crowds and eventually came to a neat outdoor market.  I knew I was getting close when I smelled the distinct odor of fish.  Among many different kinds of produce, there were also all different kinds of fish and seafood for sale (and for smelling).  From there, I wandered off in some random direction and eventually realized yet again that I had zero clue where I was.  I found a newsstand and bought a map of the city.  It was detailed enough, but even with the map I still had no clue where I was (I'm usually pretty good with maps, but Venice is a whole different ballpark), so by total chance I happened to wander to the Frari Church.  There's works by Donatello, Bellini, and Titian inside, so I went in to check them out.
Back out and squinting in daylight, I finally knew where I was on the map!  Doesn't really make a difference, though, after a couple turns through narrow passageways, I was lost again.  But I spotted some arrows that pointed toward "Rialto", and after following them for a good distance, I finally was back at the crowded Rialto.  On the way, I stopped in at a pizza place.  They had really good thick crust pizza (it must have been an inch deep).  Eventually I made my way back to the vaporetto and caught it to the next stop, the Accademia.  This is a museum featuring a whole bunch of Italian art.  I gave it a go.  The overwhelming majority of all the art there was religious themes.  Saint what-his-name this and Saint whos-her-face that.  I lost count of how many had halos over their heads.  Probably a dozen Pietas and nearly as many crucifixion scenes (with at least 2 or 3 of Peter's upside-down one).  They really seemed to have a fixation with martyrdom.  While I can't complain about the quality of the artistry, the themes really weren't up my alley.
After the Accademia, I caught another vaporetto back to Piazza San Marco.  This time, there were even more pigeons (and people) than last night.  Way more.  A few people would hold bird seed in their hands, and the pigeons would land right on them and eat right out of their hand.  No thanks, let them deal with the pigeon poop.  A couple of kids had some snap-its that they were going to try to scare the pigeons with and make them fly away.  It didn't work, since most of the snap-its were duds and the few that did work could barely be heard above the normal din of the mobs.  Nice try, guys, try an M-80 next time.
I toured two of the spots on Piazza San Marco: the Basilica, and the Doge's palace.  The Basilica is essentially another large church.  Very fancy inside with gold domes and everything.  Supposedly (the gospel writer) Mark's bones are entombed here underneath the altar.  Just like how the 3 wise men's bones are supposedly inside the cathedral in Koln.  Not exactly something that can ever be proved.
The Doge's palace was interesting.  While not nearly as ornately decorated as it must have been in its heyday (when Venice was the richest city in the world), many of the rooms had incredible paintings all around as well as on the ceilings.  The Hall of the Grand Council has the largest oil painting in the world.  The palace also contains an armory, similar to the one at the Musee du l'Armee in Paris (the one in Paris is better, though), with suits of armor, swords, crossbows, pistols, and rifles, among other medieval weaponry.  Toward the end of the tour, you cross over the Bridge of Sighs (so named because the condemned prisoners got their last glimpse of the outside when they crossed over it) into the former prison.  Etched in some of the cell walls are the names of people who were imprisoned there.  While not as creepy as the castle in Ghent, it certainly is a grim reminder of the medieval past.
All museumed-out, I stopped off for some gelato, and tried the lemon flavor.  Mmm... good stuff.  I spent the next few hours back in San Elena, sitting on a park bench, watching and listening to the locals.  "Ciao, Ciao", they use to greet each other.  A lot of people were out walking their dogs around the park, or taking their kids out to release their energy.
Eventually, I took the vaporetto back, this time I took the one that goes all the way around the outside of Venice.  The view from out there isn't as scenic as the Grand Canal, but the boat wasn't crowded at all and I got to sit in the front (front seats on the #1 vaporetto always seem to be occupied by someone).
My roommates were a couple of guys from Edmonton, Alberta, who are on a 5 week backpacking trek, and also a guy from Boston doing about a 10 day trip through Eastern Europe (similar to the one I did last year, but he managed to fit in a few more locations).
Venice was definitely worth seeing for the canals and narrow passageways, and a chance to get away from cars for awhile.  The (over-)tourist(-ed) areas can get old fast, and other than the Doge's palace, I wasn't overly impressed with the museums.  A one night stay would have been plenty.
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