Venice is grand

Trip Start Aug 16, 2009
Trip End Sep 30, 2009

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Where I stayed
Ostello Venezia

Flag of Italy  , Veneto,
Thursday, September 3, 2009

Well today I walked all over Venice, but at a much slower pace than yesterday in Florence. And what a beautiful city! The best part is just walking around and discovering beautiful streets and canals and bridges.

I started my day at St. Mark's Square, the one place I had visited 18 years ago. I got there early enough that there weren’t hordes of tourists yet. I spent an hour following an audio guide tour of the square, downloaded from Rick Steves’ website. It was basically the same commentary as in his guidebook, but this way I could look while I listened. It was very cool.

I next went up in the Campanile, a bell tower right on the square. This one actually had an elevator all the way to the top. But I suspect that’s because the original tower fell down onto the square in the 1920s and was rebuilt. The views of Venice from the top were incredible. I could see it all laid out below me. And there was a wonderful cool breeze.

My next stop was St. Mark’s Cathedral, also right on the square. I was in the know because of m guidebook and was able to skip the line because I checked my bag. The inside of the church is the most beautiful in the world, according to Rick Steves, and I agree. The entire ceiling and top half of the walls is covered in beautiful gold mosaics. I paid an extra 3 Euros to go up on a balcony with an amazing view of the church interior. And there was also a balcony outside with an amazing view of the square.

After I’d finally had my fill of the views, I followed a Rick Steves walking tour that took me through the streets of Venice to the famous Rialto Bridge across the Grand Canal (i.e. the large main canal). I saw many beautiful streets, canals, churches, and buildings.

By the time I got to the Rialto bridge it was lunchtime and I was pretty hungry. So I went in search of a somewhat near pizzeria recommended by Rick Steves. It took awhile, and I discovered some more pretty sights. But when I got there I realized it wasn’t open for lunch on Thursdays. So I decided to go with my standby and got some gelato at another place recommended by Rick Steves. It was excellent. I tried a new flavor—strawberry—and it was absolutely amazing. I don’t usually like strawberry ice cream much, but this was incredible. I think I’ll have to go back before I leave Venice.

After my lunch I continued on Rick Steves walking tour, which went past more beautiful sights to the Frari Church. It was hard to see the actual building, as is the case with pretty much every church in Venice. There aren’t many squares big enough to see the churches well. You just come around a corner and you’re right in front of a huge church. The inside of the church was okay, and I snapped some more illegal pictures.

I next went to the nearby Scuola San Roca. There are several scuolas in Venice, which were special societies created within the church. This particular one was created during the plague and its purpose was to help the sick. It also was entirely decorated by a famous Venetian painter named Tintoretto. There was a large meeting hall with its ceilings covered with his paintings. An audio guide was actually included with my admission price (they’re usually extra and I decided not to bother buying them). So I spent a long time here, actually learning what all the paintings were. It did make my visit more meaningful, but I’m still not going to pay for audio guides everywhere I go. It was nice to get a break from walking, though.

When I was finished learning about all the paintings, I decided to go on another of Rick Steves audio guide tours. This one was commentary on a vaporetto ride down the Grand Canal. So far the weather had stayed sunny (and humid), but I was worried about the forecast calling for rain. So I decided I should go ahead and do the tour while it wasn’t raining.

First I had to walk to the train station, and I had my first experience following my map on my own. I had bought a detailed map of all of Venice’s streets at a bookshop I’d passed. It was fun and I managed to get where I needed to be.

The vaporetto took about 45 minutes and it was great (except for too many people on the boat the second half of the trip). And again, it was awesome to have the audio commentary. It still seemed like I didn’t have enough time, though. There are so many beautiful buildings and palaces along the Grand Canal, I think I’ll have to do this trip again if I have time.

The vaporetto dropped me off back at St. Mark’s Square and I took a break while I figured out what to do next. I went to Venice’s one and only park, which is very small. I wanted to go to dinner at a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves, but they didn’t open for two hours. And I was tired of walking. So I sat there for a long time until I felt more energetic. Then I decided to just wander around Venice and make my way over to the restaurant.

I first went back to St. Mark’s Square to get some pictures of the cathedral in better light. Then I wandered and discovered more beautiful sights. I even found a large church right on a canal, with some beautiful canal-side buildings.

I made it to the restaurant about 20 minutes after the opened and I was lucky to get a table. They had a bunch of reservations and they only had one table available. But I had to leave within an hour. That was no problem, as it doesn’t take long to eat when you’re by yourself. I got a pasta dish with pesto sauce and it was very good.

By the time I left the restaurant it was dark outside and I wandered back to St. Mark’s Square. There were cafes on the square with dueling orchestras and I wanted to sit for a while and enjoy a glass of wine while listening to the music. And it was very fun. I chose Café Florian and the orchestra was very, very good. Well, it wasn’t really a full orchestra, just a piano, cello, accordion, clarinet, and flute.

By the time I’d had my fill and caught a vaporetto back to the hostel it was 11 pm and I went straight to bed. Tomorrow I will take it much easier and head to some outlying islands called Murano and Burano.

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