Monday, October 13, 2008

Finally, Venezia!

October 14, 2008

This past Saturday, I finally went to Venice, or as we say here Venezia, for the first time! Considering that it's only 20 minutes away by train, it was about time. I finally had some good weather (last time I tried to go it stormed all weekend), so the timing was perfect. I think my expectations were a little too high though; it was certainly a beautiful, eccentric, and unique city, and I enjoyed it very much, but it didn't leave me speechless. Maybe it was a tad too touristy for me... But I'm sure I'll go back at least 1 or 2 more times, so who knows!
I caught a train in the morning and bought a 12-hour pass for the vaporetti so I could save time getting from one place to another. It's so strange that for public transportation, instead of buses they have boats, and yet they are just as efficient. The Grand Canal is certainly just that: grand. I highly suggest taking a vaporetto along the length of the canal at least once to get a feel for Venice's main thoroughfare.
My first stop was the Ca' d'Oro, a wonderful gothic-style palazzo along the Grand Canal which houses the Galleria Franchetti, a great little museum. Although small in size, the museum has some masterpieces, like Andrea Mantegna's San Sebastiano, which I managed to get a crummy photo of before learning that cameras were not allowed : ( The rest of the collection was scattered with lovely works, and I had a pleasant time perusing them. One of the best parts of the museum, however, is not found hanging on a wall or in a glass display case; visitors have the opportunity to stand on the loggia above the Grand Canal, looking out on the sparkling water and passing boats.
Afterward I hopped back on the vaporetto and headed to the Rialto mercato, just before the famous Rialto bridge. Filled with colorful stalls selling a variety of fruits, vegetables, spices, and fish, although your nose is likely to notice the latter first! Since I've been in Italy I've developed a fondness for the ever-popular outdoor market and the whole idea of fresh food which they promote. I love to watch little old Italian women carefully choosing the ripest, most fragrant peaches out of the bunch or picking out the reddest tomatoes of the bunch. The fish market is especially large; in fact there is a whole area designated soley to the sale of fish! I must confess that for several reasons, the smell being perhaps at the top, I did not find this part of the market quite so whimsical or pleasant. I continued on and found a place to get a quick slice of pizza for lunch, then walked along a street packed with souvenir stands. Typical souvenirs in Venezia include masks for the famous Mardi Gras-esque Carnevale, ranging from cheap little ones to large, colorful, elaborate ones, and glass items, especially jewelry, because one of the lagoon islands of Venice, Murano, is famous for glass blowing. I didn't let myself buy anything, except a refreshing cup of fruit, but it was still fun to browse the variety of knick knacks at each stall.
The street eventually lead me to the famous Rialto bridge, so commonly featured in postcards that it has become somewhat of a symbol of Venice. The stone bridge is made of fairly steep flights of steps. Two rows of shops, opening inwards, divide the inner steps from two external balustraded flights. From these external steps, you can enjoy a great view of the Grand Canal, busy with gondolas and ferries. Because of its notoriety among tourists as well as the fact that it is such an important crossing-place on the Grand Canal, the bridge is constantly crowded with people, so after about 5 minutes I crossed to the other side and made my way to my next destination.
Next on my list was another museum, the famous Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice's greatest art gallery. Filled with masterpieces by some of Italy's greatest artists, I only wish I knew more about art and the artists to fully appreciate the pieces. Highlights include: Giorgione's mysterious Tempest, Carpaccio's St. Ursula cycle, and Veronese's Christ in the House of Levi, as well as works by Piero della Francesca, Titian, Tintoretto, and Bellini. Veronese's Christ in the House of Levi was especially impressive, taking up an entire wall and full of rich, colorful, and decadent details. It was originally a "Last Supper", but when the Inquisition objected, Veronese simply changed the name : ) Carpaccio's St. Ursula cycle, a series of large, detailed paintings recounting the fanciful legend of the holy maiden, her betrothal, and her pilrimage with 11,000 virgin attendants, was also spectacular. Following the cycle around the room, I was stunned at the end to discover that St. Ursula and her attendants were eventually slaughtered as martyrs in the final painting : ( There was Titian's dark and haunting Pietà, his final work before his death, which I found quite moving. Interspersed among the masterpieces, the museum is also filled with romantic landscapes of Venezia as it appeared back in it's early days, tempting the viewer to inspect the details for similarities to modern-day Venice. If you look closely enough in a couple, you can even spot the original Rialto bridge, made of wood, and a gondolier giving a ride to an aristocratic woman and her fluffy little dog! Please note that the images that follow were found on the internet since cameras were not allowed in the Accademia.
Before catching the vaporetto, I stopped to admire the handsome, wooden ponte dell'Accademia in front of the gallery, Venice's second most famous bridge, after the Rialto of course. On one side, the bridge offers a view of the dome of Santa Maria della Salute (unfortunately covered with ugly scaffolding when I was there), while the other side is a quieter view of the Canal, eventually curving out of sight.
Although the larger bridges are beautiful, one of my favorite things in Venice was all the quaint little bridges, crossing between alleys, which just have so much character!
Next I made my way to the nearby church of Santa Maria della Salute. Ignoring the terrible scaffolding, the intricate, baroque, white facade is quite impressive amidst the boat-strewn Canal. Inside, six side-chapels along with the high altar open off the main space, but the real treasures lie in the sacristy... Tintoretto's Nozze di Cana displaying lovely ladies with elegant braided fair hair; a painting by Titian over the altar: a plague-referencing study of saints standing around for a chat in their identifying "regalia"; and more works by Titian on the ceiling displaying 3 Old Testament scenes (I just about strained my neck getting a good look at these, but well worth it!). Outside looked out onto the Grande Canal, full of all kinds of boats.
And finally, I made my way to the hub of Venetian tourism, Piazza San Marco. Passing through the lido to the vaporetti stop, I had a breathtaking view Il Redentore, the lovely church located across the way on the shores of Giudecca island. Unfortunately I didn't make it to the actual church, so it will have to wait til next time.
While walking to the square, I couldn't help but stop and take in the breathtaking view across the lido, with boats cruising past and gondolas parked on the shore. It was like every where I looked was a scene from a postcard, and the whole place had a magical feeling that I just wanted to savor. The first things I came upon were the columns, one topped with a lion, the symbol of San Marco, guarding the square, and then the impressive gothic-style facade of the grand Palazzo Ducale, or Doge's Palace. The lamp posts everywhere were also a favorite of mine because they were pink! I went to see the nearby little "Bridge of Sighs", and was disgusted to see that it was surrounded, absolutely enveloped, in awful blue advertisements!
The actual square was packed as usual, with both tourists and pigeons, but with all the amazing things that are found there, it's no wonder why. First there's the Torre dell'Orologio, or clock tower, an elaborate structure with complicated systems for displaying the time, the sun, the moon, and the signs of the zodiac. The clock tower is also topped by a large bell, which is struck every hour by 2 large bronze figures. It's archway leads to the Mercerie, Venice's historic commercial streets, so it was designed as an impressive entrance to visitors arriving from the lagoon.
Before going into the basilica, I went through the archway and explored some of the nearby streets in search of the gelato I was craving. Most of the windows were filled with the famous Murano glass and other pretty wares, so it was fun to meander aimlessly and window shop for a while.
With my craving saitsifed, I finally made my way to the Basilica di San Marco. For once, the inside of this church could give the outside a run for it's money. The outside is indeed spectacular, with an elaborate facade full of shining, colorful frescoes, but the interior is a world of gold. As I entered, it was like walking into a treasure chest; the ceilings are covered with golden fresoes and mosaics, creating a breathtaking sight.
I climbed up to the loggia first, where I practically came face-to-face with the famous bronze horses and got some great first glimpses of the piazza from above. Also from up there, you can see some of the ceiling mosaics at face level! Back down in the basilica, I didn't have too much time to explore because it was close to closing time, but I managed to sneak the photos above of the golden walls and ceilings on my way out.
After the basilica, I ascended the famous Campanile, or bell tower, just opposite the church. At 99 meters, the tower is Venice's highest buildings, and offers splendid views of the city from it's viewing platform. For once, there was a lift to the top, so no climbing up narrow, never-ending staircases to get to the top! Looking over the city was wonderful; one side opened up to the sea and the lagoon islands of Venezia while the other looked down on the the buildings of the city, including the domes of San Marco. The original tower, dating back to the 9th century, crumbled to the ground in 1902, and was rebuilt in it's present form copying a later 16th-century design. As I've now climbed several towers in several cities, I've decided that they are one of the best ways to really see a city.
On the vaporetto ride back, I was treated to a lovely rose-tinted skyline as it was just before sunset. It was the perfect way to finish my day in Venice.
As for this week, it's been uneventful except for a few things. First, I finally found a pair of flat, brown, slouchy boots to wear during the day instead of my flip-flops. They were really cheap and are super cute, and I'm already wearing them all the time!
On Wednesday, I got a haircut! Gabi, Justine, and I all went and had ours done at this little salon that did an amazing job! It was long overdue for me, I hadn't realized I let it get so long. Using a picture of Posh as inspiration, she chopped of a couple inches, giving me an almost identical bob to the one I arrived in Italy with. It's super short in the back )my entire neck is exposed!), so it's been weird getting used to it, but it feels so healthy now and I absolutely love it, although I'm not looking forward to styling it everyday.
After getting our hair cuts, we figured we should show them off at spritz, so we got all dressed up and went out to Piazza delle Erbe. We spent a good part of the night in the "Ghetto", an alley off the main square, where we spotted a Heath Ledger look-alike whom Justine and I played a sort of "game" with for a while, finally culminating in us chatting for a bit. I had a small glass of prosecco wine as well and was fine! The rest of the week has been preparing my finalized study list, getting my books, and planning for my trip to Dublin this weekend! Expect a post on that adventure soon!

Buonanotte : )

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