26 June 2012

Team P’s Italian Adventure: Venice

When Mr. P and I were planning where to go on our Italian honeymoon adventure, most of the places we wanted to see were along the western side of the country: Rome on the Mediterranean Sea, Cinque Terre on the Ligurian Sea, Florence on... well, it’s more on the left side of the map than the right, at least. It certainly would have made for easy traveling on our honeymoon if we’d stuck to one side of the boot!

Except there was a city on the eastern coast that I really, really didn’t want to miss. And so, we spent a few extra hours in trains on our honeymoon so we could see... Venice!

That’s right, the city of canals! Or more accurately, a bunch of islands in a lagoon, shown above. And apparently, it’s all very slowly sinking back into the sea. Venice may not be around for much longer, so we had to see this very unique place given the opportunity.

Extra emphasis on very. Venice is a strange, gorgeous place.

The Grand Canal, shown above, snakes through the middle of the collective islands that make up Venice. We took a vaporetto (boat bus) down the Grand Canal a few times, but smaller canals are everywhere, and can be crossed by bridge:

As you might expect, the greatest attraction in a Baroque city comprised of islands and canals is the Baroque city comprised of islands and canals. Most of our time in Venice was spent marveling about how... odd it was. Beautiful, yes. But quirky. As a for instance:

There you’ve got your canal lined with worn, centuries-old buildings, complete with a door that opens out into the water, and an ultra-modern display case facing the canal with brilliantly colored glass. Because Venice loves its glass... of all things.

We made sure to check out the famous bridges, especially the 400-plus-year old Rialto:

The Rialto itself is pretty neat – it spans the Grand Canal without a central pillar, and is tall enough to let boats cross under without pedestrians having to climb super-steep stairs, and it actually has shops on it – but the view down the canal almost has it beat.

Aside from all the bridges and canals, we checked out the Doge’s Palace (from the outside, at least), with the trefoil architecture characteristic of Venice:

There are lots of houses that seem palatial in Venice, but this is the only one allowed to be a Palace. The rest of the buildings are all referred to as just a house, or “casa”, usually abbreviated as ca’.

Say, do you see the giant swarm of people in front of the palace? That’s par for the course in Venice – it’s like a real-life amusement park, packed with tourists especially in the popular areas. I don’t know if I saw a single person that actually lives in Venice outside of restaurants and shops.

Anyway, part of the reason for the crowd is that next to the Doge’s Palace is the most famous building in Venice... St. Mark’s Basilica!

There is nothing else in Italy that looks like St. Mark’s. Want to feel like you’ve gone to a different country without leaving Italy? Go to Venice and stand in front of St. Mark’s. It’s all Byzantine and Gothic and a jumble of different colors and domes and POINTS and... are those weather vanes? Inside (where photography was prohibited) is the world’s second largest collection of mosaics... the largest being just a few blocks away from our current St. Louis apartment.

In front of the Basilica is St. Mark’s square with the campanile (bell tower) and... birds. Lots of pigeons, but seagulls too. Both types of birds are expert at photobombing.

Other types of bombing, too. Yuck.

In addition to an architectural style all its own, Venice also has an incredibly unique style of interior design. I call it Marie Antoinette’s Boathouse.

Really, I should append “–meets-Carnivale”, because they have a thing for Mardi Gras colors and masks, too, but our hotel lobby didn’t have any of that.

When we did venture outside, we found that it was nearly impossible to navigate. First of all, the main thoroughfares, THE MOST IMPORTANT STREETS IN THE CITY NO JOKE, look something like this:

And the “side streets”? Here I am in a still from one of Mr. P’s videos demonstrating that the “street” is, oh, three feet wide. Max.

When you’re navigating in a new city, your gut instinct is to ignore those sorts of paths because 1) clearly they must be alleys for, like, recycling bins or something and 2) there is never good to be had down a dark alley like that, duh.

But no. Those aren’t alleys, they’re the actual streets, and believe it or not, they are fairly safe. Furthermore, because you can never “stand back and look at the city” – and can barely see the sun with three-story buildings – the whole city feels like a hedge maze.

Oh, but to add to the crazy, you have giant modern ads plastered on the side of the historic buildings everywhere.

I took that photo so I’d remember the little episode that went with it: a girl, no more than six or seven years old, pointing to that ad and telling her parents, “Look, it’s Emma Watson and Emma Watson’s boyfriend!” Hey, kid! I like Hermione too!

We did do some stuff besides walk around this bizarre place, eat delicious Italian food, and get in a pretty serious “siesta from 2-5 PM” habit. Because we felt like we’d seen a ton of ancient/medieval/Renaissance art in Florence, we went to Ca’ Pesaro, which was mostly modern art. Plus, I liked being able to see the interior of a palace itself, obviously. The exhibits spanned three floors so we could see the rooms for entertainment all the way to the servant quarters.

I can’t show you a picture of the façade of Ca’ Pesaro, as it’s on the Canal. But this photo shows you how Venetians got their drinking water for centuries: collecting rainwater. Can’t drill for a well in a lagoon, after all!

We also visited the beautiful and historic Frari church, which is filled with even more art:

But mostly... we just took in this bizarre, charming, touristy attraction of a historic city. And if I haven’t convinced you yet how worthwhile that would be, check out Venice at night:

I’m so glad we went out of our way to spend a few days in Venice, even though I don’t think I need to see it again. It’s clear that by this point, it’s just a historic relic, frozen in time essentially to serve the tourists. So worth seeing once, but not twice.

But where would I like to go again, given the opporunity? The Cinque Terre... which I’ll tell you about tomorrow!