Saturday, April 24, 2010

Our Italy Trip: Venice

Here's the first part of the summary of our trip to Italy. (Some places wouldn't let us take pictures. I've included a couple photos taken from the web instead, so you can get an idea of what we saw.)

Venice, Day 1
We took an overnight flight out of BWI and arrived in Venice Friday morning. The boat ride from the airport (on the mainland) out to Venice took an hour, longer than we expected. Our hotel was a bit of a walk from where we were dropped off (at Ponte Rialto -- more detail about this bridge later), at least considering we had our luggage with us. Plus, all the the bridges over the canals have stairs, not ramps. After checking in, we took a much-needed nap.

We headed out for lunch (our first taste of real panini), then to Santa Maria dei Miracoli. The marble church was built to house I Miracoli, a portrait of the Virgin Mary said to perform miracles. The barrel-vaulted ceiling also contained 50 portraits of prophets. I was struck by how this holy building stood mere feet from the residences around it.

Next, we visited Santi Giovanni e Paolo, a large Dominican church. The stained glass windows are beautiful, and dozens of doges (leaders of Venice) are buried here, but the most interesting part of our visit was the church's relic: Saint Catherine's foot.

We rounded out the evening with out first taste of Italian pizza (Yum!) and Fanta (Double yum! Why is American Fanta so different?), followed by a cannoli.

Venice, Day 2

We got up early to see the city at sunrise. The streets were mostly empty, save for the great-smelling fresh bread being carted around. (They have interesting carts for navigating the stairs on the bridges.)

While in Venice, we didn't ever take a personal gondola ride -- they're expensive. But as there are few bridges across the Grand Canal, there are a few traghetto ferry points. You pay a small amount, and they use a gondola to ferry as many people as will fit (standing up!) across the canal. Well, we used the traghetto and visited the fish market. (Not my cup of tea, but it was interesting, at least.) Then we visited Ponte Rialto, the famous stone bridge across the Grand Canal. Ponte Rialto has two rows of shops (with store fronts on both sides of each row) all the way across.

Next we visited Piazza San Marco, the only true piazza in Venice. First, we took a guided tour of Palazzo Ducale (the Doge's Palace). The palace served the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of Venice's government. Scala d'Oro (the Golden Staircase) leads up to where citizens and criminals would face the Senate and judges. Many murals and ceilings here, including works by Veronese and Tintoretto, depict scenes embodying justice and other virtues of the government. The palace also contained prisons. We we able to see the two rooms that had housed the famous Giacomo Casanova, who was also the only prisoner ever to escape.

Next door, we visited Basilica di San Marco. The basilica -- built to house the remains of Saint Mark recovered from Alexandria -- is covered from floor to ceiling with golden-tiled mosaics. The sunlight that made its way inside really made the church glow.

We walked the piazza and enjoyed looking at the shops. We made a great find at a glassware shop -- a hand-painted Christmas ornament depicting Ponte Rialto. We're excited to get to use it this winter!

Venice, Day 3

We started by visiting the train station to reserve our tickets for the next day. Then we took the vaporetto (water bus) to the south side of Venice, along Fondamenta della Zattere. Although our entire stay at Venice was a chilly one, we opted to split some apricot gelato from a shop along that street. We then made our way to Gallerie dell'Accademia. (Because it was Sunday, I suppose, they let 2nd in free. I still had a buy a ticket, though.) In the gallery, we saw several noteworthy works, but the room that stuck with me most was the one containing the nine works of Vittore Carpaccio depicting the Legend of Saint Ursula. I was not familiar with the legend before. The legend has Ursula, a princess preparing to be married to a pagan, embarking on a pilgrimage with 11,000 handmaids, only to be massacred by the Huns. 2nd and I aren't big art aficionados, but the multi-piece story stuck with me. (We'd revisit the legend of Saint Ursula at the end of our trip, in Naples, too.)

After lunch, we visited Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. The most distinctive part of the church is the pyramid-shaped monument to the sculptor Antonio Canova.

This day was our first anniversary, so we went somewhere a little nicer than usual for dinner. We loved our food, including our first taste of panna cotta. It was a great day, but also a little sad knowing we'd have to leave Venice in the morning!

More coverage of our trip soon!