My family and I visited Venice in 2005 on a holiday and it was our favourite city of the trip. It was as beautiful as I remember, and I was thrilled to show it to Rob.
I was enamoured by a city with no roads. Apparently, the city is built on millions of pinewood piles driven deep into the compressed clay-mud base which, over time, petrified in the absence of oxygen. Then, a series of horizontal planks and marble like stone slabs were overlaid, forming the foundations for the buildings. How mad.
While we Venice, we tried to visit many of the key sights. We wandered around San Marco square, and went into Basilica San Marco (the domed building down the end there). There were so many people in front of the Basilica, it was difficult to get any photos! I’m weaving through the passing pedestrians to see the camera!
It was free to get into the Basilica, but apparently there were no photos allowed inside! We decided to steal a few snaps anyway. Since the 11th century, the cathedral has been nicknamed the ‘Church of Gold’ because of its golden Byzantine architecture and its status as a symbol of Venetian wealth and power. The interior of the church has an impressive array of early 13th century mosaics, both on the ceilings and on the floors. It’s all golden.
Another recognizable sight in Venice is the Rialto Bridge. This stone bridge was built in the 16th century, replacing a timber one that collapsed under the weight of a crowd. Today’s bridge was packed with people, no matter when we went to use it. I guess, it is only 1 of 3 bridges over the Grand Canal, so is bound to be well used. It’s a beautiful design, and has a lovely view from the top of the Grand Canal.
On one of our days, we decided to head out to Murano island to check out some of the glass blowing factories out there. Below is Riva degli Schiavoni on a beautiful sunny morning.
At the back of Doge’s Palace is Venice’s Bridge of Signs. It connects the old prisons to the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace and supposedly prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice through the windows on the bridge before being taken down to their cells. Actually, the days of inquisitions and summary executions were over by the time the bridge was built.
But now, to Murano!
Looking back at Palazzo Ducale from the boat.
Murano is a beautiful wee island, less glamourous and flashy than the main island, but that’s what makes it so charming.
There are plenty of glass making factories all near the boat stops. We spent a couple of hours out there just watching the glass blowers work and talking to one of the salesmen about Italian politics, the global economy and historical power forces in Italy, like the Vatican and Freemasons. Oh, and glass. Apparently the glass blowers specialize in making a single item, like glasses or vases or figurines. They spend their whole careers making that single item. No wonder their works are masterpieces.
Back to the main island and we did some wandering around. Venice is an easy city to wander, being so small. For one of our walks, we went over to Castello where many of the locals live. We walked through streets with washing lines across the walkways and little motorboats parked in the canals. We found a shopping street full of cheap hairdressers and goods stores, so found a bar to sit down for a drink in the sun. I may have also rung my brother to say I was reminiscing on our family trip to Venice in 2005. However, I misjudged the time and woke him up at 3.30am. Sorry, my brother! Was great to catchup though.
I did find another excuse for a walk…
For those who are unaware, Donna Leon is a crime novelist who sets her novels in Venice. The main character, Commissario Guido Brunetti, is a police detective who investigates thefts, corruption, smuggling and murders in the beautiful confines of Venice. Donna Leon describes the suburbs, bridges, squares, coffees shops, meals and drinks associated with the city, romanticizing every corner and speck of dust.
So, I decided to drag Rob around the city so we could visit a few of the places she described. Like Brunetti’s workplace. Yes, I took a photo outside of the Questura – Venice’s police station. And earnt a few weird looks from some cops having a smoke nearby. A completely unremarkable building along a pretty canal.
Opposite the Questura is a 9th century church, San Lorenzo. Brunetti can apparently see it from his office window. Not the most glorious view, but this side of Venice is the less glamorous side.
Toward the more glamorous side, and we visited the suburb where Brunetti and his family supposedly lived – San Polo, across the Rialto bridge from Piazza San Marco. The streets are very tight and windy and it was so packed with people wandering the shops and markets. This photo below is from fotopedia of Campo San Polo – the very plain square which is the heart of San Polo.
We did go to the street that is meant to be where Brunetti’s family lives – Calle Tiepolo. Unfortunately, half the street was covered in scaffolding and was all quite dim, but it did run all the way to the Grand Canal. They would probably live in a middle one. Skinny windy little streets where a front door has 3 to 6 buzzers, depending on how many homes were inside.
The final part of our Donna Leon walking tour ended up being at the end of our street in San Samuele. Brunetti’s wife’s parents are meant to live in Palazzo Falier – a 14th century grand home right on the Grand Canal. The house is the white one in the middle – . It’s gotta be expensive, right? Donna Leon makes the interior sound spacious and polished with staff to fetch your tea and biscuits. How nice.
We had a amazing 4 days in Venice. We were staying in a little self-service apartment with a full kitchen in the heart of San Samuele. We could cook our own lunches and take advantage of the local food markets. Sliced proscuitto, salami, local cheeses, stuffed olives as well as fresh veges and seafood whenever we wanted.
A great few days in a beautiful city. The streets were packed with even more tourists than Florence (if that’s possible) but was a visual relief with all the beautiful architecture and wandering streets.
This was my second trip to Venice, and I’m certain sometime there will be a third.
Now, onto Bologna. And a wedding…
For samples of Donna Leon’s writing about the city, and descriptions of different parts of Venice, visit this cute wee website: Donna’s Venice.
For those who are interested, we stayed in Apartment San Samuele.