29.07.2012 - 30.07.2012 32 °C
The last stop on our European vacation was Venice, a World Heritage Site full of beauty and a long history. With a cooler packed, Mom, Andrew and I set off on another road trip in our little rented car. The four-hour drive took us from Northern Croatia (Istria), first through the Slovenian border, before crossing into Italy. We found a four-star hotel with three-star pricing in a district outside of Venice, but with an inexpensive train service that will take you directly into Venice and back to the outer districts, hotel location is irrelevant. The train tracks clear the mainland and continue across the water and towards the island of Cannaregio, where the final train station lies. With a bridge in place, cars and buses are able to cross the water to Venice, but beyond the expensive parking lot, only pedestrians and boat services travel the alleyways and canals.
As you exit the train station and walk out into the brilliant sunlight, it feels as if you have been transported to another luxurious time, full of palaces and gondoliers and bright flowers cascading from every windowsill. A maze of small streets circle with no pattern. Buildings piled upon each other crowd the narrow alleys, which lavishly display shop fronts full of souvenirs, and restaurants aplenty. Vendors with trinkets, Venetian masks and knock-off Murano glass vie for your attention as the incorrigible crowds wrestle and jostle each other for a chance at a photo before one of the 350 bridges that stitch the island together. Pink street lights await the night so they can wash the city in a soft glow, though during the day act as perches to the countless pigeons that scrounge for food. Yet, however hectic, somewhere behind the throngs of people and the persistent commercialism lie enormous palaces once lived in by dukes, with Venetian windows overlooking tiny canals and front steps leading into the depths of the murky water. Boats are tied off to posts in front of every building, and gondolas wait like taxis to ferry you to any destination. Becoming purposefully lost in the labyrinth, small courtyards are stumbled upon unwittingly and lead to countless churches covered in detailed marble statues, glittering gold mosaics and frescos. Venice is both overwhelming –with so much beauty to absorb, and exasperating –as you climb over tourists and continuously empty your wallet. Its mystique will soon disappear with the incredible growth rate of tourism, slowly wearing away the charm and grandeur that was Venezia.
Venice was built upon a small archipelago of islands situated off the Adriatic coastline of Italy, directly across from Istria. The name Venice comes from the early settlers of the 118 island archipelago, named the Veneti. It is believed that the original population of Venice was mainly formed by the early dwellers and refugees from Rome, fleeing from the constant attacks of the Germans and Huns in the 5th and 6th centuries. The first ruler, or Doge, of Venice was elected in the 9th century, and the first Ducal Palace was erected, along with the Basilica of St. Mark. It grew as a powerhouse of trade with an unstoppable naval fleet, and by the 13th century was the most prosperous city in Europe. Initially the city of Venice was built on the islands, but as the city rapidly expanded, bridges were built to connect islands, and eventually the Venetians resorted to building the rest of the city on water. In 1200 the Doge was also the Duke of Istria and Dalmatia, and used Croatia’s resources to build Venice. The trees from interior Dalmatia, as well as the islands, were used as pylons –tarred and then sunk into the mud –which became the foundation for the floating palaces (built from the white stone of Brač) that now make up Venice.
We bought a two-day pass for the ferry that winds up and down the Canal Grande, stopping at various stations along the waterway. With passes in hand, we set off down the main canal towards the famous, central and most prominent square in Venice –Piazza San Marco. This central square is where most tourists spend their time as it is the piazza of nobility, boasting: the Palace of the Doges, the Basilica of St. Mark, an impressive clock and bell tower, and the Bridge of Sighs.
The Ducal Palace is an enormous building with a large central courtyard. While other palaces stood in its place, the present structure was built and added upon from the 14th to the 15th century. A large central window and balcony look out upon the square, and here the Doge would have stood to give speeches to the Venetian crowd below. Statues and carvings adorn the palace externally, only hinting at the splendor within. The inner rooms are covered in paintings done by masters and encrusted with golden frames, floor to ceiling. Unfortunately, the 16 Euro entry fee keeps many from entering these walls. Mom and I were both appalled and shocked with how every entrance to every building (big or small), had a fee attached; in years past, entrances were always free.
The Basilica of Saint Mark was built in the 16th century and is the central jewel of Venice. With domed roofs and large archways encrusted with golden mosaics, sculptures and carvings, and the four prominent bronzed horses on the central balcony, the exterior alone is remarkable. Upon entering the church you are surrounded by gold. Golden mosaics embellish the inner domed ceilings, display golden biblical scenes upon every wall and archway, focusing on the central golden altar.
The horses were initially plundered from Constantinople as Venice rose to power. In the late 18th century, when Napoleon conquered Venice, he stole these bronzed horses and took them to France. They were finally returned to Venice and the Basilica, with the originals inside the building and replicas atop the balcony of San Marco.
The Torre dell’Orologio, or the Clock Tower that was built in the 15th century, still has its original clock from the 15th century, as well as the two bronze Moors that move back and forth, taking a swing at the bell every hour. This original clock indicates the passing of the seasons, the phases of the moon, and the movement of the sun from one zodiac sign to another.
We went up to the top of the 100 meter tall bell tower (Campanile), just as the bells chimed the hour, and had a breathtaking panoramic view of Venice. Amongst the housing are large churches with spires and bell towers, domes and statues, that rise between the sea of terracotta roofs, haphazardly congested in a wash of red. The Grand Canal snakes its way through the center of Venice, constantly buzzing with boat traffic. The distant islands can also be spotted, but a haze seems to blanket the city, which we didn’t notice until looking at it from above.
We spent two entire days wandering the waterways and jumping on and off the ferry to explore areas away from the crowds. We visited the island of Murano to see the famous works of art created from Murano glass. Not discriminating between large and small churches, we took a peek in any door we could. Sitting along the banks of tiny canals, we watched gondoliers pass while downing our picnic lunch. There was still the Bridge of Sighs to visit, the Rialto Bridge, and countless little alleyways connected by bridges over the canals, so we spread our time trying to take in as much as we could.
The Bridge of Sighs is so called because it leads to the prison on the right. As Prisoners walked towards the prison and their inevitable death, they had one final chance to peer out the windows on the bridge and look at their family members crying and waving their final good-byes.
After two days in Venice we were exhausted from the scorching sun, endless walking, and hordes of tourists. A long day ended with an even longer evening, sending Andrew off on his journey home and thereby ending yet another amazing A-Team adventure. Gaudi, dancing, ancient walled cities, islands and the clear blue of the Adriatic, beaches, architecture, history, lakes and waterfalls, family and love, with a dash of Venice… we have enjoyed every minute of this journey and are glad you came along and shared it with us.
Till the next adventure,