- Full Venice photoset on Flickr
- Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square)
- Basilica San Marco
- Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace)
Today is reserved for the touristy stuff around San Marco: the Piazza, the Basilica, the Campanile, the Doge’s Palace, the Rialto Bridge. After another breakfast of rolls and croissants and Nutella and ham at Ristorante Ribot we hop aboard the No. 1 Vaporetto at Piazzale Roma for a ride down the Grand Canal to San Marco. (Walking in Venice is nice but we’re trying to beat the day-tripper crowd to the piazza this morning.) It’s cloudier today, the color not as great for photos, but this is Venice, and everything looks lovely regardless of light.
We get seats at the front of the vaporetto, where I mount my NEX3 to the railing to get some video of the trip. (Engine vibration made for occasionally shaky video and ugly sound, however. I masked the latter problem with some background music.)
On arrival at San Marco, first stop is the Doge’s Palace: former seat of Venetian government, now a museum devoted to the art commissioned to line the walls and ceilings of its sprawling chambers of power. Like most of Venice the place is a dense feast for the eyes — but photography is not allowed in most of the places where paintings are displayed. But even just the entryway, the Scala d’Oro, is a visual spectacle, from arched ceiling to banister with happy face shield.
Inside, I especially like Bassano’s painting of Pope Alexander III blessing Doge Ziani after the Battle of Salvore, mostly for the fact that a figure near the middle of the mural is smiling directly at the viewer — possibly a depiction of Bassano himself. And of course, in the massive Great Council Hall, Tintoretto’s famous Paradiso dominates the front wall, defying all description, simultaneously flanked on all sides above and around by more and more historic and religious art than has ever adorned the walls and ceiling of any other giant room in Europe or the world. And while none of it is officially allowed to be photographable, there is a nice view of the Venetian rooftops out some other windows.
We also cross over the Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) into the dungeons on the other side of the Rio de Palazzo. The dungeons are dark and cool, surprisingly pleasant after the days we have endured without air conditioning.
In one dungeon hallway we see an old Apple Computer box sitting anachronistically off to the side. Recrossing the Bridge of Sighs back to the Doge’s Palace, I snap a photo of the bridge passage in a rare empty moment.
On our way out I notice the original statue of Saint George in a corner of the courtyard, now set aside for restoration after centuries standing atop one of the pillars welcoming visitors to the piazza. The dragon’s expression is heartbreaking.
The Doge’s Palace has taken the entire morning and a good chunk of afternoon. We leave the Piazza San Marco area for a bit to find some food in a less tourist-trappy area and settle on Aquila Nera for a couple of pizzas with sarde in saor.
From there the Rialto Bridge is right around the corner. It’s early afternoon on a Friday and crowds of tourists are already swarming over the span and around the shops, but not in such quantities that we cannot pose by the balustrade and prevail upon a friendly English family to snap our photo as a couple (and return the favor, of course).
We return to Piazza San Marco and ascend the Campanile (8 euro per person, ascent is by elevator, stairs generally closed to the public). Scenic vistas all around, and a pleasant breeze cooling the top level. In a corner, a sign commemorates Galileo, while another sign warns against writing on or touching the bells. Venice itself is so visually dense as to be overwhelming.
Closer to us lie the Basilica and Doge’s Palace. In the opposite direction, the view of the Piazza is only slightly marred by a giant Nescafe billboard.
I hate to descend from what has been the second coolest spot in Venice so far (first being the Doge’s dungeons) but it’s late in the day and we have yet to see the inside of Basilica San Marco. At bottom we join a fairly long queue for entry into the church and the cutoff for closing is not far behind us. There is barely time to linger to see the frescoes and mosaics, and we must skip the crypt altogether. We do, however, take a few minutes to browse the church treasury, where we find, among other reliquaries, Saint Martha’s shriveled hand. No photography is allowed anywhere in the church, but I’m able to sneak a few seconds of video to capture the general ambience as a choir rehearses a Dona nobis pacem movement for a mass.
Our day over, we board a vaporetto back to Piazzale Roma and have dinner at Ae Oche, a pizza chain with a branch on Lista di Spagna. I skip pizza and try cured horse meat salad. It is, at best, edible. Saint George makes another appearance as the Ae Oche duck mascot.
We decide our day is not over, and walk down the Lista di Spagna deeper into Sestiere Dorsoduro, and up the Strada Nova, taking in Venice on a Friday night and not stopping, farther and farther, into San Marco, till we find ourselves right back at the Rialto and at the Piazza. We see a cat in a window, parked gondolas, the Grand Canal at night, countless people, an alley named “Tron.” I didn’t even bring my DSLR and take only occasional photos with my phone.
It’s a totally spontaneous and tiring ramble, and we are completely exhausted by the time we get back to the hotel at midnight, but the fatigue is worth it. Now I understand what they say about getting lost in Venice.