Thursday, 3 May 2018

A Day in Venice

I have been to Italy a number of times but never Venice.  One thing I am always struck with Italian cities is how walkable they are but with Venice walking is pretty much the only way to get around the historic main part of the city.  This walk is a loop of approximately 6 miles through the historic part of the city and hopefully capturing most of the major sights on the main island (Centro Storico).  We were only here three days but this walk can easily be done in a lengthy day with plenty of shopping opportunities, a leisurely lunch and even a gelato!  The inspiration for this walk came from a website I found before I went but I cannot actually remember which one as the map went missing after we had finished it.  I did take notes on the way round so I remembered where we went though :)
St Mark's Square

We started our walk in the Piazza San Marco, perhaps the most famous of all the sights in Venice. It certainly is a hub for tourists and the queues to get in the Basilica di San Marco can be enormous.  The square is dominated by the Basilica and is surrounded by the enormous Campanile (bell tower), Palazzi  (palaces)and the Torre dell’Orologio (the Clock Tower). The latter reminded me of the one in the children's TV programme Trumpton and perhaps was the inspiration? Interestingly the campanile is not as old as it looks - it was rebuilt completely in 1912 after the collapse of the previous one in 1902. Before embarking on our walk we had a good look around the square and enjoyed its ambience.  It was still fairly early in the day and although some of the eateries had ensembles playing outside it was still a bit early to think about lunch and none of us wanted to spend 11 Euros on an espresso.  The square itself wasn't too busy but the main buildings already had sizeable queues so we didn't linger. 
Ready For The Lunch Trade
From St Marks Square we gravitated towards the water just beyond the Doge's Palace.  As its name suggests this was once the residence of the Doge of Venice (the chief magistrate and leader of Venice).  The building is one of the most famous in Venice and parts of it date from the 1300s.  Since the 1920s it has been one of the most visited museums in the city and definitely one for next time!  Ahead of us was the Bacino Di San Marco, a riot of water-borne activity with gondolas, water buses, water taxis and all manner of other boats vying for space on the water.  This is also one of the most famous views in all of Venice with domes, water and bell towers all competing for eye space.  This view alone tells you why so many people come to this city.
Pigeon Parlour
We walked alongside the waterfront to the Canale di San Marco and as we crossed the first canal bridge we immediately recognised the Ponte Dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs).  The English name for the bridge was supposedly given by Lord Byron as it describes the moment that a prisoner would see his last view of the outside world before being imprisoned in the Doge's Palace.  A nice story but apparently not entirely true as most of the prisoners were only here a short time as they were small-time criminals.
Doge's Palace
After the wide open spaces of the Square and the waterfront we plunged into the narrow streets of Venice.  The streets were thronged with visitors and the shops were all vying for the tourist Euros.  Even though I am not much of a shopper and the souvenirs on offer weren't really my thing it was a fascinating street scene and it was fun to look. We did have to decline a couple of shopkeepers eager to get us inside the shops to look more closely at their glassware and masks for which the city is famous.
Bridge of Sighs
We were soon back at St Mark's Square but this was only fleetingly as we disappeared once again into the narrow streets in the area around the hotel we were staying at. Via a number of back streets we came upon the bridge across Rio de San Zulan on the Campo de la Guerra. We saw a couple of gondolas stationed there and after a short discussion between us decided to take the expensive choice of a boat ride.  It would have been very difficult not to do this to be honest.  It was also a means of seeing the city from a different angle.  The fares are regulated by the city and it seems that no matter which gondola you take they have to charge on a scale not dissimilar to a metered taxi (albeit rather more expensive!).  The ride took us through the maze of canals in the inner part of the city before eventually coming out onto the Grand Canal by the Rialto Bridge.  Our gondola 'driver' was a chatty sort with other boats but didn't talk to us much.  It seemed as if he was too chatty for the others too - most just grunted back at him despite his enthusiasm.  An hour  later and 150 Euros poorer we were back at the same point we had embarked. Perhaps not the best value for money but an experience not to be missed.
Watery Streets
Back on the trail and this part of the walk started becoming a lot less busy as we moved away from the centre towards some of the quieter squares away from tourist traffic.  The first of the squares we came upon was the Campo S. Maria Formosa. This is a lovely airy looking square with only a moderate number of visitors, mostly looking for some lunch.  Our thoughts turned the same way!
We crossed the square and took Calle Lunga and then turned left at Calle Pinelli. Several canals seemed to converge at this point but once across the bridge we found ourselves in another fine looking square.  The domed church alongside the square was magnificent but my eye was drawn to a rather fine looking statue of a horseman in the middle of the square.  This is the Equestrian Statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni and rather amazingly dates from the 1480s.  The statue was a condition of the will of Mr Colleoni but instead of being stationed in St Mark's Square as he requested it was placed here on the basis that no statues are allowed in St Mark's Square.  I had plenty of time to admire him as the gelato shop across the way was calling and I consumed it as I enjoyed the detail of this piece
View From Gondola Level
After lingering in the square for a while we crossed the bridge as a water ambulance sped by on its way to the nearby hospital.  It really is amazing to see so much business being conducted on the water - it never occurred to me that emergency patients would have to also be transported this way.
A Different Perspective
We soon returned to the maze of streets on our way to the Rialto Bridge, the oldest and most celebrated of the four bridges that cross the Grand Canal.  Finding our way through this part was quite tricky and we took a few wrong turns. In the end we resorted to following the numerous signs to the bridge rather than follow the route on the map.  It is really easy to lose your bearings in this tightly constructed city.  After St Mark's Square the Rialto Bridge is possibly the most famous sight in the city and was completed in 1591, replacing a number of previous incarnations.  Apparently the design of the bridge was considered to be so audacious at the time it was built that many critics predicted ruin for its architect Vincenzo Scamozzi.  Luckily no-one tried to pull it down as it is certainly a masterpiece.  Crossing the bridge isn't so easy with all the tourists looking in the shops flanking its sides but it is worth pausing here to look at the wonderful views up and down the Grand Canal.
Rialto Bridge
We headed through the throng of shoppers and day trippers attracted to the bridge and immediate surroundings and headed on towards the fish market.  There was no mistaking its purpose as there was a lingering smell but by now the day's business had been concluded as fish trading is clearly an early morning activity.
Back On The Trail
 The next part of the walk took us through more residential parts of the city as we headed away from the main tourist areas.  This enabled us to see more of everyday life such as the refuse collection and deliveries to the retailers.  The lack of roads means that most things are carried using hand carts.  The refuse collectors are clearly quite adept at handling tourists as a quick shout was all we got as they bulldozed their way through the streets.  Thank goodness we were alert to the shout - we would have been mown down otherwise!  All the while we were twisting and turning through the streets until we happened upon a lovely quiet square where we stopped for refreshments and a chance to catch our breath.  The section from Rialto crossed several of the canals that looked as if they weren't part of the tourist gondola network as they had working boats on them too.
Our destination now was the Accademia Bridge, the southernmost of the crossings of the Grand Canal.  On the way we passed by the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, a magnificent church that I had never heard of before.  It boasts the second tallest of the campanile in the city (after San Marco) and it certainly induced a bit of a crick in the neck looking up at it.  Outside was a young woman busking in a most unusual way - she was playing Beethoven on jars full of different amounts of liquid to produce a very interesting sound.  She seemed to be doing quite well for a busker too - her unique approach obviously aroused a lot of interest.
Bartolomeo Colleoni
I really liked this end of Venice; less obviously touristy and a lot less busy as a result.  Yet many of the shops were selling the same kind of stuff as elsewhere.  The square at Campo Santa Margherita was particularly attractive and I could easily have lingered here for quite a while with a cold drink or a gelato if I hadn't already had both!  Fewer tourists meant that there was a better ambience about the square.   We crossed yet another canal and were in front of a much later church dedicated to the Apostle San Barnaba.  This dated from 1776 after the previous incarnation burned down. I imagine that fires could take hold extremely quickly in this city given the proximity of the buildings.  It isn't used as a church now - it houses exhibitions instead.
San Barnaba
Shortly after this church we reached the Accademia bridge.  It looked rather sorry for itself under scaffolding and sheeting while it was being restored.  The bridge looks like it gets quite a pounding as it has been restored a number of times over the last few decades. Underneath everything it is apparently quite a graceful steel structure.

Admiral's Quarters
Our walk was supposed to stick to a route as close to the Grand Canal as possible but we decided to take a different path that didn't mean that we would have to double back to this point.  Instead we headed down towards the Giudecca Canal, the main one to the south of the main island of Venice.  We looked across to the island of Giudecca where the streets looked a lot less crowded. I imagine a lot of the workers in the main part of the city actually live over there.  After the crowded streets it was very pleasant to be out on the airy promenade that takes you around to Punta della Dogana, a large building that was once the customs office but is now an art gallery.

Lunch Stop
For my money this was the best view in Venice - perhaps not the most famous but from here you can easily see Saint Mark's Square, the Grand Canal and the wider sweep of Giudecca Canal.  The sculpture atop the building caught my eye - it was a globe held aloft by a couple of slaves upon which the goddess of Fortune stands.  On this breezy day we could clearly see that Fortune moved to face the wind.  This spot was a popular one for selfies and family pictures and we made sure that we did the same before moving on.

Watching And Waiting
We got strung out a little as we headed back towards Accademia bridge, mostly as a result of window shopping.  One of our party got into a lengthy conversation with an artist who was anxious that we purchase one of his works.  They weren't remarkable to be honest but he was most insistent and not easy to break away from.  Eventually we did by gathering up together once more and moving away as one force!
Punta Della Dugano View

We were soon back at the Accademia Bridge and once we were across to be honest we headed back through the narrow streets to St Mark's Square in the quickest time possible, not really paying too much attention to the sights along the way.  The miles under our feet and the crowds had got to us a little and we were anxious to get back to the hotel for a bit of rest and relaxation.  By now we had seen all the gondolas, masks, jewellery, fountain pens and glassware that we wanted to and although those things were in abundance on the way back they had lost some of their novelty value by this point.  That is not to say that this was an unattractive section - quite the contrary.  It was just as remarkable as the rest of the city and deserved far more attention than we gave it.  Eventually we got back to St Mark's Square and by this point it was far busier than when we left it several hours earlier.
Back to St Mark's Square

Venice is an amazing city and this walk will certainly provide a pretty comprehensive tour of the main part of the city.  It probably deserves far more time though and I shall certainly be back one day to take another look.

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