Thursday, April 16, 2015

In Love on the Grand Canal

English: Venice: Italy: 1913 map of city center
English: Venice: Italy: 1913 map of city center (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I wouldn't leave Italy without achieving three tickets on my bucket list. The first: a gondola ride on the Grand Canal. And what a grand time we had.

The Grand Canal is Venice's major waterway and it divides the city in two. It looks like an upside down S making the east and west side look like two hands grabbing each other. (See the illustration to the left).

The glory of this canal is the splendid buildings lining either side--from gorgeous cathedrals like the Church of the Scalzi to the Rialto Bridge to mundane, everyday homes.

We boarded our gondola on some backwater alleyway (literally) just off the Piazza San Marco, and sailed down the Cannaregio Canal. While marveling at the glories of Venice, and accordion player and singer regaled us with quintessential Italian folk songs: "Amore," "Ciao Venezia," "O Sola Mia," and more.

Neil and I could cuddle with gondolier in the back of us, the muscians to the front and crowds of tourists staring in envy from the myriad bridges.

We didn't sail as far north as the Rialto Bridge--but that was a sight. It's the oldest of the bridges spaning the Grand Canal. It hosts twenty-four shops, has upper floors overlooking the canal.


The full day in Venice held more than this blog could tell: wonderful food, shops with glorious wares, glass factory, masks celebrating the Carnivale--just like the Mardi Gras. I need to return.
Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

The Grand Canal

Neil LOVED the ride

Love on the Grand Canal

a balcony along the canal
Our serenade

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Venice: St. Mark's Square

Not the San Marco Lion--but a gorgeous model
The most famous section of Venice is St. Mark's Square. For me, Canaletto made it familiar. His exquisite oil paintings capture the beautiful and mood of this quintessential Venetian square. We traveled there on a water bus--a fifteen minute cruise to glory and the splendor of Piazza San Marco.

A hint of Canaletto
We walked along quays and over canals until we came to the piazzetta (little piazza--not pizza). We entered between two columns: one sported a statue of St. Todaro, a patron saint, the other the winged Lion of St. Mark. Rather than ushering us into the purity of cathedrals and bell towers, imagine my horror when I discovered this gorgeous piazzetta fronted with marble-faced buildings had once been the scene of public executions.

The crowning jewel of St. Mark's Square is the Basilica San Marco. The title basilica means the relics of a saint lie there. In this case, St. Mark's body. It was brought here in 828 from Alexandria, Egypt. The church was built to showcase its precious relics.

Bit by bit, the church was built between the 11th and 15th century and is an exquisite blend of Byzantine gold, Gothic spires, Romanesque round arches and Islamic domes.
Although being restored, you can see the myriad
architectural influences
I didn't give you a close-up, but look at
those columns

As impressive as the basilica is, the columns intrigued me. As I said before, the buildings are constructed with lightweight brick. However, all of them are faced with marble. The colors of these columns defied my imagination. I think of marble as statuary white. These were pink and green and blue. Beautiful.

The basilica joins the Doge's Palace. The doge was a magistrate, elected for life.

Note the risers. Although it rained, we didn't flood
When the tide is high and the moon strong, St. Mark's floods. Risers lay piled along the quay ready to be laid out as raised sidewalks. Shops along the tiny alleys that comprise the streets of Venice, shoppers can find thigh-high rubber boots in fashionable designs coordinated with raincoats.

Our guide showed us a picture of one tourist who sat in the outdoor dining room of one cafe. Water lapped his chest. Incredible, crazy tourists.

just a hint of detail
love in Piazza San Marco
note the lion of San Marco
(And the seagulls)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Venice: The Real Water World

Venice. Hardly a city in Italy is more romantic than Venice. Kevin Costner thought he had an original script with the Hollywood name of Water World. Venice trumped him by thousands of years.
Taxi acquei--from airport to Villa Mabapa

We landed in Marco Polo Airport--can you think of a more appropriate name for the watery world of Venice's airport? March 1, 2015 proved to be cool, but sunny. Our guide met us, and led us to our taxi. Imagine my surprise to discover we'd be taxied by boat!

Venice. I always imagined it firmly attached to Italy--sinking, but attached. It's not. It's made up of 116 islands. Canals separate these islands and essentially form the city streets and boulevards.

Too cold for swimming. Lido's sandy beach and cabanas.
The city became defined during the Middle Ages. The buildings had been constructed in brick on cedar piers that have petrified into stone. The brick was covered with marble--the stuff of buildings in Italy as wood is too expensive.

The only island with cars is Lido. And that's where we stayed. This eight-mile island forms the barrier between the Adriatic Sea and the lagoon. On the seaside, rows and rows of cabanas line the sandy shore whose shallow waters offer summer fun.
Lobby of Villa Mabapa

In the 1800s, Islo del Lido was popular with artists and poets such as Shelley and Byron.

It is also known for its upscale shops. Although, when Neil and I roamed the city, shops were the last thing on our mind. We were hungry.

Which brings up an interesting point. If you want a cup of coffee--and even the cafe American is strong--you can pay two separate prices. One, the cheaper, is to order at the counter and drink it there. Europe rarely offers take-out. If you wish to sit, it will cost you more.

Lido has beautiful hotels. We stayed at the Villa Mabapa--shown left. Most hotels don't open until mid-March or April. Ours opened for our tour.

And one benefit of going off season, tourists don't abound and you can enjoy the sights. The weather can be cool, but as I live in the northern reaches of eastern New York, the Italian temps were quite pleasant.

Downtown Lido
A hearse. All transport is by boat
Lido is connected to the main island of Venice by the vaporetti. These are boats that serve as buses. It's about a fifteen minute cruise to get to the main island.

Seeing as I adore the water, this city is for me. But everything in Venice is expensive since everything--food, clothing, furniture--must be imported from the mainland.

Each day we stayed here was overcast. I do have it on good authority that you can see a fabulous sunset over Venice from the lagoon side of the island.