Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Venice: The city of bridges

I decided to travel 'smart' and take the overnight train to Venice to maximise the number of days I had on holiday. I didn't reserve a sleeper seat and everyone warned me that I had made a terrible mistake. With this in mind I boarded the train in Vienna at 9pm and realised that the train was going through Salzburg on the way to Venice. Anyone who knows any geography will realise that this adds a 5 hour detour. I now understand why the train takes 11 hours. Once on the train I ended up in a compartment for 6 with only 5 people so we shared the extra space and managed to get about 5 hours of sleep.

Arriving at Venice Mestre (not on the island), I had to catch the #2 bus (which I still haven't figured out how I was meant to pay for it, so I didn't) and was dropped at the bus terminal...somewhere. My tour book doesn't provide the most detailed map and the street names on it are in English, not Italian *sigh*. I think I managed to walk over about 10 extra bridges to reach my hostel.

The hostel I'm staying in is Domus Civica, normally a boarding house during school time (i.e. not Summer). They have a student discount even if you didn't book as a student :) This said I have a curfew, welcome to a strict boarding house with rules. You have to be home by 12.30am and cannot leave before 7am...No sunrise of the Grand Canal for me :( I'll have to deal with a sunset instead.

Finally orientating myself I headed off on a random path through Santa Croce and San Polo to the Grand Canal at Rialto and my target St Mark's Square. Along the way I spotted a number of bridges, beautiful canals and 'garages' for boats. The canals do not smell at all, something else everyone had warned me about. I took a Traghetto, a gondola ride across the Canal Grande for 0.50 euro cents, an awesome experience, and something I will definitely do again tomorrow. You stand up while they ferry you across. There are only 4 bridges across the canal and these 7 crossing points serve as convenient transportation.

As I arrived at San Zaccaria (church) the heavens opened and I got drenched, but this is not the end of it. Carrying on to the Doge's Palace I bought my San Marco Musuem Pass (normal price 13 euros, student price 7.50 euros) and froze as the wind whistled through the dungeons and meeting rooms. I can only imagine the enormous heating bill for that place in Winter. The Doge's Palace prohibits photography (a common theme here) and so everyone will have to be content with photos of the facades of Venice.

The palace has these cool letterboxes throughout that people used to slip complaints or anonymous information into for the Doge to follow up, the one shown is called the Mouth of Truth. There is a lot of artwork in the apartments, too many to name, but the clocks deserve a mention. One runs anti-clockwise, one has the phases of the moon and one has the astrological signs.

Stepping out of the palace into the St Mark's Square caused a bit of a was underwater after the rains (and a high tide I think). Cue to take off the shoes and run through the calf deep puddles taking photos. The problem was even more evident in St Mark's Basilica that had raised wooden flooring over the flooding, all signs of a sinking city. What concerned me most was the air bubbles rising from the mosaic flooring.

After this rather water-logged experience of Venice I actually followed my tour guide for the San Marco to Rialto Bridge walking guide and then the Rialto to Frari path. Along the way I found a beautiful handstitched in patchwork mask in teal that had to come home with me.

This evening I am going to cruise along the Canal Grande on a vaporetto and take in the sights at sunset and then back again to see the city lights (from the chandeliers inside the buildings).
Tomorrow I'm going to visit Murano and Burano for glass-making and lace-making. They really have the most exquisite craftmanship here.

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