2 June, 2015
Day Two in Venice and after a breakfast of bananas and biscuits (please recall that we were students on a budget), Anna and I were ready to hit the piazza and check out the beautiful and famous Saint Mark’s Square. We walked part of the way then caught the vaporetto to the iconic Piazza, two small figures among the hundreds of tourist ooh-ing and ahh-ing at our surroundings.
The sky had turned grey and the warm sun of the previous day had vanished, but the sober weather made a fitting setting, emphasising the grandeur of the imposing Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), which was our first stop for the day. The large square building is indeed impressive and intricately decorated. The courtyard took my breathe away, all beautiful marble statues and elaborate walkways and a grand clock-tower arising in the middle. It was gorgeous, despite the miserable drizzle. Also of note was the preserved gondola which was used by the Doge, and the general detail which characterised EVERY SINGLE piece of decoration. I could imaging the impact such a courtyard would have had for those visiting, the great statement of wealth and power.
Though that was before we had entered the Golden Staircase. Yep, the Golden Staircase. No, this is not a reference to a fairy-tale or a Disney movie, there actually exists a GOLDEN STAIRCASE. And it is stunning! Behold, and admire:
The next hour or so was spent basically wandering through a series of overwhelmingly fancy rooms which reaffirmed our own plebeian status and awed us with the amount of gold that had been squeezed into the building. We visited waiting rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, many types of rooms all of which managed to impress upon us the wealth of the Doge. The last ‘stop’ within the Palace itself was the Armoury, in which we were overwhelmed with the masses of weapons, still gleaming with their lethal potential.
We were then able to walk over the enclosed Ponte dei Sospiri (the Bridge of Sighs) and watch the hoard of tourists below us as they squinted upwards from the path or gondole and took photos, unable to see us through the stone grate. The Bridge connects the Palazzo Ducale and the dungeons, so we were able to trace the path of the prisoners as they approached their doom. The dungeons (very cool), which comprised of quite a few unforgiving and eerie stone cells, and it was fascinating to walk through them.
After emerging into the daylight (it was a little sunnier at this point), we grabbed a couple of panini and sat on the steps of a church to munch on them, then walked through the twisty and windy streets towards the Rialto Bridge. Like the Basilica, half of the Bridge was covered in scaffolding, and every free space was cramped with tourists aiming to capture the perfect shot. We captured ours and then wandered through the shops and markets. By this stage, the sun was in full bloom and it had become a lovely day, leading to gorgeous photos such as this one:
At 2:00pm, we headed back to Basilica San Marco for our appointed visiting time. The grand site receives so many visitors that they recommend ten minutes for a round trip, and we made sure to make use of our short walk around the interior. Like the Golden Staircase, the Basilica is characterised by a very specific precious metal. It was breathtaking. The mosaics are incredibly intricate and cover the ceiling. Despite the dimness within the Basilica, the gold gleamed and coupled with the silence, it cast a haunting and sombre calm over the holy space.
Which was somehow ruined by the pop-up gift store right outside the exit. This is one of the paradoxes of Italy. The heart of the Roman Catholic Church, there are countless holy sites across the country which receive great numbers of visitors though just as strong – and sometimes more so than the religious devotion – is the economic power of the Church. The prodigious number of religious souvenirs is impressive and sometimes does detract from the beauty and peace of the religious sites. Though it is just one of those inevitable occurrences, I suppose.
After the Basilica, we explore the Museums of Saint Mark’s Square – the Correr Museum, National Archaeological Museum and the Biblioteca Mariciana (Library). They are located in the long building which wraps around the Square, and offer gorgeous views of the piazza below. Walking through Piazza San Marco is beautiful – it is surrounded by exclusive cafes and luxurious restaurants, complete with waiters in white coat-tails and live piano/violin performers. To walk through the Piazza is to step into a world of music and class, and I was entranced by it all.
We went for a small walk and sat by the water for a while before heading back to the hostel to prepare for dinner. This time we decided on a cute restaurant in the adjoining piazza and both ordered the gnocchi special. I ordered the Venetian drink of choice, a Spritz, a bright and slightly bitter drink made with Aperol, and recommended it to the nice American man sitting on the table next to us who asked what it was (like myself, he had noticed the drink everywhere, but he hadn’t known what to order).
After dinner we went for a little walk – gosh, Venice is dazzling at night. The lamps sparkle upon the water and a romantic glow is cast upon everything. We walked along the edge of the main island, following the path up to the furthest point, passing restaurants and gelaterie. There were plenty of people about – the usual tourists wandered with dazed expressions, constantly snapping pictures; women in clicking heels and pressed dinner dressed escorted from restaurants by suited men; a couple of youths chatting and drinking wine beside the water, comfortably reclining on the stone floor; even a group of giggling girls sitting on the stone walkway with exercise books open on their laps, fiercely quizzing each other in preparation for some form of exam. This relaxed space in time, this late evening walk along the waterside, crossing bridges which are hundreds of years old and basking in the glow of the streetlamps … I could easily adjust to this life.