As I start this new series of posts on my November vacation to Italy. My first post begins where our trip started, the island city of Venice. The last few days before the trip were spent checking the weather websites for the forecast in Venice, and the news was not good. It was supposed to rain heavily and flood in Venice on both the days we were there so I was a worried man!!
Our flight was via Abu Dhabi and the Mumbai Abu Dhabi leg was in an A380 superjumbo, my first experience of the same. ( Bigger screens and marginally more leg room.) The stop over at Abu Dhabi bus stop / airport was not a long one and we were on our way to our destination. As we landed in Venice we could see the dark and ominous skies. Immigration was a breeze, we collected our luggage, freshened up at the empty Venice airport as we had reached early morning and our hotel room would only be available by afternoon.
The next thing to do was change our online Venice travel pass voucher for the actual passes itself. That proved to be a challenge as the counters were closed. Thankfully there was an automatic vending machine which allowed us to collect our tickets. We boarded the ACTV bus to the bus station at the tail of the fish shaped island that is Venice. From there on the mode of transport was the only mode of transport in Venice – Vaporetto (fancy name for ferries!!)
We disembarked at our intended stop of San Zaccaria and viewing google maps street view before leaving was very helpful in locating our hotel Fontana. We dropped off our luggage and changed into our rain gear since it was steadily drizzling by now. We had bought Decathlon Rain jackets and over trousers ( The best investment I have made in a long time!!) for both of us considering the weather. Prepared the camera and left for sightseeing.
Our hotel was just far enough from St Marks Square to avoid the chaos but close enough to walk there in no time. So the first sight to visit was a no brainer. All photos I have seen of St Marks have been teeming with tourists like ants, so it was a pleasant surprise to see it almost empty with only a few hardy tourists and a handful of the famous pigeons braving the by now steadily pouring rain.
We walked around for some time as it was privilege to have the square almost to ourselves and there was no aqua alta (the infamous tidal flooding of Venice) visible yet. After a while the rain got heavier and it got really cold so we decided to go indoors for a while. I had already bought tickets to the Doges (Dukes ) Palace online and we walked past the tourists standing in the ticket buying line with a broad grin on our faces and went inside. The Doges palace is the Versailles palace of Venice, ornately decorated rooms with ceiling art to be seen to be believed. The photos don’t do it much justice, but I made an attempt anyway.
As I walked through wide eyed at the luxurious rooms of the Doges palace one eye was always out of the windows to check if the rains had abated. There is a lot of art in the Doges palace, but the one which is worth mentioning is Tintoretto’s masterpiece called Paradise. It is the largest oil painting in the world at 22 by 7 metres, covering the whole wall behind the Dukes throne. The scale and detail of the painting is amazing!!
As we completed our palace tour and stepped out. It was not raining and there was almost no line to go up the Campanile (bell tower). We didn’t need any other invitation and we bought tickets and rode the elevator up. This was the least effort we made for a view in all of Italy. The elevator zoomed up the tower and delivered us to the top of a windy and super cold bell tower. The cold wind chilled us to the bones but the view over all of Venice was worth braving the cold for. It was misty and gave the entire scene a dreamy magical look.
We stayed up as long as we could tolerate and till we had got photos of all sides of Venice. Then we escaped out of the cold and down into St Marks Square. By now we were very hungry and we went to a Rick Steves recommended sandwich shop close by for some delicious sandwiches and mini pizzas. Hunger satiated we went inside St Marks with almost no line. The exterior of the basilica is very different from the other classical churches of Europe and its more like Turkish / Byzantine style with its domes mixed with spires and arches.
The basilica is a dark, huge space covered from ceiling to floor with mosaics. As your eyes adjust to the darkness the colourful detailed mosaics hit you. Imagine the difficulty of making these detailed mosaics so high up, neck craned up!! The floor also has crests and troughs which is due to the fact that Venice is slowly sinking!! Photos are not allowed inside the basilica but it’s a grand sight which is a must-see in Venice.
After exiting we took photos with the lion statues outside and it started raining again. So we went inside the Correr museum on St Marks as its entry was included with the Doges palace. The museum has statues by Canova and an assortment of articles concerning the Doges, coins, maps, tapestries, portraits, medals and Venetian art. It is not a must see except for art lovers but here it provided us an escape from the rains at no extra cost.
It was well past check in time now so we went back to our hotel got our room and freshened up. It was getting dark soon but I had one more thing planned for the day so we got out again and took the ferry across the lagoon to the St Giorgio Maggiore church.
The church had a funky looking contemporary art piece displayed which looked great all lit up. The main attraction at this church is its bell tower as it gives a great view across the lagoon. I’m a sucker for bird’s eye views of cities so this was an opportunity not to be missed. It was getting dark and the lights were starting to come on. The bell tower also has no grills unlike at St Mark’s making for better photos. Plus it was not windy now so we stayed up for a longer time.
When we were satiated we took the ferry back to St Mark’s. By now it was dark and the lights were on giving Venice an even more beautiful look. The light drizzle and the overcast skies made photography difficult but I still risked it. I’m happy that I did!!
We still had some energy left in us and we decided to walk to the Rialto bridge area for dinner. The Rialto bridge is under restoration so one side is completely boarded up but it still looks beautiful lit up on the unbounded side. It is one of the iconic sites of Venice so I had to take a photo.
We had dinner at an osteria (fancy language for cheap restaurant!!) and took the Vaporetto back to our stop and walked back to our hotel. (By now we had almost recovered the cost of our vaporetto pass) We had seen most of the must see sights in and around St Mark’s square. Prediction for the next day was more rains and flood warnings. St Marks being the most low lying area floods first so we wanted to get that out of the way.
Plan for day 2 was Burano and its pastel house lined canals for sure and the rest depending on the weather. We retired for the night at our spacious for Venice room and prayed for the weather forecast to be wrong for the next day. Thankfully it was completely off! That is topic for my next post.