Venice (Venezia), Italy
Well after an evening spent on the night train from hell, we arrived in Italy. The train ride was just incredibly hot, and the A/C didn't work worth (*&^! Someone finally opened the window before we all melted in a puddle of our own sweat. OK, enough about the transportation.
We had only one morning to spend in Venice since our train to Austria left around lunchtime that day. So after dumping off our luggage at the train station, we set off on a mad dash to see what we could in Venice. In retrospect, we probably should have taken a more leisurely approach (see my 1999 Venice trips).
Built in the bay on wooden stilts, the city of Venice boasts one of the most unique architectural styles in the world. It was the Mediterranean seat of power for hundreds of years, and a coveted prize for conquerors from the Romans, to Austrians, to Turks. Venice has no roads per se; an elaborate web of canals provides the inhabitants and visitors with a means of transportation. The Grand Canal slithers thorough the town like an "S". (Even a city built entirely on water has a river running through it!) Boat buses, boat taxis, tour boats, private boats, police boats, fire boats, and of course, gondolas cover every inch of the canals, while pedestrians (mostly tourists), pets, pigeons, and delivery carts cover the rest of the city.
This was our first exposure to Italy, and one of the first things you notice is how religious the Italians are. Over 95% of the population are Roman Catholic, and there are churches everywhere. If you picked up a map of Venice, you'd see a church just about every city block! Sadly, the city is slowly but surely sinking into the mud. What were once the ground floors of buildings in Venice are now underwater. People built boat docks on the 2nd floor to get in and out of some buildings. The Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's square) and its buildings get flooded every year during high tide when the locals actually use gondolas to cross the square!
We found the Italians here to be very rude to the tourists, which contradicts everything we've heard. Scott almost got arrested for insulting a rude Italian policeman in Piazza San Marco. Anyway, our Venetian experience wasn't the greatest, but we did manage to see some cool things. The walkways (alleys really) in Venice present an interesting challenge to our navigation skills. We got lost many times, but fortunately, yellow "PER S. MARCO" (to San Marco) signs everywhere directed us toward the famed Piazza.
Me at Piazza San Marco in the morning daylight. The square is known for the Basilica San Marco (behind me) and the millions of pigeons conspicuously missing from the picture. They did return later for their daily feeding. Tourists buy pigeon feed and let the birds peck away in their hands while they stand on your arms, shoulders, and head. Interesting experience!
The entire ceiling inside the Basilica and some of the balcony art on the outside are covered by millions of gold mosaic tiles no larger than 1/4-inch square each. Incredible! The Byzantine architecture makes the 9th-century church even more intriguing. On the right of the picture stands the new clock tower, the highest building in Venice. Warning: remember not to sit down in the Piazza!
The Grand Canal empties into the sea next to Piazza San Marco. Across from the pier stands the San Giorgio Maggiore church designed by Andrea Palladio (see Vicenza from my 1999 trip). Believe it or not, there is yet another church just to the right of the picture behind the boat! That's three huge churches in the same square 1/4 mile.
A look back at some of the buildings in Piazza San Marco. The building in the foreground is the doge's palace (Palazzo Ducale), and Basilica San Marco is just beyond that. There's Scott and Robert walking away next to the lady in the pink shirt.
Scott couldn't get in to see the inside of the Basilica because of his attire. Apparently, you must have your shoulders and knees covered to enter the church. In fact, there were signs with pictures of what not to wear into the church, and those signs could have used Scott's picture that day!
Another famous Venetian sight, the Rialto Bridge is one of only three bridges to cross the Grand Canal. It has since been turned into a mecca for souvenir peddlers and fruit stands. Notice all the grandiose façades of the buildings along the Grand Canal. Most of them are mere false façades that hide ordinary apartment buildings.