Monday, March 05, 2007

January 2007 - Venice, Italy

On a gorgeous sunny day, we hopped on a train from Bologna to Venice for 2 days in the world's most romantic city.

We began our sightseeing in Venice on the water, the only way to see Venice's true beauty. From the ferry ride to our hotel we saw the Rialto Bridge crossing the Grand Canal,

the unique and colorful buildings that line the Canal,

and hords of Asian tourists in gondolas. I promise it gets more romantic.

The elaborate buildings lining the Grand Canal were the homes of some of Italy's wealthiest residents during the 16th and 17th centuries. Now most are hotels but as well preserved as possible considering Venice sits on a salt water marsh.
As we approached our hotel, we saw the grand dame of Venice's churches - Santa Maria della Salute. We actually had a great view of Santa Maria from the balcony of our hotel room.

As soon as we dropped off our luggage, we began our tour of Venice in St. Mark's Square. This is Casandra's first glimpse of the Square with the magnificent onion domes of St. Mark's and its bell tower.
The onion shaped domes show the Byzantine influence over Venice which was once the crossroads between eastern and western Europe. The golden mosaics covering the inside and outside of the domes makes the church glow in the sunlight.Also a major landmark in St. Mark's Square is the blue-faced clock placed into white marble with a gold frame that also shimmers in the sunlight. No wonder this is one of the most famous squares in the world.

We then began winding through the streets of Venice in search of the quantiest alleys and the most colorful buildings and the tiniest bridges.

After getting lost in a local's area, we came upon this store of masks and Carnevale costumes. Venice's masked balls held during the week leading up to Lent are some of the most extravagant affairs in the world. For that week, Venice is transformed into the city of lavish parties and sensual intrigue that Casanova called home.

As we wound back toward our hotel we ended up on the promenade alongside the Grand Canal. From the promenade we had a clear view of the Ponte de Sospiros (the Bridge of Sighs). When prisoners were led across this bridge into the dungeons of the Doge Palace, they were allowed there last glimpse of sunlight through the bridge's windows. Legends say that prisoners walking over the bridge took one last look and let out a long sigh.
From the promenade we also had wonderful views of St. George's Island, also built on marsh land laying between the Po Delta and the Adriatic Sea.
Finally, no walk on the promenade is complete without stopping to admire the elaborate peach and white marble Doge Palace. This Palace served as the seat of the Venetian government (a republic governed by wealthy land owners) and the home of the head of the republic (the Doge) elected by the Grand Council (similar to a modern day parliamentary system) for about 500 years with it's power peaking in the 13th century when it led the last and most successful crusade and conquered Constantinople. By 1300, it was the capital of Italy's Veneto, Trento and Friuli regions and the largest maritime power in Europe and the Mediterranean. The Black Plague wiped away over 50% of its population in 3 years beginning in 1347. Nevertheless, Venice remained a sophisticated city and maritime powerhouse until the late 18th Century, when Napoleon came and gave control of the city to Austria.
After our long walk, we had worked up quite an appetite. So we headed to Met, a wonderful Michellin rated restaurant. The food was exotic and delicious, but the presentation stole the show.

The lepre (wild hare) that Kenny ordered was the best meat either of us has ever eaten. We couldn't stop raving about it. We even told the chef how amazing it was.

The celebration of chocolate dessert is the most creative we have ever seen and one of the tastiest too.

Wow, we didn't expect a post dessert, dessert. Loosen the belt buckle and unbutton your pants.

On our walk home (we actually rolled back to the hotel), we stopped for nighttime glimpse of the Bridge of Sighs. It's much more creepy in the dark.

We also stood outside our hotel terrace and enjoyed the view of the lit up Santa Maria della Salute.
Finally, we took some self photos from our balcony to capture our proximity to the magnificent Church.

The next morning we headed out to explore Venice on the other side of the Rialto Bridge. We love the views of the colorful buildings so characteristic of Venice.

We also enjoyed discovering the smallest of canals always lined with more colorful buildings.

Finally, when the sun came out nice and bright, we took our own romantic gondola ride. Our gondoleer proudly informed us that he is a 14th generation gondoleer. The gondola which has been in his family for all that time was once used to chauffeur Venice's most wealthy residents. Owning a gondola and a gondoleer was the equivalent of now owning a Rolls with and employing a driver. Our driver said he would pass his gondoleer license on to his son when he retires. There is no other way to become a gondoleer as licenses are rarely sold or passed outside of a family. Nevertheless, his son will have to pass a rigorous test navigating the most narrow of canals before being allowed to row this gondola.
On our ride we passed Casanova's house and another gondola all in all making for a beautiful picture.Then we headed out to the Grand Canal passing under the Rialto Bridge - where the real boat traffic is.
After our ride, we headed to the Doge Palace for a viewing of some of the most amazing art in Italy. The Palace contains frescoes and paintings by Veronese and his contemporaries painting in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Grand Council's meeting room (used by all of Venice's representatives) also covered in frescoes is the largest room in Europe.
Another highlight is the view from the Palazzo's internal courtyard of the onion domes of St. Mark's.While in the Palace, we were allowed to cross the Bridge of Sighs and see that last view of Venice (from very small windows) experienced by Casanova among many other prisoners.

After our tour of the Palace, our short trip to Venice was over. As we were boarding the ferry to take us to the train station, an amazing blanket of fog rolled in so that we could not see more than 100 ft in front of us. Here is Santa Maria right before the fog fully engulfed her.
We caught one more glimpse of the Rialto Bridge and the Grand Canal all lit up and then we headed back to Bologna.

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