As beautiful as you could imagine
08/01/2010 - 08/01/2010
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We woke up early this morning and made our train no problem. When we got to Venice, we took a vaporetto from the train station to our hotel. It’s basically the public bus system, except that the buses are boats! It’s impossible not to be immediately struck by the beauty down every side street in Venice. When I say street, I really mean river as it seems that the sidestreets are tiny rivers just as often as they are actually streets. Spanning the Grand Canal that we took as it snakes through the middle of Venice were two beautiful bridges that we went under. I later learned that there are in fact four bridges spanning the canal, with one that was completed as recently as 2008. The good news is that because we were so close to Piazza San Marco, the main piazza in Venice we didn’t have far to walk with our bags to our hotel.
Literally right outside of our hotel is a gondola pickup and after we dropped off our bags, we had a while until check-in and sat there for a while to watch a few dozen people getting on and off gondolas. We ended up being pretty hungry and were surprised to find a cheap sandwich place nearby after reading in Frommers how expensive Venice is. Then, we stopped back at the hotel to check in.
We walked around Piazza San Marco looking at a bunch of the major sites in Venice. I immediately recognized the Campanile di San Marco because its on the cover of my Frommer’s book. I’m glad I found it, because I had been wondering what the heck was on the front cover of the book since I got it. From the looks of it, there is going to be a concert in the Piazza tonight. The piazza is lined with expensive shops and restaurants. Many of the restaurants have their own little ensembles playing music while you eat, from a pianist, to a 10 person band. Needless to say, we didn’t even think about going to one of those places. At one of them, I saw a 8.50 euro hot dog on the menu. That’s almost 12 dollars! We went into St. Mark’s basilica, which was pretty unbelievable because the inside is almost entirely covered in gold. Also, there are beautiful mosaics everywhere, not only inside but also outside the basilica because they can stand up to the weather which makes the outside unique in its colorfulness. The mosaics are unbelievable because you would swear they were paintings until you got up close to them. Inside the basilica is the Pala d’Oro, a 10 foot by 4 foot altar screen made of gold and set with 300 emeralds, 300 rubies, 400 garnets, 100 amethysts and 1,300 pearls. While the basilica admission was free, you had to pay 2 euros just to see this screen, but it was recommended in Frommer’s so we did it. It was definitely cool to look at, but it was kind of ridiculous that they made you pay just to look at it.
From reading about Venice, I knew that there weren’t as many concentrated sights to see in Venice but instead that you would appreciate it the most walking around to admire its beauty. With that, he recommended two major shopping strolls in Venice, so we set off from Piazza San Marco toward Campo Morosini ducking in shops and taking plenty of pictures along the way. I can truly say that Venice is the most beautiful of any of the places we have visited, every side street and river included. The only thing about Venice is that it seems that every single street is also filled with tourists and tourist-centric shops. My favorite part of this trip has been finding the places in the city that are away from the rest of the tourists and exploring the real city. In Venice, that just doesn’t seem possible as it is so small and yet brimming with tourists. If anyone actually lives on this island, I would be surprised. The walk took much less time than we expected, so we crossed the Ponte dell’Accademia bridge and continued toward the Punta di Dogana which is at the end of the Canal Grande and looks out onto the city. We sat there for quite a while right at the tip with our feet in the water admiring the view.
It’s crazy to see all of the buildings here look to be on the brink of crumbling. It definitely adds to the charm of the place, but also makes you wonder how long much longer they’ll last. Apparently, Piazza San Marco floods often and we even saw a marker near our hotel that marked the height of a flood 50 or so years ago that was about 3 feet off the ground! We also saw a picture in one of the shops along the way of Piazza San Marco so flooded that Gondolas were in there! We eventually walked back to Piazza San Marco which was easy enough to navigate with plenty of signs pointing us back.. Its great to live so close to the Piazza as these signs make it impossible to get lost. Once we were back, we headed toward another bridge, the Rialto Bridge, which is lined with shops along the way. This particular stroll even has a name, the Merceri. Once we got to the Rialto, we had worked up quite the appetite and looked around at the restaurants nearby on either side of the canal. Boy is Venice expensive. One of the menus we looked at had French fries as an appetizer for 5 euros (7 bucks)!
We ended up finding a restaurant that was semi-reasonably priced that had a tomato and artichoke pizza that Kristine had been craving. I had a veggie pasta dish that was actually really good. I noticed that in Italy, they put far less sauce on their pasta but its still loaded with flavor. It takes some getting used to but I’ve been enjoying it so far. One more thing that is evident is that everything at Italian restaurants comes out unbelievably fast. Every restaurant we have been to has been the same story. Getting the check on the other hand is another story. It is nice that they let you sit around and relax after your meal without making you feel like rushed, but as soon as you get your food, it’s impossible to find a waiter. They don’t come around to ask how your food is and make it very difficult to flag them down for the check. Some restaurants want you to head to the front register to pay, but it’s difficult to know when that is the case (unlike at home when its pretty much only at diner-type restaurants). By the time we finally got the check, we had to rush to get to the Campanile di San Marco to make it there by sunset. We were happy to find that there were no lines to get up to the tower but quickly found out why: a whopping 8 euros each (11 bucks) for the elevator to the top and no option to take the stairs. We bit the bullet and spent quite a while at the top of the tower. The views were incredible.
When we got down to the bottom of the tower, we were just in time to see some Italian military take down the flags from the flag poles in the Piazza San Marco which was pretty cool. Then we headed back to the hotel to plan for the coming day since our flight to Barcelona didn’t leave until 11pm and also bought our plane tickets to go home. We were between two of the cheapest flights, one laving on Thursday morning which was cheaper and also would get me home in time for my mom’s birthday. On the downside, that left us only two days in Barcelona since our flight on the third day left in the early afternoon, leaving us little time for sightseeing. The other flight was an extra $100 and left Friday night, giving us basically two extra days in Barcelona, the downside was an 8 hour layover in Dublin and missing mom’s birthday. We ended up going with the cheaper earlier flight and vowed to wake up bright and early every morning to get the most out of our two days in Barcelona. Then we read emails from two of my friends on recommendations for things to do in Barcelona, which was a great source of information since they both spent semesters abroad there. On tap for our last day in Venice is the Gallerie dell’Accademia and the Ducal Palace. Off to bed!