Venice Wowed Us at First Sight, Italy
On our last morning before heading to Venice from Agriturismo Forzello in Rovigo, Italy, Elsa the farm cat was pummeling the shutter of the kitchen window at the crack of dawn.
Our farm stay included free access to the archeological dig being undertaken on the property. After breakfast, we took some time to view the uncovered evidence of several aspects of Roman life.
Leaving for Venice, we had to bisect the Po River wetlands once again. Right off the bat, Bob and I pulled the car over when we spotted a Northern Lapwing. It was our first of the trip so it warranted a few photos.
Northern Lapwings spend winter months as far south as North Africa, northern India and even into parts of China.
By lunch time, we found ourselves overlooking a long narrow stretch of water where an assemblage of Great White Egrets, Little Egrets and a Gray Heron were fighting for fishing rights while staking their claims on the rocks overlooking the water.
After enjoying our sandwiches, we set the GPS for Venice. It was a straight run north, and we drove right to the parking lot that Bob had researched the night before. With our downsized collection of luggage, we walked directly to the water buses otherwise called vaporettos.
Bob and I were agog at the collection of water taxis and service boats zipping through the water in the shadow of huge ocean liners that were pulled up to the docks.
And so our adventure began with Bob and me seated comfortably inside one such vessel. Forty-five minutes passed in no time as we rode along the Grand Canal to San Marco Square so taken were we with the fantastical world of Venice sliding by on both sides.
Throngs of people boarded and disembarked at about 10 different stops along the way.
We were amazed the speed with which helmsmen could navigate the densely packed canals where boats of every ilk were dashing about.
We saw boats transporting a variety of wares, scores of water taxis, vaporettos and dozens more tour boats, all joined by individual gondolas plying the waters with their passengers.
Rounding a bend in one canal gave Bob and me our first taste of the historical heritage of Venice, and already we were smitten.
For we, the uninitiated, Venice was magical, a place where buildings appeared to float on the water, and magnificent facades of elegant edifices rose stately from the choppy surface of the canal.
Narrow side canals provided some essence of the maze of waterways that link all areas of Venice. There are 150 canals in the city that allow residents to navigate between the 118 islands upon which Venice is built.
Bob and I disembarked at San Marco landing, from which we had a glimpse across the water of St. Mark’s Campanile, the bell tower for St. Mark’s Basilica. It is situated on San Giorgio Maggiore Island.
St. Mark’s Campanile is the tallest structure in Venice. Located in St. Mark’s Square, the original campanile served as a watchtower before it collapsed in 1902. The new bell tower was completed in 1912.
Bob and I were anxious to divest ourselves of our suitcases. Navigating the busy promenade with our luggage in tow was a challenge given how choked it was with day trippers pouring out of the various cruise ships.
Adding to the complexity of getting to our accommodation was the endless number of bridges over the canals.
Miraculously, we managed to find our hotel with no problem.
Our room was upgraded to one in a neighboring 4-star hotel because of issues with the water supply. After getting settled, we hurried to tour the immediate area since we had a couple of daylight hours left in the day.
Looking out our bedroom window afforded us a lovely view of Campo San Zaccaria complete with the Church of San Zaccaria, a 15th century former monastic church.
This church was built between 1458-1515 and is dedicated to St. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptiste. It also houses the most famous work by Giovanni Bellini, the San Zaccaria altarpiece.
In order to get our bearings for the next day’s exploration, Bob and I set off to familiarize ourselves with the lay of the calles (alleys).
We opted out of the mainstream on the primary promenade and targeted the lesser used alleyways removed from San Marco Square.
It was there that we got a glimpse into the lives of ordinary Venetians. Because of the high cost of living and transformation of many local markets into souvenir boutiques, Venice is home to fewer and fewer permanent residents.
A chuckle bubbled from our lips when Bob entered one archway for there was barely clearance above his head.
A relaxed atmosphere surrounded us as we poked about, and surprisingly, dead end alleys sometimes brought us up short.
One building that Bob and I happened upon was the Venice Arsenal. The arsenal was one of the most important places in all of Venice since the 12th century. It is where all merchant and warships were built. The 2,000 workers could build a galley in just 24 hours. The two lions flanking the porta magna, the main entrance gate, were looted from ancient Greece in the 17th century.
There was a time when the only vessels utilizing the canals were gondolas. With the volume of tourists plaguing Venice now, more and more motorized boats have been put into service and threaten the peace and tranquility of the islands.
Bob and I were impressed with the renaissance feel of Venice due in large part to the heritage evident in the architecture. Centuries old and unchanged, most edifices date to the 13th and 18th centuries. Strict laws govern the preservation of the 500-year-old buildings.
As the afternoon waned, it was evident that street hawkers were closing up shop for the day. Bob and I enjoyed a leisurely dinner before setting off to sample the romance of Venice under the stars.
Canals had grown quiet and the artfully illuminated buildings cast shimmering reflections onto the inky surface of the water.
Displays of Murano glass glowed in bright shop windows demanding our appraisal and admiration of its beautiful forms and colours.
It was the melodic strains of orchestral music that lured us to St. Mark’s Square, Piazza San Marco. An evening in Venice would not be complete without relishing some of the music composed at St. Mark’s Basilica during the Renaissance.
With thousands of lights twinkling in Saint Mark’s Square, Bob and I were tempted to sit a spell under the stars and be entertained by the musicians installed around the perimeter of the piazza.
With a soft onshore breeze wafting over us, and waves gently lapping along the nearby promenade, the ambience was romantic and reflective as appropriate to the significance of the location. In the days when Venice was its own republic, the city was referred to as la serenissima, the most serene.
Piazza San Marco is thought to be one of the grandest squares in the world. Imposing porticos of public buildings form 3 sides of the square, while Basilica San Marco with its crown of domes and array of arches forms the 4th side.
Basilica San Marco is an important religious landmark because it has held the remains of St. Mark since 829. Prior to that, it was the chapel of the Doges, the Dukes who symbolized the sovereignty of the Venetian state. The church is attached to the Doges Palace.
As the city was winding down for the evening with gondolas neatly moored in a row, so Bob and I were ready to call it a night.
Wandering back to our hotel, many glittering shop windows dazzled us. We had much to investigate the next day.