Friday, April 8, 2011

Venice Day 2: More Surreal than We Imagined

Saturday, April 2

We woke up and we were treated to a typical carbohydrate, sugar heavy European breakfast in the Jewish Ghetto hotel.  After a boat load of baguettes, croissants, jam, butter, coffee, and juice we walked to the bus station to catch the vaporetto, or Venice waterbus.  It would take us on a 45 minute tour of the Grand Canal.  At about $8, this option made a lot more sense to us than a $100 gondola ride.  Clara had discovered a Rick Steves audio tour of the Grand Canal on the internet a week earlier.  Therefore, with iPods in hand, we enjoyed a running commentary of the palaces along the Grand Canal. 

Many palaces had a similar form.  A pillared limestone (water-proof) entrance off the water served as the property owner's personal port.  For example, the Turks had their own palace.  They would arrive from Constantinople with their goods from the East, dine on the second floor (made of brick), and spend the night on the third floor.  The architectural style that unites the Grand Canal is Venetian Gothic.  You can identify it through the Venetian pointed arches and clovers (similar to Doge's Palace). 

We finally arrived at the pillared gateway of St. Mark's Square.  Our principal stop for the day was Doge's Palace.  Seeing the endless line to enter, we fled to the nearby Correr (Venetian History) Museum to buy tickets for both sites (so we could enter Doge's palace later and skip the line).  The location of the Correr Museum opposite the Basilica, was built by Napoleon to enclose the square. 

When we arrived at Doge's Palace we admired the courtyard and lamented its policy of no photos inside.  What we would see inside would be the most spectacular ornamentation I have seen in Europe so far.  Doge's Palace was both the residence of the highest executive figure in Venice and the parliamentary halls of the Venetian Republic from about 1400 to 1700.  What was so interesting about the visit was learning about Venice's system of government and then seeing where the political action took place.

The Doge was elected by the city-state's registered voters.  He served for life as the ultimate figurehead.  His power was in his ability to influence each of the councils of which he was one voting member.  We first passed through the personal apartment of the Doge.  We were blown away by the frescoes painted on the walls and the golden ornamentation of each rooms' ceilings.  Then we entered the upper floor, where each body of the government had a separate room.  The culminating room (several hours into the visit) was jaw-dropping.  Its function was of the Great Council, a group of 2,000 members of the voting class that gathered for electoral duties.  In this room is the largest painting in the world: Tintoretto's "Paradiso," a religious scene with an infinite number of figures.  Around the room, each Doge is pictured with a list of accomplishments.  One black veil covers one Doge, who had betrayed the Republic in a failed coup.

Inside Doge's Palace:  Great Council Room with "Paradiso"

Exhausted from the magnificence of each room, we continued to the dark side of Doge's Palace.  First, the judicial chambers, then across the famous "Bridge of Sighs" to the prisons (view from which is below).  It was fascinating that attached to the place of government was the prison of Venice.  The most famous inmate was Giacomo Casanova, the ultimate playboy of Venice. 

Exhausted from the visit, we raced to lunch.  Nicole had actually fainted briefly when we had completed the visit.  The carbohydrate breakfast had produced a physical crash.  We got her a muffin at the palace cafe, and continued to our scenic canal-side pizza lunch at Academia bridge.  After regrouping, we were in no mood to stroll through another museum.  Rather we completed last minute shopping and headed back to the Jewish Ghetto.

That night we ate pasta along a canal in the Jewish Ghetto with Venetians.  I will not forget the complex taste of this pasta; some of the best I have had.  We were also serenaded by an accordion player.  We picked up our last scoop of gelato (tiramisu-flavored for me).  Clara and I were crazy enough to go back to St. Mark's Square to check out the scene at night.  I am so glad we did; this memory will stick out.  The orchestras of the various cafes played while Venetians and tourists alike strolled sea side.  It was surreal, the music making it like a dream.  Everything was beautifully lit.  Clara and I fled at midnight, just as the bronze men on the clock tower chimed the bell twelve times. 

To see pictures of this day, click "Venice Day 2 - 4-2" at

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