Saturday, November 23, 2013

Veni Vidi Venezia!

We are not usually in Europe at this time of year, but Matthew came back in September for work, and as we both have birthdays in November, we decided I should come over for a couple of weeks and the two of us should fly over the Italian Alps and down to Venice to celebrate! It would be my first visit there. Over the next almost three days, we were blessed with so many adventures and lucky chances that an "interim blog post" seemed in order...

We knew things were going to be great when we stepped onto the water taxi that took us straight to our hotel in the San Marco area. As we sped across the laguna, a giant full moon shone down on us, lighting our way through the dark waters. It was still casting its magic as we found our way to Harry's Bar for dinner, by way of the Piazza San Marco -- remarkably empty at 8 pm.

Sunday began with sparkling sunshine and blue skies and with the arrival at our hotel of Paola Baldari, sculptor, art teacher and close friend of one of our French movie chums. She came bearing a lovely gift box of Venetian biscuits and invited us to let her show us some of her favorite parts of Venice!

We began at the historic Gran Teatro La Fenice, known to all who enjoy the Guido Brunetti mysteries as the scene of murder and mayhem, but to Venetians as a beautiful opera and concert hall. It has burned twice, the most recent fire being in 1996, when instead of paying penalties for being late with repairs, the company doing the work chose to set fire and destroy it! Happily, it is now rebuilt, restored to its former glory, standing serenely in its quiet little square.

There then followed a slow stroll through the back alleys and waterways of Venice that took us over every kind of little bridge...

...past windows with all manner of comic and grisly masks on display...

...even HM the Queen had found her way there, with little animated figures on display that waved regally and little corgis whose tails wagged with equal gravitas!

The weather being so glorious, every gondolier was out and about, poling his customers this way and that -- and not above talking on his mobile at the same time.

Us November birthday kids were pretty happy with all of this!

Soon we were in sight of the Rialto Bridge, arching over the Grand Canal.
The view from the top of the arch was just spectacular!

Over the other side, we came to the oldest church in Venice, San Giacomo di Rialto, parts of which date to the 11th century. Legend has it that it was first consecrated the year that Venice was founded. Today, it's mostly a 17th century restoration and overshadowed by bigger churches throughout the city. I loved the fact, though, that it has held on to its original place in the city. The lovely sundial clock-face casts a warm aspect onto the surrounding "campo".

Outside another church in another nearby square, this couple posed prettily in classic Venetian costume, parasol raised against the lovely November sun.

Another turn, another bridge over another little canal, with the gondolier ducking his head as he goes under. It was about here that I really began to realize what a magical place Venice is. There are no cars, no bikes, a few baby strollers and an occasional wheelchair. Everyone is either on foot, or in a boat. How cool is that!

And this is where we were about to make the switch from walking to paddling.

Paola had arranged to do a big walkabout with us that would end at a water's edge, where her Venetian friend Dario was waiting in his wooden boat, built by his father some years ago.

Suddenly we were afloat, poling along quiet backways...

...past the family laundry hanging out to dry...
 ...across the Grand Canal to reach...

...another, quieter backwater.
After an hour of meandering past one beautiful stretch of water after another, we pulled in to shore in the Cannaregio area, tied up, went ashore and had just the best lunch at the Osteria Al Bacco!

Here, I had my first taste of one of Venice's most typical antipasto dishes "Sarde in Saor", sweet and sour sardines that have been floured and fried and slathered with the sweetest, softest onions, sultanas, pine nuts and a touch of vinegar. Yum!

After lunch, on a broader stretch of water, Matthew tried poling the boat -- trickier than it looks!

With Dario back at the helm we returned to quieter waters for a while, drifting happily along, totally captivated by this place.

Monday, a little cloudy but dry, we devoted to the Piazza San Marco, where, on our own, we visited the Museo Correr, overlooking the Piazza, which gives an excellent introduction to the history of the city. It also houses some stunning Renaissance paintings by Carpaccio, Bellini and others.

In this 3-panel work by Leonardo Boldrini, the center panel has one of the most adorable images of  Baby Jesus I've ever seen. Click on the photo to enlarge and check him out -- he's got one hand behind his head, his legs casually crossed. He hasn't a care in the world...yet....

My favorite, though, was this Madonna and Child by Giovanni Bellini, unusual in its day in that the Madonna's veil covers only part of her head, and is fastened with a brooch.

We took ourselves off for lunch in the Castello area, looking for another little known restaurant, Osteria da Alberto. It's very easy to get lost along these narrow streets that suddenly open up...

...and you find yourself in a large square...

...which keeps opening up, with yet another glorious church coming into view!  I really loved these almost cinematic reveals.

Back to the San Marco area after lunch to visit the Palazzo Ducale, the seat of power of the City State of Venice. It did not disappoint!

From the imposing marble stairs... the glittering Golden Staircase...

...with its exquisite detail that begged for further scrutiny.

And this was all before we even got to the first of many reception chambers, with frescoes by Tintoretto, canvases by Tiepolo, ceiling panels by Veronese...

...climaxing with the Grand Council Chamber, 50 meters long, 25 meters wide, which held 2000 members in the 16th century!

The scale of this room just takes your breath away. Portraits of the Doges form a frieze around the top of the walls, there are more works by Tintoretto, by Veronese, by Bassano. Sitting on a bench against the wall, you are transported to a time of immense power, opulence, politics, corruption, and, in the end, downfall. What a place!

We were awakened Tuesday morning at 7 am with sirens wailing and horns blaring for about 10 minutes -- a warning to the residents of Venezia that today the "Acqua Alta" would be upon us -- high tides accompanied by winds that submerge streets throughout the city.

We tried to make our way to the Accademia Museum, through a torrential rainstorm, but without wellies, it became impossible. Afraid we would be stranded, we retreated to our hotel to await our water taxi ride back to the airport.

As the boat made its way along the Grand Canal, we could see how far the water penetrates during these high tides. Definitely need those wellies!

We also got a last look at some of the really beautiful palazzos that line the canal. When they were built, the main entrance was, of course, from the canal.  Their imposing facades, even on a rainy "acqua alta" day still speak to their days of glory. And, really, the whole city does. We cannot wait to go back!

Meanwhile, in the City of Lights, Christmas is just around the corner, it's cold and wet, but the rue Montorgeuil keeps us cheerful with its holiday lights. I return to California in a few days, Matthew will follow for the holidays, and we will be back here by the end of January.

Happy Holidays!


  1. So lovely! Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Thanks for sharing. I never made it there and regret it whenever I see pictures like these. Again, thanks for sharing.

  3. Janet...This was magnificent! We've talked about going to Venice for years but have always been discouraged by the frequent stories of intolerable crowds...The two of you seem to have found a fascinating remedy...see Venice in November! Belated Happy Birthday to both fo you! We'll be in Paris in May, hope to see you then.

  4. Just lovely. Looks like you had a wonderful trip. You got a lit more sigh seeing done than we did x

  5. Wonderful photos, Janet; I'm amazed that Venice can
    look empty.

  6. My words would be insufficient. What a city. And your photos and commentary made me almost feel I was there, too.

  7. Amazing blog Auntie Janet brought back memories xx