Venice in elegant decay

Venice, Italy

We arrived in Rome in the morning of April 27, and spent a few hours in the airport waiting for our delayed flight to Venice. It had been a long cold night on the plane and we were in a dream-like state–despite the sudden delight in having access to fantastic and cheap cappuccinos in the airport (we’d each had 3 within the first 2 hours on the ground in Italy). We were fighting nodding off in our cozy and lovely stretched-leather chairs in the airport. I remember staring at Bryan’s watch face willing my eyes to focus, while trying to listen to the announcements in Italian. “Are we delayed? Are we boarding?”

Bryan. Cappuccinos in Rome's FCO airport waiting for our flight to Venice
Bryan. Cappuccinos in Rome’s FCO airport waiting for our flight to Venice

The flight finally made it to Venice around 4 p.m. and we figured out the water bus easily. For 13 Euro each (including luggage), we’d get transported to San Marco Square. We followed a small stream of people out into the misty, windy Venetian afternoon and boarded a floating waiting room. About 10 minutes later, a boat pulled alongside, threw down a metal bridge between the boat and our waiting room. The trick was in getting the luggage across the divide, along with yourself, in the wind, quickly, because people were waiting; and both the boat and the waiting room were tossing in the waves…in different directions. I gave up on any grace, but made it over with everything in tact.

Little did we know, we’d spend another 2 hours getting from the airport to the San Marco stop. The canals were choppy, so the windows were closed to prevent splashing waves from reaching us. We were so drowsy–staring out those foggy windows. We tried to make out where we were, what we were passing and yet it was like a dream. I remember seeing an island of graves, hearing and feeling the boat-bus wash against the stops and the captain throw down the ramp, smelling the fresh sea air, and a prevailing smell of mint, watching a massive tour ship cross our path, and feeling the sea’s spray on my face when we opened the window for a clear view.

Dreamy ride to San Marcos
Dreamy ride to San Marcos

Finally, it’s as if we awoke from one dream and stepped out into a another dream–an ornate little miniature world come to life. We were in San Marco. There was the Basilica di San Marco. It reminded me of that old-timey carousel from Opryland. There was the Piazza San Marco and the long buildings with porticoes. There were the pigeons, the pillars, the tourists.

San Marco Square at daybreak
San Marco Square at daybreak

I’d read in a guidebook that Venice defies description, and so it does. It was drizzling and we followed a small map. Trying to find our way, and yet in awe by the canals, the gondolas, the gelato stands…

Our Hotel al Gazzettino was off a small canal, in a narrow alley. We’d splurged on a room with 2 tiny balconies over a canal–and wow what a room! Gold and blue bedspread, drapes and matching fabric wallpaper, white ornate furniture, a tiny TV that we never got to work (but who needs it in Venice!) and a bathroom as big as the room itself. We threw open the windows and stood out on the balcony watching the gondolas beneath.

Our room at Hotel al Gazzettino
Our room at Hotel al Gazzettino
View from our room
View from our room
Another view from our room
Another view from our room

It would rain almost the whole time we were in Venice, but the rain seemed to suit the place. With 117 Islands, 150 canals and 410 bridges–water is everywhere. Water stood at the entrance to beautiful old San Marco, easing into the delicate mosaic floor. Elevated sidewalks were set-up to keep the tourists’ feet dry. The wet streets and the sound of the rain hitting the water was becoming to Venice.

The Grand Canal
The Grand Canal
Twilight and rain in San Marco's
Twilight and rain in San Marco’s

There are no cars in Venice–just boats. Boats for everything–police, mail, ambulance, buses, taxis, delivery, laundry… The Grand Canal has been described as the “finest street in the world” with a parade of old buildings now in elegant decay. Hundreds of gracious, ornate old buildings tilted this way and that line the banks…the water at their front doors. Boats are parked, tied up like Old West horses in front of the buildings. There is a smell of mildew and the sea, of old wood and coffee. Laundry hangs, pigeons wait, and Venetians tend to their potted gardens on tiny balconies and roof tops.

Posts in the Grand Canal
Posts in the Grand Canal
Gondolier
Gondolier

Our days were filled by wandering, watching, eating. We found a number of little restaurants–some with just 5 tables–serving homemade tortellini, lasagna, caprese salads, and delicious red wines. Cin! Cin! And there was the coffee, and the gelato. Grocery stores served fresh sandwiches and tasty paprika chips. We found a place selling wine for 3 euro–siphoned out of a giant cask and put into your plastic water bottle. We would sit on the banks of the Grand Canal, or in the coffee shop, watching the world go by. One day we shopped along the double-sided aisles of the Rialto Bridge…buying leather journals in a shop so small that the workshop above had to be accessed with a cedar ladder straight up.

Carol and Bryan on the Rialto Bridge
Carol and Bryan on the Rialto Bridge
The wine shop. Fill your own plastic water bottle with wine
The wine shop. Fill your own plastic water bottle with wine
Carol and cappuccino in Venice
Carol and cappuccino in Venice
San Marco and street lanterns
San Marco and street lanterns

San Marco was a highlight. No pictures allowed. The place is filled to the brim with treasures (from 1075, all ships returning from abroad had, by law, to bring back a precious gift to adorn “the House of St. Mark”): There are hundreds of relics of bones and bits in fancy glass jars, jewel encrusted walls, tiny-pieced golden mosaics on the walls and ceiling, and a loggia where 4 horses keep watch over the piazza before them. The ancient basilica’s floor is incredible with thousands of tiny mosaic tiles and so warped it could be described as hilly. I’m surprised that all the mosaics stay put in the floods and warping. There was so much to look at, it was stunning. That old basilica sits there day in and day out watching the crowds go by, feeling the water seeping into its foundation and holding tight to its treasures plundered and received 800 years ago. It is, by far, one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen. I bought rosaries there–old marbled glass to remind me of the colors of the floor and walls.

San Marco Basilica
San Marco Basilica

We took a gondola ride during a clear hour one afternoon. The light in the canals was spectacular–diffused and rose gold. It’s about 90 euro for an hour ride around the area–and worth every single penny. Our gondolier, Ricardo, took us out into the Grand Canal for a pass under the Rialto Bridge. He showed us how the water’s high tide breeched the first floors of many buildings and described how many of the owners were abandoning the first floors of their homes–no longer using the canal-side doors. I imagined rooms with extravagant fabric wallpapers and gilded crown mouldings–standing lonely and empty now except for a few heavy pieces of furniture sacrificed to the flood waters.

View from a gondola
View from a gondola
Gondola ride - Venice
Carol and Bryan – Gondola ride – Venice
Bridges, canals, and bridges: View from a gondola in Venice
Bridges, canals, and bridges: View from a gondola in Venice
In a gondola on the Grand Canal
In a gondola on the Grand Canal
Looking up from a gondola
Looking up from a gondola

On one of our last nights, we stood there listening to the violins and violas play the old songs in the Piazza. There was the tinkling of champagne glasses and delicate cups. We could see the rooms above with their red velvet damask wallpaper, dripping chandeliers and fancy dressed customers. Yet, the water still stood at the threshold of San Marco’s, lapping against those gold mosaics. “It’s like the Titanic,” Bryan said. Grand and sinking into legend.

Piazza San Marco
Piazza San Marco
Looking down from our room: Gondolier waits
Looking down from our room: Gondolier waits
A back lane in Venice
A back lane in Venice
Back streets in Venice
Back streets in Venice
San Marco's square
San Marco’s square
Bride in San Marco piazza
Bride in San Marco piazza
Carol on the Venice balcony
Carol on the Venice balcony
Carol and Bryan on San Marco's
Carol and Bryan on San Marco’s
Carol and Bryan overlooking the Piazza
Carol and Bryan overlooking the Piazza
Italy flag
Italy flag
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A day’s journey to Venice

A day’s journey to Venice – April 26, 2009

Chicago O’Hare moments before a big trip is simply delicious. People watching almost at it’s finest. And the excitement of the journey right upon you. And this amazing sense of peace in knowing that I’m packed (for better or for worse), I have the boarding pass, and both me and the plane are at the gate. We’re going!

Preparing had come down to the wire. The flight was at 5 p.m. and as of 10 a.m. that morning–I still was not packed. I couldn’t decide what to take.

Issue #1–How to look stylish enough for Italy and be comfortable in what promised to be weather ranging from rainy 50-60s to sunny 70-80s? I settled on comfortable shoes (Finn Comfort flat brown suede clogs, brown Dansko clogs and black suede dressy janes), a cotton jersey dress and a few trendy cotton jersey tops with tanks, a lavender sweater, lightweight cream fleece, a white scarf, rain slicker, and jeans. Done.

And then there was Issue #2–Camera gear. The Nikon D80, filters, 50mm lens, Lensbaby + accessories, the Holga, the point and shoot Olymus, the Video Camera…and about 48 GB of memory cards and 5 hours of video tape.  It all went in the bag.

We called a cab and waited outside. Belle stood in the door staring at us–the worry wrinkles on the top of her head seemed more pronounced. She looked sad and I worried. Seventeen nights apart from my dear old Dalmatian lady. On the way back, the airplane showed Marley and Me. Had I seen that movie on the way over, I might have turned right around for home upon landing in Italy.

Reminder–exit rows on international flights are COLD. It was -80F outside and about 32 inside. Yow. Sleepless, cold night.

Belle's last look
Belle’s last look as we leave for Italy – 4/26/09
At ORD
At ORD
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