Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Venice in a Day 7-21-09

We took the train from Pordenone to Venezia Santa Lucia, the only station on the island of Venice. Knowing we needed to be back home by late afternoon, we were on a mission to see the famous Rialto bridge and St. Mark's Cathedral. As soon as you emerge from the train station, you are rewarded with a stunning view of the Grand Canal. You will see the Ponte degli Scalzi (Bridge of Barefoot Ones) to the left and San Simeone Piccolo (the church of Saint Small Simeone) to the right. Here you can catch the Vaporetto (public water bus) to take you down the Grand Canal.

Opting to walk the 30 minutes to the Rialto, we set out across the Ponte degli Scalzi and quickly found ourselves in the narrow labyrinth that is Venice. Around just about every corner are signs for "Per Rialto" and "Per San Marco" with arrows guiding you in that direction. Closed in by tall buildings in a narrow alley way, there is no other way of knowing where you might be! Just follow the signs, enjoy the many bridges you come to along the way, and eventually you make it to your destination!

Passing restaurants, Venetian blown glass shops, and many wine shops, we made our way up and over many small bridges with narrow canals on our quest to find the Rialto.

The Ponte di Rialto is one of only four bridges spanning the Grand Canal. It is also the oldest and most famous bridge in the city. As you approach the massive bridge, you just know this is the Rialto. Suddenly the quiet of the narrow alleyways and peaceful canals gives way to the bustling center of the city. You look up to see three sets of steps leading up the bridge. There are two walkways along the outer balustrades and a center walkway lined with shops selling jewelry, glass, and other tourist trinkets. At the top, your climb is forgotten as you look out at the Grand Canal littered with boats, gondolas, and water taxis making their way up and down the river.

We continued on our way to San Marco. From the Rialto, the canal doubles back on itself along a stretch known the La Volta (the bend) and then it widens out. You are, of course, winding back through the labyrinth of tall building and narrow alleyways coming upon tiny canals. At these tiny bridges, stairs often lead down to elaborate gondolas moored in the waterway.

Finally the narrow alleys open up to the Piazza San Marco. Walking around to face the facade of the Basilica San Marco, you are enchanted by architectural and decorative styles of the East and the West. Directly above the main entrance are copies of the famous bronze horses brought from Constantinople in 1204. The original horses were removed for preservation and can be seen in the museum on the 2nd floor of the basilica.

Like many churches in Italy, you must be properly attired otherwise may be turned away. Women's shoulder should be covered and skirts must reach the knee. There is also no photography allowed in the cathedral. Looping around the cathedral, we admired the dome, mosaics, and the Pala d'Oro. The Pala d'Oro is the most valuable treasure of San Marco. It was originally commissioned in Byzantium in AD 976 and consists of 250 enamel paintings on gold foil and is embellished with pearls, rubies, sapphires, and amethysts.

We then made our way up to the 2nd floor where mosaics and the original bronze horses are on display in the Museo Marciano. Here you can also see a view over the inside of the basilica and then wander around the balcony for views over Piazza San Marco and the pier.

Leaving San Marco, we headed down the pier which is lined with gelatarias and shops. We walked all the way to the Campo Arsenale (Italian Navy zone) and looped back around to the pier. From here we headed in the opposite direction toward the Accademia. Tired and ready to head back, we again followed the signs "Per Ferrovia" toward the ferries and train station.

Back up and over the Rialto then many more bridges and finally collapsing on the train to take us back to Pordenone I made a mental note to invest in one of those massaging foot baths! Even though it was 90 degrees, it was a spectacular day in Venezia!