Venice: Rialto Bridge, St. Mark’s Cathedral and Tower, Doge’s Palace

Venice is a knockout
Venice is a knockout

This is the first day of my first overseas trip since COVID shut things down. This trip starts with a visit to Venice (Venezia*). I am as thrilled to be here as an innately morose, neurotic, pessimistic person can possibly be while traveling in the midst of a pandemic.

To get way too picayune and pedantic, I took an overnight flight. When the plane reached the Atlantic, it was well before midnight local time at that longitude. So, technically, the first day of my first overseas trip after the the pandemic shut things down was yesterday. If you’d like even more boring and irrelevant information than that I could try to find out the brand of pepper served with the meal on the plane. But, never mind. You’re probably not interested. And if you are, what the heck is wrong with you?

I think this is my fourth time visiting Venice. Even in just my first half-day here on this trip, this city’s beauty reminds me of two things:

  1. I should have been here way more times than that by my age. The city is a knockout.
  2. I might have visited Venice more than that, but at my age I forget and lose count of things.

If only to protect Venice, we humans need to find a way to stop sea levels from rising much further. I’m not a scuba diver. I don’t want Venice to be permanently underwater.

And, yes, I recognize the hypocrisy of that statement. I flew here on a jet that spewed considerable greenhouse gases into the air. But, in my defence, I lost about fifteen or twenty pounds since my last overseas trip. So the plane probably burned a couple fewer molecules of jet fuel to fly me across the Atlantic this time than the last time I made that crossing.

Apropos of pretty much nothing, you might have noticed that I used a variation on “visit Venice” four times already in this entry, including this sentence. The redundancy probably annoys you. Sorry about that. I could have mixed it up a bit by changing one or two usages to a variation on “trip to Venice” or “in Venice,” but I’m trying to accumulate frequent alliteration points. For every twenty points you get to use one cliché guilt-free.

Hey, those are the rules. I don’t make them up. So, “visit Venice” it is. (That’s six.)

Venice Airport Transport

Venice Airport transport
Venice Airport transport

I know of three ways to get from Venice Airport (Marco Polo Airport) to the city: A bus or taxi can take you just to one outer fringe of the centre of the city. Or boats can take you to a few stops in the city’s beating heart. I didn’t know about third way until someone who shall remain my sister told me about it. I’m glad she did. I probably would have taken a taxi or bus otherwise because the availability of the boats isn’t obvious at the airport.

But in the heart of Venice vehicles are boats. And only boats. So there can’t be a more quintessentially Venetian way to get from the airport to the city than by boat. My hotel isn’t terribly far from the terminus of the road for motor vehicles, so a bus or taxi might have involved a little less of a walk. But, the boat felt more authentic.

Rialto Bridge

Rialto Bridge
Rialto Bridge

As is my wont, I did a fair bit of wandering today. Some of it was even intentional. A lot of it was because I didn’t check the map closely enough to see where the bridges were over the canals I needed to cross or where “streets” dead-ended. (“Street is in quotes for the benefit of people who think it can’t be as street if it allows only pedestrians and a few pushcarts.)

One sight I intended to and did go to was the Rialto Bridge, because, what’s a visit to Venice (seven) without seeing Rialto Bridge?

That was a trick question. A visit to Venice (eight) without seeing the Rialto Bridge is a visit to Venice (nine) without seeing the Rialto Bridge.

Actually, I went to and over the Rialto Bridge twice. But the second time was an accident, not an intent.

Rialto Bridge is as stately as ever. The white bridge crossing Venice’s Grand Canal has three pedestrian lanes: Two on the sides and one in the middle. Two rows of shops have their doors facing the middle pedestrian lane. There are no car lanes because there are no cars. Venice, remember. No cars.

St. Mark’s Basilica Bell Tower

A view of St. Mark's campanile
A view of St. Mark’s campanile

St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice has a bell tower (campanile). It’s not physically attached to the basilica. But there’s not much space between the two.

Surprisingly, I can’t recall going to the top of bell tower in any of my previous visits to Venice. It’s not surprising that I can’t remember. I forget, did I mention that I don’t remember things as well at my age as I used to?

What’s surprising is, if I’m right about not having gone up the bell tower before, that would have been very uncharacteristic for me. I love climbing towers. It’s not just the views that I love—although definitely that too. I love the challenge of climbing the tall, often narrow, old staircases of tall towers built before the invention of elevators. It proves to me that I can still do it. One day, I won’t be able to.

I went up this time. I was cheated. Not about the views. They’re spectacular. But there was no climb. They retrofitted an elevator into the centre of the tower. I imagine it’s were the stairs used to be when the campanile was built in the twelfth century and then rebuilt in the sixteenth century. I couldn’t see any doors to stairs. Nor was there room to fit a staircase.

When I got to the top and it became clear that there couldn’t possibly be any stairs, my neuroses kicked in. There is only one elevator. What happens, I wondered, if the elevator breaks down while people are at the top? Worse, what happens if the elevator breaks down while people are at the top and a fire breaks out.

Thoughts like those make it difficult to muster the full awe that the views deserve.

St. Mark’s Basilica

St. Mark's Basilica
St. Mark’s Basilica

If you were a regular reader of this travel journal before COVID put it largely on hiatus, you’ll know that when I visit old European cities I like to visit their centuries’ old churches. I find them impressive, if only because their architects and builders build such mammoth and overpowering structures with few of the modern day’s construction equipment.

That’s amazing to me. Not amazing enough to make me believe in God. But, still, amazing.

Interior of St. Mark's Basilica
Interior of St. Mark’s Basilica

There’s already way too many descriptions of old European churches in this journal, so I’ll keep this entry on St. Mark’s Basilica (Basilica San Marco) short. It’s an impressive old church.

A couple of the unique features of St. Mark’s Basilica are its Pala d’Oro and its exterior balcony that affords good views of St. Mark’s Square.

The Pala d’Ora is a large double-sided artwork behind the basilica’s high altar. One side is particularly spectacular, with intricate ceramic depictions on sheet gold. I wasn’t able to get a good picture of the Pala d’Ora. So you’ll just have to go to Venice and see it for yourself.

The exterior balcony that affords good views of St. Mark’s Square is an exterior balcony that affords good views of St. Mark’s Square. Duh.

View of St. Mark's Square
View of St. Mark’s Square

There is an entrance fee for the basilica. But it’s cheap. Only €3. However, if you want to see the Pala d’Oro, there’s an extra fee for that (€5). And there’s also a separate fee to go to the balcony (€7). Although, to be fair, that €7 additional fee also includes access to an interior balcony that overlooks the inside of the basilica and entry to a small museum that houses a few tile mosaics, sculptures and archeological finds.

Italy does not bury its head in the sand when it comes to COVID. With the exception of while eating at restaurants, masks are still required indoors here. And not just any mask. Most places require FFP2 masks, which are equivalent to our N95 masks. (So far, everyone has accepted the N95 masks I brought with me.)

The only exception I’ve seen to the only FFP2/N95 masks rule was at St. Mark’s Basilica. There, a sign out front said they’d accept either FFP2 or surgical masks.

Surgical masks aren’t as protective. Did they think that, because it’s a house of God, God will make up the difference in protection? If God wanted to be useful in that regard he shouldn’t have let SARS-CoV-2 infect us in the first place. Just saying.

Doge’s Palace

One of many artworks on walls
One of many artworks on walls

The Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale) is the former palace of the doge of what was then the Venetian republic. The doge was the highest of the high mucky-mucks back in the day.

Built in the 14th century, the Doge’s Palace oozes old-world charm. And when I say “old world,” I’m talking even before Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

One of many artistic ceilings
One of many artistic ceilings

And it wasn’t just his residence. The palace also contained rooms for administration uses, a senate meeting room, council meeting rooms, an armoury, and a prison. With the exception of the prison, the rooms were all richly decorated. I mean “richly” in both senses of the word.

Art adorned most of the walls. Many of the ceilings were sculpted and painted. I don’t mean painted egg-shell white. I mean painted with ornate images.

The rooms deserve more complete and more colourful descriptions than I’m giving them here. However, two things hold me back in taking it much farther:

A grand room
A grand room
  1. I’ve always been descriptive-rendering-challenged.
  2. I didn’t sleep much on the plane coming over and I went to the Doge’s Palace after doing all of the above stuff. I am horribly jet lagged and near-catatonic tired. That probably also partly explains my terseness in the St. Mark’s Basilica section above. That and the descriptive-rendering-challenged thing.

The behind-glass displays in the armoury taught me that grown men of that day dressed up in metal costumes and played games on narrow, almost two dimensional, wooden toy horses. Although, I might have misinterpreted the display. Did I mention I was and am tired?

Metal clad men playing on toy horses
Metal clad men playing on toy horses

I will add that one of the large rooms, Salla dello Scrutinio, contained a temporary exhibit by a contemporary artist, Anselm Kiefer. He designed his installation specifically for the Salla dello Scrutiny. It covers pretty well every square centimetre of the room’s walls.

His installation is subtly profoundly dark. It is textural and three-dimensional. Profoundness imbues the work. It would pair well with a bold full-bodied red wine, with a hint of oak and undertones of tobacco and cherries. That likely makes sense only to someone as sleep deprived and descriptive-rendering-challenged as I was when I saw it and am now. I clearly don’t have a clue as to what I’m talking about.

An Anselm Kiefer installation on one of the Salla dello Scrutinio walls
An Anselm Kiefer installation on one of the Salla dello Scrutinio walls

I will also add that, unlike the rest of the palace, the prison is, as you would expect it to be, bleak. It houses the famous Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri), an enclosed bridge that crosses one of Venice’s canals. The story goes that the bridge got it’s name because prisoners sighed as they took their last glimpse of Venice through its windows as they walked over it into the prison.

And, with that, I’m going to sigh and go off to sleep, but feel free to continue on and read the following, which I wrote earlier.

* Aside: Venice by any other name

On this trip, I’ll visit four cities with English names that are different from their local names:

  • Venice (Venezia),
  • Padua (Padova),
  • Genoa (Genova),
  • And Milan (Milano).

(I visited other such places in the past. See, for example, my trip to Seville (Sevilla). I might have noted the difference between the English and local names in the journal entries for those cities, but I didn’t expound on the irrationality of it.)

It makes no sense to me. Why don’t we call Venice “Venezia?” That’s what Italians call it. I can say “Venezia.” I probably pronounce it only vaguely similar to the way Italians say it. But, still, I can articulate it. And the way I pronounce it is likely much closer to the Italian pronunciation than “Venice.”

I might be wrong, but I imagine Italians prefer that I at least spell their city names as they do, even if my pronunciation is off. Nevertheless, English dictates that I use a different name

I understand why we need phonetic spellings of city names that use a different alphabet. But why do we need differently spelled names that don’t sound alike when we both use the Roman alphabet?

That having been whined, there may be instances when we can rationalize name differences. For example, if there were an Italian town named Cittàpazza I understand why we might call it Crazytown. According to Google translate, “crazy town” translates to città pazza in Italian. If the city name includes the name of an object or animal, sure, go ahead, do the translation.

But, what about France?

Not every non-anglophone country has different English and local-language place names. For instance, I might be forgetting some cities, but, at least for the most part, we’re cool with the spellings of French city names. Although, we might pronounce them differently. For example, I and other anglophones pronounce Paris as “Pair-iss.” Francophones, on the other hand, pronounce it approximately as “Pair-ee.” But we both spell it Paris.

It’s weird.

Wait. Do any Roman-alphabet languages spell Toronto as something else? That would annoy me. (Slightly off topic, it’s embarrassing that most Torontonians pronounce Toronto as “Trawna” or, for the less phonetically lazy, “Toronna.” Yet most out-of-towners pronounce it correctly. But that’s a rant for another day.)

In conclusion, the key point that I can’t possibly stress enough here is that one of my major life-dreams is that I’ll live long enough, and gain sufficient knowledge and wisdom, to at least once have a marginally useful thought. For now, I’m stuck with this dreck in my head.

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