walking the labyrinth

Venice Travel Blog

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In the Dorsoduro District, near the Piazzale Roma

A labyrinth of enchantments.  Grandiose and majestic architechture, the gothic alongside the baroque.  The splendour of the renaissance mingled with the magnificence of the Byzantine.  Greek churches, Jewish Ghettos, it is truly the most unique city.

The adventure began at the Piazzale Roma, which is where we had to park our vehicle.  On the western side of the city, it is the starting off point for all travelers arriving via motorvehicle; with Park houses and parking lots filled to capacity.  We were lucky to get a spot on the top floor of one of the park houses, for the cost of 20 Euros.  Seeing the mass of people and luggage, we were sure to change our minds about staying the night in venice.

with no particular goal in mind, we began our trek into this city of enchantments.

  as the city is seperated into districts, called sestieri, i will break our route into segments. we made a right and were walking in the district of santa croce, which was quite mellow and devoid of tourist traffic.  It was a wonderful way to begin our aquaintance with the city; observing locals sipping espresso in the cafes, and watching boats in the canals delivering wares to the tiny shops.  I  was truly amazed at the size and scale of the buildings, colors faded and facades crumbling, though adding a rustic beauty. 

We came upon the Canale Della Guidecca, in the Dorsoduro district, where the buildings began to take on a more grandiose appearance.  Across the canal we could see San Giorgio Maggiore, a 16th century church, situated on an island all by itself.

  I have read that the island is a perfect place for memorable views of the city, though we were eager to press on and discover what else lay in store.  Though we did not cross the canal to visit the church, I could see what a gorgeous testament of faith it was.  

A beautiful sunny day made our passage easy, our footsteps light, but also brought out the smells of the city.  With the buildings erected on top of pilings driven into the mud, and the buildings being so close to sea level, not hard to imagine the smells wafting into our nostrils from the canal.  Though I saw a sign that stated swimming was allowed in the water, I doubted any person would take venice up on that offer.  My friends in Germany claimed that there was no sewage system in venice, and that waste products were pumped into canals, and swept out to sea by the adriatic.

  My researches have turned up little, except that entire canals have been drained/emptied so that engineers could work on the plumbing.  That is almost unbelievable to me.  More unbelievable is how Venice went from chamber pots to modern plumbing, not being on land - so to speak.

Still on the Guidecca canal, we cut through a narrow alleway and ended up on rio terra dei catacumeni, where we stopped for cokes.  The cost for two cans of coke: 7 euros. roughly $9.00.  To our right was Campo della Salute.   We crossed the small stone bridge and walked to the front of this beautiful 17th century church, situated on the canale di san marco.

walking along the Giudecca Canal
  In contrast to the white marble exterior, covered with statues, the interior was dark and sombre.  Signs were posted everywhere, for absolute quiet and no photography.  We were soon ushered back into sunlight, and decided to consult the map for our next heading.  We could take one of the vaporetto, the water buses for a few euros, across to St. Mark's Place, or take a left and walk along canale di san marco to cross at ponte dell accademia, and so get to the district of San Marco.

Walking, and having the opportunity to stop at every fascinating sight or building, is part of the charm of this city. When looking at a map, one can't tell how truly easy it is to get from one point to another.

view of san giorgio maggiore
  Not only do the maps make navigation easy, but at almost every corner in venice there are signs that point you in the general direction of where you would like to go.

The Accademia building is where Da Vinci's Vetruvian Man is located.  Though I am a big fan, and would have liked to have seen the original, I was enjoying myself more with walking and enjoying the beautiful day.  Because of the small size of the city, and the large number of its population, it is very crowded.  If people were standing in line to get into a church, I imagined the art museums would not be any more spacious. 

The best view was from the bridge at the Accademia, where the canal stretched into the distance, past the Della Salute, and houses and palazzos tucked neatly together on the canal.

at "campo della salute," coming from the "rio terra dei catacumeni," where we stopped for coca colas.
  Within a minute we were approaching Campo Santo Stefano, a beautiful little square with multicolored buildings, mimes, artists, and cafes.  The centermost part of the city, and a great place to get to know Venice without all the tourists.

After leaving Stefano, another beautiful church welcomed us in.  The church of St. Mary of the Lily, otherwise known as Chiese Di Santa Maria Del Giglio, it was founded in the 9th century and rebuilt in the 17th century.  Standing in a square called Campo Santa Maria Zobenigo, we were now west of the Piazza San Marco, very close to seeing the byzantine splendour of this world renowned cathedral. 

We pushed through the crowds, the milling tourists, crossed a stone bridge, or ponte, and came upon another church, Chiesa di San Moise.

  Though Venice has its roots perhaps as far back as the 1st century, and many churches have their foundations in the 8th century, the 17th century saw many restorations.  Hence, this was another church with ancient history, but one that received a face lift 9 centuries later.

We did not notice the grumbling of our bellies, as we were too preoccupied with all the sights around us.  Our eyes soaked up the architechture like a sponge with water.  Peddlers surrounded us, selling fake Gucci bags, Dolce and Gabbana belts.  Every few feet there were vendors selling beautiful glass jewelry, from the island of Murano.  Perhaps the only piece of jewelry I have ever invested any money in, I purchased a precious red glass heart, blown with gold leaf, and encircled with a silver coil.

Campo della salute, on the canal san marco. you can see the tower at st. mark's cathedral from here
  It is heavy, and it rests on my chest now, a reminder of another beautiful time glorying in the magnificence of the human experience.

So that brings me to St. Mark's Square.  The photos we have seen do not do it justice. So many intricacies, so much life here.  And when you approach the basicila and see all of the symbols, the mosaics, the gold leaf, you feel humbled.  If it weren't for all of the tourists, it would be a much more enjoyable experience.

Before entering the basilica, we went in search for a place to eat.  It seemed that in every doorway a proprietor stood, beckoning passerby to enter.  Menus and photos of the dishes were displayed in windows, but the prices seemed to turn most of the curious away.  Jason and I decided on a Snack Bar, where he had a large slice of pizza, and I a pizza roll.

standing on the accademia bridge, with a view of the church of santa maria della salute.
  They are not what you might think.  The rolls are made of the same stuff.  Pizza Dough, and all the wonderful cheese, meat, and marinara rolled up and baked in the oven.  Much like a calzone, but lighter and easier on the belly.  Pizza here is not the way we know it in the states.  The crust is incredibly thin, dashes of marinara and cheese, and a rich helping of toppings.  The pizza is served whole, and is eaten with a fork.  And what better way to finish our little meal than with a wonderful helping of Gelatto. Here in Venice the ice cream is a true piece of art. In all colors of the rainbow, it dazzles the eyes.  Heaped in large creamy mountains of bliss, the taste overwhelmed the tastebuds.  My favorite was the Nuciella, a hazelnut and chocolate delight.
approaching Campo santo stefano

We squeezed through the narrow alleyways and headed back towards the Basicila, where we stood in line for about 15 minutes, just to be able to walk around inside.  There was no entry fee, but also no photography allowed.  Oh, if i could have captured such a thing on film.  It helps to know the history and symbolism behind this magnificent piece of architechture, to fully appreciate all that the eye takes in.  For a thousand years it was the final resting place of St.Mark, whose body was stolen from Constantinople, I believe.  It served as the private chapel of Venice's rules, doges, and it was a symbol of the glory and power of the venetian state.  What you see today, is hundreds of years of building, which ended in the 11th century.

"Campo Santo Stefano", in the "San Marco" are of Venice, centermost part of the city.
  Following that, the ornamentation and the mosaics, began.  Most of these awe striking mosaics came as the result of Venetian Crusaders plundering Constantinople.  And nearly all 43,000 square feet are covered with this Byzantine gold. 

There was a fee to climb the steps and head onto the Loggia dei Cavalli, the balcony with the horses of St. Mark's.   These horses were also taken from Constantinople, but the ones on the balcony are copies.  Inside the originals stand, taken in the 13th century, but apparently dating back to the third or fourth centuries. 

From here, we had views of St. Mark's place, as well as the St. Mark's canal.  It was also an opportunity to see the mosaics up close, photograph, and be awed.

  Seeing the Doge's Palace stretching all around the Piazza, I did not want to attempt this big venture of visitation.  Imagine, that for a thousand years, this was the seat of Venetian rule and power.  People were judged, imprisoned, and tortured here.  Casanova was a guest of the dungeons here.

We did not go to the Bridge of Sighs, nor did we walk into the Doge's Palace, or climb the Campanile.  Things that I as a tourist would have liked, but I think that until visiting the basilica, we had enjoyed merely walking around the city and enjoying the sights from afar.  So, with that in mind, we boarded a water bus and headed for the Rialto Market.

The water buses are like any bus in a busy metropolis.  They stop every minute, hundreds pile on and off, and sometimes there is standing room only.

"CHIESA DI SANTA MARIO DEL GIGLIO" (Church of St Mary of the Lily) founded in the 9th century, and rebuilt in the 17th century. here we are at the "Campo Santa Maria Zobenigo" west of the Piazza San Marco.
   Well, now take that bus and put it on the water, with standing room only, getting pushed and bumped into by tourists and snotty kids, and trying not to fall into the water.  Though it is the cheapest mode of transportation, it is certainly not the most enjoyable.  Had we taken a water taxi, it would have cost us nearly as much as a gondola ride, 80 euros.

But, let me not wax negative on this trip.  Being on the water bus let me enjoy the beautiful waterfront architechture, which is something one obviously does not get to enjoy when walking within the city.  All waterfront houses and palazzos displayed their social status, wealth, and affluence by the murals and ornamentation they presented. 

Though the Rialto should be on every visitor's must see list, I was not impressed.

"piazza san marco", with a view of the BASILICA DI SAN MARCO, built in the 8th century.
  Granted, the bridge is a marvelous pice of work, especially with the shops lining each side of it.  However, it was crowded, crowded, crowded.  The shops were like any others found all over the city.  Although they housed beautifully crafted carnival masks and Murano glass, leather goods, shoes, bags, and the remaining tourist trapping goodies like miniature replicas of the Rialto bridge, or miniature gondolas complete with red and white striped shirt wearing gondoliers, it was nothing unique to just the Rialto.  Once we squeezed through the masses to the other side of the bridge, we were in the market area.  Jason could not wait to get out of there.  Once again, too many people hovering over souvenirs, fresh produce, and more souvenirs.  I managed to escape with two slices of fresh coconut, and two murano glass hearts.
  Total cost: 20 euros and 70 cents.

We wandered around alongside the canal, and had a couple offers of gondola rides.  My guide book stated I could expect to pay about $65, but ended up being more like $100!  it is not that we were duped, but the prices go up every year.  My guidebook apparently was not up to date.  We spoke to the first gondolier, and he made it pretty clear that the rates were fixed, and that there was no bargaining to be done.  Be careful of trying to bargain with merchants in venice.  Sometimes they get offended, as this gondolier apparently did.

So, let me tell you a little about Gondolas, and how unique they are to Venice.  1500 pounds, 35 feet, made from 8 different types of wood. One oar, and one oarlock.

  The oarlocks allow the gondoliers to navigate, and are individually tailored for the gondolier.  One side of the boat is always longer, by nearly one foot, and that is to compensate for the weight of the gondolier.  Hence, when you first sit down in one, you will feel that the gondola is tipped slightly to one side.  sometimes you may even feel like it will tip over. They have probably been in existence since the first century, but were first documented in the 11th.  the gondola is unique to the city because due to its shallow water and mud flats, the city needed a shallow water craft.  Excessive ornamention was banned in the 16th century, but nearly every gondola has three things:  the curly tail, the sea horses, and the prow.

We took our romantic gondola ride, for 45 minutes and 90 euros.

some mosaics date back to the 13th century, others are copies made in the 17th and 18th centuries. what you see here are thousands of tiny square stones, many of them goldleaf, fitted together to make these magnificent murals.
  We plowed through the Grand Canal and entered the various small side canals, passing the houses where Goethe, Marco Polo, and Casanova once lived.  It is romantic, but not when one of you has a camera and can't stop taking pictures.  It is fascinating because you are so close to the buildings that you can study the years of erosion, the water sneaking into doorways, the ancient and crumbling facades.  I don't recall our gondolier talking alot, he spoke more to the other gondoliers that passed us.  Then again, we didn't really require that our ride be venice 101.  however, if the gondolier offers you the "extended" tour, for 20 euros more, you should definitely be expecting more than a 45 minute gondola ride, in which the extent of his communiques with you are "there is the house where goethe lived.
on the "loggia dei cavalli." copies of the originals, located inside, which were stolen from constantinople

Our gondola ride went through the Canareggio district, across from San Polo, which is where the Rialto Market was located.  We continued on through the Canareggio, through quiet side streets, over tiny bridges, along the Grand Canal, and we ended up at Piazzale Roma again, full circle.

I think we were eager to get away from the crowds, we longed to see open spaces again. We opted against the staying the night here, and drove on towards Verona, where we had a great dinner at one of the restaurants of Piazza Brai and slept fitfully in Hotel Europa.




travelman727 says:
Vera and I took a gondola ride also. I got a decent deal and hired a singer and acordian player for a sunset trip.

I'm 3/8's Italian and the highlight was joining the singer on O sole mio, Volare and Arrivederci Roma.

I have to smile and agree with your comments. The experience was wonderful; but, betweeen singing and taking pictures, not too terribly romantic.
Posted on: Jun 19, 2006
Eric says:
Man it's 80 degrees here in Berkeley right now. Some Italian gelato sure would be nice...
Posted on: Jun 16, 2006
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In the Dorsoduro District, near th…
In the Dorsoduro District, near t…
walking along the Giudecca Canal
walking along the Giudecca Canal
view of san giorgio maggiore
view of san giorgio maggiore
at campo della salute, coming fr…
at "campo della salute," coming f…
Campo della salute, on the canal s…
Campo della salute, on the canal …
standing on the accademia bridge, …
standing on the accademia bridge,…
approaching Campo santo stefano
approaching Campo santo stefano
Campo Santo Stefano, in the San…
"Campo Santo Stefano", in the "Sa…
piazza san marco, with a view of…
"piazza san marco", with a view o…
some mosaics date back to the 13th…
some mosaics date back to the 13t…
on the loggia dei cavalli. copie…
on the "loggia dei cavalli." copi…
section of doges palace
section of doge's palace
on the water bus, traveling the gr…
on the water bus, traveling the g…
at rialto...where we hopped on the…
at rialto...where we hopped on th…
Rialto Bridge
Rialto Bridge
sitting in our gondola
sitting in our gondola
our gondola
our gondola
Goethes House
Goethe's House
one of the gondoliers
one of the gondoliers
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photo by: asturjimmy