In search of the winter sun.
Ask Nez where she likes to travel and without fail she would respond:  “A beach destination or somewhere warm.”  This being winter in Europe, there are very few places with warm beaches.  Nevertheless, conventional wisdom dictates heading in the southerly direction for a respite from the cold.  We have both been to Spain but Nez has not seen Italy, and any further south and we would be in Africa proper.  So, we ticked off a few names – Venice, Rome, Sicily – and inexplicably threw in Krakow for good measure because Poland seemed like a nice, exotic winter wonderland and Riot was afraid he would miss the sub-zero temperature.  And that was how we arrived upon our quest for the December sun and winter fun.
Holga Photos
See Venice in a different light:  It’s a whole new perspective on film. 
Be sure to check out the Holga photos of our trip!
DAYS  Day 1    Day 3  Day 4  Day 5  Day 6  Day 7  Day 8  Day 9  Day 10  Day 11  Day 12  Day 13  Day 14  Day 15  Day 16
Venice:  Taking the long way,
taking the short way.
VENICE – 21 December 2009.  It was Sunday and so we headed to church.  Not just any church, mind you, but the most famous church in all of Venice, and arguably one of the most renown in all of Christendom:  St. Mark’s Basilica.  We were not allowed into the actual worshipping part of the church itself, though, to be completely honest, praising the glory of God was far from our worldly intention.  But what if we had wanted to do just that?  To be turned away from the house of the Lord merely because we were additionally tourists?  All the same because we did not really care and the reason for our exclusion seemed sound enough on a number of fronts.  We were just as happy to be allowed in somewhere and to be able to ascend the steep and narrow staircase up to the Church’s museum.

  A view of the Piazzetta from the balcony of St. Marks on a beautiful winter day.


  No, we are not back in Berkeley but the tower in the background did serve as an inspiration for the Campanile there.
  Nez and the upper part of the Campanile from the balcony of the Basilica di San Marco.
For 3€ a piece, we got to have a peek at the majestic, golden mosaic ceilings of the Church, the various religious relics and art on display, and to stand face-to-face with the incomparable originals of the four horses, or quadriga, of likely Roman origin that were taken here all the way from old Constantinople.  Riot stood in awe of these thousand-year-old creations, undeniably the main draw of the museum, whose every curve and every intentional surface scratch (to prevent glares, according to the sign) was the work of ancient hands.  This was immortality of the most poignant kind; the artists and artisans had vanished in the flesh but their masterpieces lived on.  The no-photo rule only served to enhance the appreciation because only the actual works themselves, not some photographic recreation, could evoke and convey what their creators had in mind.

  Two of the quadriga:  These are actually replicas of the thousand-year-old originals, which are now kept in the Basilica’s museum.



  The other two horses peering over the large and relatively empty Piazza San Marco.


The museum also provided a first-rate view of St. Mark’s Square, which stretched out in the vast expanse in front of the Basilica.  We stepped outside onto the fragile stone balcony with its equally unsure railings to take in the view.  From this high up, the movements and actions of the masses below seemed to rival the surrounding sight of ancient monuments and architecture themselves.  We raised our cameras to photograph some of the passerby and were probably photographed ourselves by some on the ground.  Standing over the current state of Piazza San Marco – once dubbed “the finest drawing room in Europe” by Napoleon, as every guide book took care to mention – we could not help but think that it seemed a bit spent.  Or, perhaps not. Perhaps the Square itself would spring back delightfully to life once winter had lifted and the construction work of the moment completed.
  A Byzantine dome of St. Mark’s Basilica, which itself is a blend of various architectural styles.
  Piazzetta, encore:  The columns of Venice’s two patron saints mark the official entrance to the city.

  Pedestrians of all stripes and pairings out on a Sunday morning stroll.



  Some stopped to stare at all of the tourists on the Basilica’s balcony looking down at them.


We took one last look and one last picture and made our way back down to the street level.  To us, what remains beautiful about Venice, and hopefully will remain ever so, are the small streets that spring forth from the unlikeliest of source and disappear abruptly into a blank wall or a murky canal.  With that in mind, we set out to wander these little miracles, letting them and the lack of any perceivable urban planning lead us to where we would be.  On the way to the Ponte dell’Accademia, we made the obligatory gelato and pizza pit stops.  Crossing over the Grand Canal on that beautiful wooden bridge, we found the neighborhood of Dorsoduro, which was as spacious as San Marco was cramped.  We made our way to a large promenade alongside the Canale della Giudecca where the warmth of the midday sun beckoned Nez, who enticed Riot, to linger.  If it were up to him, Riot would rather duck back into one of the random, shaded alleys with their unique scent.  But lingered we did and we got to play flies-on-the-wall to a slice of everyday Italian life.  There were kids at play and adults at leisure over their extended lunch.  There were lovers walking hand-in-hand and people walking their dogs, both very much in the same manner as lovers and dog walkers the world over.  Then suddenly, one of the aforementioned kids was either mauled or simply scared by one of the dogs.  Yet, despite the inevitable tears, there was no expected scene from this incident.  Instead, everyone did his or her best to down play the situation.  The mother to her child:  It’s just a dog; Come on now, go pet it; It won’t hurt you.  The owner to the offending dog:  You’re a bad, bad dog; Don’t ever do that again; Now, let him pet you and act nice.

  Venice’s dormant fleet of gondolas in the Lagoon with the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in the background.



  Nez was quite OK with not breaking the bank for a ride in one of these.  Maybe some other time.



  A view of the Grand Canal, which opens to the lagoon after that last church on the right, taken from the Ponte dell’Accademia.


Afterward, we continued through some more quiet, residential canals that were not as picturesque as those found on San Marco or on Venice postcards.  Before long, this tranquil neighborhood gave way to a vast stretch of pavement dotted with large buses.  It was only then that we realized that we had not seen a motor vehicle since we left the airport yesterday.  The whole of Venice had seemed so natural without motor vehicles that we did not think anything was out of the ordinary.  If only that were true of a lot more places in the world.

  A quiet promenade along the southern edge of Dorsoduro where locals basked in the sun away from the foreign crowds.



  Two Italian children fighting to retrieve something wandered into our shot without even noticing it.  Those are our shadows as we sat on a sidewalk bench.



  An iron bridge over another canal in a seemingly residential neighborhood on Dorsoduro.


By that time, we had walked all the way through Santa Croce to the Piazzale Roma and the bus station.  We crossed the beautiful modern bridge of Ponte della Costituzione (just opened in September 2008) to get to the front steps of the Santa Lucia train station.  There was a sudden influx of people that had not been seen since we left St. Mark’s Square this morning.  Preferring solace and beauty, we turned and crossed the last of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal, the Ponte degli Scalzi, back into the Santa Croce district.  We set out for our next destination, the Frari Church in San Polo, a less-visited spectacle of Venice but one recommended by Rick Steves himself.

  Canalside in the district of Santa Croce where not a soul was to be found on this Sunday.



  Earlier, this old man and his grand daughter walked past us into an alley in San Marco.



  The spankingly new and modern Ponte della Costituzione that has yet to appear in the current (March 2009) Google satellite view of Venice.


The Church itself is known locally by a much more colorful name.  This morning, we asked at the front desk for directions to the Frari Church.  The man in a smart suit behind the counter who was surely having a good morning repeated our request in an undulating, sing-song voice that sounded outright pretty:  “You mean the Chiesa di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari?”  “,” we replied, though our Italian yes was rather flat and barely alive.  We paid the 3€ “contribution to the maintenance” of the Basilica and entered a vast and empty nave.  The air was cool to the touch and the small number of visitors maintained the hushed atmosphere of a house of worship.  Riot had previously downloaded Rick Steves’s free audio guide (here’s the podcast) of the Frari Church (along with audio guides for other Italian destinations, which was one of the reasons why he did not sleep the night before we left).  We tilted our heads to share the ear pieces of the same headset.  We put our seldom-used ipod into service, giving us a brief but excellent run-through of the place.  Without a context, this Basilica would be just another church with nice paintings to our novice eyes.  The highlight was the works Titian, especially his shifted-and-rotated perspective painting of the Madonna and Child, the Pesaro Madonna, on the left-hand wall.  Incidentally, Titian himself was buried in this very church.

  It’s all fun and games now but just before our trip we were a little concerned about the recent record flood that necessitated the use of these elevated platforms in Venice.




  The Frari Church in San Polo is squeezed into such a small place that even our wide-angle lens had trouble capturing the whole front facade in one shot.


All of this walking and gawking had worked up our appetite.  We recalled the visually tasty sandwiches at a cafe near the Rialto Bridge from yesterday’s walk and meandered our way over.  We rested our tired feet and fed our growling stomachs with what turned out to be excellent sandwiches at Bar Aperol (see Review) together with an espresso and a hot chocolate.  Because we thoroughly enjoyed walking, eating, and sleeping, we went back to the hotel for a short nap (from which we did wake up in a timely manner).  We began the cycle again later in the evening, setting out for dinner at Al Pesador (see Review).  This was yet another restaurant that we had lifted from the same New York Times’s “36 Hours in Venice” piece.  We dined upstairs in a dimly-lit dining room that saw just one or two other groups of diners all night long.  When we were once more full, Riot had the wonderful idea of walking back to the hotel on this side of the Grand Canal.  Nez obliged until we ended up in darker and darker lanes that kept deadending.  Though it never felt unsafe, we quickly realized that this approach would first take us southwest – away from St. Mark’s Square in the southeast and through much of what we had already covered this morning – before eventually returning us to our intended destination.  Nez finally decided that she was not going to make the trek home six times as long just so Riot could take a different route.  We turned around and took the short path back.
  A typical, tranquil Venetian canal with lingering gondolas.
  Another typical, tranquil Venetian canal with docked motor boats and drying laundries.
    A panoramic view capturing the Piazzetta (left of the Campanile) and the vast Piazza San Marco from the Basilica’s balcony.
DAYS  Day 1    Day 3  Day 4  Day 5  Day 6  Day 7  Day 8  Day 9  Day 10  Day 11  Day 12  Day 13  Day 14  Day 15  Day 16
Dine | Italy  Sleep | Italy

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