Venice used to be the capital of the Serene Republic founded by refugees on this archipelago at the time of barbarian invasions of Italy. Today it is still known as La Serenissima, the Serene City, a well-deserved title, I believe. For me, I think it's the combination of the canals, the classical buildings, the bridges, the squares, the gondolas, the pigeons--and the lack of land motorists--that makes it, well, serene. Venice is captivating!
I loved St. Mark's Square, the center of Venice. The piazza (square) is located near the Grand Canal, the most important canal in the city. You can spend hours and hours there feeding birds, watching people, admiring architecture, enjoying the sun, browsing tourist shops, listening to live music, ... or lining up to enter any of the monuments, galleries or museums around it at peak time. Here are some of the things you will find there:
St. Mark's Basilica, "one of the best known examples Byzantine architecture". The domes are not very visible in this picture. I read that the remains of St. Mark the Evangelist were smuggled from Egypt to Venice by 2 merchants in the 9th century and were initially buried in the Doge's Palace until a church was built for them. Oh, the things you learn when you travel...
You can go inside the basilica for free at a certain time of the day. Gino and I went to the museum (Museo Marciano) located upstairs. Entrance fee is 3 euros per person. You can't bring big bags and backpacks inside. You have to leave them at the free baggage check-in in a building nearby. I think you also need to be properly attired. Unfortunately, no picture-taking is allowed so I have nothing to show you, but I can tell you that I saw the original 4 gilded bronze horses (The Horses of St. Mark), magnificent tapestries, Byzantine sculptures, ancient mosaic fragments, large books you can read from 10 feet away (large-print these days are nothing compared to then)... From the museum we were able to hear some chanting from the basilica and look at the opulent, glittering interior of the basilica, also nicknamed Chiesa d'Oro (church of gold). Very impressive!
The Doge's Palace or Palazzo Ducale. It used to be the official residence of the ruling doges (equivalent to the English duke) until the fall of the republic in 1797. Another gothic architecture like Notre Dame in Paris. Remember the pointed arches? OK, that's all I know about gothic. We didn't get to enter this building. The line was too long... or was it because it wasn't free?
The 500-year-old St. Mark's clock up close. I think the time is 12 something. It's a 24-hour clock that shows zodiac signs and the phases of the moon. It doesn't seem to have a minute hand but there's a display above this clockface (not seen in the picture) that says the time and minutes in numerals.
Museo Correr. We just enjoyed the outside. I read a review somewhere that there are nice paintings and historical pieces here but it suggested that this should be on your low priority list unless "you have time to kill or don't prefer a nap". That makes me feel good because I didn't get to enter it!
Ahh the pigeons! I hadn't seen so many pigeons who loved to be around people. Even the sparrows were people-friendly. I was okay until the birds started perching on my shoulders, my head, my arms... It was a delightful experience but the thought of getting bird poop on my hair or clothing made me rather uneasy.
At night, the square lights up, fancy restaurants sets up tables and chairs outside complete with live musical performers. It was wonderful to walk around and enjoy the music. Just don't sit on the chairs or a waiter will approach you and take your order. Now if you have come for some fine dining, this is an excellent place.
Talking about food, I loved the ice cream here, real gelato for a mere 1 or 1.50 euros per small cone! Of course pizza is something you will want to eat in Italy. I read somewhere prior to the trip that food was cheaper the farther you go from St. Mark's Square and that you could buy a big slice of pizza for 1.80 euros in Campo Santa Margherita. For dinner, Gino and I walked over a bridge and sought this place out. We found a pizza place called Pizza and Kebab. Bottled water was cheaper in this area too.
Enjoying a slice of pizza. We ate sitting down with no additional service fee. Tip: When in Venice, if you are looking a cheap place to eat, don't eat at places where you sit down, a restaurant for instance. Eat at snack stands, where you literally eat standing up.
So far I have mostly written about St. Mark's Square and it's not even as much as we actually saw or experienced. I just read today that in earlier times, public executions were held here. Bummer! Am I glad this is no longer happening.
In my next post, I will simply do another music video of choice pictures from Venice so as not to bore you with stories you may not appreciate until you actually plan to go there and need some travel tips.