Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Venice Day 2

Feeling less on holiday and more on an endurance race right now, my lower back is hurting so much it pretty much goes into spasms when I sneeze or cough! Normally I like my boobs, but not so much when it comes to walking/standing around for long periods of time. Aieyaiyai.

Last night I headed back out for a bite to eat (street pizza) and to take some photos around St Mark's at night. It felt quite special seeing the lights shining off the floodwaters in the square, although the water had gone down a bit. I walked along the seafront as far as the Arsenale and then took a boat to the Rialto and walked back to the hostel. I feel quite privileged to see Venice with fewer tourists (still lots though) and in the floods (well, high water, hardly floods by Venice's standards). It feels like the 'real' Venice, although of course that's a pretty ridiculous statement.

Today it was up bright and early again and out at about 8.15 to go and see St Mark's and to do the tour of the Doge's Palace. I promptly got lost, so it took quite a while to arrive. Venice is magical and all that, but there are definitely moments where you wish the thing would sink just to spite it! Need to take deep breaths and remember that exploring the city is a good thing!

Anyway, St Mark's square was covered in water again when I arrived. It has been raining off and on the whole time, less today though and by the time I got out of the Doge's Palace you could finally walk around on terra firma without gumboots. Anyway, before I went on my 10.45 tour I looked around the palace by myself for about an hour and a half, although even then I had to rush through some of the rooms at the end, especially the prisons. I was under the mistaken belief that the tour would go through the palace - in fact, it goes only through rooms that are shut off to the public. Never mind though. The palace was very imposing and richly decorated, although now I wish I'd just got an audioguide and seen the public part of the palace and not gone on the other tour. However, that doesn't mean the tour wasn't interesting, just that I think I would have got more out of a tour of the main rooms. The tour took you into the back rooms where the state bureaucrats worked in tiny little chambers, looking after secret records and the archives etc., where political prisoners were kept, and where the council questioned, tortured, and judged prisoners in the dead of night. We saw Casanova's cell and learned how he plotted (and eventually carried out) his escape from the prison, and we went up in the attic and saw the underpinnings of the ceiling of the massive hall below.

Amongst other things, I learned that executions (only 1000 in the 11 centuries of the Venetian Republic) were carried out between the two pillars in St Mark's Square, and that you could even be executed for littering! The tour guide was very sure that no innocent people were tortured, because they would first investigate a crime, often obtain a name from a collaborator in a plea bargain scheme, and then only torture someone when they were sure of his guilt. Well, that sounds like a perfect recipe for convicting an innocent person to me! The method of torture was by tying the person's hands behind their back with a rope, then hoisting them up to the ceiling. The next unfortunate prisoners in line were made to watch from nearby cells. The palace had lots of little letterboxes where people could post denunciations, and it was a crime not to do so if you had any information.

Well, after the tour I was super tired and I didn't go back and look at the palace again. I wanted to go for a nice sit-down, but instead I went straight to St Mark's because I knew the mosaics were only lit between 11.30 and 12.30, and it was about 10 to or something like that. Wow. I've never seen photos of the inside of St Mark's before I don't think, but it's just the most beautiful thing ever. EVERYTHING is covered with golden glimmering mosaics, it's incredible. Photos are officially banned, but literally everyone was indulging in a giant orgy of frenzied photo-taking, including me, and no-one made any effort to stop it. It was like an amazing sensory overload. I was there at 12.30 when the lights went off, and you realise then what a difference it makes, I'm really glad I got to see it lit. I plan to go back tomorrow before I have to go catch my plane and, even without the lights, just look at the place properly without taking any photos, and go see the different bits you have to pay for, because it really is deserving of slack-jawed, prolonged admiration. Just wonderful.

I left right away after the lights were turned off and wandered off to find something to eat, because I was extremely achy and tired after standing up for 4 1/2 hours (and yes, I do feel sorry for waitresses, salespeople etc. etc. and I have been one but obviously out of shape!) I found a place not too far from St Mark's where I actually had an alright meal - in general, the food here has been disappointing, although not too expensive. I had a fixed menu of lasagne as a starter and then fried calamari (including not just squid rings, but like the whole legs joined together minus the head) and chips. I still find it weird that they see pasta as an entrée, but oh well, a hearty meal and pretty tasty, although the wine was dreadful and cost 5 euros for the glass. I spent an hour over lunch, determined to have a break!

After that, I made my way to La Fenice theatre to enquire about tickets for the opera tonight. In the end, I decided not to go, since my choice was a 45 euro ticket for a decent seat or 20 euros for a seat where apparently you can't see anything at all... Okay, 20 euros is not that much for an opera ticket, but I'm not going to pay to see nothing, I don't even really like opera! Instead, I decided to take an audiotour of the theatre. It is very pretty, but a bit annoyed that photos weren't allowed (and they were vigilant on this point) and the audioguide was a bit boring. Might re-read The city of falling angels, which describes the 1996 fire that destroyed it, since I only vaguely remember it (I think he was throwing around accusations of incompetence and corruption, which might account for why it was not on sale in the bookshop).

To end my day, I took a vaporetto along the river and then wandered through the Ghetto - for almost 300 years the Jews of Venice were locked in at night on this island that was accessible by only two guarded bridges and was the original ghetto that gave the word to the world (unfortunately). I found it quite nice that it was full of shops and restaurants selling kosher food and Jewish art, although I'm not sure if this really represents a heart-warming effort to keep the Jewish culture alive in Venice or just a whitewashing of history for the tourists... I would have liked to go on one of the tours of the ghetto, but alas, no time. On a not-altogether-unrelated note, I find it weird that I've seen several memorials to people who died in WWII, um, you guys were on the wrong side... Maybe I should be charitable and assume that my lack of Italian is preventing me from realising that they're memorials to partisans who died fighting against Mussolini's thugs or something.

Anyway, have just been relaxing at the hotel this evening, other than a short trip out for a slice of pizza (mmm, average) and a gelato (report: green apple - kinda gross, chocolate - continues to be good, but ongoing monitoring of the situation required). Tomorrow I need to be making my way to the airport at around 11 am, so hopefully can get up early and squeeze in St Mark's take two. It has been short, but I feel I've made the most of it and seen a lot, maybe too much! I won't get home to Tours until about 8.30 tomorrow night, that's if all goes well with the travel... I'm not looking forward to having to go to work the next day, I should have taken it off as well, but at least it's only a two day week, then I can just chill out in the weekend (2nd to last F1 race as well) and then the next week is a short one as well because of Armistice Day.

I have taken approximately a million billion photos, so I will have to work my way through them in stages once I get back home.


  1. Italy was actually on both "sides" during WW2 and remember that whoever the ordinary soldiers fought for they are always somebody's darling.

  2. Still love reading your take on Venice! Sounds like St Mark's was really something special. I did see that the ghetto is still the center of Jewish life in Venice, so I guess all those kosher stores were authentic!

    Re: WWII stuff, unfortunately Germany is the only country that has done some honest soul searching about their role as the "bad guys." I could go on about this for a while and what it means today for things like, oh, the expulsion of the Roma, but that would take up too much room on your comments page!

  3. Thanks for your input. I don't want the comment section to be a political battle, so I'll just say that a war memorial is not solely a way of remembering the dead, but also a political statement. Most ordinary soldiers may not have held Fascist beliefs, but most people who die for whatever reason, darlings or not, don't get plaques on walls.

  4. On the other hand whoever the ordinary soldiers are they are always somebodies enemy more like.


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