|Do you like Sudoku? Or, do you remember that card game where you lay all the cards down flat and upside down, and each person has a turn at flipping over a card and then trying to flip over it's match? Or, I think there's even another game called "minesweeper" or something like that that comes pre loaded with Windows where you have to try and wipe out as much area as possible. Well, any way you cut it, those games are like Venice. Venice is like being dropped inside a huge hedge maze, and then you are lost for eons. You constantly think you know where you are and things look vaguely familiar, well just maybe they do; but you only get burned again and again, even with your supposedly superior cartographic skills. Even us masters lose our way from time to time in this place :(
Sometimes you come across a dead end. Literally. There aren't even any doors sometimes. Venice has the best dead ends in the world if that's what you're looking for. At other times you simply come to an end where the pavement just falls off into a canal. There are buildings on both sides, and then just water, not steps, nothing. Even better are the "bridges to nowhere public" as I like to call them. You're walking down a street like the one described above, but this time there's a bridge. Problem is, the bridge doesn't go anywhere but to a door for which you do not have a key. Sometimes you look like an idiot because you've just crossed that bridge and then you have to retreat, and everyone watching laughs at you in different languages because they know you've made a wrong turn! Forget St. Mark's (well OK, not completely), this is the best past about Venice.
The worst part about Venice is the incessant, rampant, overdeveloped, overpriced, over Americanized (Did I say that?), over hyped, overproduced, and over the top tourist buzz. The city has been in the industry for over 500 years, and man it shows, Ever since Marco Polo defined what it was to travel, and started his great journey here, Venice has been in the business of tourism. The shops are everywhere on the main tourist drags, and they are expensive. Fortunately though, it is easy to get lost as described in the first paragraph and find your own personal Campo by the canal. If you're lucky (like we are), you'll find that little tucked away place that sells "tranches" of margherita for 1 Euro and a nice espresso or gelato right next door. This is 3 to 4 hundred percent cheaper than on the main routes.
Others say the worst part about Venice is the smell. Me, I don't mind. For one thing, it's nothing like the smells in South East Asia or India, and the romanticism one can find in a short little walk just can't be beat. It's got to be one of the most Romantic places on earth. Which is a little bit of a misnomer, since the city shares more with Byzantium times than Roman I would say; this can easily be seen in all the architecture in the city. There are Muslim overtones to everything, and of course, the interior of St. Mark's is graced with some of the very best Byzantium mosaic works on the planet. They really are superb. Even in the atrium. St. Mark's is interesting for more than just this though. It's really a bit of a rag tag collection of statues, columns, and other artefacts collected as war booty over the years. This, combined with the modern problems of engineering due to the constant subsidence of the foundations of the church under its immense weight, make St. Mark's an interesting place to visit on many levels. And on many levels it literally is, given that he floor is warped everywhere due to the movement. Old St. Mark appears to be safe though, tucked away tightly in his stone sarcophagus beneath the high altar.
Almost more fun than the church itself are the roughly 1 trillion gazillion (is that a number?) pigeons that "own" the square outside. The square is easily one of the most recognizable in the world, and it was fantastic to watch Kristine's face as we came around the corner and she instantly recognized where we were. Those are some of the great moments in travel I suppose. Anyway, we were there for at least an hour just watching the swarms and watching people feed them. And we were right near the square too. I lucked out with this one on the internet and for 62 Euro a night (trust me that's cheap for a private in this city folks), we got an apartment with a little mini kitchen, TV, our own bathroom, and a washing machine to do laundry. All just a short 1 minute stroll from San Marco. We couldn't believe it! So, we did our grocery shopping and had nice wine with gnocchi pomodoro and home made pesto linguine. It was great!
Rather than spend too much time in the museums here (we're saving that for Florence where they are arguably more significant), we spent time in the churches and just wandering around. One church, The Friari contains fantastic works by Donatello and others in their intended environment (churches) not museums, and with a tiny little entry fee, it was really worth it to see these. Not crowded either. Always great are the rides up and down the Grand Canal on the "Traghettos" which are basically the city buses on water. The Rialto Bridge is instantly recognizable as you approach it from the train station. What could be more perfect? Kristine did get a little sick on our second day though, so we are pumping her full of water which should straighten her out I think. Owen will be interested to know that I also found the old " Pensione Guerro" where we stayed in 1999 near the market. In spite of the difficulties within the maze, the master sometimes wins! ;)