|Everything you have heard about Venice is abolutely true - it is as beautiful as they say. We enjoyed a gondola ride down the back canals on our wedding anniversary - it was quite magical. The city is so quiet - there are no cars, only the occasional small boat with an outboard motor. The water laps gently at the sides of the gondola, as we pass under the small pedestrian bridges that span the canals, moving past stone houses and the occasional pallazi. At this level, you can see how the foundations on many houses look a bit worse for wear, with the green scum marking the high water mark appearing to be quite high on the walls of many places. Our gondolier did not sing "Ol Solo Mio", but quietly and effortless pushed us along with his long wooden pole, only shouting out "ahoy, ahoy" as we approached blind turns, warning others that they are coming.
Our hotel was a fourth floor bed and breakfast on a minor canal, but only five minutes from the centre of Venice. I must admit to feeling less than enthusiastic about this city after lugging bags up and down the stairs of the various bridges over canals and then up to the fourth floor. But the view from our balcony was worth it - looking over the canal, with a church bell tower (with a decided lean) in the near distance.
We visited St Mark's Square, which is surrouned by the beautiful Palace of the Doge (the Life President of independent Venice), St Mark's Basilica and the Campanile. A tour of the Doge's Palace took us to the rooms where torture was conducted by the three inquisitors and to the office of the Grand Chancellor, the head civil servant, where the closest secrets were kept. The office was small, dark and cramped, so little has changed in terms of public service accommodation.
St Mark's Basilica is a beautiful church, full of Byzantine mosaics, very much like the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. We saw there the Four Horses (the Quadria), which are 2,200 years old. These horses had originally stood on the Hippodrome of Constantinople when it was the Roman Capital. They were stolen by the Venetians from Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade (when the crusaders sent to help the beseiged christians ended up sacking the city they intended to help). The Venetians at least had the decency to not actally put the Horses up on their own church until Constantinople fell to the Turks.
Venice is undergoing a large amount of restoration at the moment. To raise money to help fund the program, the city has allowed massive advertising hoardings to cover the scaffolding around the buildings. The famous "Bridge of Sighs", where prisoners walked to the prison, sighing because of their fate, is now almost completely covered in ads for jewelry. I can understand the need for money, but I am not sure if this is such a good idea. Anyway...
The food in Venice was excellent. We had our anniversary dinner at a small restaurant called "La Bita". Unusually for Venice, it advertised "No fish" - seafood is popular here. We asked Deborah the hostess why. She gave two reasons. First, she doesn't like fish. Second, her husband is the cook and she didn't want him coming home smelling of fish! So there you are. We also dined at a modern Italian restaurant called "Il Ridotto". Our waiter was extremely helpful, but had the habit of describing everything on the menu as "particular", leaving us to wonder what was not actually particular.
I do have some bad news - against all expectations, I had a bad coffee. We had travelled to the island of Torcello in the Venetian lagoon to look at an ancient church, one of the first buildings in Venice. The day was bitterly cold and wet, and we stopped at a small bar on the island to warm up. We were the only patrons. I thought I could smell burnt coffee but ordered nonetheless. And then I tasted it - my cuppa was awful. And here I was thinking that every Italian barista was a master. Not so.
We leave Venice and are on our way to Naples and the South, where we will spend most of our time in Italy.