When he was talking about Venice, Donald told us that one of the things we should do in Venice is to get lost and enjoy it. No problem with the getting lost part. He even gave us a map, which I consulted religiously, and I still rarely had a clue where we were.
We started the morning with a tour guide, Elizabeth, who took us to several landmarks in the area away from San Marco. We saw some unusual construction, many churches, lots of spacious campos (squares), a hospital, and statues. The most interesting part of the trip was a visit to a mask making shop where the owner gave us a demonstration on how masks were made. I served as a model for the various masks that he showed us, giving us a history and background on the significance of the masks. After wards we visited his shop where he had several tempting objects, but we couldn’t see how we could get them home undamaged and so we just admired them.
We finished the tour in San Marco Piazza. Susan and I did a little shopping, then ate in a little restaurant not far from St. Mark’s church. Turns out that April 25 is St. Mark’s saint day, as well as a national holiday for Italy-Liberation Day celebrating the WW II liberation of Italy from Germany on April 25, 1945. This made it a little more crowded than you would expect on a Wednesday.
Susan and I elected to spend most of our time walking and window shopping the streets of Venice. Venice is so focused on tourism that it caters to shopping. All the major trendy brands like Armani, Guess, Prada, Louis Vuitton and the like are all there. Many shops offer Murano glass, which is made on the island of Murano adjacent to Venice. And mask shops are all over. We stopped and spent some time in a store offering photos and original water colors of Venice. We ended up buying a photograph and a watercolor with one frame that was hand-painted. We are shipping those home—no room in our bags for that.
We succeeded on getting lost on several occasions, but we had the benefit of Susan’s hand-held GPS, which proved very valuable in helping us find the few destinations we knew we wanted to see. We made a dinner reservations, had some gelato and a cappuccino, then walked back to San Marco. Two big things to do in Venice are to go to the Doge’s Palace and on the inside of St. Mark’s Basilica. The Doge was the ruler of Venice when it was independent, and from what I have read his palace was impressive, but Susan and I decided that after Versailles it would be hard to impress us with a palace. Instead we opted to visit St. Mark’s Basilica, which is the oldest church in Venice. The current church was built in the 11th century to replace one that had been built in the 9th century. Its claim to fame (and name) is that the altar contains the bones of St. Mark, the author of the book of Mark. His bones were “liberated” in 824 from the Moor-dominated city of Alexandria by two Venetians who brought the bones to Venice to give the Basilica more tourist value.
We used a Rick Steves recommended method to avoid the line. I had a backpack on, which are not allowed in the church. I checked it in around the corner form the church and got a card with a number on it. All I had to do was show the card to the guard at the door, and we went right in, avoiding the long line of other folks waiting. I think the official reasoning is that people wait in line, find out they have to check the backpack when they get to the front of the line, then go check the backpack but don’t have to wait in line again. Or you just check the backpack and avoid the line altogether.
The church on the inside is highly decorated on the walls and ceiling. No photos were allowed inside, so no photos to show you. But a lot of other people were taking photos. I decided to be good, so no photos. There is something to be said for the power of a place where one of the people who wrote the story of Jesus’s life is buried. 2000 years later his work still has a huge impact throughout the world. While I have no photos, be assured that the interior of the church, like the exterior, provides a suitable venue for the veneration of this saint.
We retrieved our bag and started walking along the Grand Canal as it faced the lagoon. The view is impressive for the large lagoon is ringed by massive churches across the water. You alos get the occasional cruise ship that navigates through the lagoon on the way to the piers on the mainland.
Susan and I stopped at a café with a view of the Grand Canal for an afternoon cappuccino. Our tour guide Donald had warne us that within St. Mark’s piazza in the evening the drinks were expensive because the café featured musicians who provided music to the patrons as they sat. What we didn’t know if that the same rules apparently apply when you sit in very attractive outdoor venues on the Grand Canal—nowhere near St. Mark’s—where you can see the lagoon. This was my first 6 euro cappuccino and Susan’s first 6 euro Coca-Cola (actually it was one of the first Cokes she has had in a long time—no Dr. Pepper here.) And we had a surly waiter! But the area was nice and the view was good, so we stayed awhile for full enjoyment.
We plunged back into the maze that is the Venice walkways and wandered around for awhile before our dinner reservation, looking at shops and people-watching. We piddled around until 7:30 when we went to dinner at Mascaron. This was a Rick Steves recommended place, and the food and atmosphere were decent but it wasn’t that special. We walked back to St. Mark’s piazza to listen to the music in the square (but we didn’t sit down—already paid my dues at the Grand Canal) and have a little more gelato.
As we walked back to our hotel we ran into several of our tour people outside the Hard Rock Café and we spent a few minutes to update each other on our day, then headed back to the hotel.