Monday, 21 September 2015


6th Sept 2015

On parade at 0830hrs in the hotel foyer for the now normal 'buongiorno!' briefing by the indefatigable Adrian who, today, was a vision in polka dots. I cannot cease to be curious as to how he manages to carry such an extensive, and exotic, wardrobe in what appears to be a smallish wheely suitcase; much smaller than mine may I add. He has never worn the same 'outfit' twice and changes into something different, and increasingly glamorous, every day and most evenings. I will investigate...tactfully.

Bus to Florence and then a 2 hour train journey to Venice Mestre, a suburb of Venice at the western end of the causeway from the town proper. We were informed that we would be passing through something called the 'breadbasket' of Italy, Bolognia, Padua and the Veneto region renowned for Valpolicella, Suarte and Prosecco wines, plus something to do with St. Anthony....who is, I discovered, the Patron Saint of 'Finding Things or Lost People'. Could be a most useful sort of Patron Saint if you ask me. Venice, the once great city state, hub of commerce and naval power in the middle ages.......captured by Napoleon and now a tourist attraction.

We were also informed that today is the annual Venice Regatta when they hold boat races and the the Doge's barge (not sure if they have a 'Doge' nowadays) is part of a fleet of decorated boats which process up the Grand Canal. Lots of locals dress up in elaborate costumes for the occasion. After booking in at our hotel in Mestre, back to the station for the 10 minute ride into Town. This couple (left) were on the platform and suitably attired for the occasion.

The 'biennial' exhibition is also in full flow. This is when many public buildings and churches put on a mix of 'cultural' musical and artistic displays.

Right: First view of Venice, east from the main station across part of the Grand Canal to the Chiesa (church) di St. Simeone Piccolo. Patron Saint of Small Instruments, perhaps. We were greeted by loud pop music blaring from speakers and the occasional commentary on the progress of the regatta. I also bought my 20 Euro 'go anywhere' 2 day vaporretto ticket. Vaporettos are the public canal taxis which operate on many routes around the city and across to the islands. They are the aquatic equivalent of a Metro system.
We were met here by our local guide, Cynthia. One of the features of all our guides' briefings is to point out where the nearest 'toilets' are. A vital part of the itinerary for several in our group. 

First stop was the St. Rocco cathedral. He, Rocco or Rock, is the Patron Saint of Falsely Accused People and Dogs, would you believe. The place is full of Tintoretto paintings, but I didn't go inside. Next door is the Scuola Grande de St. Rocco which is an elaborate building set up by a wealthy fraternity following one of the many Plagues (Black Death, Bubonic, Japanese Tourists etc.) which tended to sweep the city. The worst occurred in 1630 when a third of the city's population was wiped out. Hardly surprising really considering the fetid sewerage filled mosquito and rat infested canals on which the place is built.
FYI the place was totally constructed on wooden piles, which became petrified over the years and platforms laid on top. It is now slowly sinking and falling apart.

Right: A Venetian plague doctor with mask. These masks had long beak-like noses into which was stuffed scented straw with an orange in the end to camouflage the stink of putrifying bodies. These and many other papier-maché fancy dress masks were on sale everywhere. Venice is more famous for masks than the Kray brothers. We were advised not to buy the plastic Chinese versions. To be honest I couldn't think why I would want one....unless to amuse people in our local high street.

Our walk continued with Cynthia telling us lots of interesting things as we shuffled (so many tourists jamming the small alleyways and streets it was only possible to shuffle at times) through various 'Campos' (Squares). In fact Venice only has one 'Square or Piazza'; that of St. Mark. All the others are Campos. I think we had lost a fair proportion of our group by now.

As I discovered early on it is difficult/impossible to map-read your way around the smaller is a maze. It was useful to be told that Venice main island is shaped like a fish with the railway station at it's nose and St Mark's Square at its arsehole. Using that advice, and the sun, I seemed to manage. There were yellow signs at regular intervals throughout which pointed either to the railway station or St. Marks Square, which was a help.

Left: Ponte Dell Accademia, over the Grand Canal. It is the only wooden bridge in the city.
When we were guided over it was packed with tourists hoping, I suppose, to get a view of the regatta, but we were officiously ushered on by the police. I hadn't seen any sign of the regatta yet and was hoping Cynthia was taking us to a good vantage point.

Right: This colourful chap was sitting at the end of one of the bridges. I don't know where the rest of the band was. Watching the regatta I expect.

Lots of gondolas of course which are punitively expensive to hire. I was told it cost about 40,000 Euros to build a decent gondola, so that might explain the high charges of about 80 Euros for an hour's paddle.

I also noted that a large number of the gondoliers were not wearing their straw 'boaters' (with ribbon). In fact some of them looked downright scruffy. Falling standards of gondoliering I'm afraid. I think I would, for the price, insist on my gondolier being properly turned out and wearing his hat.

More gondolas (right).

On we marched, or shuffled, through such places as the large Campo St. Stefano (Patron Saint of Bricklayers). This square features the statue, and there are not many statues in Venice, of an academic in a gown with a pile of books behind him. His local nickname is 'the Bookshitter'.

Still no view of the regatta as we approached St. Marks Square. I think Cynthia was sticking to her script and itinerary which did not normally include regattas. I should have deserted the tour and gone to look for I think several others had, or had just got lost.

Anyway, we ended up in the square under 'Napoleons Ballroom". Napoleon had captured the city and rather taken a fancy to it.
At the far end is St. Marks Basilica, the Bell Tower and the Doges' Palace. I read that St. Mark is the Patron Saint of Insect Bites and Scrofulous Diseases.

Left: The Bell Tower. The original collapsed in 1902, the only casualty being the caretaker's cat. The rebuild was completed in 1912. The red brick looks rather out of place with the rest of the square, in my opinion.

Behind which is the Basilica (right). Not sure what that scaffolding is on the right side. Perhaps they are putting up a Coca Cola advert. It wouldn't surprise me.

...and to the right of that, adjoining it, the western wall of the Doges' Palace (left) which leads on down to the southern entry of the Grand Canal.

...and the Bridge of Sighs; so named because relatives/friends of those sentenced to be executed stood on it to watch the doomed prisoners walking over the passageway between prison and Palace to the square to be hanged, beheaded or garrotted or by whatever means. A final glimpse.....and sighed.

Left: This lady about to cross it was certainly of considerable sighs.

Right: The view from the bridge up to the passageway across which the prisoners walked from the prison cells.

Left: The view the prisoners had, throught the stone grilled window, of those on the bridge.

We finished our guided tour in St. Marks Square, and I had seen little sign of the great Regatta. I think it had moved on towards the railway station by now. What a bummer.

So I paid a visit to the Doges' Palace. A vast four winged building adjoining the Basilica with a courtyard and clock tower in the central quadrangle and was joined to the extensive prison by a suspended passageway.

There were many varying sized palatial rooms, mostly empty except for some old bench seating at the ends, which had been used for legislative, administrative and legal proceedings. They all had extraordinarily ornate ceilings. As per right and below, plus extravagant artwork on the walls.

The Doge and his various committees held meetings, gatherings of the clans and trials in these imposing rooms.
Talking of Doges, who were the city state rulers, they were elected by a very arcane system whereby people were selected by a committee to elect other people who elected another bunch to elect a smaller group to elect the Doge, or something like that. Apparently the eventually elected Doge may not have even wanted to be the Doge at all!

Right: The largest room measured about 100yds long. This served as a mass meeting hall for all the various state and district leaders in which to be addressed by the Doge. I hope he had a good sound system, or a very loud voice.

There is an extensive armoury museum housing thousands of medieval weapons and military paraphernalia. 

Amongst all the armour, helmets, swords, horse armour, daggers, crossbows, early firearms etc. was this ancient form of flintlock Gatling gun (right). Not sure how it worked

Left: Horse armour.

Along a maze of corridors and down into the dungeons such as this (right).

Left: The prison yard in the centre.

Those sentenced to death, having walked over the passageway and waved goodbye to their loved ones on the bridge, were brought out onto the St. Mark's Square and stood on the scaffold facing this clocktower (no clock there now). It was so they could witness their time of death. How useful.

Next, up the Bell Tower. Not too long a queue and the journey to the top is by lift. No climbing steps. 

Left: View of the Square below facing north. Basilica on the right. 

Right View to the west towards the causeway and Mestre. Napoleon's ballroom is at the far end, 1st floor.

Left: Several pleasant cafés around the Square which had small orchestras or bands to serenade you. Not cheap; it cost about 10 Euros just to sit down.

Right: Yet more gondolas.

The Grand Canal is in the shape of an inverted 'S' which enters the city near St. Marks Square and leaves near the railway station (see fish description). At the eastern extremity is the Rialto bridge, another popular tourist spot with  myriad restaurants and markets. This pic (left) of the Rialto bridge was taken from a vaporetto going home that night.

We, the group survivors, had met up for another 'on the house' dinner that evening at a restaurant near Campo St. Stephano and it was a very jolly place with excellent nosh and, significantly, an unlimited supply of freeby vino. Not a bad way to end the day. I was again seated between the 'singlies' including Bob, the 2nd World War weapons expert. There is now nothing I don't know about German half-tracks and anti-tank guns.

I believe we are off to visit a couple of the outlying islands tomorrow....all will be revealed.

No comments:

Post a Comment