February 14 - Seattle to Frankfurt...
arrive at SeaTac shortly after noon, to board my plane for Venice. It's my first international flight, and immediately it becomes obvious, waiting at the gate, listening to the
loudspeaker blasting out boarding calls for Beijing and Paris. I soon board a plane that is smaller than I had expected. I'm really glad I packed
light. The luggage stow-away rack is well above my head, and a
stranger offers silent assistance with
my carry-on. Thank you...
is uneventful, and the flight has only the most occasional
turbulence, during which I watch the interior of the plane serpentine, as though it
were a Viking long ship. It's a little disconcerting...I reset my
watch to Frankfurt time, and read until I can fall sleep.
I get two hours of shut-eye before dinner. I fall
right back to sleep afterward. By the time the
plane lands, I am very ill. I'm
the last passenger on the plane, and the stewards ask me if they need to call a doctor, which I decline. I
Do Not Want to start my vacation from a hospital in Frankfurt!
get off the plane and make it safely through the security checkpoint and onto my connecting flight for Venice. Once more on the ground, I realize I left my favorite ring and a couple of things in Frankfurt. I resign myself to the fact that it is a
remnant of the past, and that I will find a new ring in Venice...
I find the bus stop, and find
that some things are universal -- crowded, standing room only buses
being one of them. This bus is a cross between a city bus and an
airport shuttle, apparently serving both purposes, outfitted with
luggage racks but making stops about every two blocks. I'm annoyed that I'm starting this trip on a bad
stomach. I strip down to a tanktop to avoid becoming overheated
on a bus that has non-functioning windows. I must be quite the site, on a bus
full of people dressed in parkas...
last, I arrive at Piazzala Roma. I had thought a vaporetto would be a
larger version of a gondola, but they are actually water
buses, like the Vashon ferry. I find the one headed to "Rialto
#1." It seems to be pointed the wrong direction but I get on.The window glass is
imbedded with a dot-matrix pattern that makes me queasy. But I look out the
window as much as I can, and marvel at
how much water traffic there is on the canal.
is larger and more impressive than I had imagined. Passing under the
massive arch of stone is like passing from night into day. Suddenly
there are people everywhere, many in costume, but most in just hats
or makeup. My brother Payne, in his historical garb, is waiting at
the San Angelo stop, a short walk through aged alleys to the
apartment they have rented on Calle Dei Avvocati (Street of Lawyers)
for the next two weeks. He unlocks a massive, wooden door. I walk in
-- to the grand foyer of what appears to be 15th century manor house.
A stone-tiled floor, high vaulted ceiling, thick, tall wooden door
with a half-circle of wrought iron work above it. An old lamp hangs
from an ornamental chain. Payne unfortunately does not have a key to
unlock the back door, an iron grate which steps down onto a landing
and onto a small, green-water service canal. We go up a two-person
lift to the third floor, where Marie, his wife, arises from a nap,
already dressed in her harlequin street gown. I set my luggage down,
and look out the window onto a vista filled with terracotta tiled
roofs, stretching out as far as I can see. My room also has a view of
terracotta roof tiles and wooden shuttered windows just across the
alley...these views are nearly indescribable...
a couple of glasses of water and a brief sit down, I change into my Venetian gown, and we set off, winding our way through
alleyways and onto
San Marco Square, the Grand Central for Carnivale.
We turn the corner, and the landscape fills with the domes and towers
of the Basilica.
It takes my breath away...
The Basilica is not as tall as I imagined,
but far more ornate than a camera can capture. We walk up to the
facade, and within a few minutes, bells start to toll -- first from
the short church tower on the left, then from the taller tower on the
right. Birds fly in a perfect shade-of-blue sky. The sudden
transition to a much earlier century is so complete and overwhelming
that I stop in my tracks, cover my face, and start to cry. Marie, who has walked ahead with Payne, turns around, and
comes and puts her arm around me, and, says "this is why we try
to bring people here"...
is hard to move quickly, or in fact at times, move at all, in this
crowd. Payne is an extraordinary draw and tourists flock to him like
paparazzi. Marie and I wait patiently for crowds to clear, take two
more steps, and stop again. We wander through to an adjoining square,
where she gets some photos of Payne and I together, sitting at the
feet of a bronze Venetian winged lion, at the foot of the statue
Payne calls "the man with no hat".
wander through the "Italian Garden" that has been set up at
one end of the square. It's a combination of topiary, a small
stage, and a perimeter made up of sheets painted with topiary, but
with no attempt at tromp-de-toile. There is a larger than life
topiary lion at one end of the garden, with eyes that light up, that
is being hosed down by a workman. The entire scene is an interesting
juxtaposition of historic buildings, strands of twinkle lights
suspended in the alleys, and large, modern light-sculptures in the
"garden". We find the Bridge
completely boxed in with bright blue banners announcing restoration
work, making it look more like a two dimensional billboard than an
the end of the Doge's
Palace, we watch the sky fade from blue to pink,
to deeper blue, as the sun sets over the lagoon. Venus is clear and
bright under a clear, cold sky. The setting sun hits the front of the
Basilica, catching the gold mosaic tiles and turning them to fire.
Drums start. And into the Italian Garden, careen three silver dragons
-- half man-on-stilts, half animatron-puppet -- with heads extending
12 feet into the air on articulated serpentine necks, tails that look
like a single, man-made feather, extending up another eight feet
behind them, dancing in a choreographed drill...playing with the
crowd...playing with each other... moving through the garden, and
then out into the square for the next two hours.
We wind our way to Caffe
a baroque salon in operation since 1720, a favorite haunt of Goethe,
Casanova (possibly because it was the only coffee house to admit
women), and later, Lord Byron, Proust and Dickens. It is filled
with costumed revelers, looking very much the part of 17th - 18th
century lords and courtesans. We are shown to a small table in one of
the ornate and crowded salons, and order hot chocolate, which arrives
as rich as though it were a Hershey Bar melted into a delicate,
porcelain cup. The windows looking out are filled with people looking
in, and it is hard to tell which side of the glass is the more active
fish bowl...a man in white Carnivale attire, accompanied by a man in
black (dressed like Mozart's father in Amadeus), start hand signaling
somewhat obscenely through the glass, with a man sitting near us, and
flirting with the man's wife. Hysterical!
walking over a myriad of small bridges, past an ornate church which
none of us recognize, down a dead end, and back onto a plaza, which
turns out to be Campo
Vendors in street booths selling Carnivale regalia. I buy a black
tri-corner hat, the traditional headwear of Carnivale. It's wool, and
warmer than the costume piece I brought with me. Dinner is at an
osteria near the apartment. I eat half of what I order.
Back at the apartment. I stitch a black and gold veil to the back of my new
hat. Marie says it needs a pin. So I add that to tomorrow's shopping
list, along with writing paper, a mask, and a train ticket to
The Doges Palace
5:30 AM, the upstairs neighbor wakes up and turns on their lights, which
reflect back off the brick and wood-shuttered windows of the building
across the alley from my room. At 6:15, a broom hits the pavement,
shooing a soda can down the street. A crescent moon hangs above the terracotta tile rooftops. At 7 AM, church bells begin. Marie
is up, and offers to go for a walk with me.
We set out at 7:30, and
snap shots of the sunrise as it hits the buildings. It's a really
pleasant walk. Marie points out rooftop gardens on several of the
buildings. There are no plantings at street level. I find the place
to buy my train ticket. Marie buys blood oranges from a fruit stall,
croissants from a baker who did not speak English, and I have my
first Italian expresso "at the bar" to save on the 3Euro
table charge. This coffee is dramatically different from anything I
could hope to get at Starbucks...
breakfast, I change into my Venetian gown, determined to dress in
historical costume for the duration of my stay here. My tricorner
hat, though not historically accurate to the cut of my gown, is
teh-cute nonetheless, and I am very glad I bought it yesterday. We
set out to find favorite shops, which takes the majority of the
morning. We are lost much of the time, but see some pretty incredible
ancient buildings and very narrow alleys with iron bridges crossing
the narrow side canals. Even being lost, it is a good morning.
The other couple that is staying with us, announce their arrival on Marie's cell phone, so Payne and Marie leave to go meet them, and I am left to my own devices...I go to the Doge's Palace.
(Palazzo Ducale), originally built in the 800's as a fortress that enclosed both the personal residence of the Doge (the Duke who governed early Venice) and the first church in San Marco, but most of what now exists dates from the 1300's. It became the seat of Venetian government in subsequent centuries and is an excellent example of Venetian Gothic architecture. Again as with much of Venice, art and details that you look at are reconstructed from original pieces. In the case of this palace, pieces that were destroyed in several fires between 976 and 1577.
first thing I see is an ornately carved black gondola with an
enclosed box over the seat, apparently to provide both shelter and
privacy to the Doge on his excursions on the canal. I then check my
bag, which was unfortunate, as I didn't think to take my camera out
first, nor did it occur to me to go back to retrieve it. DOH ! ! !
sheer amount of sculpture in the courtyard outside of the Doge's
apartments is remarkable, and I wandered for quite a while. The most
impressive section of the courtyard is the Foscari
dating from the late 15th century, topped with gothic towers and
ornamented with statuary symbolizing the arts, the work of masters of
the Lombard School.
of the next things I observed on the balcony was a lion face relief
on the wall, with a mail slot for a mouth, above a carved placard
that read "Denontie
Secrete Inmaterie Distato".
It was the receiving box for secret notes from citizens, turning in
other citizens for transgressions, although the local magistrates
rarely took action on these accusations. There would be a few other,
less ornate "boxes" throughout this building.
enter the palace via the
Scala d'Oro...the Golden Staircase, named after the 24-carat gold leaf adorning the arched,
stucco ceiling, built by command of Doge Gritti during the
mid-1500's. At the top of the staircase began the Doge's apartments,
both public rooms, and later, private ones. There are no furnishings,
because each doge was expected to provide his own, and upon his
death, the furnishings were returned to his heirs.
first room, a reception chamber, was filled with maps (the originals
dated to the late 15th century), and two 6-foot globes in pedestals
(dating to the 18th century), meant to underscore the importance of
Venice as a world power. The fireplace here is wrapped in
was at about the Corner Room, or perhaps the Ritratti, that I
entered, oblivious to other people, as my neck was craned back in
order to keep my eyes on the ceiling. I heard someone inhale sharply,
and looked down to see an Italian couple, wide-eyed, looking back at
me. "My god", the man says, "when you walked into the
room in your costume, we were just transported... Thank you!". I
told him I was equally transported, just being able to walk around in
these buildings in period costume. I offered a humble "Grazie" before they left. What an experience that was, for
all three of us...
next floor houses the chambers of government. Incredibly lavish,
every single surface of every room, ornamented with paint, gold,
fresco. My favorites were the Sala
del Senato (the Senate Room),
and the immense Sala
del Maggior Consiglio (the Legislature Room, shown here)
measures 175 x 80 feet, feels to be the size of a football field, and
remains the largest room in all of Europe unsupported by columns. My
least favorite room was the Quarantie (the Tribunals of Forty) where
justice was meted out. This room had a distinctly different smell
than the rest of the rooms, and was one of the last rooms that an
accused person would stand in before crossing over thePonte dei
Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) which links the courtrooms to the prisons
on the other side of a canal.
The Armory displays a fascinating variety of weaponry dating back to the 14th century. Fully armored horses stand in a glassed in corner of this room. Two sets of tournament armor dating from 1490, a child's or dwarf's armor recovered from a battlefield in 1515. The obligatory array of swords, a pair of exquisite Turkish recurve bows, 17th century guns, an amazingly ornate bronze canon whose barrel could only facilitate shot the size of something halfway between a golf and a tennis ball.
a walk over the Bridge
built in 1602 but named in the 19th century because it was the last
view of Venice a prisoner would have before being committed to a cell
for the rest of his life, looking out onto the lagoon through two
small glass-with-iron-grate windows. The staircase leading to the
prison cells was very oppressive, and I was glad that it wasn't more
crowded when I was there. These rooms, considered by standards of the
day to be more humane than most, would have still driven me to the
brink of insanity had I had to stay in them for more than a few
minutes. Low, arched ceilings, over nothing more than a bench,
originally lined with wood planking, windowless save for the iron
grate across the front. It was interesting to note that these cells
continued to be used as an active prison up into the 1930's.
find the gift shop / museum store, but find it woefully inadequate, a
problem that would be pervasive throughout the rest of my stay here.
I am absolutely incensed at the lack of photos of the Armory in the
museum catalog. The triptychs and icons in the apartments, are not in
the guide either, which is really unfortunate since I wanted to learn
more about the one that showed Mary in 13th century garb, crucified,
as men in armor fainted away at the foot of her cross...
a few more rooms, I arrive back out on the second story balcony. I
find the top of the Scala
dei Gigante, (Gigantic Staircase)
which was the ceremonial approach to the palace and the place where
the Doge was crowned. It is flanked on either side by statues of Mars
and Neptune, installed in the mid-16th century. As I stand in that
spot, I start to laugh. The butts of both Mars and Neptune are at
eye-level...mooning the Doge during some of his most important
ceremonies...bringing me to wonder if the placement of these two
statues was politically motivated...and then laughing again as it is
the last visage I have of this place...
set out to buy a train ticket, with the intention of returning here
to see the Basilica. I am lost for almost two hours before I start
asking for directions, every 3 blocks, until I finally find the ticketing office
I had seen this morning. I buy a ticket for a 6:30 departure tomorrow night, and head
back to the Basilica.
a maze this place is! I weave my way back to the square, to find the
queue in front of the Basilica is really long and full of tourist
groups. I decide to shop for a new ring. But women's fingers here are
excruciatingly tiny here, and my hopes of finding a ring with a
florin in it, or in fact any ring that I can even get on, begin to
diminish. I decide I will look for one in Florence.
return to the Basilica, but now it is 4 PM, not enough time to do
this sight justice. So I head back to the apartment. Two hours later,
I am still walking around in circles. No matter which direction I
leave San Marco Square, I always end up back here. I try to use a pay phones to call Payne and Marie but
cannot figure out how to make them work. Even Italians are coming up
to me, asking for help... It's now dark, and I'm pretty certain Payne
and Marie have started to worry. I am determined to figure this
set out again, with my map, certain I have it oriented properly. I
look up to see a wedding couple in front of me, and a really cool
bank of gondolas, as tourists start to book their evening cruises. I
go over this bridge, that bridge, and yet another, and turn the
corner, and...unbelievably...I am back in San Marco Square! Good God!
I haven't decided if I should laugh, or cry...
hour has passed, and the costumes have now come out. I walk around,
deciding that since I am here anyway, to soak up the ambiance of a
second night of Carnivale. I watch two costumed girls engaged in a
confetti fight as their parents look on, smiling and snapping shots.
I make my way back to a pay phone to try again, and get pelted in the
face by a little girl throwing confetti. A piece catches an edge in
my eye. Great. Now I am lost, -and- blind...
is now completely dark. One more attempt to leave the square fails,
and I suddenly remember that the vaporetto will take me directly back
to San Angelo. I make my way to the dock at San Marco, and hop on
board a boat that has just arrived, and realize that I am now seeing
the rest of the Grand Canal. How Cool Is This! I stand on the bow for
a better view. A gondola takes off, loaded with passengers, its hull
completely studded with white twinkle lights. The cathedral dome on
the other side of the Grand Canal is illuminated and beautiful. I
realize this is the only way I would have found the Accadamia, had I
even planned on going there. I watch a couple get the famous 30Euro
per person fine for failing to buy a vaporetto ticket.
get off, and try a couple of times to locate the Avvocati, before
going back to a hotel near the San Angelo stop. “It’s just across
the bridge to your left” the concierge says. Bridge? I don’t even
remember a bridge… I arrive home at 7 PM…3 hours after I intended
to. In retrospect, we realize that we should have had a back up
plan… "if you are not here by xyz, we will meet you a designated
place in San Marco Square at 7 PM,” says Payne. Yup, that would
have been a good plan to have in place. They are impressed that I
thought to take the vaporetto back home, and we all have a good laugh
about my complete inability to navigate Venice on my own. Payne
suggests sending a postcard to my boss, asking, “Have you heard
from Heather, last seen in San Marco Square on Monday? Please
- I later learn that a lot of people get lost here, even
the locals…so if you are planning a trip here, book an additional
day or two so you factor in that time-loss.
The Basilica of San Marco
I'm awake at 5:30. It's bread and jam for breakfast, and packing before we take off sightseeing. Then Marie and I set off to the Basilica. There’s a line, but it moves pretty quickly. We enter, and your eyes are amazingly drawn up to the vaulted, mosaic ceilings. Wow…
I did not choose well when I opted out of going upstairs, which I later realized was the San Marco Museum – the Doge’s banquet hall which now houses tapestries, illuminated manuscripts, and of course, on the balcony, the four bronze horses that you can see from the Square. But by that time I had nearly burned my retinas with the details of this place, and was pretty overwhelmed. I light candles for Dad and Chuck, who both died last year, and then exit the building.
We stop for lunch. I order a mushroom pizza and café correto…coffee ‘corrected’ with liquor. I stumble with the language barrier again, and experience a bit of culture shock as I am trying to communicate with a Chinese barkeep, in Italian. She brings me two bottles -- a Jaegarmeister, and a Jack Danials. Jack it is. The coffee comes, it is half alcohol. I don’t finish it, or the pizza. But I will never eat American pizza again…
We go shopping. The first find of the day, is also the best…a second hand store which looks promising for Payne as he searches for hardware for their house. There, in a glass case along the back wall…I find it…a ring…a gold lion head, a symbol of Venice. I ask the shopkeeper to unlock the case, and I try it on, and it slips onto my finger as though it was made for me. My ring, found at last.
We see more Carnivale costume today, nearly always these people are in pairs, who stroll very slowly, with specific poses and sometimes even specific places to pose in the square. We see stacks of what look like really long benches, which Marie explains are set up as walkways during the aqua alta, the street flooding which fortunately, we do not experience this trip. A French puppeteer, with his marionettes, his waist-high stage set up on the street, with backgrounds that he rolls in order to change the scenery, and a microphone and earpiece that he wears like body jewelry.
We visit the Cathedral of the Salute (Santa Maria della Salute) where I light a candle for Mischka, who also died last year. About half the outside of the dome is covered with scaffolding. It is also in sharp contrast to the Basilica, with its grey, unadorned interior, and its dome inset with glass panels, which fills the entire building with that beautiful Venetian light. It was built in 1630 by those thankful few who survived the Black Death that year. Outside the Salute, another very old church, appearing to date to the 10th-11th century, which I shoot in hopes of finding the name of it later. Another Carnivale costume, this one, a single Lioness…
We head back to the Rialto and cross to the other side. A ride in a gondola has been ousted from our plans due to the cost (100Euro), so we step onto a trajetto instead. This boat is not as ornate as a gondola, but is the same basic shape, and you stand in it instead of sitting. So, for the cost of a single Euro each, we board the “poor man’s gondola” and snap photos of the Rialto from water level at the center of the Grand Canal. So much fun!
On the other side, past the Guggenheim Museum, which is closed today, and the Palazzo Contarinin deo Bovolo, (the Bovolo Tower), the famous spiral staircase built at the turn of the 16th century, that I would never have found on my own because it is so very buried among all the other buildings, in a labyrinth of very narrow alleyways. It is also closed for restoration work, but we admire it nonetheless, and the cisterns and large marble tubs that are in the fenced off garden in front of it.
Here are additional photos of my first visit to Venice.
We walk back to the square and find the vendor where I bought my hat. He remembers us, although I suspect it was Payne that jogged his memory, rather than me. Then it is back to the apartment, to pick up my luggage, to go to the vaporetto, where I narrowly avoid getting on the one going in the wrong direction. Then, to the train station, where my trip to Florence begins…