I made train reservations for Kristin, Colette, Misch, and myself. We took an overnight train from Prague to Venice on the evening of Monday the 9th. After transferring in Vienna at 6am, we spent 8 hours going through the Alps and Northern Italy. In our second train compartment was an American couple on vacation. We chatted with them a bit and got into Venice at 2pm. I booked two beds for Kristin and I in a hostel called The Venice Fish, in the Cannaregio district. I booked it because of the "family atmosphere" and free meals. It was a really cute house, and the manager, Nina was so welcoming. After settling in, we walked towards the Rialto bridge and stopped for gelato. The weather was a tad cloudy, but infinitely warmer than Prague. Then we walked around Piazza San Marco for an hour and waited for our friends (who took a flight to Milan) so we could get some dinner.
The Piazza San Marco is exactly what it looks like in commercials and films. It's a large, open area surrounded by numerous historical monuments: St. Mark's Basilica, the Doge's Palace, museums, a library. I feel like these sights would be suffocating if it wasn't for the piazza opening to the large Canale di San Marco bringing sea breeze and chilling the crowd. Even for chilly, early spring, there were thousands of tourists swarming.
When Ilana, Liz, and Kyle showed up in the Piazza, we went in search of an outdoor restaurant lining the Grand Canal. We ordered a bottle of pinot grigio and a double order of fried calamari. Soon after we sat down, some of the other guests eating in front and behind us noticed we were also speaking English, and we began two-hour long conversations with a couple from Britain, and two grad students from upstate New York. Good spirits and good conversation deserve more good wine. After relaxing in the low-burning heat lamps and filling up on food and company, Kristin and I walked back to our hostel for free family-style dinner Nina prepared for all of the guests. We listened to a New Yorker who had been travelling around Serbia for the past month tell us of his experiences. There was also a South Afrikaaner who was moving back home after living in London for three years, a young woman from British Columbia, and a young man from Spain. The night was magical, just listening to people from all over the world speak about their separate travels. Nina made amazing spaghetti with bacon and tomato sauce. Then we retired for the night, being so tired from sleeping on the train and walking around Venice for most of the day.
The next morning, we woke up early to go inside the gems of San Marco: the Doge's Palace and St. Mark's Basilica. The palace was much more impressive than I was expecting. The thing about Venitian art is that it's the most byzantine of the Italian renaissance, being closer to the Eastern Roman Empire than Florence, or obviously Rome. The colors are deep and rich, with harsher edging around figures, more intricate designs, gold highlighting much of the backgrounds of paintings. The palace rooms consisted of tall, long walls stretching with huge religious murals and maps of the world. The furnishing was extravagent. Farther along the maze of the palace is the Bridge of Sighs, a tunnel from the palace to the new prison, named for the sighs and moans of prisoners. I found it bizarre for a prison to be so near a political figure - but I guess someone like the Doge keeps one's enemies closer. The prison cells were cold and cramped. Anyway, I was very impressed by the palace.
St. Mark's was filled with gold. Colette, Misch, Kristin and I didn't want to pay to go to the alter or any of the other rooms of the church, but we turned our necks towards the vaulted ceilings, where one can see the progression of artistic styles: some of the paintings are much more primative and flat, and so you can tell which religious figures were painted later on by different artists - more depth to the figure and the drapery, dimensional faces.
We also decided to go on a gondola ride, so Misch brought one of the gondola drivers down in price so we each payed 15 euro. He took us around the Grand Canal and some of the smaller side canals, where he pointed out where Casanova and Marco Polo lived. It was relaxing, and that day the sun was out, spoiling us with the warmest weather we've felt since...October in Boston.
After shopping for a little bit and grabbing a cheap lunch, we decided to pick up our luggage from our respective hostels and made our way to the train station to catch a train to Florence.
I thought I had fallen in love with Venice, having no expectations for Florence or Rome. Venice had been the only place in Italy I was interested in - boy was I wrong.
What we saw when we exited the Venezia Santa Lucia train station. I sighed contently.
The entrance to our hostel - our room was above the large green door.
Also outside our hostel.
Cool clock in Piazza San Marco - it told the time in roman numerals and minutes in intervals of five, so 30 minutes past noon was "XII:30"
Outside the Doge's Palace.
Outside St. Mark's Basilica.
Looking out onto the canal from the Piazza.
The courtyard of the palace.
The steps in the courtyard, where the new Doge is crowned in mourning. At the top are sculptures of Mars and Neptune.
The Rialto bridge from the gondola.
More of the piazza.
I'll try to update soon about Florence and Rome, but this week is very full of stressful homework and planning for Germany and Paris.