San Marco – immediately east of the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge
When he conquered Venice, Napolean called St. Mark’s Square “the finest drawing room in Europe,” and except when the acqua alta (high water) rages and silly people swim in St. Mark’s Square, it remains a marvel today. Orchestras still serenade people having food and drinks in the many bars and restaurants on the square, and people still go nuts feeding the multitudes of overstuffed pigeons that fearlessly take proffered food from people’s hands, arms, heads, or other perches.
We were lucky that there was no acqua alta in Venice in December, and, as a result, we were able to go into glorious St. Mark’s Basilica with its floor-to-ceiling gold frescoes and its rippling floor. Built in the 11th century, it is considered one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture in the world. Divine! Unfortunately, I couldn’t take photos inside.
We wandered on the promenade at the east end of the Grand Canal to the Bridge of Sighs and then turned around and stopped for a prosecco. It was windy and chilly, but the sun was setting, the lagoon was beautiful, the buildings along the canal were burned a warm orange by the sun, and the day had been a good one! Cin-cin (cheers)!
Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore and Giudecca – islands just south of San Marco
On frigid Friday, we took the vaporetto the long way north, then west, and then east to Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore to see one of the great churches of Venice, San Giorgio Maggiore, which was designed and begun in 1566 by Andrea Palladio. Kate and Michael decided to climb the adjacent campanile while I waited below, but Kate came rushing back to tell me that an elevator went to the top, so I joined them. Although we were nearly blown away up there, the views of Venice, the lagoon, and the snow-capped mountains to the northwest were stunning, and this was one of my favorite things that we did.
We hopped back on the vaporetto for a couple of stops to Giudecca to see the beautiful Santissimo Redentore, also designed by Palladio and considered to be his supreme achievement. According to Fodor’s, “On the third weekend in July, the doge made a pilgrimage to the church to thank the Redeemer for ending a 16th-century plague. The event has become the Festa del Redentore, featuring boats, fireworks, and outdoor feasting. It’s the one time of the year you can walk to Giudecca—across a temporary pontoon bridge connecting Redentore with the Zattere.”
Frozen to the bone, we hopped back on the vaporetto and crossed the canal to Dorsoduro, stopping to visit the Gesuati church. We then wandered through Dorsoduro looking for the Ca’ Rezzonico, where poet Robert Browning died in 1889. Outside the palazzo is a stone plaque saying, “Open my heart and you will see / Graved inside of it, ‘Italy.’” My sentiments exactly!
After lunch we took the vaporetto down the Grand Canal to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, an astonishing museum filled with art from the early to mid-1900s, including works by Picasso, Pollock, Kandinsky, and others. The museum was Guggenheim’s home, and each room has a photo of her in it. I especially loved a collection of blue glass figurines of some of Picasso’s artwork. The figurines were displayed on glass shelves in front of a window overlooking the Grand Canal. Stunning!
We walked across the Grand Canal on the Accademia Bridge and through San Marco to our hotel, stopping for hot chocolate on the way, of course.
Snow in Venice
On our way home from dinner Friday night, it began to snow. It snowed all night, and on Saturday morning we awoke to see a dusting of snow on the roofs of the buildings on the Grand Canal. The snow in Venice was minor, however. We took the train back to Rome on Saturday, and from Venice to just before Florence, everything was covered in a thick blanket of white! Only the warmth of the lagoon prevented more snow in Venice.
Ahhhhhhh, Venice! What a wonderful city. I can’t wait to return!