Who can resist the beauty of Venice? The Byzantine splendor of San Marco, the sunshine lighting up the Grand Canal, Renaissance-era stone bridges reaching across narrow canals, the seething mass of tourists treading all over one another as they blindly follow their tour guide on that well-worn path between the Santa Lucia train station and Piazza San Marco....
Okay, on my visit to Venice last month, I could have done without the tourist hordes -- and I deliberately chose that word, hordes to describe the mass of humanity that is ever-present on the tired old streets linking the railway station with San Marco. That's why the very best way to see Venice, I would argue, is to stay for several nights, so you can appreciate what this stunning city is like in the early morning or evening, when the day trippers have left.
But since that's not always possible, on this visit I was a day tripper, one of the great unwashed which came swarming off the morning train from Bologna to spend one day in Venice. It was all the time I had on this trip, and one day in Venice is better than one day in countless other places!
And it really was a fabulous, if very short, day despite my fellow tourists and my stuck-up attitude!
Following Annie's excellent and expert advice, I really did make a beeline from the train station to Basilica di San Marco, with the goal of hitting a late-morning Mass -- a time when the mosaics are well-lit. (It's forbidden to take photos inside San Marco, so all of these are of mosaics in the portico, along with the adjacent clock tower.)
My motives are never pure, and this was certainly demonstrated here. Yes, I really am Catholic, I really do enjoy Mass and I enjoy it even more in a language I don't really understand. But I admit that I also figured Mass in any of the chapels of San Marco would provide a fabulous seat for some of the world's greatest mosaic art. Plus, as Annie told me, the mosaics are lit during Mass and they were spectacularly beautiful! Finally, I knew that you can skip the long lineups to enter the basilica if you're going to Mass. (I did say that my motives are rarely pure.)
Naturally, my plans didn't quite come off the way I had hoped and it serves me right. Mass was actually in a back room that I think was generally used as a storage area; however, before Mass I sat in a beautifully-lit side chapel for about 15 minutes marveling at the mosaics. And I had plenty of time after Mass to walk to my heart's content around inside the basilica.
Just a few days earlier, I had a fantastic day in the town of Ravenna, which UNESCO has designated a World Heritage Site for its remarkable collection of mosaics. I believe I visited roughly a half-dozen different sites in Ravenna that day, all decorated with mosaics dating back as much as 1,000 years in some instances. Truly incredible.
While Ravenna has an amazing amount of mosaic art, and a remarkable history, I have to say that I believe the mosaics in San Marco in Venice are more beautiful and -- as a large collection contained in a small area -- absolutely gob-smacking.
But even when gob-smacked, I still get hungry, especially at lunch time. It was more like 1:30 when I staggered out of San Marco into the burning hot piazza. I had had a restaurant picked out that I wanted to try near the Rialto Bridge, but felt defeated by the crowds. Besides, I wanted to sit outside and bask in the June sun, so I made my way through the San Marco neighbourhood, over the delightful Accademia Bridge into the Dorsoduro sestiere and to my favourite hotel, La Calcina, and more specifically, its cool restaurant that floats out into the Guidecca Canal.
The restaurant was packed, but there was a little sidewalk table on the bustling Zattere attached to La Calcina and I grabbed that instead. My lunch, which began with a great breadbasket and complementary prosecco, was perfect and I had just the right amount of shade from a patio umbrella as I watched the people go by on the Zattere and ships going up and down the Guidecca.
I seriously could have sat there until cocktail hour (that is, the next cocktail hour) but I had other art sites I was anxious to see. So, I set out for the nearby San Polo sestiere and the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. However, on my way I couldn't resist stopping to take a few photos of some architectural details in the Campo San Trovaso, in the Dorsoduro (above).
The very large Scuola Grande di San Rocco, built in 1525, is very dark and brooding but its walls and ceilings are filled with amazing work by the Venetian painter Tintoretto, who had been commissioned by the Scuola, also known as the Confraternity of St. Roch (the patron saint or protector against plague, a key concern in Venice and much of the world during these years.)
Time was so tight that I had only a few hours for the Scuola, and a short amount of time to stop in the nearby church of San Rocco. My Eurostar reservation meant I had to be back at the train station by 7 p.m. My day in Venice was much too short.
However, I did have a moment to get a gelato and take a photo of an interesting shrine (again, inspired by Annie!) on my way to the train station in the Santa Croce sestiere, only a few minutes' away from il ponte di Calatrava, which links the train station to Santa Croce. The shrine (pictured above) is called the Madonna con Bambino and is a copy of the original found at Torcello's Chiesa di S. Fosca.
And this street shrine was nearby, but I have no other information.
Any guesses where this is???