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One Day in Venice

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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!

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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.


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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.

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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.

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And this street shrine was nearby, but I have no other information.
Any guesses where this is???


Comments (12)

Such a wonderfully rich blog entry - in many ways. Love your style. A thought came to mind when reading this "Annie made me do it:-)" m

Sandra, I have no clue where that shrine is. But your photos are wonderful, and I am glad you got to spend the day in Venice. How amazing!

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Sandra, great post and wonderful photos. I agree with you about one day in Venice is better than one day in anywhere else. It sounds like you accomplished a lot during your brief time there and noticed you got a meal in at La Calcina. The photos you took are beautiful and I can totally relate to the part about being influenced by Annie and her wonderful blog.

Glad you had a wonderful time in Venice. Thank you so much for sharing more of your experiences. Have a great day today!

Oh I love seeing all these photos and reading about your day. I've never visited Venice in high season and even in shoulder season, the hordes were intense. That's one reason (along with the price breaks) that I like to go in winter.

How interesting that they had Mass in a storage room! That must be a summer thing since all the mid-day Masses I've attended have been in either the chapel of the Madonna Nikopeia or the Baptistery. So glad the mosaics were lit for you!

And you found two very lovely shrines! The first is by Ponte Ruga Bella in campo San Giacomo dall' Orio. The second is also in sestiere Santa Croce and is on calle Larga dei Bari, close to the church of San Simeon Grande. (I didn't know this off my head but I did recognize the shrine and then checked my notes).

Love those San Trovaso reliefs. When I get home, I'll check the identity of that man who looks like he has scales. :)

sandrac:

Thanks menehune! And Annie's influence IS pretty strong! She is such a Venice expert and source of much wisdom, freely shared.

Hi Candi! It was wonderful to have even just a few hours in Venice. I've stayed there twice, once for a week, and I'm amazed at how fast time flies. There is so much to see and do, packed into deceptively small space.

Thanks Kathy. There's never enough time to see and do everything you want during a trip. I'm looking forward to hearing much more about your plans for Scotland!

Annie, thanks so much! I'd love to hear more about the figure with the scales. And you're right about the location of the first shrine -- as soon as I read your mention of the Campo Giacomo dall' Orio, I thought "that's it!" I find it amazing that with so many shrines in Venice, you can recognize this one. You really ARE the Venice expert!

Mass was a most interesting affair, the room really was tiny and the priest was remarkably old but determined. I was almost afraid for him, especially when he had to walk down the few steps from the altar after Mass (a man from the basilica security staff helped him!)

Orignally, a staff member directed me to a crypt almost directly below the main altar for Mass, but when I got there it seemed to be a private event, I think a family baptism. I retreated, and someone else directed me to this small, plain room.

And this was a Saturday, too, so perhaps that changes all the schedules. It was an experience nonetheless.

The hordes really thinned out as soon as I left the train-station-San-Marco axis. Still, I think it would be a very different -- and remarkable -- experience to visit in winter. I'd like to spend Christmas in Venice sometime. I think that would be magical.

Sandra - you're right . . . the best time to explore Venice is when the crowd were gone. Our evening spent in the square listening to the bands play and sipping vino was memorable. There couldn't have been more than 100 people there.

You did the right thing by heading away from the tourist 'axis' where things are more quiet and laid back. Imagine what the poor tourist thinks about Venice?

I'm a very limited expert. Churches and shrines, I know, but put me on a vaporetto and ask me about the palazzi and I don't have a clue. :)

So you got to go down to the crypt? Very cool; I'd love to go down there sometime. It's often flooded, I've read. And yes, every priest I've seen doing Mass in San Marco has been ancient. :)

Okay, here's what one of my books says about the decorations on the building right by San Trovaso....a 16th or 17th century relief of Vulcan and Cupid, some Byzantine paterae, and "a medieval sculpture of a sylvan man."

A sylvan man...wonder if he's related to the Green Man? Very cool find; I remember seeing Vulcan and Cupid but didn't see (or didn't notice) sylvan man!

So what did you think about the new bridge? I like it but it's very controversial.

nancyhol:

Great photos, Sandra! I'm glad you got to Venice for at least one day. As you say, it is better than nothing.

sandrac:

Jerry, it sounds like you had a wonderful evening in Venice. To me, that's one of the best times to be there.

But it's no wonder day-trippers, or overnighters, sometimes come away with bad impressions of cities like Venice and Rome. They rush around madly for several hours, then complain the city is too hectic!

Annie, you've proven again that you're the Venice expert. That's so interesting -- I didn't realize I had been in the company of Vulcan and Cupid.

The sylvan man is intriguing, I did a quick google search and it does sound like he would be related (tho perhaps younger?) to the green man. On the other hand, this sylvan man looks pretty ancient, as though he only just learned to walk out of the forest.

I found several references to Thoreau as the sylvan man -- in the eyes of some, Thoreau was half tree, half man. Obviously, not meant literally, whereas I wonder if the green man is meant to be almost literal.

I had heard a lot about the controversy surrounding the new bridge, but I liked it, too. And it was really convenient!

Hi Nancy, one day was better than nothing--but some friends are going to Venice for four days later this month, making me very envious!

Thoreau as sylvan man?! That is funny. I really like the way the San Trovaso guy looks (at first, I thought he was a male mermaid).

sandrac:

Annie, San Tovaso guy IS pretty funky. And he kind of looks like he might be covered in scales (I can't tell if his feet are webbed.)

A creature related to the sea would make more sense in Venice than does the forest (sylvan) reference. I wonder what the original sculptor was thinking? Maybe he just wanted a change from things nautical.

I tried the same tactic attending a mass in St. Peter's Basilica to be able to be in an area otherwise roped off :)

So glad you enjoyed your day in Venice. Sounds like you were able to do quite a bit. Last time I was there, I was up really early due to jetlag and wandered into St. Mark's Square in amazement, finding only 3 or 4 other people there! It was truly magical.

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