“Venice”. Few cities conjure more many images both from popular art/culture as well as it’s storied past. If you read my last blog, you know that I was more than a little disillusioned with my perception of Venice and the reality that greeted us. If you haven’t read it, I would recommend that you start there as this is one of the few places that truly has 2 sides to its coin and to miss one is to not appreciate the whole.
Jack hears my regular mantra “where you place your attention expands,” weekly. Which is to say, if you wish to be happy, stop looking at the things that annoy you. No place was this more helpful than in Venice. In fact, I can think of no world in which focusing on the positive is more important than in travel in general and specifically, in living on a boat subject to the vagaries of weather, culture, government bureaucracy, and the list goes on. In our last post I pointed out some of the irritating bits of Venice – but those things aside, Venice is spectacular for so many reasons – those are where we will place our attention.
Kelly arrived during our second week in this city and having flown all night and across 5000 miles, we felt the very least we could do was collect her in a water taxi. Prepared to stand, sign in hand with her name on it, Jack arrived ready to wait patiently for his aunt, but Kelly beat us to the punch, and she walked through the doors literally moments before we did. We whisked her off to the awaiting chariot and enjoyed the stunning views as we traveled from the airport, through Murano to Venice.
Once on board, Kelly brought out presents from Christmas’ past and future and we shared presents we have been saving for her. Huge highlights of these first moments on board include the yummy reese’s cups Kelly brought me- which I haven’t been able to buy since we arrived in Europe, and Nerds candy which Jack has been missing. But mostly it was just pure joy at having reconnected physically with a loved one we have been apart from for so long. This visit was made even more special by the sacrifice we know Kelly made to be here. A schoolteacher, she usually has the summers off to recover from a VERY demanding job. But this summer she opted to teach summer school to children who were falling behind due to the distant learning Covid situation. As a result, she only had a very shortened break from school/work and this she shared with us. Now serious travelers might be tempted to think it was she who got the better end of the deal, but Kelly isn’t a solo traveler – she had to go WAY outside of her comfort zone to be with us. And for this, we are, and will remain, incredibly grateful. Thank You Kelly so much for sharing this special time with us. We love you.
So, we arrived from the airport via water taxi to where Gratitude was berthed, on the far Eastern side of Venice at the Santaelena Marina. A lovely place to stay and the only marina from which to walk to Venice, Santaelena is still a longish hike to the main center – 20-30 minutes in each direction. But it wasn’t long before we discovered the best part of Santaelena may well have been the gentrified neighborhood called the Castello, the only Sestieri (district), of the 6 in Venice, where we felt like a community existed. Enjoying an authentic Italian meal in one of the many restaurants which lined the Via Garibaldi in Castello made us feel at once as though we had found the missing gem of what was once Venice. Waiters waved at friends passing by. Shop owners sold items a homeowner might need, not trinkets a tourist might bring the cat sitter at home. One can stroll and feel a part of an authentic neighborhood on the wide road, rather than get jostled in a throng of foreign visitors- (yes, I know – we are foreigners).
Just a bit further East from the Via Garibaldi lies the beautiful Giardini – a lovely park full of trees and the sound of cicadas the only sound for miles. Kids can run or play on the structures and there are plenty of benches to share a lunch or drink purchased from a nearby deli or perhaps stop at one of the 2 cafés in the area for an Aperitivo in the afternoon.
If the St. Marks Basilica left me in search of that spiritual connection I usually enjoy when walking into a holy place, the Chiesa di Sant’Elena filled the gap. Passing this gothic church each time we walked out of the marina gates, and reminded of its presence as the bells tolled daily from the tower, this church holds the remains from the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great. Saint Elena was credited with giving Christians the freedom of worship and she is further credited with finding the cross and nails used in the crucifixion of Jesus. Originally buried in Rome, then transferred to Constantinople (now Istanbul), she was brought to Venice in 1211 according to Venetoinside.com.
But the most famous sestiere in Venice is the locale of Piazza San Marco. Anchored at one end by the basilica and the Museo Correr on the Western side, along the entire square are shops and the piazza is full to brimming most hours of the day. Lovely cafes and restaurants serve cappuccino and pizza to the more indiscriminate tourists (often in need of a restroom). But for my taste, walk another 20 or so minutes to the other side of the Rialto bridge, or North to one of the charming neighborhoods to find a more authentic and relaxed meal or coffee. If it is a restroom you need, look closely for the signs which will direct you to a public space where for the cost of 1 Euro you can use a reasonably clean facility. No description of the Piazza would be complete without an honorable mention of the Campanille and the clocktower – both of which any visitor can’t help but see.
Formerly the capital of the Republic of Venice from 697 – 1797, Venice was a major powerhouse of trade and commerce – particularly spices, silks, and art during the renaissance period. The history of Venice is fascinating and too complicated to get into here but the most beautiful palace I have ever seen must be the Doge’s palace, the former residence of the Doge (technically duke) of Venice. The first Doge was elected in 697 and it is important to note, this elected office, though initially powerful, became more shared with other elected officials. There was one attempt of a Doge attempting to take over and he was summarily executed, and his portrait remains covered inside the palace where all the Doges portraits are hanged according to our tour guide, and according to Wikipedia, the doge had a very low salary.
Kelly remarked on several occasions “the Basilica looks larger than life from the outside, though once inside, it appears quite small”. We enjoyed a tour of the Doge’s Palace and learned that St. Marks Basilica was the private chapel of the Doge. One can’t help but marvel at the intensely ornate Italo-Byzantine architecture, though gothic details are throughout. Over 100 years of construction, the Basilica was completed in 1092, though it has only been the city’s cathedral (the seat of the bishop) since 1807. Since its inception it has been known as the Chiesa d’Oro (church of gold) due to the extensive gold mosaics and ornamentation. Walking through the plaza, and passing the cathedral on countless trips through the city in the month-long visit, we never saw the basilica the same way. Each time we passed, there was some new detail we missed on earlier visits, some new prospective or viewpoint. The way the sun cast shadows just right at certain times of the day, or the presence of or more accurately, absence of, hundreds if not thousands of other visitors. If you come to Venice, try to see it very early in the morning while the city still sleeps.
Since we left Florida in 2019, we have been to countless (seriously, I can’t count the number) of churches and holy sites in dozens of countries. Reared Catholic and currently members of the Episcopal church, we enjoy entering churches and spending a few moments in quiet silence, either in prayer or just peaceful meditation. We frequently light candles, and we ask Jack to just say a few words of greeting and hello to God. I am always able to feel… something. I can’t qualify or quantify it, but I feel some spiritual presence. There are times when I enter, and I feel goosebumps and even once I entered and felt emotional – not unlike the time in the National Gallery in London when I felt overwhelmingly emotional looking at a Monet painting. I have no idea why, but waiting for the “feeling” to arrive in the St. Marks Basilica -and it may be entirely just me and the crushing crowd -but at no time during the entire visit did I get the slightest spiritual tingling. Now, the chapel is nothing if not stunning. Ornate statues abound, mosaics cover the floors, gold is literally everywhere one looks. There are places to light candles and chairs to pray. There was even a confessional where priests would hear confession, but I felt the same as if I was visiting any other tourist site.
About a mile North of Venice and another series of linked islands is Murano. Settled by the Romans in the 6th century and once a prosperous fishing port, Murano is best known for the artisans who blow glass. Forced out of Venice due to the dangers from the ovens, all the glass producers were required to move here in 1291. According to Wikipedia, some of the most important brands of glass in the world are the Venini, Mandruzzato and, others. We visited the Venini shop and enjoyed watching them work their magic and even brought some home. Be careful if you visit Venice to ensure that you are purchasing authentic Murano glass.
Visitors to Murano mustn’t miss the nearby island of Burano. A complement to the industry of fishing and glass blowing, Burano is best known for the beautiful lace crafted in an island charmingly decorated with various brightly colored shops and houses. I’m not sure if Kelly didn’t inquire about it from the Venini shop if we would have found it on or own, but the Venini shop graciously offered to deliver us to Burano with their company “car” (water taxi).
The legend states that a fishman, leaving behind his lover, gifted her with a lovely design made from seaweed for her to remember him while he was fishing. As the seaweed began to dry, the women, desperate to preserve it, began to weave the pattern with needle and thread on a cushion. Removing the cushion once the pattern is complete, reveals the stunning needlework left behind. Several hundred years later these shops exist selling handmade and very high-end lace products – and everything from clothes to tablecloths.
The lovely shops aside, this island comprised of 5 islands, is one of the most charming in my opinion. An artist’s heaven for all the flower boxes and brightly colored buildings, it is just a wonderful way to spend the day, walking and strolling around this town.
Even though I am approaching my personal maximum 2000 words per post, there is still much to write about on Kelly’s week in Venice so stay tuned for a 3rd installment of Venice coming soon.