Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Venice, Italy

 Our last day in Venice was spent exploring the area between St. Mark's Square and the Rialto Bridge. In my opinion late April or early May is the best time to visit Venice. The crowds are down and the weather is wonderful. Most tourists seem to go in the summertime when the heat is stifling and the canals are fermenting. Not a good combination!
I loved the narrow "streets" on our way from one area to the other. It seemed impossible that women in the 1800's could have negotiated these streets with their huge dresses. 
 The Rialto Bridge is both beautiful to see for the first time and distressing at the same time. Graffiti isn't reserved for freeway overpasses here, anything is fair game, even historic treasures like this one. But it's impossible not to be totally romanced by the view.

We ate at Al Busco located right on the edge of the bridge which gave us some beautiful views of "rush hour" as the business day came to an end. Water busses, taxis, private boats and gondolas negotiate rush hour with grace.
 It was amazing to be sitting in a spot where thousands of years have passed and thousands of others have stood where I was standing. Being American, this isn't something we have a lot of here in the US. The only things we have that have been around for thousands of years are natural formations and dinosaur fossils!
 The gondoliers get going around mid morning and go until late in the evening. So, as the day progresses, you get a much better look at these boats and their ornate decoration.
 This was the view from our dinner table. In Italy you are encouraged to sit for hours and enjoy your meal. In fact, if you rush through your meal or only eat one course, they consider you to be very rude. So make the time to really enjoy the world going buy while you are spoiled by some really wonderful food.
 At night Venice seems like it's all about romance. Those who chose to eat at more Italian times are filling up the restaurants, couples are strolling the walkways and gazing over the beautiful Grand Canal.
 Glittering lights, gondolas skimming the canal, the music of the restaurants and the chatter of the diners make the whole experience very romantic.
 As we traveled back to our hotel and away from the tourist areas we were thrilled by the serenity of the canal. 
Our last stop, as we changed buses, we were treated by a light show by one of the hotels. This hotel had a revolving light display that went through about 7 different colors. Totally fun. By this time it was almost midnight and our boat for the airport was leaving at 4am. You could say that we were very reluctant to leave Venice. Honestly, it is one of the places in the world that I can't wait to return to and explore further!


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Venice, Italy ~ Out and About

You don't have to stay on the main canals to enjoy Venice. In fact, getting out of the tourist areas is where you can find some of the most beautiful sights to see.
 I have a thing about windows, especially windows in old buildings. The actual style is part of it but also how they decorate the windows help to make them beautiful. 
 It is so easy to imagine what these lamps would have looked like at night as true gaslights. It is easy, on most of these converted lights, to see the wires but my favorites try to hide the wires so that, at night, when they are lit, they still look like gaslights.
I simply loved this cat. He was actually chewing on the moss on this window sill and when I said "hey!" he looked up at me with this "Yeah, so I chew on moss...SO?" look. Cracked me up!
 The glamour of Venice is what will sweep you away. The design of the buildings along with the special touches, like the statues at this home, just make it so romantic. 
 Even the more formal buildings even have style to them! I loved this buildings striped awnings which gave a more jaunty look to the formal facade of the structure.
 And the Venetian Lion can be found in nearly every neighborhood. This beautiful church just took my breath away.
 Being a symbol of the fiercely enduring strength of the Venetian people, the lion is on everything from doors to churches to lampposts to bridges. I loved how fierce this one looked!
 Ornate. It is probably the most often used adjectives used when you are in Venice. Beautiful, romantic and ornate. Truly breathtaking everywhere you look.
 As you get closer to the Grand Canal and St. Mark's Square you will notice the bridges filling up with tourists as well as seeing more gondolas filled with people taking a tour of the canals.
 There are so many churches in Venice that you could spend three days just touring them. We saw this one every time we made our way from the hotel to the tourist areas. This meant that the last time I passed this church it was shocking to see that I had missed something major.
 I found out that the skull on the side of this church meant that it has a mausoleum. In other words, it's not just a church but also a graveyard. The skull just struck me as Gothic and dramatic and, in it's own way, one of my favorite details from Venice!
 But the drama of these churches just sweeps you away. If I have the chance to return to Venice it will be for a much longer time just so I can actually tour these churches and enjoy a bit of relaxing time like the guy on these church steps. (click on the small photo to see the larger full version)
This was my favorite and I just knew if I had the opportunity to go inside that it would take my breath away. The San Giorgio Maggiore Church is one of the most photographed churches in Venice...from a distance. This is the church you see from St. Mark's Square across the main waterway. I'm dying to go explore it and the grounds. I can only imagine how wonderful the view of St. Mark's Square would be from that bell tower!

This upcoming week brings an event (I'm an event planner as well as a custom cake designer) so I'll bring you the conclusion of our tour of Venice the following Monday. Hope you can come join us for this last section which includes the Rialto Bridge and Venice at night.


Monday, February 10, 2014

Venice, Italy ~ Island of Murano

When you are on a GoAheadTours trip you are given lots of time, and even whole days, to explore on your own parts of the city or area that the tour doesn't include. For us it was a visit to the Island of Murano. I am fascinated with glass blowing and the gorgeous Venetian Glass that we had seen all over Italy comes from Murano. I couldn't wait for our free afternoon and the chance to see someone create a piece of glass artwork!
 I don't know why I was surprised to see a lighthouse as we got close to Murano but I was! It is open sea so the islands most certainly need a lighthouse and this one is beautiful!
 We took a waterbus over from the dock in Venice near St. Mark's Square and it only took a short trip and we were cruising into the dock in Murano.
It is fairly hard not to be totally romanced by the gondola poles. 

 As with Venice, Murano is actually made up of several islands and they are all connected with bridges. The view of the town is wonderful from the top of the bridges so take the time to take a good look when you are in the middle!
 The art installations were simply gorgeous. To know that this wasn't created by a machine of some sort but was made by an artist who handblows this into shape is simply overwhelming!
 The shape, the texture as well as the color is what sweeps you away with this art form. Just gorgeous.
 The Church of Santa Maria e Denato. It looks so clean and new that you wouldn't suspect that it was originally built in the 7th century. It has had some additions and restorations over the 9th and 11th centuries and there may have been more but the condition of this church is amazing.
 The brick detailing is what I find so fascinating about this church. It goes past brick construction and evolves into a mosaic type of fine detail that is just gorgeous.
 But the details are what make the architecture over here. Even the door pulls are set upon beautiful wrought iron and backed with glass here.
We did have the pleasure of watching an artist at work. He took this blob of glass and created a gorgeous vase from it. Here he is adding details to the neck of the piece. The process is so cool to watch and so impossible to imagine doing myself.
 He then blew it out to fill out the piece and make a wider base for the vase. After this part he was able to break it off for finishing. After the demonstration we were able to go inside the studio and buy some of the pieces. Not all of them are huge. I brought home this little glass egg that was just stunning in it's perfection and color.
The beautiful island of Murano is so colorful and such a pleasure to visit. We were there early enough for a late lunch and it was wonderful to look out onto the canals, the art sculpture and the brightly painted buildings. Unfortunately the afternoon isn't the best time of day to visit this little island because the Italians take an afternoon break and all of the shops close up. So head out in the morning if you can and end your day with lunch at one of the wonderful outdoor cafes. We ended ours with gelato from the one shop still open by the waterbus stop. 

This upcoming weekend I'll share with you the last of our tour of Venice which includes Venice at night. Hope you can come back and join us!


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Venice, Italy ~ The Doge's Palace

When you are part of a tour group like Go Ahead Tours, like we were, you get to skip ahead of those who are waiting in line. Tickets are purchased in advance, a guide provided and you are also given listening devices so you can hear what your guide is saying without being right next to them. This is particularly wonderful if you are like me and off from the group taking photos. You can hear what is being said at all times.
The Palace is beautiful from the outside with columns spanning around the corner of St. Mark's Square. 
 While, from a distance, the columns all look the same they are, in fact, all different. Each has carvings on it of people, like this one, animals or birds. Most people walk right by them and never notice the details so wonderfully carved into the marble.
 The columns are topped by these cutouts that create a beautiful pattern around the Palace edges.
 Step into the corridor and you immediately get a totally different look, a more Tuscan look to the Palace. 
 But step inside and you are dazzled by the inner courtyard and you begin to understand just how opulent this place actually is.
 Opulent and elegant with repeating patterns cut into the marble arches. This side of the Palace was built in the early 1300's.
 This 16th Century well head sits in the center of the courtyard. I was fascinated by all of the carvings on it.
 To say that this place is beautiful is an understatement. You are completely overwhelmed the moment you step into the courtyard.
 The domes you can see from the courtyard are actually those of St. Mark's Basilica. 
 But the ornamentation of the courtyard, like this marble clock, are completely hidden from St. Mark's Square. 
 The entire view of the side of the Basilica ornamentation is beautiful. This is also where you exit the tour.
The left hand side of the courtyard was actually constructed over a hundred years after the right hand side!
The right hand side is all marble while the left hand side adds beautiful ironwork and brick to the look of the Palace.

  Entering into the Palace from the courtyard there are several interesting details such as this doorpull!
 But I simply loved this heavily carved wooden door. Unfortunately the room behind this door is not on the tour.
We went into this section of the Palace and, while this gate is pretty, it doesn't give you any idea what you are about to see next! 
 The Golden Staircase is the last part of the interior of the Palace that you are officially allowed to photograph. Our tour included the apartments as well as the official greeting and courtrooms of the Palace. The overall feeling is opulence and it is a beautiful tour. But, with wealth and privilege comes the chains of it as well. The Doge was relegated to only a few rooms of the Palace and it was a lifetime position. So while he was completely taken care of and had every "thing" he could wish for, he was also very trapped. As trapped as those he sent to the dungeons never to be seen again.
 The Bridge of Sighs has a very beautiful exterior. It is named for the sounds of the prisoners heading into the dungeons. (it is flanked in blue plastic due to restoration efforts that were going on at that time)
 While the outside is ornate the inside is very plain and dreary. It takes only a few seconds to cross from the opulence of the Palace into the horrible dungeons.
 The official guide said that while we are "encouraged not to take photographs, what happened when she left the room was of no concern to her". I made sure to use only natural light to photograph the area and took only a few photos to keep it quick. 
 This would have been your view from inside the cells. Those who entered rarely exited alive.
 In the late 1400's they built the staircase up to the Doge's apartments. They added the statues of Mars and Neptune in the mid 1500's to "guard" the staircase.
 The staircase is made from marble, and the arch is made from bands Istrian stone and red Verona marble. 
These statues are giant. When you exit the Doge's apartments you are faced with their backsides. It's rather comical and tends to bring out the immaturity of the guests who pass by. A little bit of needed humor after the sadness of the dungeons and a fun way to end the tour.

Next week we'll head out to the island of Murano. This is where the Venetian glass is made so I hope you can come back and tour the island with us!

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