• Ankitha Prakash

The Venetian Lagoon: Venice, Italy, New Year 2016

📍 The Island of Venice

Venice or Venezia in Italian is the capital city of Veneto and one of the most visited tourist destinations in Europe. It was my dream to visit Venice from the time I was 4 after I saw a painting of it on one of my notebooks. I was always fascinated by the fact that how does a whole city float on water (I was four years old!). There can be cities with skyscrapers, luxury cars, crowded street crossings and many more but when you visit Venice, it's entirely different. As the Italians say, there's only ONE Venice in this world! I did plan this trip ahead as I wanted to be in Venice for the new year's eve. Guys this is a tourist season, therefore plan your accommodation and travel much before to avoid ending up taking a long nap in McDonald's (yes I have seen people do that). 

Ok so let's get started! It takes an hour and a half to reach Venice from Bologna and the ticket is 13 euros. The name of the main train station is Venezia Santa Lucia and this is the last stop for trains. So I boarded the train early in the morning and reached pretty soon too. The exit at the train station in Venice is like an alley, you keep walking through that and BAM!!! You witness Venice at once. It was an emotional moment for me as time stood still and it took a while for me to come to senses as the beauty was overwhelming. There was this beautiful aura about this place that I instantly fell in love with it (things like this happen when a 22 years old dream comes true!!) and I roamed till my feet were sore. 

📍 Ponte Degli Scalzi or Bridge of the Monks

So as soon as I got down from the train station, to my left was Ponte Degli Scalzi or Bridge of the Monks, one of the four bridges that span the Grand Canal or Canal Grande. Before you could go any further and cross the bridge, I'd suggest you go to the tourist information desk that is on the left. Ali Laguna is the name of the desk and you could get various packages here. The packages are made according to the interests of tourists and are really worth the prices. I chose to see the three beautiful and less inhabited islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello. The ticket was just 20 euros for a guided tour in 3 languages, Italian, Spanish and English. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would suggest you do it as well. I did get my tickets and crossed the Grand Canal before stopping in between to gaze at the city and take pics. I got down and checked into Hotel Carlton on the Grand Canal, where I had my breakfast.

📍 The Gondola Ride

When one thinks of Venice, the Gondola comes up for sure and just outside the hotel window of my room I could see one tied up.

The Gondola

I couldn't wait enough before taking the ride. It costs 80 euros for half an hour and that takes you around the grand canal. I'd suggest you tag along with some other tourists in order to share the cost if you're on a budget. Try requesting your gondolier or boatsman to sing for you if he can because the one I was riding with sang a beautiful Italian song that was so soothing to the ears although I did not understand a word of it. After a 40 minute ride in the Grand Canal where I got to see Rialto bridge and many other streets of Venice vaguely.

Entering the Grand Canal

The Grand Canal forms a large inverted S shape as it lazily bends along the city to divide it into two halves. On both sides of it, you can see that beautiful houses and churches are quite a common sight, thanks to trade and a safe ship-accessible port. One thing off my bucket list now, I came back and embarked on the journey to discover Venice on FOOT!

Venice is like a maze and getting lost in it is so much fun. I kept walking through the streets, crossing one bridge after another and halting at random places just to enjoy a few things that can happen only in Venice, like the narrow streets and no bicycles. My wandering and a little bit of chatter with the locals made me come across one of the narrowest streets in the world, Calle Varisco which is just 53 cm wide 😮

📍 Ponte di Rialto or Rialto bridge

Ponte di Rialto or Rialto bridge according to the locals is considered the soul of Venice although Piazza San Marco is well known around the world. The bridge was completed in just 3 years and was the only way to cross the Grand Canal till the mid 19th century. The bridge in itself is a marvel as it stands strong on wooden pilings even after 4 centuries. The bridge was designed by Antonio da Ponte. There are three walkways on this bridge, two on the outer railings, and one main passage in the middle. The outer two can always be a good place to click pics and the one in the middle can be used for buying souvenirs, jewellery, Murano glass. The bridge leads to the Rialto market where you can find various kinds of food, spices, fish etc. I would suggest you go a bit further into this market and explore options for your lunch. 

After walking through the streets of Venice, I did experience something called the dead-end syndrome (a name I just made up 😁) that makes you think that the street has ended right there when you look at it from a distance. As we move closer to the end we realize that the street actually turns either left or right. The locals say it is quite common for tourists to feel this way.

📍 Scala Contarini del Bovolo

While walking through the streets, I found a palace that seemed secluded even though it was in the city centre. The unique feature of this palace is its spiral staircase that resembles a snail's shell and hence the name Scala Contarini del Bovolo where del Bovolo means "of the snail'. The palace belonged to one of the founding families of Venice, the Contarini, who wanted to display their wealth and this palace was the exhibit. The staircase became so popular that the Bovolo name was associated permanently to the Contarini family. During my visit, the palace was under construction but now it has reopened and would suggest you go there, climb atop and enjoy the view of Venice (it's just 80 steps)

📍 Punta della Dogana: IL Nuovo Trionfo and Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

While my 'being the pedestrian' act of exploring Venice on foot continued, I ended up at the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute.

I took a walk around it and noticed a lot of sculptures adorning the exterior of the church.

As I went further, I reached to the Punta della Dogana and standing here amidst the cold breeze and posing for a pic was scary but I love this spot owing to the fact that it looks like the tip of Venice.

Il Nuovo Trionfo, the trabaccolo, a type of lugger derived from a Byzantine cargo ship was the work horse of the Venetian Lagoon. It was used to transport coal, wood and Istrian stone as well as foodstuffs, and despite its large capacity, it was nimble and manoeuvrable in the canals. This is the only remaining seaworthy trabaccolo in Venice. Il Nuovo Trionfo moored at the punta della dogana, at the entrance of the grand canal .

Interiors of Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

The church in its white stones and grand structure does make a statement. Situated at the mouth of the Grand Canal, it has got a nice history to it. A plague had overtaken Venice and killed around 80000 Venetians. The Venetian Senate prayed to mother Mary to eradicate this epidemic and promised to build her a church where no effort or expense will be spared and hence, Santa Maria della Salute. The interior is huge and is said to be the representation of the holy virgin's blessed womb and the octagonal dome structure is a symbol of the eight-pointed star related to the holy virgin.

It sure was a long day, I went back to my hotel and dozed off only to wake up to this!!

After my daily dose of coffee and cookies, I was all set to enjoy the new years eve but before that, I still had a lot to cover. 

📍 Chiesa di San Simeon Piccolo

As soon as we come out of the train station you will notice a church with a green dome and it's almost impossible to overlook it. This church is Chiesa di San Simeon Piccolo, where the mass is still conducted in Latin till date. The creepy part about this church is that it has a crypt with 21 chapels and a few of them are not yet explored leaving room for imaginations.

📍 Chiesa di Santo Stefano

The Interior

Expansive 13th-century Gothic church known for numerous Venetian Renaissance paintings & sculptures.

📍 Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo

The next church on my list was the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo. This church was built with bricks in the gothic Italian style. Twenty-six doges of Venice were buried here their tombs can be seen here. 

📍 Basilica dei Frari

Gear of a 16th Century Tower Clock, Basilica dei Frari

Basilica dei Frari is one of my favourite churches. When we enter the church the high altar shows the assumption of Mary by the famous painter Titian and the choir stalls is a sight to cherish. Do not forget to click pictures as you might be lost looking at how beautiful the interior of this church is. The church also is the place where Titian was buried and a few of the Doges too.

📍 Santa Maria della Presentazione

Santa Maria della Presentazione (Le Zitelle) or the Spinsters church in Guidecca island enlightened me that the dowry system existed even in Italy. This church was used to house young women whose families couldn't afford their dowries. These young women who were destined to be spinsters (le Zitelle) were taught music and even embroidery to support themselves rather than getting into prostitution. 

📍 Chiesa di San Moisè

The Interior

It is a Baroque style church which was built initially in the eighth century. It is dedicated to Moses since like the Byzantines, the Venetians often considered Old Testament prophets as canonized saints. It also honours Moisè Venier, the aristocrat who funded the reconstruction during the ninth century.

📍 Daniele Manin and the Winged Lion Monument

While walking from Rialto bridge to Piazza San Marco leads through the small Campo Manin. You see a centerpiece bronze statue of Daniele Manin, sculpted and erected here in 1875 Luigi Borro. This Venetian Patriot is accompanied by a winged lion resting upon the base of the statue. The winged lion being the symbol of Venice.

📍 Piazza San Marco or St. Mark's Square

The only piazza of Venice, it has been the most famous tourist attraction here and during new year's eve, it is flocked with tourists from all over the world. The square is covered with public buildings on three sides and the Basilica di San Marco with its beautiful domes and arches along with the bell tower on the fourth side. The square is known as one of the finest in the world and little did I know that it was a dream for many to be at the St. Mark's Square during this time of the year (more about that later).

📍 Basilica di San Marco or St. Mark's Basilica

Basilica di San Marco or St. Mark's Basilica also known as the Church of Gold became unimaginably wealthy after the crusaders brought back the Byzantine art to Venice. You glance at it and all you see is how lavishly the art embellishes the basilica and then you come to terms with why it is so popular in the whole of Europe.

The crowd waiting to get into the Basilica is a long line so I'd suggest you take the skip the line tour along with Doge's palace making sure you see all the important things. You have many reputed agencies offering the skip the line tours on the internet, so a little bit of research on the internet can save you a lot of time. 

The Bell Tower or Campanile soars high in the corner of St. Mark's square and is one of the most notable structures of Venice. The tower also has an elevator that will take you to the top and give you some breathtaking views of Venice. The tower was used as a guide for the sailors while coming back home due to its height and the view from the top is a testament of it. There is no skip the line during this time period (4th Nov to 31st March) so plan your itinerary ahead.  

Colonna di Marco and Colonna di Teodore

A little further from the bell tower, you will see two columns. One column has the symbol of St. Mark, the winged lion with the bible in its paws and this is called Colonna di Marco. The other column belongs to the first saint of Venice, St. Theodore and this is called Colonna di Teodore. 

📍 Monument to Victor Emmanuel II

This prominent, bronze monument was created in 1887 to honor the Kingdom of Italy's first king.

📍 The Palazzo Ducale or Doge's palace

The Palazzo Ducale or Doge's palace is a place where you will witness something different from regular churches and domes. When you are done admiring the exterior of the palace that has exquisite stone carvings and gothic Venetian art, you can go and take a tour of the palace.

The number of things to see in the palace is in abundance and without a guided tour, you'd be left without understanding the essence of it. Like I always say, skip the line tours are a life saviour here. 

📍 The bridge of Sighs or Ponte di Sospiri

The bridge of Sighs or Ponte di Sospiri connects the Doges Palace to the prison. The bridge is made of limestone and beautiful stonework adorns the two infamous windows. In the 19th century, English poet Lord Byron gave it a poetic meaning by telling that prisoners who passed the bridge to enter the prisons, took one last glance at Venice through them and sighed before getting executed or being spending the rest of their lives in the prison.

📍 The prison of Giacomo Casanova

Casanova was not only a great seducer, but also an adventurer. In fact, he was the only person who managed to escape from the terrible prisons of Doge's palace in Venice. He should have stayed in jail for five years, but Casanova immediately devised a way to escape. He achieved this incredible feat along with another inmate, Father Marino Balbi, on the night of All Saints in 1755, by making a hole in the ceiling and lowering down into the courtyard of the Doge's Palace, from which he later emerged among the common visitors.

The prison of Giacomo Casanova is not accessible to the general public and requires special private tours.

📍Arsenale di Venezia (The Venetian Arsenal)

The Venetian Arsenal was the heart of the Venetian naval industry from the thirteenth century. It is a huge complex of former shipyards and armories clustered together in the city of Venice. Note: The Arsenal is not open except for the exhibitions but having a walk around it is suggested (as I did).

📍 New Years at Piazza San Marco or St. Mark's Square

Just like I told you guys before, being at the St. Mark's Square during New Year is a dream of many and it is because of its enthralling fireworks at the night time. The city was gearing up for the big night and the crowd gathered near the Piazzetta to witness the beautiful fireworks. As I was heading towards the Piazzetta, I overheard a couple from the USA talk to each other where the man says directly looking into her eyes "Honey, New year's eve, Venice and Piazza San Marco. Do you still need anything else?" she stares at him with moist eyes and just says "Nothing" and hugs him. This was a very touching moment for me. The fireworks began and all of us were lost looking at it and when the clock struck 00:00 and the date read 01-01-2016, my new year began with pomp and in a way that can never be matched by anything in the near future. 

After a beautiful night, one that has a special place in my heart, I went back to my hotel and took the much-needed rest. I woke up the next day and headed to the meeting point of Ali Laguna, the place where we had to board the Vaporetti to go to the jewels of Venice, Murano, Burano and Torcello (you can read seperate blogs for all the three under the travel section).