I was wrong when I said the Salzburg post was the biggest ever. THIS post is the biggest, EVER. It is huge.
We rode the night train from Salzburg to Venice, which wasn’t too bad at all, because our seats pulled out to lie flat. A German or Austrian soldier came in from around 2-4am, which meant we each got a pull-out section, but after he left John and I were able to have a 3-seat side each, which is basically like a couch. I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to sleep at all, with my back hurting, but I did get some sleep, and felt nicely refreshed by the time we got to Venice!
This is what we saw coming out of the train station. (That church with the too-big-for-its-britches dome is San Simeon Piccolo.*) It poured rain until the midafternoon.
* NOTE: All church links will go to the cool site “The Churches of Venice,” which offer lots of interesting details. However, I didn’t even try to prepare myself to find specific churches before I went, and I didn’t have internet access while I was there, so almost ALL the church stuff is just stuff I read after. And really, I feel like Italian Renaissance and Baroque churches are beyond my ability to say anything interesting about, since I know almost nothing other than generalities, and I barely got any pictures of them, anyway — because pictures weren’t allowed, as I’ll get around to mentioning. So, other than St Mark’s, this post is certified Almost Church Free.
Here’s the hotel! John and I were having trouble finding a cheap, non-sketchy hostel that wasn’t too far from the train station, and we’d probably started looking too late, since things were booked for Carnival. So John’s mom generously came to the rescue and booked a hotel room as a birthday gift for John — and since I was coming along, I lucked out, too! There was free breakfast and nice service and we even got to watch some Italian TV, which is an adventure in itself, let me tell you.
Each floor had a central room like this, with the hotel rooms surrounding it.
Here’s the wallpaper, for Courtney.
The breakfast buffet.
My breakfast the next morning. I showed my pictures to the kids, and when we got to this one they all went, “EWW! That fruit isn’t fresh!” I guess they must be accustomed to higher quality free food than I am!
The view out the front of the hotel — the first day.
And the second day! As you can see, it got sunny.
In Venice, it all looked exactly like it does in pictures. I took about a billion pictures looking down canals, over and over, so I’m going to try and just pick some of the best ones, and see how this goes.
And oh yeah — look what they had in the hotel! My family will recognize this as almost the exact same old timey register we had at the Chalet.
Here we are in, as we call it, “the first church where we were yelled at.” Because pictures are not allowed!!!! Not allowed at all!!! Turn it off!
Carnival masks! Here’s another illegal picture, because you are not allowed to take pictures of masks in store windows. Don’t even think about it. There are signs and they will wipe your camera film if they catch you. Well, they’ll tell you not to take pictures, at least.
Some masks get very fancy. My problem throughout the trip was that I find the masks that cover the whole face really frightening, yet there were hordes of people dressed like so:
This was me for most of the morning, until I gave in and spent €5 on an umbrella that was broken by the end of the day… hah!
I have just blithely skipped past all the walking it takes to get from our hotel in the northwest to St Mark’s Piazza in the southeast-ish, but trust me that it took about an hour (I think by the second day we got it down to 45 minutes). I think in fine warm-but-not-hot weather, and sans crushing back pain, I would have really enjoyed the wandering and criss-crossing and back-pedaling it takes to get around in Venice… but as it was, it kind of wore on me after a while!
And here it is… St Mark’s in the rain!
Now, I have wanted to see St Mark’s for almost as long as I’ve known anything about medieval history. It started out with a good old case of medieval relic-theft, and grew into the Byzantine/Romanesque monstrosity you see today, with dozens of layers of additions and booty tacked on from Venetian piracy. (In fact, you can see the bronze horses from Constantinople, although they are replicas, in this picture above the door.) I always hated the Venetians because of that whole Fourth Crusade thing, but I thought this church would be so awesome to see.
But as I found out before I went, it’s a big huge tourist church. You have to stand in line forever and then be pushed through like a sausage (sausage pulp?), and once again, you are NOT ALLOWED to take pictures of certain things, despite the proper atmosphere of reverence and prayer being already shot to heck. I don’t blame the churches, exactly, I blame the TOURISTS. The tourists who come just to file through! It has the double effect of making the church inaccessible to both people who want to take their time with the building itself (you can’t have a good look when you are being pushed through in the tide of people) and to those who want to use it for prayer, because they are separated off into a side chapel where you can’t even see much of the church. I guess I’m grateful that there aren’t any churches in Munich that are managed like “sights,” and they retain their atmosphere of reverence, and yet you can freely visit and take pictures.
John and I knew enough to skip the line by going to the side entrance (when John told the door guard — door guard!! — that we just wanted to pray, he practically rolled his eyes and looked at us very knowingly). Then we saw the last part of Mass in the side chapel (we walked into the last part of Mass like five different times during our explorations – never the middle or beginning!) and, when it was finished, we sort of snuck into the main part of the nave, through the corded-off walkways they have to make sure the people don’t forget they are not really in a church. (Despite this sneaking, I want to insist that we did come to the church to pray, Mr Door Guard! Just not to sit in the side chapel the whole time.)
Such awesome mosaics.
You weren’t suppose to take a picture of the presbytery or altar screen, I guess, but everybody did it furtively or not so furtively. However, this did not prevent us from getting yelled at a second time, as some tour guide with a headset microphone laid into John and berated him about “not seeing the signs? in six languages?” and so on. Meanwhile the rest of the teeming crowd clicked and snapped away on their cameras. It was a truly bizarre place and it hardened my feelings a bit toward Venetians (first the Sacking of Constantinople, and now this??). But I jest — I’m sure there wasn’t a single actual Venetian in the place, tour guide included.
Here’s the base of the Campanile.
Narrow, wet streets!
Well, for the rest of the morning and afternoon, we walked around, looking through shops for masks we liked, eating pizza at a little cafe, and managing to find me some pain medicine for my back. The meds were a huge psychological relief, at least, and I think they helped me manage the pain, but it never quite solved it since a good part of the discomfort was muscle tightness. But muscle relaxant meds didn’t seem like that great of an idea (and I’m not sure if you can buy them in Italy without a doctor’s prescription) — so my only REAL relief came through alcohol. Haha, that sounds very unhealthy. Neither of us drank that much, but I drank enough to help relax my back a bit, anyway.
We went back to the hotel to check in (though we were able to leave our bags there in the morning), and eventually headed out again in the early evening…
Here’s John in his first mask!
Crossing the Rialto Bridge…
Here it is!
I got a thingy I can’t remember the name of! John knows what it is though.
We got some wine and the snack platter came free!
Getcher fish here! That lobster on the left was alive. The man standing in the doorway (left off-camera) pet it and it moved. Poor lobster.
And we started to encounter lots more people in costume, most of whom were happy to post for pictures.
Who can afford these, I wonder?? Maybe the Japanese guy who (aw, I forgot to tell this story on the Salzburg post!) bought TWO HUNDRED AND SIXTY EURO’S WORTH OF CHOCOLATE in a candy store in Salzburg. €260!! Just candy!
Carnival in Venice is not just for the young…
So then, what was pretty much the best part of our night happened. We went back into the Piazza, where they were having an outdoor concert. And the theme was…
So, they had this whole inner area set up that, at first, you had to pay to enter. But as the night wore on and the crowds (not too many this night, since it was still the day before Fat Tuesday) stubbornly refused to care about 70s Night, they let you in for free. We went right up near the stage, close to that lady in the big white coat, who was so into it that it was awesome to watch her dance. The combination of the sparse crowd, the wine, and the ridiculously cheesy music made for a really fun time. We danced around in as groovy a way as possible for like, half an hour, until I had to go to the bathroom really bad and we had to dash off to some restaurant to pretend we were customers and use their bathroom.
They sang Grease songs! The whole time the huge screen in back played random commercials! One of them (a commercial for Venice tourism) flashed out this picture of the Pope every so often:
It was like he was endorsing this most European of experiences.
This one dude in the ruffles was also really into it, dancing all over the place and taking pictures of everything.
You go, Mr Ruffles.
After a while, realizing that nothing else was going to happen that night, we made our slow way back to the hotel, only getting a little lost.
But before I wrap up our first day, here’s a video I took of a street performer playing guitar:
The next morning when I woke up…
… it was SUNNY.
The Frari or Franciscan church.
Detail of the front facade of Sant’ Aponal.
People were out selling their food and the whole city was alive and very hectic. And crowded!
Finally, what you’ve all been waiting for.
Crossing the Rialto again… you can see we are heading into the real crowds.
One of the shops on the bridge was selling awesome Ethiopian Orthodox icons.
On our way I saw the coolest Sharpie graffiti.
As you can see, about a billion more people came to Venice overnight.
Haha, this pack of Marios.
And still freakier costumes.
Here’s John’s second mask. I didn’t get a picture of me wearing my mask that I like that much… and I tried to take one just now in the terrible lighting of my room but it degenerated from this:
I have some even freakier shots where I literally look like some kind of colorfully masked serial killer. And you’ll notice I had to take my glasses off. That is the main reason I didn’t actually wear my mask in Venice.
Helloooo Italian policemen!
So this is the Doge’s palace, a pure shot of Venetian Gothic.
The corner of the basilica with its spires and domes…
On each side of the Doge’s palace there are these open arcades, andeach column(as far as I could tell) has a unique capital:
I love it.
From the south you can see over to San Giorgio Maggiore.
And to the west, Santa Maria della Salute.
Unfortunately (for me, at any rate!) we weren’t able to visit either of these often-photographed churches.
We also braved the packed crowds to take a picture of the Bridge of Sighs.
There was also a fountain of wine. Yep. We had some.
In between the basilica and the palace…
This iconographic set is a symbol of Venice – the doge kneeling before the lion with the gospel (the lion is St Mark’s symbol) and it is all over Venice in various places.
I got really excited when I saw this, because it’s famous!
Now a quick view at some of the exterior of the basilica in sunny daylight… Tympanums and doors in general are some of my favorite parts of churches.
This was my favorite one.
Endless variation to pore over!
This is by the portal on the north side.
Aw, a sweet Nativity scene over the door.
Christ in Majesty flanked by two Evangelists.
My memory of this part of the day gets fuzzy, because my back pain was really starting to waste me. I could sort of get along okay when I was just walking at a steady pace, on and on through the winding alleys — but then we started walking back against the flow of people, and it was all starts and stops and hesitations and starting again, which was really hard on my back. At one point we sat down and ate lunch (at some empty little restaurant where there was like a €3 cover charge, but at least we just barely avoided the place that served “some frozen food.” In Italy some restaurants will microwave your food and sell it to you at the price of actual freshly made food…
What do you call a group of (fake) cardinals? A gaggle? A pride?
This was on our way to the Ghetto…
Here we are in the Nuovo Ghetto.
Where there was, sadly, not that much to see. I would have loved a look inside the synagogues, of course, but they were closed except for guided tours (and worship, of course), which I appreciate after the insanity of the churches in Venice (many of which you have to pay to enter, or just crowd into with other tourists), but I have a burning itch to get more acquainted with synagogue architecture…
On our way back to the hotel we saw some Robin Hood types.
The crowds were much more pleasant here…
Oh and I had more gelato.
Once we got back to the hotel, we both rested for a while, and then John went out to go to some events he’d wanted to see, and I laid down and had a nap. I woke up feeling a bit better, but still a little tender in the spine, and had a look out the window.
Morning and evening, the second day…
I made my way down to the Piazza one more time…
Haha, they put out this calendar of, um, dashing priests every year.
The Piazza in early evening. That night they were having a “rock concert,” and it was chock full of people, so in the end I think we had more fun with hardly anybody and “70s Night” — we didn’t stick around long, but went to find a place to eat.
I’m not sure this is a very appetizing picture, but it was good!
And we had more cake for dessert! That yellow stuff is “limoncello,” a lemony-flavored liqueur that was really tasty.
I think it was around 6:30 that we went into the restaurant — and it was around 9:30 or 10:00 that we left. But realize we were trying to wait around for the “Silent Boat Parade” that was supposed to happen at midnight. And it was getting colder, but we couldn’t go inside anywhere because we didn’t really want to drink or eat any more. So we sat outside a while, continuing a long conversation, until we finally just went into some restaurant and sat in the warmth for a good 15-20 minutes, until they caught onto us and kicked us out. Then we went to sit by the bridge itself (where the parade would start)…
Now, go and read that description I linked to. Here it is again.
So now you will understand me when I tell you that none of that happened. They did turn off the Christmas lights on the bridge at midnight, and some people in their houses/apartments turned off their lights inside (which I only noticed when they turned them back on five minutes later). And there were a few boats that made their way down the canal, seemingly by accident. Otherwise, nothing! Everybody around us seemed similarly confused/disappointed, and most were still standing there with us after 30 minutes of waiting. But it was cold. So we gave up and started the trek back to the hotel.
Back at the hotel we turned the TV on for a little while, and this was when our best and funniest Italian-TV-mishap occurred, which was so funny we laughed about it for like ten minutes while trying to fall asleep… but I’m not sure it is best told here on my blog, so you can ask me about it if you really want to know. But it might just be that you had to be there. Just believe, for my sake, that it was funny.
The next morning was Ash Wednesday, and although my train left at 1:30, I was really hoping to go to Mass and get some ASH. Love that ash. I thought in a super Italian Catholic city like Venice, this would be easy. Not so.
I started by just walking around to the three closest churches near the hotel. One did have times for Mass listed on the door — all of them in the afternoon or evening. The other seemed to have services listed, but not specific for Ash Wednesday, at least that I could translate with my not-really-Italian-just-Latin skills. But I walked into the end of another Mass. Of course. Then I poked around for a while and a priest who was there talked to me for a moment, which was the only friendly interaction-in-a-church I experienced in Venice! I didn’t tell you about the time the first day when John and I walked into a church (toward the end of Mass) and some elderly Italian lady practically jumped on John the instant he walked in, telling him to take off his hood, which he was already starting to do (remember it was pouring outside). Come on, Venetians!
Well I thought I would try just one more, so I found another, and walked in. I was the only one there, aside from the guy who was there to fend off tourists (I’m guessing that is what they call this job), whom I asked, largely by gestures, about Mass. He told me there wasn’t one there today. Giving up, since I still had to pack and everything and it was already almost 10, I just took a few minutes in that church to take
Yeah, I learned. Look how sneaky.
So then I went back, we packed up and left, and spent my last hour or so here.
Our hotel is in part of the former monastery of Santa Chiara — as far as I can tell, the adjoining gardens on the other side of a smaller canal were also part of the grounds. Now there’s a small playground and some pretty walkways.
And then… I left Venice and boarded the train back to Munich! This post is such a monster that I’ll save my pictures of the trip home through northern Italy/Tirol for a separate mini-post. There are only a few and I don’t have much to say about them except that it is pretty countryside.
Thanks for making it through!