The next morning we were up early. We were taking a high-speed train to Venice for the day. Maybe it was my imagination, but things were still a bit iffy-feeling between Erich and Ricki. They were better than they had been the day before, though. It only felt a little awkward. I got my morning dose of the Ponte Vecchio and then we headed off, on foot, to the train station.
It was nice walking through the street of Florence early in the morning. There were not a lot of people out and about yet.
The path to the train station led us by several places I had not seen before. We passed a kid’s clothing store and tried to talk Ricki into buying a dress there with a matching little tiara, but she was somehow shockingly not interested.
From interesting street corners, to quaint narrow roads and walkways, and even a big, impressive church, I noticed Florence was filled with a fascinating ambiance as we walked toward the train station.
The train station was nice. It was large and surprisingly clean. Most of the ticket windows were closed as most people purchased tickets these days electronically.
The trains were nice–nicer than I recalled from way back when, when I had visited before. All of the seats were reserved, too. You knew exactly where you were supposed to be. As a high-speed train, we did make the trip rather quickly, it seemed. Our top speed (that I noticed. We may have gone faster.) was 174 kilometers an hour, which is roughly 108 miles an hour.
As we approached Venice on the bridge that connects the mainland to the Venetian islands, it was raining. It seemed like it might be a dreary day–weather-wise and possibly emotionally. Ricki seemed preoccupied as we approached the train terminal in Venice. I could only imagine what was going through her head.
And then we arrived at the train station–finally.
And then, we walked out of the train station and…there we were–in Venice! I had been before and was actually amazed at how excited I was to see it all before me once again–despite the rain.
The vendors who always seemed to maniacally appear with umbrellas and ponchos at the earliest sign of moisture in the air were waiting for us as we exited the station. We didn’t need anything, thank you. Although it was raining, it wasn’t that bad out. We crossed the Grand Canal that snakes through Venice and headed out for the Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square). After initially being behind a large group of high school students (who decided to stop on a bridge and all take selfies together, creating a traffic jam), we worked our way past them and had the amazing experience of having the twisty and turn-y but always fascinating narrow paths of Venice pretty much all to ourselves.
The rain stopped not long after we started on our journey into Venice. Like it was the time before when I had visited, we had to be careful and watch for the signs to our destination. The path to St Mark’s Square really is a maze, but an incredibly scenic one. Around every corner there was some new little piazza to see or a picturesque canal.
It almost didn’t seem real. It made me feel almost like I was in some part of Disneyland I had never visited before.
I had warned my friends beforehand that the path to St Marks was a long and windy one. I don’t think they quite understood just how long and windy it would be. But again, we had just phenomenal new scenic surprises around every twist and turn.
On and on we went…
And there were only a smattering of people about. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect way to get to know this amazing city.
After walking and walking and walking, we decided to stop and get something to eat here. We still had not reached the Grand Canal, which was (in my mind only) roughly the half way point to San Marco’s Square (It’s more like 3/4 of the way or more). But we needed some nourishment to continue on our journey.
It was a small place. There were just a few tables on one side and a bar on the other.
The menu was in Italian, English, French, German, Spanish, and Russian,
I opted for a simple mushroom pizza and a salad. It was nothing spectacular and certainly not very breakfast-y (breakfast was not an option), but it hit the spot. I still sensed an awkwardness between Ricki and Erich, but it seemed wane as the meal progressed.
After lunch, we continued on our journey to St Mark’s Square. It soon became evident that while we were eating, the crowds had started returning now that the rain had stopped.
The increased crowd and presence of more and more souvenir vendors indicated we were getting closer to the touristy spots.
The big bridge loaded down with souvenir stands up ahead could only mean one thing…
We had come to the Ponte di Rialto, the bridge that crosses the Grand Canal of Venice. Avoiding the crowded center section, we opted to walk along the side for a more scenic experience.
There were some pretty long godolas. One was loaded up with tourists and passing beneath the bridge.
Zowie! It was all so picture-postcard wonderful. But it wasn’t a postcard. It was all real and we were there.
Here is the view from the other side of the bridge.
A Hard Rock Cafe in Venice, too? Ha! I was almost tempted to run in and buy a sweatshirt…like I used to do at every Hard Rock I encountered back in the 80s and 90s. But if I didn’t bother with one from the Florence location, I certainly did not need one from Venice either.
Once we moved beyond the Ponte di Rialto, the crowds swelled and shrank as we continued to make our way to the Piazza San Marco. We were much closer now.
Despite the crowds and the distance we had to go, we didn’t mind. Everywhere we turned was just so picturesque.
We passed a candy store on the way. Among the treats inside was these full-sized banana candies and giant gummy bears.
Still onward we trudged. We were getting closer…
There was a gondola pick up spot right on the path. I had no intention of spending the money for a gondola ride. It is expensive — $100 or more– and lasts only about 15 or 20 minutes. But I didn’t mind snapping photos of them. They added to the uniqueness, ambiance and photo-worthiness of Venice.
Onward we went. The path narrowed and widened haphazardly. I guess a multitude of tourists were not something the city planners were concerned about hundreds of years ago… Ha!
And then suddenly, we were there. We had arrived at St Mark’s Square (Piazza di San Marco).
St Mark’s Basilica has a massive feel to it on its end of the piazza. Construction started on it around 1060 and was intended to be the chapel for the Doge’s Palace next door. It was modified and added on to several times over the centuries. Today, it certainly is an impressive place and probably the most famous church in Venice. There were raised platforms all around the outside of the church. At first we thought they were for people to sit on or take selfies on (as many were doing). But then I realized what they were for. Several times a year, when it is high tide, the piazza floods. My co-worker Alexis experienced it at high tide last summer. She said the water was thigh high. We did not go in the basilica this trip, so I have no idea what sort of damage these floods cause to the interior.
The square is surrounded on three sides by buildings with a columned promenade around the inner perimeter.
It is filled with shops and fine restaurants, many of which were selling Murano glass creations. Murano glass is made on the the islands just north of Venice proper.
On the inland side of the walkway, there is an opening that leads to another photogenic canal.
St Mark’s Square is awesome. No wonder it is Venice’s most-visited destination.
The Doge’s Palace is next to the basilica to the south. The doge was the supreme ruler of Venice. The palace originally dates back to the 9th century. There is no trace of the original structure though. It has been rebuilt and added on to over the centuries due to several fires.
Across the St Mark’s Basin (the body of water where the Grand Canal empties out and that separates the main portion of Venice from Giudecca and San Giorgio Maggiore), you can see the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore.
A walk along the St Mark’s Basin waterfront is an amazing experience.
Just beyond the St Mark’s Square and just beyond the Doge’s Palace is the Rio di Palazzo canal. Tourists can cross it and continue on along the waterfront by walking over the Ponte della Paglia. From the Ponte della Paglia one can see the famous Ponte dei Sospiri, better known as the Bridge of Sighs. There is a lot of romantic folklore about the bridge. The 1979 film “A Little Romance” did nothing to dispel these rumors. Allegedly, if you kiss your true love under the bridge at the exact moment of sunset, while the bells from the St Mark’s Campanile ring, you will stay in love forever. The bridge was built in 1603 and connected the Doge’s Palace (specifically the interrogation area) to the prison, built just across the canal. The windows in the bridge allowed the prisoners one last quick glance at Venice before being locked away. The sighs were not those of love, but those of utter despair and hopelessness.
Casanova (Yes, he was a real person) was a prisoner of the Doge, but fortunately not in the prison (Prigiono Nuove or “new prison”). He was placed in the Piombi (the “leads), one of the cells lined with lead. The lead magnified the cold of winter and the heat of summer. The Piombi was located inside of the Doge’s Palace. On Oct. 31, 1756, Giacomo Casanova, after a year’s imprisonment, escaped from his cell and fled Venice.
Across the Ponte della Paglia, the promenade continues. However, there are tons of souvenir vendors selling all sorts of touristy tchotchkes.
The views were still impressive as we walked along. We also got tickets for the water bus later in the afternoon, so we would not miss our train home.
Although in some of my other photos, some of the towers appear to be leaning. This is caused by camera angles and other things. They were not leaning. However this particular tower was leaning. How has it not been talked about more? What is it and why is it leaning? What, if anything, are they doing about it? Who knew there was a leaning tower in Venice, too?
After walking along the promenade awhile, we headed back into the city some more to have a better look around.
As I had experienced many times in Europe, I had the strange feeling that I wasn’t really in Venice, but actually in some are of Disneyland I had never explored before.
We passed a place called Bra’s Bar (I’m not sure the apostrophe should be there, but whatever…). It was closed, but–of course I took photos. Ha! It would have been fun to have a drink with a bunch of silly bras hanging over head. I’m sure all cocktails are served in A, b, C, or D cups. Ha! Non-alcoholic ones in training bras, perhaps?
As we were wandering around, my mother called and wanted to know where we were and what we were doing. I told her we were in Venice for the day. She asked if we had taken a gondola ride. I told her no. They were too expensive. She asked I had taken a ride when I had been there before. No, I hadn’t. She proceeded to mom-shame me about the gondolas. When we finished the call, I told Erich and Ricki that my mom had convinced me to ride a gondola. Ricki confessed she wanted to ride one as well. Erich was the only hold out, but he agreed to go along.
At that moment, we serendipitously stumbled upon a gondola mooring station with a gondolier leaning on a post, waiting for a fare. (Well, serendipitously May be the wrong word, as there were gondoliers everywhere.)
It was expensive, about 100 Euros (about $113 US or so). But, okay. Split three ways wouldn’t be so bad…and when would we be back in Venice again? Probably never.
Another interesting thing we noticed was the crustaceans growing along the water line.
Thank you, Franco, for a super swell experience. We gave him a tip and then he and his buddy left for a bar. Ha!
The gondola ride had been so unique and so unexpectedly wonderful, I thought to take some short video along the way. Here are the three sections I shot, edited together and presented here, so you can partially enjoy the trip with us in the video below.
The gondola experience instantly made the trip to Venice extra special for all of us. The gondola rides at the Venetian in Las Vegas are a pale comparison to the real thing. It had been a magical moment for all of us. And with it, the last vestiges of any awkwardness between Ricki and Erich (if there were any) seemed to disappear completely.
They were soon shopping together, hitting all of the Murano Glass shops and looking for things to buy. I hate shopping, so I wandered about taking pictures.
We stopped for a drink here and sat at one of the outside tables to the left.
I realized that while we had crossed over the Ponte di Rialto and the Grand Canal, I had not gotten any photos of the famed bridge. So we headed back that way. As we walked, I snapped more photos.
The city is a maze, as I said before. There are walkways everywhere. This time we were taking a different path to the bridge than we had taken when we crossed it. I kept taking pictures of things I found interesting along the way, like the artist selling his work or the gondoliers on a smoke break.
We reached the Ponte di Rialto and I got my pictures.
This may be my favorite photo taken that day…
Because it was approaching the time our waterbus would be heading back to the train station, we thought it best to walk back to the St. Mark’s Square area.
We had time to kill, so we walked along the promenade a bit until we came across this restaurant where we decided to have dinner before heading home.
We sat near the window, so we could still enjoy what Venice while we ate. I wasn’t thrilled with the menu (it was a tourist restaurant, after all), so I opted for a pizza…that was almost like a salad. Ha!
After dinner, we headed back along the promenade to the waterbus station.
We had to wait for a while and there were several waterbus waiting areas for different buses. It was kind of confusing, but we ended up on the correct boat.
Off we went. The churches and other buildings across the basin were almost taunting me. If i ever get back to Venice, I want to explore the other islands in the Venetian Lagoon and see what they have to offer.
But as we moved along, Ricki seemed content. Venice passed by as the boat progressed and I was reflecting on the wonderful day we had all had.
As the light faded, the buildings on the island across from us seemed even more mysterious. Perhaps someday…
He headed back into the Grand Canal, at its mouth heading back towards the train station.
And, before we knew it, we had come full circle–back to where our day in Venice had began.
We made out way into the train station, but I first had to stop and visit the paybathrooms. Desperately. Ha!
When the train pulled into the station, Ricki made a beeline for it. She may be small, but those little legs are fast.
And look what happened to be parked across the platform from us, the Orient Express.
Back in Florence, we started our journey back to our apartment. The city was much quieter at night.
As we crossed the Arno River on one of the many bridges, we could see our Ponte Vecchio in the distance. We were almost home.
We walked on and I took a few more shots.
Soon we were back to our street and home a few minutes after that.
Venice had been a high point in the trip. Tomorrow, I would be off on my own again, heading out to Fontevivo in the north to visit another friend and his family for the first time. So it was off to bed right away…