Friday, October 9, 2015

Mediterranean Cruise - Day 12 - Venice

This morning as we woke up, we were still sailing for Venice.  Chris had morning meetings, so I ordered room service again and then sat by the Lido deck pool to read and relax.  It had turned cool and cloudy, and as we neared Italy, the winds kicked up a bit.  Soon the pool was sloshing over the sides, which was bothersome to the staff, who were setting up for a poolside BBQ.  One waiter dropped a tray full of silverware into the pool.

We began pulling into iconic Venice around noontime.  Chris joined me out on deck, and we watched the city approach and took photos.

Check out that yacht!
The craziness around St. Mark's Square.  Doge's Palace is to the right of the tower, with the white roof.
Church of Sta Maria del Rosario (Jesuit Church)
Another amazing yacht, we were told this belonged to a female movie star, and is often parked empty in Venice.  I think I could find cheaper slip space than Venice, Italy...
The opening of the Grand Canal
A little bit that we learned about Venice:  Venice is comprised of 118 small islands located in a lagoon just off mainland.  There is no car traffic on the islands, the only means of travel is by foot and boat.  The buildings in Venice are supported by wooden piles anchored in the sand below water.  The wood is mostly alder wood, and in the low oxygen conditions below water, it does not decay.  Because of this support system, many of the buildings are leaning, and move from time to time.

Venice also floods...sometimes daily.  As the tides come in, the water rises 9-12 inches and comes up onto the streets through the drainage systems, and the Venetians just deal with it.  Stacked along the busiest thoroughfares are piles of thick plywood on metal feet - they place these out as temporary sidewalks.

Our boat settled into dock, and we gathered for our excursion.  We stepped off our boat and onto an iconic long wooden water taxi.  It took us about a half mile to a dock right outside St. Mark's Square.

We walked a block or so, and first crossed a bridge overlooking the Bridge of Sighs.

The famous Bridge of Sighs
The craziness on the bridge looking at the Bridge of Sighs.  Gotta use your elbows if you want a good photo!

Then we walked up to the Doge's Palace, located just next to St. Mark's Basilica and the Square.

The Doge's Palace was the residence for the Doges of Venice.  A doge has no translation to English, the closest translation means "head" in Italian, and we don't have an equivalent ruler.  The doges were elected rulers, who were given lifetime rule.  As such, they were often older, affluent society members.  They lived in the palace, held court there, and entertained important guests.  The palace also served as the jail for Venice.  More on that in a bit.

Just inside the doors of the palace is an amazing courtyard.  At this far end, you see where the palace joins St. Mark's Basilica.  To the right is the main palace.

The Giants' Staircase, flanked by statues of Mars and Neptune, who represent Venice's power by land and sea.

Next, we entered the Doge's Apartments and Institutional Chambers.  There's a lot of history here, but to save you the headache of reading it, I'll just show you the pictures and caption the photos where I think there's something important.

Our local guide telling us about the "Lions Mouth".  These were slots where citizens could write a complaint about a crime committed by a fellow citizen, sign their name, and drop it into the slot.  Then the crime is investigated.  If you falsely accused someone, YOU were in trouble (hence why you had to sign your name!).  The lion was removed long ago because invaders were trying to rid the city of the lion - the symbol of Venice.

Ornate gold-leaf ceilings all over.

A doge receiving blessings from the virgin Mary

This room was amazing.  It's the largest room unsupported by columns in Europe.  It's covered by amazing murals and frescoes.

Our tour guide pointed out an error in the paintings - this man carrying fish is stepping out of a boat, but his right leg has a left foot attached to it.

Next, we toured the prisons.  There were two types of cells in the prison, those on the ground floor and those next to the attic.  The lower cells flooded with the rest of Venice, and were called the "Wells".  The more important prisoners were given the nicer attic cells, called "Leads" after the leaden rooftops.  One such prisoner was Cassanova, the famed lover.  He was arrested on suspicion of being a spy and imprisoned for 5 years without a trial.  He ended up escaping, just days before he was going to be released.  He was the only person to escape from the prison.  He traveled to Paris, and became a SPY!  Fun story.

A well cell

Inscription in one cell - they were used up until the 1920's.

Each cell had holes in it to let in light and air.  No plumbing here - you and your twenty cellmates used a bucket - and you only get one per day.

The Bridge of Sighs is so named because prisoners entered the prison across this bridge.  It's their last SIGH of freedom.
Next we exited into St. Mark's Square and heard about it's history.  It was built in the 800's AD, and is anchored by St. Mark's Basilica.  This is the burial place of the apostle Mark.  History goes that Ventians wanted the remains of Mark at the church, but they had to steal them from Jerusalem, hidden in a basket of pork.  As an unclean meat, the inspectors were grossed out seeing the meat, and didn't dig underneath to find the remains of Mark.  Sneaky.

The square
The Campanile.  In 1902, the campanile collapsed on itself due to internal structure damage.  They rebuilt in 10 years later, exactly as it was before.

Tile mosaic on St. Marks Basilica depicting the inspectors being repulsed by the pork that hid Mark's remains.

Another cornerstone to the square is the Clock Tower.  Built in the 1400's, it is the first DIGITAL clock.  See the roman numerals in what looks like blue windows on the third level?  The hour is on the left, minutes on the right.  4:00 pm.

Looking from the square out to the water (Doge's palace on the left), you see two stone pillars.  They are topped with the two patron saints of Venice: St. Theodore (saint before Mark), holding a spear to a crocodile, and then the winged Lion.

At this point, our tour group was supposed to go see a glass-blowing facility, but we decided to set off on our own and explore Venice.  We meandered through the streets, seeing all sorts of shopping and getting a little lost along the way.  We decided: Worst case scenario - we'd have enough gelato around to keep us alive.  :)

Just to prove our point, we stopped and bought a cup of four flavors.  Chris was partial to the creme caramel.

Too busy eating gelato to pose.

We walked in the general direction of the cruise terminal, and eventually, we made it back to the ship.  We ate some dinner and double-checked that there was no all-aboard time (the ship was docked here tonight and we disembarked in the morning).  Given the green light, we set out again just as the sun was setting.

We used the "People Mover", an above ground subway to get us to the water taxis on the Grand Canal.  We had planned on using Rick Steve's guided tour of the grand canal, but you had to catch a certain taxi route, and I still don't know how you find that boat....we ended up on the wrong one.  But regardless, we got to see lovely Venice at night, all lit up.  Pictures didn't turn out great in the low light, sorry.  The taxi dropped us off next to St. Mark's Square, and the tide was coming in.  Water was halfway covering the square, and coming in fast.  We decided to head back to the ship.  We found a water taxi to take us directly back to the cruise terminal.

We relaxed in our room, packed a bit, and drank our sparking wine we bought in St. Tropez.

A big day tomorrow - we get off the boat and catch a train through the Alps to Germany!

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