|Cunard Queen Victoria 2018
Mediterranean Cruise part 14 - Venice Second Visit
We made two visits to Venice in 2014 and the following is the combined version of those visits. It gives two suggestions to visit the main sights, starting in different directions from the Piazzale Roma but always heading towards St Mark's Square via the Rialto and Accademia bridges. There then follows a short outline of our day visit in 2018, with additional detail on those places which we had not visited before. We like Venice very much, especially outside the main tourist season and we prefer to visit in October or November. There is the risk of weather but the photos here show that it is a really beautiful city and an easy place to explore on foot.
Venice is located at the head of the Adriatic Sea, where an intricate web of tiny islands and canals form this enchanting city. In this intimate setting where gondoliers serenade, delicate bridges lead to winding cobblestone streets, and glorious renaissance architecture form a fairy-tale backdrop, it is no wonder that many people feel it is the world's most romantic destination.
We started our entry into Venice before 0700 and we were treated to a description on the main decks of the main sights as dawn broke but it was not until reaching the Canale di San Marco that there was enough light for pictures on the cameras but Pete took some video earlier of the new tidal protection barriers. The QE and QV are not very large compared with modern cruise ships and will just be within the size limit planned for limiting access along the waterfront. In the early morning it seemed very quiet but there were already several other ships in the distance at the cruise terminal which must have arrived the previous evening. Usually Cunard ships also stay overnight.
The views from the water, from the height of Deck 9 where we had a grandstand view from in front of the gym, were excellent – on the port side of the island of San Giorgio Maggiore with its marina and then Guidecca which has the famous Cipriani Hotel, the church of Il Redentore built in thanksgiving for the end of the 1576 plague and finally the Molino Stucky Hotel. The views on the starboard side of the palaces, bridges and expensive hotels along the waterfront lead to the famous view of the Doge's Palace and the Campanile immortalised in landscapes by Canaletto. There was a glimpse into the Grand Canal, still quiet in the early morning, and of the church of Santa Maria de la Salute as we continued along the Canale della Guidecca.
The ship was cleared by 0815 and we were quickly ashore. Cunard offer a private shuttle boat to San Vaccaria near St Marks Square costing 13 euros each way; we preferred to walk through the city after catching the People Mover. This overhead unmanned shuttle runs from the dock gates every 10 minutes to the Piazalle Roma and cost 1.30 euros. It is much easier than walking on main roads. There are then several options; we had decided to walk everywhere but the waterbuses, costing 7euros per journey or 20euros for a day ticket, are another good option. The walking routes which link the main areas of Rialto, Accademia, San Marco, Piazzale Roma and Ferrovia (railway station) are very well signposted. We started at the Tre Ponti, five interlocking bridges which span the Rio Nuovo canal near Piazzale Roma. In every direction there were canals, watertaxis and more bridges. It is much more fun to wander around the narrow streets and small canals than to rush down the Grand Canal in a large waterbus.
The first significant group of buildings is in the Campo San Rocco - the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, the church of San Rocco and the back of the Chiesa San Mario Gloriosa dei Frari. St Roch was a French saint of plague victims and the mission of the Scuola was the relief of the sick. The building was not open when we passed but our guide book described the Tintoretto paintings on the walls and the ceiling. A bric-a-brac market was setting up in the Campo dei Frari and the church door was open so we just walked inside. The “dei Frari” refers to the Franciscans who built the beautiful Gothic church, founded in the 13th century. It is empty inside and dominated by the altar in the distance, with Titian's “The Assumption”, and the choir screen and choir stalls. As we left, shortly after 0900, the ticket office was just opening and the first tourists were arriving.
Following the signs towards the Rialto led to the Campo San Polo, which we crossed and then continued until we glimpsed the Grand Canal on our right and could stroll along the waterside on the Riva del Vin to the Rialto Bridge. This is the oldest part of Venice and the name comes from rivo alto – high bank. The Rialto Bridge is one of four bridges which cross the Grand Canal and is probably the most well known, with its single span of marble and its shops. The other bridges are at Piazalle Roma, Ferrovia and Accademia. From the bridge there were excellent views along the Grand Canal, with good views from the Riva dei Ferro and the Riva dei Carbon before the path ended and we turned south through more narrow alleys towards Piazza San Marco.
Emerging at the Museo Correr in the corner gave a perfect view of this famous and large square, with the Campanile, Basilica San Marco and the Doge's Palace facing us. There were already lots of tour groups in the distance and our priority was to visit the Basilica, which was free, and then plan the rest of our time. Unfortunately there was a sign at the entrance explaining that it was closed until 1230, but that gave plenty of time to take the lift to the top of the Campanile. It was 8 euros, so quite expensive for a short visit, but the views from the top were excellent and allowed us to fit all the places together. The Torre del'Orologio clock-tower, built in 1496 and restored in 2006, glowed in the sunshine with its large blue and gold face displaying the signs of the zodiac.
Then we joined a queue to go into the Doge's Palace, the seat of government from the 9th century until 1797. There were two lines, and we had to wait to buy our tickets (16 euros full price and 10 euros for seniors, no discount for students over 25) while pre-booked tour groups, including those from the ship which had arrived by private launch, had priority. Everywhere in Venice we saw signs requesting “No Foto” or “No Flash” but they seemed to be ignored by everyone here, including the tour groups and we understand they only refer to flash pictures (the flash was always highlighted in the symbols). However the contrasting light conditions made it difficult to take useful pictures inside. The golden winged Lion of St Mark is the symbol of Venice. The seated lion represents the majesty of the State and the walking lion symbolises sovereignty. The highlights of the external visit were the courtyard with the Scala dei Giganti staircase and the Scala d'Oro gilded staircase leading to the State rooms. The sumptuous State rooms all have glorious ceilings, mosly decorated by Titian, Tintoretto and Bellini. The main rooms are the Sala del Collegio, the Sala del Senato with Tintoretto's “The Triumph of Venus” dating from 1580-84 on the ceiling and two clocks on the walls, the Sala del Consiglio dei Deici (the Council of 10) and the Sala del Maggior Consiglio where Council met presided over by the Doge, an enormous room with one entire wall covered by Tintorettos “Paradise”, said to be the world's largest oil painting and dating from 1588-90. Intrigue and power struggles were part of Venetian life and there are several examples of Bocca di Leone – letter boxes into which anonymous denunciations could be posted.
The Armoury has a large, comprehensive and interesting collection of weapons and armour, and from there the tour continues to the Prisons which occupy both sides of the canal, linked by the famous Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs). Emerging through the souvenir shop and cafe, there remained the views of the Piazza and the special outdoor exhibition of photos from WW1 of Italian mountain defences, before leaving at the exit through the old main entrance at the Porta della Carta.
It was just after 12.30 so the Basilica San Marco was open and we joined a short queue to go in. Bags were not allowed so we took turns to stay with the rucksack instead of putting it into left luggage. The Byzantine building with its ornate domes dates from 1071 and unfortunately the exterior view was spoiled by scaffolding. The outside 13th century mosaics were in good condition, including those showing the arrival of the remains of St Mark in Venice, having been stolen from Alexandria in AD828. His remains are said to be buried underneath the altar. Inside the building was dark and the mosaics which are supposed to be spectacular and golden were dark and tarnished. Overall it was a slight disappointment after some of the other churches and the Doge's Palace.
Continuing towards the Molo (waterfront) there are two columns, one with the Lion of San Marco and the other with S. Teodoro, the previous saint of Venice. The square is one of the first areas to flood and Venice is slowly sinking on its wooden piles by about 7 cm a year, hence all the new barriers and protection works. Bentonite, a form of china clay which is also used for wine finings has been injected under the square. Strolling along the waterfront the first bridge gave a good view of the Bridge of Sighs and the area was a mixture of souvenir stalls and waterbus and gondola stations, including the Cunard shuttle boat service. The first hotel, the luxury Danielli, was soon followed by the Londra Palace. It belongs to the Relais and Chateaux Group so is not cheap; just pasta and a glass of regional wine with a basket of bread was 30euros each. However, the pasta with rabbit ragout, was excellent, as was the local Sauvignon Blanc, and it was pleasant to sit outside and watch people strolling by.
Dragging ourselves away as they closed the gates at 15.00 we passed the Doge's Palace with its balcony then crossed St Mark's Square, passing all the cafes with their live music. Florians, the most famous, was full but as we arrived the music stopped so we continued walking, passing the Chiesa di San Moise and following signs to Accademia. The plan was to cross the Accademia bridge, but instead we found the traghetto gondola ferry which for only 2 euros crossed the Grand Canal from Santa Maria del Giglio towards Santa Maria della Salute.
For the second visit, an alternative route from the People Mover is to walk past the Station (Ferrovia) and cross over the Scalzi Bridge, which gave a different route into the central area and bore away more to the East on our way to the Rialto Bridge. In 2014 we looked at the Natural History Museum which was very comprehensive but too expensive for the time we had available. They however offer a multiple ticket to 9 museums including the Doges Palace for 18 Euros, only 8 Euros more than the ticket for the Palace and Museo Correr Complex - it also lasts for 6 months rather than the three for the other ticket so it worth considering if one is in town for several days or planning to return. We also found the Rialto Market alongside the Rialto Bridge which is full of Fish and fresh vegetables.
Reaching St Marks Square and having seen the Doge's Palace, the Campanile and the Cathedrale the next interesting building is the Museo Correr Complex - its rich and varied collections cover both the art and history of Venice. It was much bigger than we had anticipated and comprises the Museo Correr, the Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Marciana, the Sansoviniana Libraries and the Museo Archeologico Nazionale as well as associated Art Galleries. One enters at the opposite end of the square to the Doges Palace and it stretches round two side of the square at first floor level and also has a sweep of art galleries on the floor above - we spent close to two hours and basically only did a walk through most of the top floor to assess it for the future. There were a number of huge rooms with some magnificent ceilings, in particular the Correr Ballroom and the Bibleoteca Marciana, which alone made the visit worth while. Another lasting memory were the various libraries with carved bookcases and the number of old globes (terrestrial and celestial), many over a metre in diameter and mostly made of leather. There were many Murano Glass chandeliers illuminating every room. Give a choice we would still recommend the Doge's Palace as the higher priority but it is certainly worth finding time for both. As in the Doge's Palace the staff were happy for non flash pictures to be taken although there was a small warning sign on entry.
The other major addition was a visit to the Gran Theatre La Fenice, a magnificent Opera house known as one of "the most famous and renowned landmarks in the history of Italian theatre" with an opulent interior. La Fenice was the site of many famous operatic premieres including works from - Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, and Verdi. It only returned to use in 2003 after being largely gutted in a fire in 1996, in fact it has been gutted three times but has risen like the Phoenix it is called after and been rebuilt to essentially the same design each time. They still have the original model used by the architect to guide them. The rebuild was completed in only 650 days by a team of two hundred woodworkers, plasterers, artists,and other craftsman who recreated the ambiance of the old theatre at a cost of some €90 million with the motto ."how it was, where it was". We had looked at booking tickets for the evening in Venice but those available over the Internet had been 185 Euros whilst we found there were some at 45 Euros at the theatre but for inferior seats with potentially restricted views. There were also 'listen only' seats which have a totally obstructed view. It is based much more on boxes than the Royal Opera House, it has 170 - in fact it was originally created by a society of box holders in the 18th century after their San Benedetto Theatre burnt to the ground.
On the way back to the ship we stopped for an espresso and local cakes as we did not have lunch this time. By then it was dark and we took a few night time pictures.
We had explored most of Venice Island in 2014 but there is always something new. 12 October was the day of our wedding anniversary and also our last day on board the Queen Victoria before flying home so we had decided to spend some time packing, go into Venice later, and then be back on board in time for dinner at the Verandah restaurant. Our exploration of Venice was therefore shorter, although we had again begun by taking far too many photos of the entry into Venice Lagoon as the sun rose.
Leaving the People Mover at the Piazzale Roma in the general direction of Accademia and the church of Santa Maria della Salute the signs led us to the Church of Saint Barnaba, where there was a Leonardo da Vinci exhibit of interactive machines. Unfortunately it was not open although we could look inside across the rope. There is a path along the edge of the Canale della Giudecca which we reached by walking towards Accademia then turning south along the Rio di San Trovaso. This led past the Church of San Trovaso where there was free entry to see its Tintoretto paintings. The restored painting of the Last Supper is very well known and the Temptations of Saint Anthony Abbot features on a leaflet advertising visiting times for the Tintoretto paintings. The church keeps the light low so as not to damage the paintings. For 0.50 euros they can be illuminated for 7 minutes, just time to see them properly and take photos. 2018 is the 500 anniversary of the birth of Jacopo Tintoretto who painted lots of important buildings and churches in Venice. There are also paintings by Domenico Tintoretto (1560-1635).
Further along the canal is a well known gondola construction and repair workshop and then we reached the main canal where we turned left passing the Church dei Gesuati and finally approached the the Church of Santa Maria della Salute. We could appreciate the paintings here having been to San Trovaso. It is an enormous domed church with the famous painting by Tintoretto of the Marriage at Cana in the sacristy. There is a Titian altarpiece "La discesa dello Spirito Santo", and more of his ceiling paintings in the sacristy and a mirror is on loan to better admire them. The final important historic figure is the icon of the Madonna of Candia (Crete) which arrived in Venice in 1670 when Crete fell to the Turks. The icon was well known and had been worshipped in Crete in 1264 when the Venetians and Cretan had ceased their war in her presence.
To cross the Grand Canal on foot we walked back to the Accademia bridge, passing the Peggy Guggenheim collection. There was building work which had closed the Traghetto stop at S Maria del Giglio. Following signs to San Marco leads past the former church of San Maurizio which is now the Music Museum. There was a special exhibition about Vivaldi with lots of information, and many musical instruments with explanations of how they were manufactured. There is also an excellent shop and we bought a CD of music of Tartini, the composer and violinist from Piran. When we visited the Church of San Vidal at the beginning of the holiday there were musical instruments on display and adverts for concerts of Vivaldi.
Venice has many churches and the next church was the Church of Santa Maria del Giglio with its ornate facade and statues, and then the Church of San Moise which near to the Hotel Kette and is close to the Piazza San Marco. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the square was perfect. Having been cleaned and restored the Basilica of San Marco shone. There were too many tour groups in the narrow streets and around the Torre dell'Orlogio so we chose a quiet street heading north and passing the Church of San Salvador with its Titian paintings, then approached and crossed the Rialto bridge. Remembering the market stalls we followed signs for the market but there was very little for sale and most stalls were only selling identical souvenirs.
There were originally five Scuola Grande and we came upon the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista. This "school" is defined externally by the open air atrium or courtyard, separated from the city by a marble screen of (1478–81) by Pietro Lombardo. It is a confraternity and is said to have a piece of the true cross which had been brought to Venice in 1369. We did not visit but walked through the gateway and onwards towards the Scalzi Bridge and the railway station. In 2014 we had passed the Scuola Grande of San Rocco nearby which is also famous for its paintings by Tintoretto. We must visit both when we next come to Venice. We made the mistake of following signs for the railway station and so arrived at the Ponte degli Scalzi at the railway station, which was still some distance from the People Mover. We were back at the ship by 15.00, so our walk had taken 5 hours.
|Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 4th November, 2018