Apologies for no posts for the past few days - I had no access to internet while in Venice. However, I am now in Milan and will post the entries I had written about my days in Venice. Here they are!
Friday 7 January 2011
I was sad to leave Florence this morning; it is such a beautiful town and I really enjoyed myself there. Yesterday, after a phone call home to my family in the morning (during which I was informed that my Grandparents read this blog – I shall watch what I say now!), I went to the Uffizi Museum. If anyone ever goes to Florence and wants to go here (which all the guides recommend) I say definitely book ahead for tickets. The line took about 2 hours to get through, and it was the tourist off season. So mum and dad, if you go later on this year, make a reservation for tickets!!
I don't have any photos to share of the museum – there was strict control of cameras and I wasn't even allowed to take in bottled water. The works inside were impressive, though I was actually somewhat surprised after the amount of hype every guide I had read, as well as what everyone I had met in Florence had told me. They had all said I simply had to go and it was the most important museum in Italy. I don't know, perhaps I was expecting a bit more then? For starters this place certainly gets many of its visitors in because of the two paintings of Botticelli – the Birth of Venus and Spring. They were indeed beautiful and perhaps my favourite non Christian paintings there, but worth the wait of 2 hours? I'm not sure.
I don't want to bag out the museum – it definitely has some beautiful works and the museum itself is again beautiful. I think the problem is I have been forever changed by the National Gallery in London – now that, my friends, is a gallery worth paying to get into and waiting in a line, neither of which I had to do.
Moving on, I arrived in Venice by train a little before midday and the weather didn't really do much to welcome me. There was a fog on the canals that made it look quite gothic, and in fact as I was walking back and the light had gone it was more Jack the Ripperish actually! I spent the afternoon exploring – my hotel here is about a 40 min walk from the most famous section of Venice – San Marco Square, so will all my pottering around In various stores and admiring the views along the way, I didn't actually make it there!
Such pottering is definitely the way to discover Venice I think – it's like a little maze, with corners turning onto the canals and I can't help but marvel that such huge stone buildings are still afloat after all this time. There are so many Masquerade shops and Murano glass shops – the works are beautiful, but pricey. Which reminds me, Mum you asked me to check out Il Papiro to see if we are being ripped off in Melbourne. Well actually I say we are doing better than here in Italy, with the conversion rate! Their products seem to be universally expensive.
I did buy something beautiful today – there are a lot of the old fashioned style portraits that can be made from Ivory (though not any more) and they are on the coral background. Like this -
There were quite a few in the shops I saw and I have always loved these and wanted to get pendant of one, but they are really expensive in Australia The experience of buying one today was lovely – I chose the perfect place completely by accident. The store I chose was actually a family run business, with the present shop keeper having kept up her grandfather's work in this art form. She showed me some of the various works her family have created that are in museums throughout the world. I know what you're thinking, she could have easily been a phoney. But I don't think so, she showed me photos from when she was in Australia and the UK last year giving talks at universities about her work. She told me with great pride that one of her grandfather's best customers was Ernest Hemmingway. By this time I was feeling sure if I bought something it would be of great quality, but feeling nervous about the price!
However, we we had a look at quite a few and she was great – I told her my modest budget and she brought out some really stunning pieces in different styles and settings. 20 minutes later I walked out of the store with a beautiful, handmade pendant by her grandfather that is around 80 years old. It is so beautiful and the lady at the store made a big deal about how young I am to have such elegant taste as a fine lady. I have to say that after just having come from eating a canned tuna on a park bench for lunch this felt a bit of a stretch but I was happy to accept such a compliment!
Saturday 8 January 2011
Today, being a Saturday, Venice was brimming with people out shopping and sight-seeing, so I took one of the back routes to San Marco, away from the main tourist route. This way I was able to see some of the places where Venetians live. I'd love to know what a typical house looks like inside, for on the outside basically none of the houses stand alone, but are kind of continuous blocks of housing – more apartment-like I suppose. They look very quaint on the outside though, with window boxes of flowers and their terracotta colours. There seems to be a church on every corner and, I don't know how to explain it, but what looks like the remains of buildings a few hundred years old, abandoned and decaying.
I was trying to think of a word to describe my impression of Venice and the best I could come up with was gothic. There is a lot of gothic architecture around, however I think the fact that I have come here in Winter has much to do with me forming this impression. For starters, Venice is the only place I have been in Europe in which Winter does not seem to agree with it. The fog, which I noted as soon as I got off the train, loses its mysterious nature very quickly and then becomes tiresome. It swirls around the canals so that it can be hard to get a good glimpse of their beauty. I am surprised that I managed to get photos that look clear! And most of all, the fog gives the impression of abandonment. For once you step off the well beaten tourist tracks, the place becomes so quiet and I felt like I was walking through a ghost town. With only the pigeons and the burbling of the water around you, I suppose some may call it majestic perhaps but to me it feels like the town is lonely. One day I will come back to Venice when it is warm and see what it is like then, but I felt a bit sorry for all the beautiful ruins around me.
I made it to San Marco, after much dragging my feet past some of the shops that have the most stunning paper and feather quills (I really was born in the wrong century!). Immediately I could see why this would be the main tourist area – the Basilica of San Marco is vast and imposing with the tall bell towers around it and the Palace cornering this piazza off. There is a pier of sorts, where lots of gondolas are docked and I think you must be able to look out to the sea or something, however I couldn't see beyond about 70 metres because of the fog. I imagine in Summer it is beautiful. There were pigeons everywhere here, hoping for a scrap of food, except I saw a sign that said that eating food in public was forbidden in this piazza (!) so the pigeons weren't getting much.
When you go inside the Basilica, it is immediately obvious that the Venetians were inspired by Byzantine architecture. Remember how the roof of the Baptistery in Florence was covered in mosaic and I was harping on about how beautiful it was? Well times that by 20 and you have the roof of the Basilica. It is absolutely amazing, I can't explain how stunning it is. It was actually bit hard to see it because there are basically no windows and very little lighting, but all the same it was so impressive. The high altar carries the relics of St Mark the Evangelist (whose body was taken by the Venetians from Alexandria in dubious circumstances).
Next to the Basilica was the Doge's Palace. The Doge, in Medieval times when Venice was its own state, was the leader of the state, though he actually did not do very much in its day to day running. I bought a ticket and saw the apartments where he would have lived, the ministerial areas where the various courts were held, the armoury and the prison underground. The apartments were relatively small, though very opulent. But the ministerial areas were wow, so over the top with tapestries and paintings and the rooms were huge!! Absolutely amazing.
Seeing the armoury was really cool – some of the swords were so big I have no idea how the knights could lift them let alone fight with them. There was also a really good collection of cannons and guns – I had to laugh when I saw some of the pistols. I mean these things were ornaments more than effective weaponry – their aim was so unreliable and they are so intricately engraved and embossed. You'd be better off hitting someone with it than firing it. It always makes me laugh in movies like The Patriot where Mel Gibson has one of these guns and he can aim at a guy 100 metres away while on horseback and it gets him right in the head or chest. But then, he's Mel Gibson, so he can do anything.
The prison was quite spooky – it was freezing down here and you could still see the graffiti in Italian on the walls from Medieval times. I wonder how many a poor man suffered there.
One thing I learned today was that Venice's symbol of the lion comes from St Mark, whose symbol is also a lion. The reason this particular saint was chosen to be the state's patron saint was because he was one of the Twelve Apostles, so he had direct contact with Christ, however he was not associated with the Vatican in Rome, the way St Peter was. So this was Venice making the statement of being separate to the powers in Rome – I found this to be quite interesting.
Sunday 9 January 2011
This morning I was woken by one of many choruses of church bells ones hears when in Venice. It was certainly a much nice sound than the sounds of the previous evening – a loud bunch of drunk American tourists decided to camp outside the hotel last night, talking loudly then throwing up. Not so very nice.
This morning I made my way back to San Marco's Basilica for Sunday mass. It surprised me when I got in there, to see it fairly empty. The Basilica is closed to tourist during mass times, though I noticed a fair few people in the aisles reading tourist books and looking around, so I don't think they were there for mass. I know that Italy is a nominally a Catholic country, though my Italian friends have told me that numbers at church are always declining, but I was surprised that Sunday mass at the Cathedral should have so few people, even if this is the case.
This time all the lights were on inside the Basilica so I could see the roof in all its splendour. After the service I stayed back and had a good look – there is so much detail and symbolism in them. One could easily study the Basilica for years to learn about all its history and reasons behind the architecture.
It was even more foggy and damp today and really quite unpleasant to be outside, so I found a coffee shop that didn't charge you to sit down (a rare thing I have found so far in Italy!) and sat there and watched the world go buy while enjoying my cup of Joe. It got even more dark and foggy so I walked back to the hotel and curled up reading my new novel I picked up in Rome, Dumas' The Three Musketeers. It's quite good so far, though it makes me realise how much the Disney rendition of it, which I loved as a kid, completely butchered it!
Tomorrow morning I leave by train for Milan – I should arrive in the early afternoon. In the evening I am catching up with an Italian friend who was studying in Melbourne in early 2010 so I am looking forward to that!
I have lots of photos of Venice but the bandwidth on the wi-fi at this new hotel doesn't seem to like them, so I will try to put some up again soon.