Venice Day 1
The captain had mentioned early views of Venice from the ship around 6 a.m., but the sun was streaming in the port holes before that even. We made it out of our room by 6:30 a.m., but we were still well out of the Venice area. The ship finally docked at 10 a.m. after puttering through the city for nearly an hour, and the sun was out to greet us! After collecting luggage, many of the passengers bee-lined for the nearest water bus. It was a bit messy, but everything came together for our almost 45 minute ride up and through the Grand Canal. Luckily, the B&B was only a block away from the stop, so finding it and getting logistics in order was a snap.
First up was a winding route to the Santa Maria della Salute, one of Venice’s four plague churches, after a quick lunch stop (seafood pizza, anyone?) in a campo en route. It’s mostly a huge domed room, and it does leave an impression. Worth the circuitous trek! The Guggenheim Museum was on the path back, but we kept going until the Accedemia Bridge and on to San Marco Square. Crowded, but not phobically so. I understand “loggia” now, so many arches! The basilica wasn’t open, although a line funneled through the entryway to get a sampling of the golden mosaics littering the ceilings of this building, so we bought the ticket to the Doge’s Palace that included four other museums.
The Palace wasn’t terribly busy at all (still have shivers at the thought of the people crunch at the Vatican), so seeing the Doge’s apartments, the judicial suites, and the new prison over the Bridge of Sighs was quite pleasant. I particularly enjoyed that last bit (I don’t know why I find dungeon-y areas to be interesting), so we picked up Casanova’s escape from a Venice prison to read later on. Just off San Marco square in direction of Rialto, we ate at a standard Italian restaurant and learned some important lessons. One. Don’t sit, there’s a fee. Two. Italian waiters aren’t all that friendly, but it doesn’t matter because they throw in their tip in the bill. Three. It’s better just to order “on the go”.
After that enlightening experience, we went our separate ways as Herr and I wished to see the square at night. There was some time left before then, so we mostly “got lost” (Venice is very much so a rat maze, but one could hardly get lost if one wanders enough; it’s an island for heaven’s sake!) looking for a Bankomat. We gave up and asked for directions after a while and made our way back to the square for dusk. Not as many folks, but still a substantial number (only 9 p.m. though). We got photo happy then made our own way to Rialto Bridge and back to the B&B.
Venice Day 2
A wicked storm passed through in the night that made for bad sleep, so waking up was not an easy task. Sunday isn’t a very active day in the city as well, which was good for us as most places didn’t open until 10 a.m. Because the weather was so cold, we spent much of our day indoors. The day before we passed a permanent da Vinci’s machines exhibit in a de-sanctified church, and it was en route. It held 55 of 60 reproductions from da Vinci’s codices and was a fun way to start off the museum run.
This time was much easier to find our way to San Marco, where we explored the Museum Correr (a more general museum of Venetian history), the Archaeological Museum (which really didn’t feel like it had much to do with Venetian history), and two rooms of the National Library with displays of books from the San Michele monastery and a fabulous map created by a monk, Fra Mauro, that I really enjoyed.
By then the basilica had opened up and we popped in line to see the interior. It is worth seeing, but photography is not allowed (strictly speaking), and still too many tour groups! And that was another prohibition: do not give explanations inside the basilica. No one was following those rules very well, and no one seemed to care too much. Because the bell tower was just across the way, we paid the eight euros a person to go up the elevator (I never paid so much to go up to a vantage point yet in Europe, and that includes the Eiffel!). The top was extremely windy but offered great views of the city that we didn’t stick around to enjoy so we could get out of the wind just as quickly. We later learned that in 1902 the bell tower crumbled to a pile of rubble of its own accord, so this one is fairly new construction for Venice and is already experiencing the cracking the previous thousand year old one did. Herr learned the city is putting a titanium ring in its foundation to stop the ground from shifting out from underneath it, so I’m curious if that really helps.
We took nearly the same path as the day before and crossed the Rialto bridge in the daylight. I was interested to see the famous market, but it’s mostly closed on Sunday (except for some vegetable sellers and souvenir shops). So that was a quick run through and back to the B&B to drop off our goodies. Herr went to a Vivaldi concert that evening, but I took it mostly to relax. We did a lot of touring this trip, and it was all starting to catch up to me!
Venice Day 3
Venice, in the last day, was spent at the Guggenheim Museum and the park with a whole lot of wandering around aimlessly (mostly wherever shiny objects glinted) until the train left for Verona. Sadly for tourists, weekdays seem to be jam packed with classroom visits (the museum was formerly a house, so get the large airy vault-like rooms out of your head), with children showing very little interest in the subject matter that a full paying audience would have liked to appreciate. At the Guggenheim, I counted around seven or eight classes that came jabbering like a flock of seagulls all with some critical proclamation to make about life. The collection itself suits a broad audience, some of it appealing more to others in different rooms. We both saw fascinating pieces, regardless of the feeling of struggling upstream in trying to forge through the masses.
One of the last remaining parks on the main island is near the bus and train stations. Hearing the sounds of cars and buses was jaunting after two days within the carless town (although motor boats are everywhere). We sat in the shade of trees with the entertainment of pigeons playing in the water then walked some more along the Grand Canal with gelato in hand. Late in the afternoon we caught the train to Verona. The B&B was located on the top floor, so there was no getting away from MORE STAIRS! Oh the stairs, stairs, stairs… but I digress.
Verona wasn’t quite what I expected. I think I had more of a Tuscany village picture in my mind based on Letters to Juliet, but the city is a fairly modern European city. On the way into the old city is the Roman Theater and Archaeological Museum. The Ponte Pietra bridge (partially bombed in the war and reconstructed with brick) took us in with no real plan. Piazza della Erbe isn’t too far from the bridge and houses a fun market filled with several fresh fruit vendors.
Just farther south is Juliet’s House. The archway is littered with graffiti (e.g. love notes), but the house itself is now kept clean. The alley was crowded, and we decided to pay to go into the house. Keep in mind that Juliet’s house isn’t really a historical fact, and even the “infamous” balcony isn’t real. The protrusion was added in the early 1900s and could even be a sarcophagus! We saw several “hanging” sarcophagi, which made me curious about them in their open air stone gazebos (I believe they are the Scaliger Tombs). The house’s interior was reconstructed to resemble what a house may have looked like in the time of Shakespeare. The Romeo and Juliet theme was carried throughout, but it was overall a modest display and surprisingly quiet (most people just do improper things in the alley to the poor bronze Juliet statue).
We stopped for a fresh fruit cup snack, then walked down the main shopping street that came out at the amphitheater that is still in use. Unfortunately, the troubles we had getting in (bring exact change!) weren’t quite worth the effort. Along the trip were some beautiful theaters and amphitheaters already, and while this one was still in use (workers were setting up a stage while we sat there), we found nothing really significant about it. However, afterwards we stopped for a fruit popsicle dipped in chocolate and found heaven! Ohhhh, so good! We sat in the neighboring piazza and devoured them. My goal from that point on was to have another one, but sadly we never did cross another shop by happenstance (grrr).
The Via Roma cut right to Castelvecchio, which was an impressive structure right on the river. It houses a museum, but we liked the idea of moseying around outside more. Another unique Veronese feature are the forked battlements. I’m not quite sure what their purpose was, but they do stand out. The Ponte Vittoria is connected to the Castelvecchio with even more stunning views of Italian hills, the river, and architecture, and it offered a good deal of languorous water and bird viewing. After a while we made it a bit farther north to a park for some more viewing in a seated position and finally determined to see at least the exterior of the duomo up close. We crossed back into downtown, saw the duomo and Anastasia church exteriors, came across the Scaliger Tombs and Romeo’s House around the corner. That building is privately owned and only offers its exterior to the public.
At that point we were pretty cooked and made our way back to the B&B to meet up with our ride (the innkeeper) to the airport, but we had enough time to jaunt up more stairs in a hill (more!) for a decent vantage point of the city. Verona wasn’t quite what I expected, but it was still a good visit. I’m not sure I would have put it at the end of our trip like we did (with so many fantastic cities already in our memories), but it was fun to get a little caught up in the Romeo and Juliet romance and have one really tasty fruitcicle.