11 March 2016

Italy Trip: Days 4-6

Here is part two of the Italy adventure! Again, these are excerpts from the journal I kept while in Italy. The first two days are in Venice, the third day back in Rome. Click here to read part one. :)


In the morning, we got ready, had breakfast and went back to S. Marco's Square, this time to visit the museums. The Correr Museum now takes up what were once the rooms of Elizabeth of Austria. When C went to Vienna in 2014, he got me a hair pin modeled after ones Elizabeth often wore. It was neat to now see her study, dressing room and bedchamber, which look out onto the water. A very pretty gray-blue is used in a lot of the decorative paint in these rooms. We continued to more rooms filled with sculpture of mythological figures and philosophers. Religious artwork, especially of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, filled the next rooms. The archaeological rooms had replicas of ships and coins dating back to the 1700s. My favorite rooms were the libraries: ceiling high bookshelves, three foot diameter globes, missals and books of mathematics on display and paintings of people reading, writing and studying astronomy....

Pretty Missal

Can I live here?

We made a short excursion to a shop on the lower level where C picked out some Venetian silk ties, most decorated with fleur de lis. We crossed the small square south of S. Marco to Doge's Palace, or Palazzo Ducale. This palace held council rooms large enough for more than the ten, twenty or forty members who would meet there. There was also a room which still had some of a fresco which had suffered damage from a fire. It depicted Paradise with Jesus and Mary, the Evangelists, saints and angels of different ranks. There was a contest to find out who would recreate the scene. The chosen man's work is in the same room. He was meant to do a large piece in the next grand room (53 x 25 meters, one of the largest rooms in all of Europe), but his son had to finish it. He added a Marian-focused spin. Jesus and Mary are seated in Heaven. St. Michael the Archangel holds out scales to Jesus. St. Gabriel holds out lilies to Mary, a nod at the Annunciation. They are surrounded by angels and saints, some 500 faces in total. The painting had to be done in stages and brought over piece by piece. The artist found it to be more of a privilege and service to the public and asked for a lower commission. It is amazing to think of such circumstances and imagine being a fly on the wall while such things were happening. The next room had a large wall painted as the Last Judgement. Christ welcomes saints into Heaven and sends others to Hell. The peace of the former and the despair of the latter are almost tangible.

We then went up S. Marco Campanile (Bell Tower) and had the most amazing view of the city. After being in the narrow, winding labyrinth-like streets, it was a great new perspective to see everything from above. Terra cotta roofs stretch across the island, broken only by the grayish white gleam of the Basilica and palace walls. We looked out to an endless, slightly hazy coast dotted with traghettos and broken occasionally by towering churches. The wind was cold and my fingers were nearly frozen, but it was absolutely worth it.

From here we left to the armory and prisons. We saw a ton of arrows, swords and daggers, as well as a rather terrifying looking chastity belt (though I suppose it is ore terrifying for the men than for the women). There was also a collection of guns and armor for horses. When we reached the prisons, it felt eerie. You descend half a dozen steps to a bridge called the bridge of Sighs, so called because this would be the last time prisoners would be able to set their eyes on the city through the grated windows. This path is maybe six feet high, so C had to stoop. More gate-like doors and wooden doors with severe looking locks bring you to the prisons themselves. There were maybe half a dozen prisons a bit bigger than a standard American bedroom with round holes in the walls, presumably to transfer food through. Some people must have managed to sneak in, because there was graffiti on some walls. I was relieved to step out of the prisons and get out of the building entirely after that damp and dreary experience.

We escaped to the hotel to get warm and decide on dinner plans. While I initially wanted to have a "nice" dinner in Venice, the truth is, that is easier said than done. So many restaurants are tourist traps with sub-par food, cover charges and gimmicks. The ones actual locals go to are more focused on chiccetti, similar to Spanish tapas. We attempted to go to a pizza place, but it must have closed because it was nowhere to be found. We went looking for a different place and stepped into...dun dun dun [not even joking. This is what my book says]...a tourist trap that smelled strongly of fish and had overpriced drinks. Two minutes and an interesting conversation between C and the waiter later and we left for the same place we had the previous night. We were welcomed with a "Nice to see you again" and no cover charge, so we were pleased. C got some gelato afterwards, but all I had on my mind was sleep, so we went back to the hotel and I passed out at 9.30 [anyone who knows me knows how ridiculous that is, night owl that I am].


I awoke at a bright and early 3.00 AM [really??] and stayed up eating chocolate, watching videos and conversing with family. I was able to sleep for another hour and a half, had a croissant breakfast and packed while C showered. We checked out at 10.00, but left our luggage behind to pick up later. We made our way through S. Marco's Square again past high end shops (Burberry coats are pretty, but 2000 euro) to the University district. On the way we ran into a man displaying paintings on the street. We only stopped to take a picture of the street (Calle S. Christopher) and when he approached us and pointed to the painting in his hand, C said no. The man said, "Oh, no. People think I come up to them to sell painting and say no. no, I just like to paint. It's a lot of work. Other people make prints and sell them for a big price. I give them to galleries I am an engineer and teach mathematics." "Did you get your Ph.D in Michigan?" C asked, pointing to the man's shirt. "Oh yeah. Michigan. I have family in New Jersey. I paint for a hobby. It is many layers on top of each other--magnifico!" He complimented my picture of C in front of the street sign. "--But if you want a painting I only charge twenty euro." [I'm still laughing.]

A few bridges later and we arrived at the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, a large church at the water's edge. The Basilica (unlike my photograph of C) really was magnificent inside and out. There are too many statues to count, because I still find more in the pictures I took. The white stone and gray-green dome look beautiful by the sea. About twenty steps lead you up to large green double doors. Posted above the door was a notice saying absolutely not to give anyone money, because admission to the church was free. This didn't stop a woman inside from trying to get money from us and following me when I went into my purse for my glasses. The church is octagonal with many side altars that could be high altars on their own. Old fashioned confessionals are dotted throughout, which I hope are still regularly used. Titian did much of the artwork, a lot of which is Marian themed. THe main altar has a Byzantine style icon of Mary and the Infant Jesus. Another interesting feature is Pius X's chair, which is golden, flanked by statues and probably fifteen feet tall. We took our time enjoying the view outside. It was comparable only to St Peter's Basilica (smaller but more meaningful) and the view from the bell tower which we had the previous day. The sea seems to stretch out forever.

Of course, we became lost on the way back, but we were serenaded by a cheap gondola blasting dance music, so that's nice. We also found Cafe India, a decent sized restaurant with fair prices and a man who either whistled along with the 80s classic rock that was playing or modified the lyrics to make them tell his friend/coworker that he would love him every day/forever. I had to make C stop from joining in for fear that the three would form one boy band and make it big in Venice, which would mean I would be stuck in a land with almost no greenery for the rest of my life. C got a meat lover's pizza and I go a pancetta, egg and cheese sandwich. It was the best food I had in Venice hands down. No other tourists came in while we were there, but several locals did. We relaxed inside for a while, then returned to the streets. We were still lost but eventually realized we were close to our hotel. We went looking for a magnet for C's mom (her standard souvenir request) and I managed to track down the Kiko makeup shop I was looking for (where everything was 30-50% off. Score!).

We returned to the hotel to sit and warm up before Mass. We went out for Mass, but the doors were closed as we arrived and we could find no other door (!) [Thankfully, it was Saturday night, not Sunday night]. We wandered again and I ended up ducking into a shop and purchasing a black, long sleeve dress. We stole more time and phone-charging electricity at the hotel, then emerged for the final time to walk very misty, winding streets. When we came upon Ponte degli Scalzi (the bridge to the train station), the whole canal was covered in a dense fog, which was amusing because our friend Fr. W had just commented on a Facebook photo that it was very misty when he visited. We boarded our train to Verona [with neither time nor sunlight to adventure in Romeo and Juliet's city] where we waited for our second train [and an Italian woman tried to converse with me so I looked like a total idiot], which unfortunately was not as nice, since I was crammed in a car with four strangers. Gotta do what you gotta do.

I woke on the train several times before it arrived in Rome (strangely on time). We took a bus to our hotel and only realized when we got there at 6.30 that we would be able to have breakfast in half an hour. We had doubted our train would make it on time and just ruled breakfast out. We were going to go to the Angelus, but C wanted to take advantage of having a bed, rather than a cramped train car, to sleep in, which means we snoozed and didn't start our day until the afternoon [sorry, not sorry. We were exhausted.].

Since we slept in, we had to find an evening Mass and we were lucky enough to find and English one. San Silvestro in Capite was sizeable and covered with art featuring various saints, including St. Francis. As we walked in, the choir and musicians were practicing. As we prayed before Mass, an older Irish priest came up to C and asked his life story [joking. Just what he was doing in Rome], then asked him to do the second reading during Mass. Of course my husband would be picked out. I joked about being put to work while on vacation. The celebrant was a visiting priest who had studied with a priest of that parish (I think they were from Nairobi). On top of this, the congregation was mostly Korean, so a lot of countries were representing that night. The Irish priest talked to us again at the end of Mass and, after taking a second look at C said, "You're very tall" and said he must have to stoop to look me in the face. I liked him. :)

photo by Husband

We then walked to Trinity College Pub which was full of Italians (I guess I was expecting Irish or tourists or Irish tourists). It was nice to be in a place where English was dominant, at least in written word. They also had free wifi, which is always a plus. During dinner, I was able to send a message to my mother telling her I was having Coke (after, I had to explain to her that European Coke is superior to the American variety and tastes similar to Pepsi) [and now I want European Coke...].

We walked up Corso, a very busy shopping street [if you are impatient, read: a nightmare], which was especially packed with last minute Christmas shoppers. On the way, we found a mall strung with lights. We walked down the strip, but most shops were closed or closing. We continued toward the Spanish Steps and came across a monument dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. The BVM stands at the top with a crown of stairs around her head and a wreath of flowers on her arm. At the base of the pillar, Moses, Isaiah, David and Ezekiel stand with Old Testament inscriptions below. The next square over is where the Spanish Steps are, but they were undergoing renovation and open during certain hours, so we got gelato [at a place with the best pistachio I had in Rome] and walked around looking at the shops. We were still tired from travel, so we turned in early.

That's days four through six! I'm tired just thinking about how tired I was on that last day. Stay tuned for day seven (we went to St Peter's, so I decided that's a bit much to squash into a post with two other days).

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