The Lunatic's Ball

The Seven Seas
Tuesday 17th March 2019

Today came around too soon; time to pack our bags and leave for home. We so could have done with another few days to explore more of this beautiful old city. We've not even scratched the surface let alone seen the other islands Murano, Burano or visited the Lido.

However , with only a few hours to spare this morning there was only one place we simply had to visit, and that was St. Mark's Square. You can't say you've been to Venice without stepping a foot into Piazza San Marco. 

So we checked-out, paid our bill, and left our bags with those in the office. We had really enjoyed our stay at Palazzo Contarini della Porta di Ferro and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who wants comfort and great value for money.

We followed the now familiar path from our hotel, past the Liceo Scientifico Benedetti, over the small bridge crossing the narrow canal into the small square of Cappuccine Castello, then down Calle del Cafetier to our local corner cafe, Pasticceria del Conte, for some much needed breakfast.

The jukebox was playing some dodgy Duran Duran song as we walked in, which was unfortunate but the sweet smell of coffee and pastries was strong and enticing.  "Due Americani, per favore" I asked with confidence.    Old Ray Romano nodded with approval.

We were properly hungry this morning. I don't know why, it wasn't as if we hadn't eaten plenty yesterday! Anyway, a cheese toastie alone wasn't enough, so it was followed by a sugar loaded fritella.

We felt a bit more human once the caffeine and sugar rush had kicked in.

Before following our usual route towards the heart of Venice we took a slight detour to a square we hadn't visited before,  Campo San Giovanni e Paolo. It was a large L shape space with a statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni riding horseback in the middle. He was a 15th century milatary leader who bequeathed his fortune to the city as long as they built a statue of him and positioned it in the Piazza San Marco. He didn't quite make it into the prime location ending up here instead.

The red brick basilica of the same name given to the square, venerating the saints John and Paul, was the largest building in the square but the architectural wonder wasn't the church but a school, Scuola Grande di San Marco.

This 15th century centre of learning had a beautiful marble facade and was topped like a wedding cake with several scholarly and saintly statues plus the obligatory winged lion to remind us which city state we were in. 

It spent some time forming part of a hospital complex and its medical library is now open to the public. I bet the books on 17th century surgery must be a fascinating read!

It was very quiet here. All signs of there being a carnival were nowhere to be seen this morning. But no sooner that our hopes were raised of perhaps actually reaching St. Marks Square sometime today that they were dashed by these ghostly masked revellers, draped in red and sporting oversized turbans. One of them was carrying an incredible scale model of a domed church, which looked very much like the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute.  

We returned to our route and came across the Liberia Aqua Alta, the self-proclaimed "most beautiful bookship in the World".  This time there wasn't a crazy queue so we popped inside to have a look and judge for ourselves.

Well beauty is in the eye of the beholder as they say but we've certainly seen more attractive bookshops! True, there was a full size gondola inside which was a little quirky but at the same time it filled the narrow shop making it very cluttered and impossible to stop and browse because you would obstruct the flow. It felt so disorganised in there I'd be surprised if they ever sell a book.

After two minutes of shuffling around the boat we left, unimpressed and a little bemused by its popularity.

Within minutes we reached Campo Santa Maria Formosa where our attempts to reach St. Mark's Square floundered on on Sunday because of the crowds. Today it was much better. We marched onwards with purpose down the maze of alleys in the vague direction of Piazza San Marco.  

We knew we were getting close when we stumbled across the Bridge of Sighs, so called because it was said that prisoners must have sighed as they caught their last glimpse of Venice before entering the cells of the Prigioni Nuove prison after being sentenced at the court of the Doge's Palace. Mind you looking at the grill on the windows their glimpse would have been ever so slight.

Our view of it was a different perspective, looking at it from the other side to the usual vantage point on Ponte della Paglia.

We came from behind the Basilica di San Marco and entered the piazzo to a busy but not overly crowded square.

At the far end there was a stage, with a large screen as its backdrop. There was something going on but we weren't interested. We had come here to marvel at the stunning St. Mark's cathedral.

We stood in the middle of the square and gazed at its perfection. It is an architectural masterpiece.

What we see today began in the 11th century then over the years all the finery was added. Even the domes were an enhancement laid over the top of the smaller original brick domes. 

We moved nearer so we could have a closer look at all the intricate detail. Every inch seemed to be carved or laid with mosaic tiles. Some of the work are from the original, other parts are even older than the basilica itself! The spoils of war brought back to Venice and added to the embelishments.

Above the main door were four bronze horses from ancient Roman (or perhaps Greece which would make them even older), captured from Constantinople when the Venetians sacked the city at the turn of the 13th century.

After a brief sojourn to Paris when Napoleon ran off with them, they returned home. Then during the end of the last century they were removed because of the destructive effect of pollution. They were replaced by the exact replicas we see today. The originals were restored and can now be seen in museum inside the basilica.

Along the upper level there were four panels of mosaics, and at ground level each of the five arches were filled with more exquisite tile work. They all depicted a scene from the bible. Some were very Byzantine in style whilst others were like a renainssance painting.

The basilica aquired the nickname the "Church of Gold". Apparently the mosaics we see outside is only a sneak preview of the rich golden decoration inside.  I say apparently because whilst this was my third visit to Venice, we have never been inside!

We weren't about to do so today either as the queue to get in was horrendous.

 We took one last look at the most eye-catching adornment of all, the golden winged lion crowning the entire strucutre, a symbol St. Mark but also of great power and wealth of the Venetian Republic.

We then moved on, leaving the square past the Doge's Palace or the Palazzo Ducale as it's also known. However our eyes were constantly being drawn back to the spleandour of the basilica. Even from the side it was so richly decorated. 

The Doge's Palace was dowdy in comparisson!  Of course to describe the Palazzo as dowdy was simply not true. It was a beautiful building in it's own right.

It did have an ornate gothic window facing the square but its best feature was the incredible brickwork. Three shades of bricks laid to produce an almost fabric-like pattern. (My father, a builder, would love to see this!) It gave it such an unique appearance. 

Then there was the loggia, the columns and arches that stretched along the entire length of second floor. 

Now there's another place we've not been inside, the Doge's Palace. We really must return one day and bite the bullet by joining the queues and get them all seen. For today we made do with appreciating the outside.

We thought about sitting down and having a coffee but the 11 price tag (each) scared us off. The tables and chairs outside most of the cafes were empty, they seemed to have priced themselves out of the market.

We walked along the front of the Doge's Palace, along Riva degli Schiavoni until we came to the Bridge of Sighs once more, this time looking down the Rio del Palazzo canal to the bridge we stood on earlier.

 The river was experiencing rush hour, it was one gondola after the next as they punted their way beneath the arches of Ponte dei Sospiri. You may be sitting on a heart shaped cushion but surely the romance is lost if you're stuck in traffic!

We looked at our watches or our step-counting fitbits I should say as we don't wear old-fashioned time pieces anymore. We decided to spend our last hour in Venice not in a queue but relaxing. There was time enough for us to take a seat, have a glass of wine, and watch the waterworld float by.

We sat at tables serviced by the Hotel Savoia & Jolanda, overlooking the lagoon towards the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore.   It was a lovely spot, although the waterways were busy, not so much romantic gondolas at this junction but more service boats, tradesmen, deliveries etc.

When it came to pay we were pleasantly surprised that the wine here was much cheaper than the coffee in St. Mark's Square!

As we left we had one final glimpse of masked carnival goers, posing for photographs. I think these would win the "most ridiculous looking couple" prize. One had an entire patio on her shoulders, complete with shrubbery! Whilst the other one was dressed like an ancient Aztec Sun God. I had a feeling that these were probably professionals who do this all year round for a living.

We walked back to the hotel, picked up our luggage and wheeled them to the Ospidale vaporetto stop where we caught the next Alilaguna boat to the airport, leaving the way we arrived, out the back door, and already looking forward to our next visit, whenever that may be.

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