Friday, February 18, 2011

Travels in Italia - Venice II

This is my 3rd post to upload today, so scroll down for the previous ones.

St. Mark's Square with the Basilica and Doge's Palace
As I've written several times, my greatest pleasure in Venice was walking the streets. K and I skipped some of what are considered the major sites of Venice in favor of just enjoying the back streets. That said, St. Mark's Basilica must be one of Europe's most astonishing, awe-inspiring churches. Before I traveled throughout Europe in 2003, a friend who has been here often said, "If you've seen one church, you've seen them all." Now this might seem to be a bit cynical, and she did not mean it literally - rather, the churches here are all filled with amazing artwork, beautiful floors, carved woodwork, interesting light fixtures, unbelievably detailed mosaics, and so on and so forth. After visiting a few churches, it becomes difficult to remember - now which one had the Michelangelo statue, which one had the Bernini chapel, which has the carved, wooden altar, and where was that Golden Wall? As much as I hate to admit it, I've visited St. Mark's before...and didn't remember how fantastic it is. It's just too easy to go on church overload. But I hope, now, to never forget the interior of St. Mark's.
One of the exterior mosaics on St. Mark's Basilica
It's gold...all glittery, shiny, gleaming gold! Paying to go upstairs to the Museum means you get to look down on the floors - inlaid, marble mosaics that form beautiful "rugs." The ceiling is all mosaics, telling biblical lessons, and more of that gorgeous gold. I have no comprehension of the skill it takes to show movement, folds in fabric, and leaves on trees with tiny pieces of glass glued onto a flat surface. St. Mark's is also the church home to the Golden Wall, made 1000 years ago of Byzantine enamels, studded with hundreds of gemstones, large and small, 1500 pearls, 300 emeralds, 15 rubies, and more. The sheer excess is breathtaking.
Just a small portion of St.Mark's Basilica's fanciful roofline
While in St. Mark's Square, we also took the elevator up the Campanile. While I wouldn't wait in a very long line to do this, it was well worth the entry fee at a time with no line and afforded us a phenomenal, 360 degree view over Venice, the Lagoon, and even the snow-capped Dolomites in the distance.

We took an entire day to visit the islands in the Lagoon of Murano and Burano. Around 1300 (1291 to be exact), Venetian glassmakers were ordered to move out to Murano for fear of fire in Venice. While home to a few factories where you can watch demonstrations, it's now home to many more junk shops selling glass products made overseas, never mind the "Made in Italy" designation. This does not negate the dazzling charm of Murano and store after store of incredible, beautiful, brightly colored glass things - chandeliers, vases, jewelry, figurines, bowls - and there are as many different styles of glass design as there are stores. Murano can be overwhelming. We eventually broke from staring at shiny things and found the local grocery store. Food that looks appealing was hard to find in the cafes, so at the grocery store, the deli counter sliced up some meat and cheese for us, and sliced some bread as well. Some fruit, a chocolate bar, chips, and sparkling orange soda meant we were all set for a little picnic sitting on the steps by the canal (which is probably not allowed, but it was off season - we tempted fate by setting up just opposite the carabinieri station (police), but escaped without reprimand after eating our fill).
Burano's adorable, colored townhomes are captivating
After Murano, we got on the vaporetto headed to Burano. Burano rose to acclaim in the 1500s, when the women began making lace. That industry has declined, and much of the lace is now imported from China. Burano is not the place to buy handmade lace with a couple of exceptions. There is a lace making school, which was closed when we visited. There is also a store, Merletti d'Arte dalla Lidia, on the main drag near the leaning tower (yep, Burano has a tower than leans as much as the Leaning Tower of Pisa). This store has the requisite little old ladies with pillows in their laps making lace (K and I joked that the Nannas of Burano are put to work as store exhibits), a hard-selling clerk who is determined to show you everything there is to buy (at 200euros per handkerchief, the real stuff was out of our budget), and an absolutely phenomenal, private museum. Even if you have no interest in lace at all, I don't think anyone can look at these intricate, huge examples and not see the sheer skill and artistry needed to produce them. Burano is a delightful, quirky little town filled with postcard-perfect, brightly colored townhomes, many with the residents' laundry waving in the wind from the upper stories. Utterly charming. It was buttoned up tight while we were there with a few lace (junky) shops open as well as one art store and one coffee bar. I can only assume that in season, this place comes alive. Or maybe it's always a quiet, residential haven.
Laundry in Burano

Our final day, we walked around the Dorsoduro neighborhood, home of our hotel and the Frari Church, which we just happened upon in our walk. The Frari was definitely worth the visit inside for it's stunning artwork. After our morning stroll and final taste of Venice, we boarded the vaporetto for our last ride down the Grand Canal to the train station, where it was on to Florence...

No comments:

Post a Comment