Venice. The Jewel Of The Adriatic
Game of Masks
Music: Winter in July, Sarah Brightman
Movie: Pane e Tulipani (Bread and Tulips)
Book: The Honest Courtesan, Margaret Rosenthal
For the entire summer, the cruise ship docks in Venice for three days every three weeks. A few minutes stroll through a sea of tourists that swarm the city in the summer months takes me to Piazza San Marco.
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Even closer to the pier is an extension of the Giardini della Biennale, called Viale Giuseppe Garibaldi – my favourite quiet place in Venice. Here, I like to spend time alone with a book, sitting on one of the benches strewn along the shaded alley.
Most of the time, though, I am prowling along the secondary canals around the historic city looking for all things not famous, not noticeable, not picture-perfect but normal in this unique place.
The Serenissima is the most beautiful city in the world; many could state this and win the argument. It undoubtedly is to the proud locals. I’m still debating, but I lean more towards Barcelona.
In the immense diversity of Italian geography, culture and history, Venezia is the most beautiful place. Not only because it is built like no other city on Earth on millions of upside-down-petrified-in-mud trees, but because her fabulous architecture still stands against all the odds. The sea is threatening the island with relentless steadiness. The city still stands, sixteen hundred years on.
Every minute I’m free, I’m out exploring the Serenissima, mesmerised by her duality.
Venice is the Carnevale. She is also the mask. The imposing palazzi along the Grand Canal impress with a beautiful facade. At a second look, though, you’ll notice that the side walls are peeled bare exposing the bricks. They are also partly covered in slime and show signs of a losing battle with the water they spring from.
On the smallest canals, many modest houses don’t even have a facade. After all, Venice is no longer a rich city. It is, though, incredibly rich in history and art.
Long gone are the power and glory of the Venetian Republic. Today, the island presents an illusion. The maschera conceals her flaws. And yet, her beauty continues to strike all visitors.
Venice is the silent observer of the countless probing eyes mesmerised by her unique beauty. You’d think you see her, yet she takes great care to conceal her secrets.
The Serenissima, the name Venice is still referred by, has the meaning of “the most serene” of the Italian Republics. Peace was not always easy to keep in the long and troubled history of this place. But a sense of eerie tranquillity still emanates from all pores of this city choked by hordes of tourists every summer.
The Grand Canal divides Venice in a curved shape, from the world-famous Piazza San Marco to the train station and the carriageway that connects the island with the mainland.
The first time I set foot in Venice, I decided to walk along the Grand Canal. I wanted to discover what the Serenissima has to offer without a map in hand and preferably without getting lost in the city’s intricacy.
It took me a few hours to make it to Rialto Bridge. Not because it is that long a walk, but because I stopped countless times to take in the beauty of the island. As Fermo, the florist philosopher in the movie said, “Le cose belle sono lente!” (Beautiful things take time!)
Soon, I decided that I’d seen enough of the obvious. It was time to see the city and all its layers. I had no clue where I was, so I kept walking. I got lost in Venice, and I loved it!
One small canal looks like the other. In time, I got comfortable enough with the whiff of stale water to ignore it. My eye recorded everything around me when the camera was off.
At some point, I got hungry. A salad bar to the right and a pasticceria to the left helped me decide quickly. A minute later, I continued my walk. I had a pack of baicoli (local biscuits) in one hand and a cup of divinely scented cappuccino in the other.
More canals and bridges, a myriad of balcony flowerpots and more peeled render came and went under the relentless Italian sun. At each corner, step by step, the Serenissima revealed her secrets to me.
Adjacent to the State Archive, I bumped into Basilica dei Frari. A massive brick building, blending in perfectly with the rest of the constructions in this corner of this island called San Pollo.
Whenever I am in Italy, I have a compulsion to enter every church I see. And I do, not only to find a minute of peace and contemplation but because churches are authentic exhibition halls in this country.
Beyond a grand structure, intricate stone carvings and incredible stained glass, many Italian churches impress with their painted walls, some by great hands, as old as time. They are unexpected art galleries where one stops to search for the meaning of life and finds so much more.
The price of a coffee granted me entrance to Dei Frari. The experience, though, was priceless.
Did you ever have that feeling when you stepped into an old place that you got transported into another time? I did. The minute I set foot on the cold slabs of Dei Frari, I travelled back into a time of Republics, Renaissance, sublime art.
I was still holding a twenty-first-century camera. Yet, I saw a little redheaded boy running around and wondering at the arches suspended so high or at Donatello’s sculptures. I saw the awe in his big brown eyes. I saw what he saw when he caressed the bare brick walls: the paintings that will be. The boy’s name was Tiziano Vecellio.
I twirled round to see more of this massive place, more of the richness that adorns its walls. All the noise faded; all the visitors vanished.
The little boy metamorphosed into a grown man with splotches of paint in his scruffy beard. He was mixing colour with precision, focused on his masterpiece: The Assumption of the Virgin.
He did not know that his strenuous work will become the masterpiece that will mesmerize viewers for centuries to come. But he had an inkling that his bold use of colours will enthral simpletons and crowned heads alike.
At twenty-five, he had the Serenissima at his feet as the anointed official painter of the Republic. He climbed the squeaky wooden ladder in a rush to apply the fresh colour on the Virgin’s mantle, ignoring that paint from his pallet stained his smudged tunic.
Another spin. When I faced the Assumption again, I saw him, an older man now, taking his last pest filled breath. He was pointing to his burial place inside the same church.
The clamour returned, and people started moving around, paying more or less attention to what they came here to see.
I saw all I needed to see. What is left, is the artist’s tomb, at the foot of a non-existent Pietà he never finished; it was supposed to dominate the Altar of the Crucifix. Instead, the old artist’s marble figure was looking back at me with an all-pervading view transcending the centuries.
Titian, as his name is known in English, the master of brush and colour, requested to spend eternity in the Frari, the place where he spent years filling the bare brick walls with his inestimable gift.
To me, it was all juxtaposed images, snippets of time, and remarkable art displays. Dei Frari, only a minor church by Venetian standards, is my favourite place in the entire city.
Soon, the canals held no secrets for me. I will come back here and pay the price of a coffee to enter this magical place again and again. And each time, I travelled back to another century! I could not get enough of it. This and reading some book on a bench, in the shade of the lofty trees off the fringe of Bonaparte’s Giardini della Biennale.
Over the summer, I did all that everyone who visits Venice does. I visited all the attractions. I’ve seen the Dodge’s Palace a few times, from the opulent salons to the desolate jails in stark contrast.
I went to see glassmaking in the industrial Murano and strolled on the canals of colourful Burano admiring the intricacy of another old trade: lacemaking.
I spent money in the city’s stylish shops. I took a gondola ride down the canals and bought a bag of cherries from Rialto Market every time I crossed the bridge.
I visited museums and saw most of the exhibitions on the island. A few times, I took the bus to the mainland.
The only things I did not see were the smaller islands and the Lido. I don’t even remember if we offered a tour to the beach. I had no interest, anyway. I could swim all I wanted in Villefranche-sur-Mer or Barcelona. There was too much to see in Venice to idle by the beach.
In autumn, the ship sails to the Caribbean. At the end of the season, on the last Mediterranean cruise in late October, I went to see Titian one last time. To say goodbye until I will return.
The crowd of tourists that usually suffocate the city was gone. The church was almost empty—all the better. I got my time alone with all the artists and their works without having to worry that I might accidentally bump into other visitors.
Outside, in the crisp autumn, life went on in Serenissima as it did since the Romans built her. The locals went about their business, relieved that the summer rush is over and the city could breathe lighter. Until the Carnevale in February or March, the island will not see much tourism.
As it happens, I am still to return to Venice. I will, one day. And I know the first thing I will do will be spending a coffee’s worth on the entrance to Dei Frari to see a little boy running around in the coolness of the lofty arches above his redhead. This church will still be my favourite place in Venice. I have no doubt.
Going to Venice during Carnavale has been a dream of mine. I love to live vicariously thru your wonderful travels. And I so love your writing.
Thank you for sharing
Thank you so much, Giangi! We are going to Venice again at the end of the month – it will be a brand new experience for some of the family:) Definitely looking to a Carnivale time at some point, too!
Venice is one of my favorite destinations! I would love to visit during Carnevale sometime
You added amazing photos to your blog post! I feel so inspired right now. Definitely, I gonna visit Italy and Venice in the next 2 years.
I will have no doubt in choosing Italy as one of my next destination. The food and the churches always put me in a trance that gets me lost in the maze, which I wouldn’t want to come out from. I want to be lost in Italy for a long a time or forever. LOL. 🙂
Italy has that effect on you: the minute you step out of the airport, you want to stay there forever. For Capri, out of the boat:)) I see myself going to live back there at some point.
When I was very little we lived in Rome and we enjoyed the Carnavale showing our brand new costumes up and down the main street. Fast forward a few years, my dreams as always been to visit during that period. Magnificent pictures, and great post.
On my bucket list.
It would be something else to see the rich costumes and the parties during the Carnevale in Venice! I wish that too and hope it becomes a reality for both of us.
My husband is first generation Canadian who’s family immigrated from Sicily, so Italy is on our travel list in the near future. I’ve always wanted to visit Venice and your post has increased the desire tenfold!
You will, soon, hopefully. And will fall in love with Italy, Venice or Sicily. You might even decide to move there, you never know!
I just love wandering in Venice. I am always in perpetual planning mode for my European vacations, this event is being added to the list!
At the moment, we’re all planning, even not so far away from Venice. But a city this magnificent and grimy at the same time should always be at the top of the list!
I absolutely loved Venice and the surrounding islands… we were there such a short time though I still want to return again… maybe Canavale 2023. I still has spots I didn’t get to.
Beautifully written article thank you for taking me back.
Thank you! It would be interesting to be there around Carnevale time, perhaps a bit crowded. I was in Venice in the summer, and it used to be insanely busy; that’s why I took on a mission to escape crowds and explore the less obvious places. Glad I did; I found treasure!
We were there in November and still crowds but not too bad, that is the only thing that would stop me and make me rethink a visit at Carnevale is the crowds… maybe a good view from the window out of an apartment or hotel is in order…
Most likely! I never visited Venice during the carnival, but it is just as crowded in August when all of Italy is on holiday plus millions of foreign tourists. I got the gondola ride and bought a mask, but saw no extravagant costumes, so maybe one day…
Beautiful photos and scenery and your articles are so well written! This vacation destination is definitely on my bucket list. Some day, I hope to retire and travel around the world! It’s definitely something to look forward to!
That sounds like a good plan!
Great capture and story, I wouldnt mind paying for a coffee to get entrance as well.
I’ve never been to Venice but this post makes me want to plan a trip. Hopefully, I can visit this beautiful place some day.
I love the way you tell about Venice. It is to be one of the, most fascinating cities in the world. That is a city I would love to see. This is a lovely post so well telling not just what you see but what you think. Thank you!
Thanks, appreciated! And yes, Venice is amazing; I hope you get to see it how I saw it:)
I went to Venice as part of my honeymoon European vacation and it was lovely but we only had two days there. After reading your detailed post I definitely want to go back and explore more.
This makes me want to travel. Your pictures are beautiful and the place looks inviting.
I have never been there, but it sounds very inviting. I love the pictures that you shared. Thanks for sharing.
Venice has always been on my travel bucket list. I can’t wait to visit one day! Great post 🙂
This sounds and looks beyond incredible! I didn’t know there were cruise ships that docked for so long. When I have gone on cruises they only stopped for one day. Thanks so much for this info. Saving it for later!
I so want to see Venice, thank you for sharing your magical view of this glorious city.
Venice is on my travel bucket list and even more so after reading your post. Such a beautiful place to be!
I so miss traveling!!! Thank you for bringing us to an enchanted place. On my bucket list and cannot wait to go. Thank you for a great post.
It is the least I can do. I can’t wait for all this mess to end so we can travel freely again! DO go to Venice, it is enchanting indeed:)
I havent been to Venice and thanks for bringing me there with your post. Lovely photos
I love Venice, so magical <3`
I fell in love with Venice the moment I set foot in this beautiful city! I absolutely agree that Dei Frari is such a magnificent sight! You took me right back to memory lane with your photos. Thank you!
I love all the unique sights you’ve photographed! I’ve always wanted to go to Venice and you’ve definitely solidified that for me! Thanks for sharing!
I visited Venice once a few years ago. It was a very hot day, and the walkways were extremely crowded. I wish I had known about the quiet places you mention. Maybe I’ll return one day to visit Dei Frari. Thanks for sharing your experience and wonderful photos.
I love your photos! I have been to Venice twice, once in March and once in September. I didn’t like it the first time, it was cold and crowded but my second trip in September was fantastic. Thanks for sharing your experience!
I was right in that church with you! Amazing read.
Aww, that’s great, thank you!
Awesome post and lovable content! I am from India and I dream to visit Italy one day 🙂
Thank you! I hope your dream becomes a reality soon!
Wow! I didn’t realize Venice had so much to offer! This is super cool!
It has! Way more than this!:))
I’m so jealous of your Venice experience! I want to travel to Italy more than any other place, and Venice is of course high on my list of cities to visit! Your writing makes it even more clear than I have to make this trip a reality!
Yep, you guys must see it soon, hopefully! You will love it so much, you’ll want to live there (I want this too, hopefully before I retire!)
Ahh this is so beautiful! I’m ashamed to say that even though I’m Italian I’ve never been to Venice🙈 but will hopefully be able to visit one day!
I’m sure you will and enjoy it when you go!
I’ve been in Italy but not yet in Venice, looks like I need to see this one.
Yep, Venice is a must!:))
I was supposed to travel here in June which we had to cancel. Having read your post I am now looking even more forward to the time we can travel again and I can visit here. I cannot wait.
I hope you will visit Italy soon. And I do hope travel will be again what was before 2020!
Really interesting post! Some fantastic photos and I love your style of writing. You’ve shown Venice from a different perspective!
That was the idea of this blog from the beginning, a different perspective on travelling. Thank you, I was praying someone will appreciate it! There is more to come. More love stories;) Love for people and places!
I am so jealous! You are so lucky! Venice is one of my favorite cities. Thanks for the beautiful memories. I can’t wait to go back and get lost!
I was lucky to get this job on cruise ships and visit half of the world for free! Do go back to Venice and get lost in it! And say “Hi” from me to the marble statue of Titian; it will give you a piercing look:)