Sunday, May 4, 2014

Sunset Gondola - Quintessential Venice

Having saved the best for last, we embark up on our final Venetian adventure this evening. Though it will undoubtedly be thrice the cost of a day time ride – we have been instructed (by my ever-wise mother and father) that the only way to experience all that a moored gondola has to offer, we must start our trip at sunset.

Also a tip from my mom: We packed our own bottle of wine and even snuck a few wine glasses from our cozy B&B. I mean, nothing says romance like a Solo cup…but we’re opting for the real deal tonight!

The waterways are tranquil and still as we glide past stunning buildings unreachable but by boat. Now and again a window is open and we can hear the chatter of a family cooking supper or the notes of a song which we do not know.

As the water slips quickly from minty green into a truly colorless black, I rest my head against my husband’s shoulder, snuggling up, enjoying our final night in Italy.

After our peaceful gondola ride has ended, we still aren’t ready to call it a night…

As a light breeze sneaks through the windy streets, we are invited to drift closer and closer to the main body of water. What was a parking spot for a gargantuan private yacht just hours before is now all ours. A dock, stretched out into the darkness of the Veneto Lagoon and a seat just two feet above the water calls our names.  

Uncorking our second bottle of white wine (we may have over-prepared for the gondola trip..) we drain the last bit of battery from my archaic phone to play a few of our favorite songs...dangling our feet and bobbing our heads, we sing allowed the words from the song that played during our first dance as husband and wife.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Oltriel Reale (Beyond the Real). Art in Venice, Italy.

Exiting the Doges Palace this afternoon, we stumble upon an exhibition that captures our attention. Situated in the Foscari Loggia, overlooking the Square of St. Mark’s and the Veneto Lagoon, the collection of works crafted by Italian artist Carlo Guarienti is innovative and absolutely alluring.

Guarienti, now 90 years old, delves into mixed media like no other artist I have seen. Expressive and vibrant, his unconventional spirit spews forth from not only his animated sculpture, but from his paintings as well. 

While he practices the tried and true practices of Lost Wax casting, he combines these traditional elements with twists of combusted papier-mache and turns of polystyrene resin soaked surfaces.

Emotionally evoking and ascetically lovely, these beautifully painted and uniquely textured works are like no others. Only in a city such as Venice will one stumble, blindly, upon such a treasure.

Friday, May 2, 2014

St. Mark's & The Doges Palace

While much of the mysterious romance of the of Venice fades as the morning approaches, the culture and history are revealed in the presence of the brazen sun. High above, resting atop a pillar, we can see St. Mark’s winged lion watching us amongst the crowds. 

Ahead of us is the Veneto Lagoon and to our left is the grand entrance of St. Mark’s Cathedral. The marble columns that flank the face of the cathedral range from an olive green to a deep rose – History claims the colorful, mismatched marble was stolen from Egypt! Not only that, but the body of St. Mark himself was not originally laid to rest here in Venice…his body was stolen from Alexandria - smuggled out wrapped in pork! After which, this area became named for the relic of his tomb.

The 6 bronze horses that stand guard are actually replicas as the originals that once stood here. The horses were (yet again) initially stolen by the Italians, and later from them by the French, and finally they were returned to Venice only recently! The originals are inside for safe keeping and preservation.

Moving toward the lagoon we arrive at a building made up of stunning ivory and pale pink stones, it is known as the Palazzo Ducale, or the Doges Palace. Upon entering, we arrive quickly at the airy courtyards within where the lack of fortification (of such a political building, specifically) speaks volumes to the power the Venetians once held. It appears as though they had no one to fear!

Walking through the palace we find that much of the stunning art could go unnoticed if one were to keep their eyes fixed too low – many of the beautiful painting and carvings are among the ceilings and domes overhead. I find it difficult to keep my eyes and mind still as I’m overwhelmed approaching the Grand Council Chambers – Shall I focus on the grandeur of the room itself with the carefully carved wooden chairs? The phenomenal view it affords me now (as it once did for the thousands of ruling elite that met here)? Or, do I allow my eyes to focus upon Tintoretto’s breathtaking, full-wall, “Paradise”? This bright and captivating 74 x 30ft canvas oil painting vies for my eyes to dwell on it. It begs me to stand before it in awe. 

This is no mere structure. It is a living, changing piece of art. It is as if its right arm holds us in the palace, and its left drags us onward to the dungeon below – we are torn between the light and the darkness, and alas its mystery pulls us away.

Examining empty cells we imagine the prisoners who once lay, striped in the same dim light shining through the bars that we are now. Following the damp corridors up a narrow staircase that beckons us across the canal – away from the lavish beauty of the palace and into the mouth of the new (relatively speaking) prison. 

Tiptoeing across this bridge, the infamous ‘Bridge of Sighs’, on feels just a minuscule bit of the despair the condemned felt as they took their last look at the free world. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Date Night: Venice, Italy

What started as a home for Roman refugees fleeing the barbarian invasions later became a major maritime power and a flourishing European trade center. The town of Venice is actually built on 118 different flat islands which contributes greatly to the cities’ uniquely vibrant culture. As the train spills us mere steps from a water taxi station our excitement builds – we cannot wait to explore the charming Queen of the Adriatic!

The water taxi ride is a distinct method of travel and proves to be a wonderful sightseeing tool - on the ride to our darling Bed & Breakfast alone we spot St. Mark’s Square, the Doges Palace and Santa Maria della Salute. Our accommodations are off the beaten path, away from the crowds in a quiet piazza yet still only a short walk from St. Mark’s Square. Today is the first time we've had air conditioning in a week and we are truly grateful for it – the moment we get settled in, we crank the AC up high and catch a quick cat-nap in our lavishly decorated room before getting back to exploring!

Refreshed, we head out to see the Grand Canal at night – battling only a bit of the dwindling crowds along the route. The sky is a deep indigo as we reach the Rialto Bridge and the city is illuminated only by moonlight as we finally sit down to dinner. When we arrived in Venice in the heat of the day, amidst the hordes of tourists I had a quick ponder over whether or not this city was going to be the romantic adventure the world had promised us. As I sit, enjoying a delectable dish of gnocchi bolognese while gazing across the candle-lit table at my loving, handsome husband with the quiet Rialto Bridge in the background, I have to say – tonight, this city is absolutely enchanting.

To top off the most lovely of nights, we make a visit to St. Mark’s Square on our way home. The square is still – no tour groups, no winding entrance lines and no cameras. The only sound comes from the back corner…away from the Basilica and the Palace, a small niche is lit brightly showcasing a small black-tie clad ensemble. The pianist plays quietly as the saxophonist takes the lead, playfully engaging the small crowd with his sparkling solo. Selecting a seat on the outskirts of the area, we stay for a while - enjoying the warm evening and soothing music before turning in for the night.