Our charming host Nicola prepared a simple breakfast for us this morning. He has two kids around the ages of Joel and Elizabeth. I asked him where he came from since he doesn’t live in Venice. He replied that he is authentic Venetian although he lives on the mainland as it is too expensive to stay on the island itself.
It isn’t uncommon to find Italians who generally identified themselves with the region they were brought up in rather than the country itself. They would call themselves Milanese, Romans, Venetians or Tyroleans rather than Italians.
After breakfast, we took a short stroll to Giardini the only park on Venice and then on board a vaporetto down to Rialto, downtown Venice so-called. For the first time since I arrived in Europe, I had to remove my coat and was cursing that I had worn two layers of blouses. It was a cloudless and sunny day.
Unlike the piazza, where visitors sit around enjoying the ambience, the Rialto is a busy centre characterised by the incessant shuffling of people, locals hawking their wares and enthusiastic tourists looking through them trying to find the perfect memento of Venice.
The streets are lined with a wide range of souvenir shops selling all kinds of mementos of which Venetian masks are the most popular item. I personally prefer the St Mark’s lion and painstakingly combed several shops to search for the nicest model only to find out that they were all made in China. What an irony.
In the spirit of everything touristy, Theo and I hopped in and out of almost every shop looking for souvenirs to buy for our family, friends and colleagues just to boast that we had been to Venice. Perhaps it is this frenetic activity that irks the locals who think that tourists are ruining their culture.
Shops can be found in every possible avenue, nook and cranny and it was easy to get lost in this maze as there are hardly any signs or directions. We navigated by simply remembering the shops we had passed by. One word of advice, if something catches your eye in a shop but you would like to hunt for a better bargain, make a mark of that place otherwise you are highly unlikely to find your way back without wasting precious time.
Somehow we found our way back to St Mark’s Square and chose a nearby restaurant to have our lunch. A three course meal totaled 52 euros, of which we paid 10 euros for a pot of tea!! Somehow we were able to also locate a McDonalds and got a cheeseburger for Joel. It is amazing how prevalent the familiar yellow arches are.
According what I read on the website, there is supposed to be a long queue to enter the St Mark’s Basilica but fortune was smiling on us as we didn’t have to wait more than 15 minutes to enter the church. I was lamenting prior to this for not making a booking on the website in advance but it seemed like it wasn’t necessary at all or perhaps we were in Venice during an off peak period.
In contrast to several other churches we saw during our trip, the basilica’s façade is decorated with intricate carvings that bordered semi-circular mosaics. It had a distinct Moorish attribute but I am no expert in architecture. Plainly it was different.
Within its interior, the ceiling is covered with gold mosaics and it was quite a strain on the neck to see them clearly. Without a proper guide unfortunately we were hard pressed to understand the history of the church. In addition, we were continually shuffled along the line so it was difficult to linger too long in one place to appreciate the art. St Mark’s (one of the twelve apostles) body was supposedly stolen from the Greeks and kept here out of public eye.
One thing I did note was the uneven levels of the floor and several cracked tiles due to the frequent (100 days in a year) flooding of the piazza. In fact, one week after we left, the whole piazza was flooded and all sights were closed to public. The authorities are aggressively searching for ways to rectify the situation and prevent the destruction of these priceless relics.
Thereafter we had a fun time feeding the pigeons which are the permanent residents of St Mark’s Square. Joel enjoyed the close encounter with his feathery friends as he stretched out his hands to offer pieces of bun from his unfinished burger to them. It seemed that years of cultivation had left these birds fearless of people.
Back at our hotel, I logged onto the free wireless network hopping to make a booking for the Uffizi museum and was sorely disappointed to find out it was fully booked. Further checks revealed that we had unwittingly stumbled into Italy during their annual Cultural Week.
This was scheduled for the two weeks after Good Friday when the whole of Italy commemorates its culture by offering free entrances to all its nationally owned museums, historical sites and galleries. It was their way to boost tourism and to encourage their own citizens to visit these places and remember their heritage.
However Nicola remained skeptical when I informed him about it. I remain hopeful to enter the Uffizi since it is now free!