By Melissa Fusco
For a few years now, I have had a strong desire to visit the land of my great grandparents and become immersed in my ‘genetic roots’. Italy, my much anticipated trip, has arrived…
Outside of conventions, guest spots and gatherings in the states, I crave a culture change and new scenery at least once a year. I was meeting a friend here in Venice, unfortunately for good reason she was unable to make the first leg of the trip. So I prepared as best as I could to be in Italy for 6 days before the Rome convention, alone.
For more than half of my life, about 20 years now I have traveled alone more times than accompanied by a travel companion. No doubt I would enjoy a companion on my travels, however, there is something precious about solo travel and how it contributes to my inner self. It helps build my confidence and aids in my personal growth. For me, when I travel, I prefer to live amongst the locals, so first thing off the plane, I find my way to the small water taxi dock. I purchased a water taxi pass on-line that would take me from the airport to the nearest taxi stop from my hotel destination. After the taxi makes a few stops along the way, I finally arrive at my exit and play the alley way game to find my hotel. Hotel Tiepolo, is settled down the alley that runs directly along side the Piazza San Marco. One of the most visited tourist landmarks on the S. Marco Island in Venice. I thought I was a little further away from this touristy area and at first was a little let down by the busyness of the surrounding areas. However, I feel I couldn’t have picked a greater location.
When I depart from the front door of the hotel, which is located at the end of an alley, I weave my way through narrow alley ways that ended at the water front Palazzo. I quickly find myself amongst the crowd. The sounds of sea gulls, water taxi’s, sales men, and tourist chatter fill the breezy ocean air. Kiosks filled the waterfront walkway selling duplicate Venezia souvenirs, scarf’s, hats and Italian leather handbags. Landscape artists work amongst rip off Coach bag sellers, and not to forget the slightly annoying single rose auctioneers. The phrase “ no thank you” leaves my lips more times then I could count throughout the day. I quickly head to the water taxi stop titled S. Marco Zaccaria.
From here I can either take the Lido Island direction or La Roma that heads up the Grand Canal. The most inexpensive way to get around is by water taxi, opposed to the iconic yet over priced Gondola rides. I purchased a 36 hour unlimited water taxi pass for 25 Euro, not a bad deal. I try to get off the tourist trail with my first excursion to the Island of Lido where the beach is located. With a back drop of the snow capped Alps, and my feet the Adriatic Sea, what better way to recover from jet lag then lay on the sand and soak up the sun. As always, I am blessed with the ocean’s gifts, and collected as many shells as my two hands could hold. Before I left the beach I paid 1 Euro to use the public restroom, which is pretty standard around Venice. I then wondered around the Island and browsed through the local market where I picked up some fresh fruit. Strawberries and tomatoes have never tasted so amazing, so sweet and juicy!! Eventually I hop back on the water taxi and return to S. Marco with plans of getting lost in the Gardini Publici (public garden). Strolling through large oak trees, vine covered statues, and an abundance of aromatic rose bushes… A breath of fresh air.
I am able to walk back to my hotel, and thought to take the alleys and walking bridges as much as possible to stray from the crowded waterfront. A decision I did not regret, as I stumbled over so many great sights, painting inspired terraces, alley upon alley, strolling through the neighborhoods…. It seemed hanging laundry was so much more interesting at this moment. An elderly Italian woman sweeping her front steps, small gelato stands, and cute 3 table cafe’s. I end the day at sunset, with a random act of taking the water taxi up to the last stop traveling through the Grand Canal. I instinctively think about which side of the boat I should stand on, as to where the sun was dropping in the sky for taking photos. Mind you these water taxi’s really pack you in! The canal held some of most amazing Venetian Gothic architecture I have ever seen. I depart the taxi one stop after the Rialto Bridge, the largest and one of the most iconic bridges in the city. The sun seemed to set quickly or I just lost time taking photos. When all the sunlight was lost I was able to wander most of the way back to my hotel. After a carb filled light meal, and a decaf cappuccino, I feel I have beat jet lag and will be able to have a solid night sleep…
This morning, I wake at 7 am with plans of taking a jog early before the world was up and running. This was a great idea to go for a jog along the waterfront, an area I had purposefully dodged the last 2 days. I wasn’t alone in this idea, there were others jogging as well, and locals hustling to catch their neighborhood water taxi … what a different way to live! I don’t think most Americans would mind this rush hour! My run came to an end as the world seemed to be waking up. After freshening up, I was ready to begin the second part of my day.
There are so many sights to see and with only 2 whole days to spend exploring I had to choose wisely. Doge’ Palace and Saint Marc’s Basilica seemed like a great idea and directly next to my hotel alley way. St Marc’s Basilica, a convenient 5 Euros I paid upon entering at the top of a very steep stair case. St. Marc’s had such a wow factor. I was able to sit and just stare around for a while (another benefit of being alone you can take as long or short as you wish). Not that the art work was so amazing to me, it was just the amount of work, mosaics, and architectural arches within this space that was astounding My emotions rose and fell throughout the Basilica. I do not practice a religion, and I do not feel you have to in order appreciate the amazing works of art. When exiting the Basilica directly to its left on the water is Doge’s Palace. I have seen a lot of museums in my life and never have seen such greatness than what I saw inside Doge’s Palace. A multi-purpose building that held living courters, counsel meetings, a court system and it housed prisoners. To me it holds some of the most amazing works.
When reading through the site maps for each wall, corner and ceiling, an artist named Giovanni repeated over and over again. Dozens of paintings that took 2-6 years each. Cumulative between the artist’s, the Palace interior took multiple lifetimes to complete. These oil paintings were all elaborately stretched in a unique shape for the space they were to be placed. Framed in massive gold baroque flourish trim, the ceilings were a perfect symmetrical puzzle. All the paintings are rich in pigment ranging from monochromatic black and white, monochromatic red, to full color paints. I honestly do not look into the painting for any meaning, or religious story; I look at detail, color usage, perceptive of the figures, and the dramatic setting that takes place. If I have to recommend just one option while in Venice, you have to visit Doge’s Palace.
The Palace is also home to thousands of pieces of weaponry dating back hundreds and hundreds of years. You can easily spend 2-3 hours in the Palace. When you are inside peek out some of the windows from time to time, and see the prison bars on the adjacent windows. It is mind blowing to me that a place of judgement holds such amazing paintings. They had to expand on the Palace to house prisoners next door, thus connecting it with a bridge to walk those being sentenced over the narrow canal to the new prison. The prisoner would be able to glance out of the decorative openings in the bridge and see the Venice Lagoon one last time before being taken to their cell. Prisoners could be herd moaning and sighing as they walked through, hence the title, Bridge of Sighs. A really magnificent building Doge’s Palace is inside and out. It’s a must see!
Before heading in for the night, I finish the day with a bowl of mussels in a spicy red sauce with a simple salad and lots of olive oil. Accompanied, of course, with a glass of red wine! The following day’s journey takes me to Rome by train. Stay tuned for Part 2 of my Italy travel blog.