This plaque appears on a wall of the Doge’s Palace in Venice. Though Google translate comes up with a decidedly odd translation of the Italian – or is it Latin? – inscription from several hundred years ago, it seems clear that the plaque marks the spot of an office dedicated to investigating and rooting out tax cheats. It is no doubt just coincidence if anything about the sign or the lovely bas-relief of the head of the man has a contemporary ring to it.
This guy and the thousands of others I saw wielding cameras and smart phones were ever-present reminders that taking original, “new” photos in Venice, if not entirely impossible, is no mean achievement. As I pointed my camera at one breathtakingly gorgeous site after another, it was good for my ego to be reminded that whatever I came up with in the way of an image would be very similar to the photos a multitude of people already had in their photo albums.
First thing in the morning, three Venetian men chat in front of a local tavern while having a drink – probably but not necessarily espresso – to start the day.
I am not a well-organized traveler. I do not really map out my visits to a place in great detail. I generally have a list of sites I would like to visit, call them tactical objectives, but I do not have a strategic plan to “conquer” all of those tactical objectives. I am as mystified as I am impressed with people who plan out their trips in methodical detail – day one, starting with a tour of A, followed by a walk to C, stopping along the way for a break at cafe B with a splendid reputation, and so on. I set out with my camera in hand, as often as not just walking and letting my eye determine where my feet take me. Sometimes I start with a minimalist plan, heading for tactical objective A, occasionally with the idea of heading next for objective B.
On my first day in Venice, I got an early start, taking a vaporetto from Lido Island where I was staying to a stop on the north side of the main island. I had meant to take a vaporetto to the south side of the island, but got my numbers confused and ended up on the north side. I did not really have any idea where on the north side I should go, so after consulting Google Maps, I picked a stop arbitrarily, got off, fired up my Nikon, and started walking. The time stamp on the first photo I took after getting off the vaporetto is 7:40 am, still fairly early on a Saturday morning. There were not many people out.
That first walk left me breathless – I was in Venice! And it was as amazing as I had expected it would be. I had no idea where I was headed, I just kept walking. Eventually, after 45 minutes or so, I found myself in bright sun looking out at the lagoon. I had crossed the island and was not too far from the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s, so I set out to see the famous center of Venice. It was now around 8:30 in the morning and already there were quite a few people walking around and looking at the sights.
In an out-of-character bow to advance planning, several weeks before leaving Vietnam, I had purchased a Venice Museum pass, which gained me free, don’t-wait-in-line admission to the Doge’s Palace and several other museums in the city. I was standing in front of the palace, and there was not likely to be a better time to visit, so in I went. I rented an audio tour device, which had a lot of interesting information, but in the end it was too much detail, more than I needed or could follow. I listened to some of the tour, but spent a lot of my time just letting my eyes soak in the visual feast that is the palace.
My museum time threshold is 90 minutes or so, maybe a couple of hours max. In any case, after a couple of hours in the palace, I was getting very antsy and needed to get out. What I could not do was find a way to exit the museum without finishing the tour. Whether early escape exit paths exist, I cannot say, but I never found one. I came instead to a sign that informed me the next and final part of the tour was of the prison in the Doge’s Palace, and I could take the short tour or the extended tour including the dungeons. I definitely opted for the short tour, which proceeded through narrow bare-rock passages, where I somehow became trapped in the middle of a large guided tour of Germans. Narrow passages, as in, I could not get past the German tour, which was moving at a slow pace while the museum guide explained the sights. In great detail and, not surprisingly, in German. Ah, so. Eventually, I managed to squirm out in front of the Germans, and thankfully found myself in front of a sign that said exit.
Released to the fresh air of a magnificent October day, I wanted to escape crowded St. Mark’s Square and find a relatively quiet cafe where I could have a bite to eat, and sit for awhile to regroup. I consulted Google Maps again, and struck out towards the center of the island. Immediately, I found myself in a maze-like warren of narrow lanes surrounding the square. The lanes were packed with people, and I could not find a way out. I ended up going in circles, coming back to the same place repeatedly. Not unlike Frodo and Sam trying to escape the rocky Brown Lands on their way to Mordor. Not that I was planning a visit to Mordor. Forget it. Bad analogy. I found myself tired, hungry, and in the midst of a minor anxiety attack that only went away after I finally escaped the St. Mark’s area, eventually making it to a small outdoor cafe along side a canal. It was past lunch time and only one of the tables was occupied with people speaking Italian who acted as if they might actually live in Venice. The food and coffee were excellent, the waiter was charming and friendly in an Italian way, and I ended my visit to St. Mark’s Square in an altogether pleasant, relaxing setting.
I read somewhere that Venice has fewer tourist arrivals, on average, in October than in any other month of the year. Maybe, but the city was hardly empty during my visit. I suppose everyplace on the city’s relatively small main island gets its share of visitors, but that visit to St. Mark’s Square and surroundings was only area I found especially – oppressively – crowded during my stay in Venice. The post’s image attempts to capture the claustrophobia of the area just beyond the square.
The entrance to St. Mark’s Basilica was covered by scaffolding for preservation work of some kind on the day I visited. Given the volume of tourists passing through St Mark’s Square and the famed chuch, maintaining this site must present enormous challenges. In any case, I happily settled for of an image of the top of the western-facing facade of the basilica. Backlighting from a morning sun added a nice touch.
Ponte dei Sospiri or the Bridge of Sighs spans the Rio Del Palazzo, which runs along the side of the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Square. After appearing in court in the Doge’s Palace, convicted prisoners were taken across this bridge to a prison on the other side. As they got their last view of beautiful Venice crossing the bridge, prisoners were known to sigh; hence the name of the bridge. Or so the story goes.