It is pouring in Venice, and I love and hate the weather. At times it’s a blast – wading through the San Marco Piazza, diving under canopies during the drenching downpours, mist and lightning over the lagoon, and the game of bumper umbrellas with the locals and tourists (locals are currently the winning team – I’ve never seen people navigate an alley only big enough for one person so ably enmasse before!) Then there are the moments I want to cry and crawl into my nice warm bed at home – when my feet begin to actually feel like the shriveled grapes they’re turning into, when a clueless tourist hits me in the head with an umbrella, when all the tourists around me are complaining.
On the whole, I think I rather like Venice in the rain. This is how Venetians live for 9 months of the year. I woke up super early this morning (my internal clock is all off) and just wandered the backstreets. I witnessed flocks of children meander to school without umbrellas and oblivious to the wet. Gondolas parked enmasse, still waiting for the tourists to awaken. Local boats plying the narrow canals with beer, wine, food, supplies for the local businesses. Everyone on their way to work. And a soft mist hanging over the church San Giorgio Maggiore across the water.
You can quickly spot the difference between a Venetian and a tourist. The tourists huddle under cover and in doorways, complain bitterly in a cacophony of languages, or regress to childhood by kicking off their shoes and wading barefoot through the flooded piazzas. (Something tells me that’s really not a good hygienic idea!) The locals walk briskly, umbrella whipping in the wind, feet safely dry inside big galoshes. I don’t have galoshes, but I do come from Portland, Oregon, so I’m trying to follow the Venetian way and just deal with the rain. My shoes may not dry for a week, but I’m seeing Venice!
The highlights of my sightseeing so far…Hands down the church across the Guidecca Canal from central Venice, called San Giorgio Maggiore. While most of Venice’s churches are overwhelming in their glitzy Baroque decor, this one is quiet, majestic, and simple. It was designed by Palladio, a great Renaissance architect who believed all architecture should be based on rational math and proportions. The dome is perfectly inscribed inside two intersecting rectangles. Palladio has influenced Western architecture for centuries, including many of the buildings in Washington D.C., as well as Jefferson’s Monticello. The inside is lit only by light coming in through the clerestory and the candles. It’s dim, still, and I was the only one there. I just sat there and soaked in the stillness – renewing to the soul.
I’ve also seen the famous San Marco Piazza, and it is huge. I cannot even begin to describe the scale. At one end is the San Marco Basilica. I waded through the acqua alta (floods) to step inside and marveled at the glittering wonder of its vast mosaics. The walls, ceilings, domes, every inch are covered in detailed mosaics, the images pieced together with tiny little pieces of tile. At times, the ceiling seems ethereal and glows.
I also explored the Doge’s Palazzo (palace). The doge was the ruler of Venice, and at the height of Venetian power, the doge controlled a vast sea trade network in the Mediterranean. Thus the palace is sumptuous – Baroque emotion translated through architecture and art. Huge Italian masterpieces, gold, mosaics, beautiful woods, just stunning and very intimidating (which was the point!) Attached are the prisons, where the government sent their political prisoners. Dank, smelly, cramped – not pleasant. Today’s weather really added to the experience as water trickled into certain areas of the prisons.
The other highlight? Food! I found the best little rosticceria near the Rialto markets. It’s tucked in a small lane, and resembles a traditional American diner from the 1940s. The staff is a bit surly, but that turned out to be a facade of efficiency, as once I began asking questions, they opened right up. I learned all about why Venetians think Italian food is so good – simple, fresh, quality ingredients. And they have hundreds of varieties of tomatoes! I had a simple spaghetti with fresh parmesan, which I know sounds boring, but this was unlike any spaghetti I’ve ever had! Along with a glass of wine, all came to about 7 euros. AMAZING value! To give you some perspective on that, most restaurant meals here would cost at least 20 euros, about $30.
Writing about food is making me hungary – time to hunt for another Italian meal! Tomorrow I savor one more Venetian morning, and then it’s off to Slovenia.