Sunday, May 30, 2010

Venice Vice

I apologize for the shorter-than-usual post and poor quality of pictures today.  My battery was running low the entire time we were in Venice, and I am super tired, so even though it's only 9pm, I'm going to make it a quick one and hit the sack early tonight. (Also, make sure you click the "read more" link to see the rest of the posts.)

Our original plans for today were for Christine and me to go to Venice so she could show me the ins and outs of the town and give me a really good look at the city.  She's been approximately 40 times (yes, 40, that's not a typo), so she really knows her way around and can give a lot of detailed history as opposed to just seeing the touristy stops.  Christine still wasn't feeling well, it was rainy and cold outside, and Jameson went down for his nap at 9am because of his party hardy ways at the barbeque last night, so our plans were messed up from the beginning.  All 4 of us ended up going along for the hour drive to the sinking city, and though it wasn't our original plan, I wouldn't have had it any other way.

In 1880 the population of Venice was around 180,000 people.  In 1950 the population had dropped to 150,000, and is now currently down to under 70,000 people.  It is just so expensive and inconvenient that the pros don't outweigh the cons of living in the city anymore.  Christine said she tried to convince Christer to live in Venice for part of the time that they were here, but he wasn't too fond of that idea because of the 2+hour commute to work he'd have everyday.  The tourism industry didn't start to pick up and invade the city until the 1980s, and ever since the city just hasn't been the same.  It is terrifically beautiful to visit, but it is also so desolate and barren that it kind of makes you feel sad.
I snapped a couple of pictures from the boat that brings us into the city.  There are zero cars in Venice, and the only way to get things in and out of the city are by boat.  Can you imagine moving and having to boat all of your furniture in?  We actually passed by people hauling their Ikea purchases home on our way out.

There is nothing like riding in through the Grand Canal and seeing the city built on water.  It is so indescribable and picturesque that you almost get this surreal feeling.  This is what painters and photographers and artists of all kinds try to capture in their work, right here before my very eyes.  

We rode the boat all the way up to Saint Mark's square so I could get the initial "WOW" factor when we started out.  We passed by this beautiful church called La Salute (Salute! is the word you use to say "bless you" after someone sneezes as well, but technically means "good health"), that was constructed in honor of Saint Mary.  When Venice was hit by the plague in 1630, conditions became so terrible that 1 in every 3 Venetians were dying from diseases caused by the rats.  (This year the Carnivale's theme was the plague.  People dressed as rats and doctors to parade around the city and act out the horrific event in history.  I'll try to find some pictures from this year's Carnivale so you can see.)  Everyone began praying to Saint Mary to free them of the plague, and shortly thereafter it ended.  The Senate decided to construct a church in honor of Mary, and is technically called "Santa Maria della Salute" or "Church of the Virgin Mary of Good Health."  It is located out on a peninsula across from Saint Mark's square, and there is no bridge leading to it.  You have to go out of the way to cross the water and then back track just to reach the church and get an inside look.  Every year, on November 21st, the day they celebrate as the end of the plague (also somebody's birthday but he's going to miss the nod if he continues to just look at the pictures and skip the reading!), all the gondoliers line up and create a make-shift bridge from Saint Mark's square to the church, and everybody goes to pray and pay homage to Santa Maria.  This is La Salute from the water.

We passed by Harry's Bar where the famous Peach Bellini was invented, and where loads of famous clientele often holed up for a drink or two.  Proust, Byron, Hemmingway, and more have all enjoyed a drink or two at this now world famous watering hole.  We also passed by the building that Hemmingway called home for a year.  I seriously know so much about this guy's real estate history it's pathetic.  Maybe I should actually read one of his books that are sitting on my shelves collecting dust.  Good intentions, I tell you.

Saint Mark's square, or Piazza San Marco, was UBER crowded today, making for the classic "child playing amongst the pigeons with his parents sipping espresso and smiling adoringly from a table across the piazza" picture a complete impossibility.  You know the one I'm talking about.  I also have this extreme and abnormal fear of being the target for birds' discharge, so hanging out amongst the pigeons was just a death wish that I was not willing to succumb to for a tourist filled picture.  So here they are:

The first picture is of Saint Mark's cathedral and the famous Campanile di San Marco, or the bell tower of Saint Mark. The tall brick structure is an exact replica of the original bell tower which was built in 1812. Venetians started hearing the bell tower creaking and moaning, and noticed a sizeable crack in the wall. In 1902, early one morning, the entire structure collapsed to pieces, harming no one, and leaving the gold angel from atop the tower perched right side up, sitting on the steps of the cathedral. The Venetians petitioned to rebuild the tower, and in 1912, marking exactly 1,000 years since the original foundation, the tower was finished with the same gold angel perched back atop the to watch over the city.

In the lower picture of the square, you can see the 3 different enclosing walls which define this as a piazza.  The one on the very right was constructed first as a part of the cathedral and to house offices and apartments of curators of the cathedral.  100 years later they built the opposite wall, the one on the far left, to provide more housing for the curators.  Napoleon loved the enclosed piazzas and petitioned for the farthest wall to be built to enclose the square during his reign.  This is known as the Napoleonic Wing and housed Napoleonic governors at the time.  Because all 3 walls were constructed at different times by different architects, they all 3 look completely different, a huge design flaw in one of Italy's most famous piazza's.  If you look at the roofs of the walls you can tell that they don't match up.  The original has decorative protrusions, Napoleon's is shorter (naturally) :) and has statues at the top, and the one on the left has windows and is the tallest of the 3.  I know what you're thinking... I should major in architecture with these descriptions I've just delivered, but you get the point.

Very quickly, since I've once again gotten carried away blogging and it's now WAY past my bedtime, here are a couple more pics from today.  We'll surely be back to Venice since it's so close to home, so I'll share more stories and better pictures then.

The gondolas were very pretty, and exactly what you'd expect to find in Venice.  We didn't ride in one today, but we will eventually just so I can check it off my list of things I've done.

Wee! It's me!  This is my first picture in Italy so I had to post it, just as proof that I was really here and not just making all this up.

More polizia!  I'm sorry, but how stinking cool is that?  You go to your civil service job wearing your cool dude shades and ride around in a boat all day. In Venice!  These guys seriously have it made!

I should probably take this time to explain the title for today's post.  There are guys lining the streets of Venice with fake designer purses trying to trap the naive tourist into a purchase, much like in New York City.  They wander from street to street carrying their bags (avoiding the police) and laying them out on the ground for people to see.  While we were enjoying our lovely lunch outside we saw and heard lots of commotion, and then saw 2 guys running with the purses towards and alley.  It turns out that the 2 guys we saw running were undercover police and had confiscated the bags that were being sold illegally.  Christer termed all this commotion and undercover detective work "Venice Vice," hence, the title.  Clever, right?

Italian firefighters!!!!!!  AHHH!!!  I know, I have issues, but COME ON!  That's like the best of both worlds.  That's like 'have your cake and eat it too' good.  I don't know why this never occurred to me before, but you can rest assured I'm going to be on the lookout from now on, camera ready.  Have no fear, all you ladies out there, I've got you covered with the Italian fireman eye candy.  :)

Today my favorite thing about Italy is: Venice.  All of it.  The history and stories behind each and every building are astounding.  I truly was in awe.  It's just too much to take it all in on one trip.


  1. what is the deal with fireman eye candy? cops are way cooler and have a way harder job. i'm over it...

  2. loved the gondola pictures...just incredible to see the city surrounded by water. know I have to be on the side of the police! ;-) I want the guy with the guns not a water hose!

    anyway, are you learning to speak any Italian?

  3. You guys are too funny. I posted pictures of the cute polizia too! Don't be jealous! We have Rosetta stone 1-3, and I've started learning a bit, but right now I am using lots of charades and smiles to get me by. I know your basic words, but not enough to order a meal, much less hold a conversation.

  4. I think you are starting to make me fall in love with Italy! I look forward to reading your blog to see what I get to learn and see next! I'm definitely living vicariously! :)