City of beauty, bridges and romance | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

The busy Venice shoreline —PHOTOS BY RUEL S. DE VERA
The busy Venice shoreline —PHOTOS BY RUEL S. DE VERA

VENICE—I had never seen a city without any cars before. But Venice, with its narrow, cobblestone streets literally does not allow for any cars. The island is, of course, dissected by canals of varied sizes and homeowners have boats tied on the canal-side the very same way Metro Manila residents park their cars on the sidewalk.

But this also means I have never seen a city like Venice, period. This northeastern Italian city—Venezia to the locals—founded as far back at 697 B.C., still retains much of its Middle Age and Renaissance visage, with ancient buildings painstakingly, proudly protected by the locals.

Piazza San Marco at night

There is much to see, of course, starting with the Piazza San Marco, which is the expansive plaza that, if you just stand in the middle of, you can see three of the major Venetian sights. To the east is the renowned St. Mark’s Basilica, the cathedral that holds the relics of Venice’s patron saint, St. Mark the Evangelist. The structure itself is estimated to have begun construction in 1063, but the construction has continued until the 13th century. The impressive façades are overwhelming Gothic in design. The basilica’s bell tower, St. Mark’s Campanile, is a 1912 reconstruction of the original and stands an impressive 323 feet in height, visible over the short buildings of Venice—and over the water for approaching vessels—and can actually easily be used as a navigation point (this writer certainly did).

The courtyard of the Doge’s Palace with rear of St. Mark’s Basilica at the center

Prisoner’s last view

A gilded ceiling inside the Doge’s Palace

Finally, there is the Doge’s Palace, built in 1340, and former seat of the Doge of Venice, the ruler of the republic. Converted into a museum in 1923, the Palace is a glimpse into life during the zenith of the Doge’s influence and the power of the Republic of Venice. The chambers themselves are so numerous and so interesting but never forget to look up, because the ceilings bear many paintings by Tintoretto, just as many of the walls bear paintings by Titian.

St. Mark’s Campanile

The single most famous feature of the Doge’s Palace is also something so short you might miss it altogether if you’re not paying attention, as it leads from one part of the prisons to the other. Known worldwide, the Bridge of Sighs (such a poetic name bestowed by Lord Byron), from the outside, is an intricately sculptured bridge made of white limestone over the Rio di Palazzo, a canal that runs between two different parts of the palace.

Tourists on the bridge opposite the palace often stop and take photos of the Bridge of Sighs, so it is quite a surprise, when inside the palace to be walking from the interrogation to the new prison, to look through the barred windows to see all the cameras pointed at you. Only then does it occur to you that you are in one of Venice’s definite sites. It is said that the sights beyond the windows are the last thing prisoners will see before they are executed, thus, they let out a sigh, hence the name. The realization of where you are will stop you in your tracks.It may be the most famous but it is only one of the many, many bridges in Venice. Because of all the canals, there are bridges literally everywhere. And you will have to do a lot of walking to get anywhere.

Not for the seasick

It also means taking a lot of boats, so those who tend to be seasick, consider yourself forewarned. If you wish to get to any of the nearby islands, or to the bus station on Piazzalle Roma or the train station on Santa Lucia, you will have to take one of the smaller vaporetti boats, which run on a schedule 24/7. If you are going to the Venice Marco Polo Airport, you will have to take the Alilaguna water shuttle.

While the city does have native Venetians, they are growing fewer and older. A lot of the apartments are now Airbnbs, not surprising considering the scarcity and cost of hotels of any size.

The fashionable shopping is concentrated on St. Mark’s Plaza and, of course, the famous Rialto (be careful not to get lost in the narrow, twisting side streets). The food from the cafes and bistros is quite good, dominated by the seafood that’s freshly caught.

But there is perhaps nothing better than just sitting al fresco in a café or a bistro along Riva, Molo or Degli and take in the ocean bridge, watch the boats endlessly switching places and the beautiful dogs (so many, quite friendly and often unleashed but behaved). The same cannot be said of the large seagulls that have grown completely unafraid of people: they will literally swoop down and grab away the exposed sandwich in your hand if you are not paying attention.

But of course, Venice is known as one of the world’s most romantic cities, and between the old buildings, the crisp, sometimes biting wind and the amount of walking you have to do, there are beautiful couples everywhere, holding hands, whispering to each other, eyes only for each other. They are willing over any bridge they come across.

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