Sunday, February 22, 2015

La Serenissima: Venice Part 2

Today was going to be the next of the big two in Venice, namely the Doge's Palace.  However whilst yesterday was sunny albeit brisk, today was grey, drizzly and very cold indeed.  Definitely not a day for tramping around outside which was just as well as the Doge's Palace was all inside.

The interior courtyard

Interesting place Venice with interesting traditions.  The Doge for example was the elected leader and by the sound of it was not something you really aspired to.  People, always men of course, became Doge after a lifetime of successful business and service to Venice.  So Doges tended to be both old and short lived.  History tells us that there was one Doge in the 13th century who had the notion of turning it into a dynastic system, but he didn't last long as he was arrested, tried and executed.  That put something of a damper on future Doges thinking about dynasties.

The job itself was tough.  7 days a week cramped up in the Palace, which really actually isn't a palace at all.  It's something like the town hall.  Meeting rooms everywhere and only a couple of small private rooms for the Doge himself.  He rarely went home or saw his family after becoming Doge as he was kept so busy for remember Venice was the crossroads for commerce in that part of the Mediterranean.

Plenty of wondrous art in the many meeting rooms and waiting rooms

Being built in the old days, the place was dark and gloomy not helped at all by the fantastic collection of artwork (again lots of Tintoretto's) which itself was also dark and gloomy.  One particularly memorable room was of the chief justices throughout the centuries.  Every one of them had their own painting.  Imagine a huge room filled with paintings of grim faced, be-wigged men in red gowns.  Dozens of them.  Dozens.  Made me shudder, I can tell you.

See what I mean?

There were the lion's mouths too.  Very interesting.  In the middle of the mouth there was a flap through which you pushed your letters of denunciation.  This was a method of advising the authorities of someone's evil deeds but you couldn't simply make it up to get one over an adversary for example as you had to sign it and if the investigators found you'd made it up, it would be you that caught it in the neck.  Of course it was that old killjoy Bonaparte who took over the place in 1797 and ruled that this was complete nonsense so had all the lion's heads chopped off and the practice disbanded.  But you can still see where they were.

The post boxes front and back

Then there was the meeting room... it is enormous.  The guide said it was the biggest room in Europe for centuries and I can believe it.  At one end is a dais and the Doge's throne and that's it.  No chairs.  Loads and loads of paintings by ... you guessed it, Tintoretto again.  Huge paintings too but this time all very busy and crammed with action denoting Venice's commercial activities. Most impressive.

Let me guess... Tintoretto

The prisons were interesting though.  Like I mentioned before, the palace really isn't but a city hall and so has everything you could possibly need including cells in the dungeons.  Those are the really nasty ones as they are dank and disease ridden.  You wouldn't have much of a chance of coming out of that place if you'd been there a while.  So the Doge decided they needed to build another prison next door, but next door in Venice is actually not being next door but over a canal or river, they had to build a bridge over it through which the condemned passed... 2 corridors, one in and one out.  That is the famous Bridge of Sighs.  It looks way better from the outside than inside.

The Bridge of Sighs, inside and out

Good guide too.  We were part of a big group so were mic'd up so she could talk I think in 3 languages.  She told jokes too.  I'm always impressed by people who can speak lots of languages.  The lady guide said she was a university professor of history so liked doing this.  Good tour.

We found a brilliant place for lunch too.  A really tiny little trattoria by a canal with a couple of little rooms with tables crammed inside.  We even had some gondoliers for company and they really do have those stripy jumpers.  So we felt that we had found a popular place where locals go.

He had the black linguine with cuttlefish that comes out black.  I'll have to come back just for that!

We shared a mass of food, pasta, seafood, antipasti as well as the local liver with some local prosecco (of course) and red wine.  Lovely.

Razor clams, anchovies, prosciutto...
So having tramped around a bit and lunched well we felt the need for a bit more culture and as there was the Correr Museum on the piazza included in the price of entry with the Doge's Palace, we thought why not indeed.

The earliest ducat

The guidebook is pretty scatheing about the place saying that for a museum that is meant to be THE history of Venice, there really should be some rhyme or reason to how it is laid out.  Seeing as there is NO rhyme or reason to how Venice is laid out, I just thought that's a bit of a tough assessment.

The museum though has some amazing contents and again it all comes down to the antiquity of the place.  It started out in the late 5th century and that's when the contents of this museum start.  Actually not as they have some really decent Roman stuff of course which of course pre-dates the place.

Evidence of cricket during the Roman era

Marcus Aurelius

And some Byzantine art featuring a black St. Paul.  Don't see that very often.

But then it was cocktail hour and fortunately the original Harry's Bar was just around the corner and would no doubt offer up some warm conviviality.

Or at least that was what I hoped.  Boy was I disappointed.

It wasn't that the place was pretty spartan with plain wood floors, tables and chairs.  It wasn't that the Negroni's that we had cost an eye watering 24 Euros and really weren't that good.  I think it was because the service was really, really poor.  Talk about grumpy waiters.

I suppose from their point of view, the bar is one that tourists come to just for a single drink and a holiday snap so they know we won't be coming back so they don't give a hoot.  That's how it felt.

Anyway I was disappointed as I'd hoped to be a bit more impressed by a place that Ernest Hemingway used to frequent when he had some leave from the Isonzo Front in WW1 which isn't that far away from here.  He was a renowned drinker so the place must have had something back then.  It doesn't now.

And that was pretty much it for Venice.  Only time for 2 more fantastic meals and a couple more trips on the Vaporetto before our time was up.

Collecting trash in Venice. Not the most scenic of holiday snaps I'll grant but I found it fascinating. 

I will definitely be coming back!

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