I saw the grandeur of Florence. Florence changed the world and created the greatest acceleration in the arts and science in human history. There is profound order in that city. Venice can't claim any of those superlatives. Florence is tied to the hard work and productive lands of Tuscany. Venice is tied to the sea and to foreign lands. In Venice there is more decadence and decay, but Venice is glorious with its special and unique beauty. Venice presents itself with a broad flourish.
They work to keep cars out of the old, central part in Florence, but in the early morning especially, there are delivery vans, taxis and cars in old Florence. Venice is made up of many islands separated by numerous canals with boat traffic and occasional pedestrian bridges. There are no wheeled vehicles in Venice. It is a grand place to walk.
I took a taxi to the train station in Siena and regional rail to Florence. From Florence, I took a fast train to the Santa Lucia train station in Venice. On the train there were many tunnels with glimpses of rugged forests in northern Tuscany followed by the flat Veneto plain. It reminded me of old Tidewater in Virginia, except here there were scattered Italian buildings. Later, there were sharp hills jutting from the plain before it was flat again. I had time to think on this train ride. I saw this trip as an entry to a new life. When I returned to the States, I would no longer be an executive, no longer a department director, and no longer responsible for so much. I wasn't ready before. Now I had fully separated myself from that old life. Thank you Tuscany; I'm ready now.
I arrived in Venice at the Santa Lucia station which is located on the Grand Canal, the main street of Venice. I found a vaporetta (a boat bus) that would take me to San Marco plaza where my hotel was located. I ended up on one of the faster routes which did not go on the Grand Canal but instead went around on the much wider Canale delle Giudecca. The San Marco Plaza is an enormous piazza and it was full of people. My hotel was in a small building on the densely packed and heavily visited Calle Larga San Marco next to the great Piazza. The plaza is anchored by the Campanile, the Basilica San Marco and the Doge's Palace. The Doge was the ruler of Venice, elected by the aristocratic families of the city. In the palace, I was most impressed by the Sala del Maggior Consiglio (the Hall of the Great Council) with its enormous paintings by Tintoretto, Veronese, and others. I went through the Bridge of Sighs to the prison, the route prisoners took when convicted in the palace. I admired history and art in the Museo Correr and the Accademia. I was in the Accademia in the evening and was practically by myself. The focus of the Accademia tended to be 16th century art and particularly the art of Tintoretto. I was amazed throughout the city by the Gothic architecture with an oriental flair.
The community mythos says that Venice was founded by Romans fleeing from Attila the Hun in the fifth century. They escaped to the many small, swampy islands in what is now the Laguna Veneta. In medieval times, Venice became the great trading city of the world and the premiere naval power of the Adriatic and Eastern Mediterranean. Eventually, fill operations created more land and long wooden poles were driven into the substrate to create foundations for buildings.
The next morning, I walked by the enormous Santa Maris della Salute Cathedral to Punta della Dogana, the scenic point on the south side of the entrance to the Grand Canal. The morning view over the water to various parts of the city was wonderful. Then I had a cappuccino and pastry waiting in the lovely piazza Campo San Barnaba for the Ca’ Rezzonico to open. The Ca’ Rezzonico is a large, opulent and decadent palace from the baroque era. I experienced the gilded rooms, antique china and art in that palace. After that, I mostly walked the narrow streets, bridges and many piazzas of the various districts of Venice. Back in the neighborhoods, where the local people lived, there were gems to be found.
When we returned to Venice from the Dolomites, we rode on a slow vaporetta down the length of the Grand Canal, viewing the beautiful old buildings on this main thoroughfare. The boat traffic in the canal was heavy. Continuing to walk around the old city, I enjoyed a meal of clams and pasta in a restaurant with a back outdoor area under a beautiful green arbor. Our group had a dinner on the Campo Santo Stefano. San Marco was the large civic and ceremonial piazza of Venice. However, some of my favorite piazzas in Italy were the smaller, more intimate, neighborhood piazzas in Venice. Many of these piazzas contain a cistern/well which collects rainwater, since in this tidaI environment, fresh water was difficult to find. I enjoyed the Campo Santa Margherita in the Dorsodura district. Walking through a neighborhood inhabited by local residents, I came upon the Campo Bandiera E Moro which was full of children playing. But my favorite Piazza was the Campo Santo Stefano. Like many of the best Venetian piazzas, it had a shady area with trees, some grand buildings, outdoor cafes and a statue. Like the other neighborhood pizzas, Santo Stefano provided an intimate, comfortable place to relax or have a meal. Santo Stefano is a linear piazza, comfortably narrow and but with a changing experience as one walked its length. On one end was the Chiesa San Vidal, a grand old church which now serves as a concert hall. In this hall, I heard Vivaldi. It was one of the peak experiences of my time in Venice.
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The Baroque Composer Vivaldi was born, lived, composed and performed in Venice. In San Vidal, among the beautiful sculpture and paintings, I heard Vivaldi intensely and vigorously performed by Interpreti Veneziani. They played the Four Seasons and a Cello Concerto by Vivaldi. The interpretation was interesting and dramatic. The Cello player performed the Concerto with great brio and expression. It fit well with intense beauty of Venice.