Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Girls Getaway to Venice - The Ghetto and San Marco

Home to 60,000 Italians, Venice is visited by more than 20 million people a year. Although it is a popular romantic destination for couples and honeymooners, it can be very expensive and crowded at times, so be sure to plan your trip here carefully. The city stretches across 117 small islands in the marshy Venetian Lagoon along the Adriatic Sea in northeast Italy

Upon arrival via train, I was amazed to see this city that functions with no vehicles. People only get around by foot or boat here. Therefore, you will see Police Boats, Ambulance Boats, Taxi Boats and Mass Transit Boats, along with private boats and the ever-popular gondolas. Everything in this water-based city is beautiful, from the architecture to the museums to the shops where you can buy handcrafted lace, paper and glass.

From the train station, we walked towards the ghetto (the original ghetto, from which all others take their name) that came into existence in 1516 when the Senate passed a law confining the city’s Jews to this one small area between the hours of sunset and sunrise. The Jews eventually received full citizenship rights in the mid-19th century and the area is still home to a small Jewish population, evidenced by the kosher restaurants. A great place to explore and shop.

After checking into our Hotel Villa Rosa, located in the Ghetto, we purchased our 24-hour mass transit pass and boarded boat #1 that took us through the Grand Canal to our stop at Piazza San Marco (pictured above). This impressive piazza is anchored by the Basilica di San Marco that was built in the 11th century. Although the multi-domed, multi-arched exterior is lovely to gaze at (note the four bronze horses standing on the upper terrace that have become a significant symbol of the city), we were blown away by the opulent interior. The entire ceiling (and other major parts of the inside) are adorned with real gold leaf, as well as marble, glass, and 1.5 square miles of mosaics. It was free to enter the Basilica, and was worth 2 Euro/person to see the awe-inspiring Byzantine gold and gem encrusted altarpiece (located just behind the altar). Words cannot express how magnificent this piece is...we spent a good 20 minutes gazing at it before exiting the building. The Piazza is outlined with the Campanile (Bell Tower) and many divine cafes, trattorias and shops selling everything from glass to jewelry. Definitely a place to hang out, but a tad pricey. We found a charming cafe and enjoyed some vino while we took in the piazza.

After our vino, we explored the rest of the San Marco area that features tons of shops, restaurants and even chain stores like Guess, H&M and Addidas. After some shopping, we stopped for more vino and a few nibbles. We even found a place that sold wine by the bottle, and the store clerk was kind enough to uncork the bottle and give us four plastic glasses to we could enjoy wine during our boat ride home for the night.

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