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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Vacate to Venice 2019 - Exploring San Marco & San Polo

Without the rush to catch a vaporetto to go to a more distant island, we awoke more slowly, enjoying a nice breakfast of fruit we picked up at the market the night before. On our walk to San Marco Basilica, we stopped for some croissants to supplement our fruit breakfast. While Kari preferred the warmth of the croissants from the day prior, I felt these croissants were better quality, a little lighter and fluffier. I also had a hot chocolate. Throughout Venice, we had seen these hot chocolate machines constantly turning liquid chocolate. What a better way to start a brisk morning walking around Venice than with a croissant and a hot chocolate. It was delicious!

Once we arrived at San Marco Basilica, we left our bags and began the climb to the museum above the church. As beautiful and grand as the exterior was, the interior was even more beautiful. The walls and ceilings were adorned with scenes from the Bible and church history in mosaic. Around each image was gold leaf mosaic tiles to serve as a consistent background for the ceiling. Absolutely stunning! Unfortunately, they requested no photos, so we only snagged a couple to help remember for ourselves.

Walking through the museum was like walking through the history of the church. We saw various pieces going through restoration and some of the techniques used to preserve the Basilica for years to come. We also saw some of the pieces that started to become too damaged in their prior place to remain, such as the Horses of Saint Mark. These were replaced by replicas to maintain the look without losing the originals due to weathering over time.

In addition to seeing the beauty of the church from above, we could hear morning mass proceeding below us. It was quite lovely and cool to think this building is still being used for its original purpose many centuries later.

After descending back to ground level, we were given the opportunity to enter the main portion where mass was occurring to use the confessional or seek a blessing. Kari and I, being not catholic, did not feel comfortable spoiling the sanctity of the space and left. We headed off to collect our belongings and continue our tour of Piazza San Marco.

Our next stop was the Doge's Palace, or Palazzo Ducale. Similar to San Marco Basilica, a portion was turned into a large museum to show the history of the culture. In addition to serving as the residence for the doge, or political leader for the Venetian people, it was also the home for the legislative and judicial branches of their government. With the former government being a republic similar to our own, it had three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. It is cool to see one of the likely examples/influences to our founding fathers when forming our government.

As we wandered through various halls and rooms, we were struck by the beauty and ornate decorations. Many of the walls and ceilings were covered with paintings and carvings or sculptures. It was spectacular. The final stop in our tour was across the Bridge of Sighs and into the new prison. Named the Bridge of Sighs due to the thought prisoners would sigh as they crossed, glimpsing freedom one last time before entering the dark, damp prison. It was an interesting view to see through the small windows out at San Giorgio's, watching gondolas pass below us on the canal.

Now, we have been touring museums for a few hours building a healthy appetite. We opted to try one of the recommendations from Lauren and Jesse, Dal Moro's, a grab and go pasta place. I had spaghetti with bolognese sauce, chicken, and parmesan cheese. Kari had spaghetti with black fish sauce and parmesan cheese. The food was hot and delicious, just what we needed after spending a few hours roaming the cool drafty halls of the Doge's Palace.

Following lunch, we wandered over to Suso's for our first gelato of the day; another recommendation from Lauren and Jesse. This was one of the better gelatos we had tried. The fruit di bosco was excellent and the lemon was pretty good.

With food in our bellies, we set off to find a gondola ride. We tried to find one on one of the small canals, hoping for a more peaceful and serene ride than solely on the Grand Canal. That turned out to be a good choice. While our gondolier took us on a loop that involved some time on the Grand Canal, we also spent a decent amount of time navigating the small canals, often alone. The gondola provided an interesting perspective; a glimpse of a time past. Many years ago, the gondola was a primary form of travel to get around Venice, with numbers nearing 10,000 gondolas. Today, there are about 500 remaning, primarily to give tourists an experience. The vaporettos are now the common way to get around Venice.

After our gondola ride, we felt we had done most, if not everything, we had come to Venice for, so we set off on a stroll to take the long way back to the apartment we rented to warm up and decide where to have dinner.

with it being our last night, we knew we wanted to stay in Venice's culinary wheelhouse; more pizza and gelato. We found a highly rated pizza place, Da Mamo's, and wandered over. Thankfully, we got there as they were opening and before the rush. By the time we left, it was packed. The pizza was excellent. While I preferred the crust of another place a bit more, the sauce and cheese were better here. It was certainly a good pizza to end our time with.

After dinner, we tried two more gelato places in our quest to find the best. We believe we have it narrowed down to Amorino's for lemon, strawberry, and raspberry; Grom's for lemon and fruit di bosco, and Suso's for chocolate and fruit di bosco. Unfortunately, Amorino's was closed when we were walking back to the apartment to finish our comparison. Regardless, all three were delicious and highly recommend.

With an early morning looming, we packed our things and went to bed early.

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