It was a beautiful morning, so we got organised early and caught the 8 am ferry to Venice. Sarah had chosen a campsite right at the waters edge, so it was a short 5 minute walk to the ferry terminal. Travelling by boat is a nice way to get to Venice (there is also a causeway), because we got to see all the waterfront houses, and canals going in between them.
Thankfully, Richard had his GPS, so getting lost was not part of our itinerary, so long as we all stuck together. The houses and history in Venice is very old, so we saw some amazing old buildings, which I am sure would all have stories to tell. Our first destination (with a cache along the way at a Gondola boat builders), was St Marks square, as we were aiming to visit the Basilica when it opened, before the crowds. We meandered our way through little dark alleys filled with houses and shops with crooked walls, the narrowest of which, Sarah could reach each side with her arms outstretched. The buildings would go up for 3 or 4 or more stories. Richard really enjoyed these alleys, as did Hayden, but Sarah and I thought they looked quite dodgy and stunk of urine. There were lots of doors going off them, and I said to Richard (as I was usually tagging along behind), that all they would hear was a squeak from me, look around, and I would be disappeared – dragged through a doorway by some dodgy character never to be seen again!
St Marks square is an impressive sight, though there were far less pigeons there this time than last (albeit 20 years ago). The basilica stood majestically at one end, swathed in golden mosaics, archways and columns made of every colour of marble. Richard had found some free audio guides in MP3 format on the Internet, so we all got our new MP3 players out, and dialled up St Marks Basilica and started listening. It was a great account of the history of the place, and described the incredible mosaics in the domes etc. Apparently St Marks remains were stolen from where they lay, and brought back to Venice by two merchants, hidden in a pork barrel. His bones were stored while the church was built, but then, many many years later when it was completed, they couldn’t remember where they had put his remains! Eventually they located him, and he is buried beneath the main alter. Most of the precious artefacts there had been stolen and looted from other countries over the centuries, so it stored an eclectic selection of goodies. There was a great story about 4 enormous bronze horses that had been stolen off Constantine and whisked away to be displayed at the top of the entrance to St Marks. They were believed to be over 1000 years old. Now there are replicas outside the basilica, and the originals are indoors (which we saw), as they have been damaged by pollution. Incredible! St Mark is believed to be one of the Matthew/Mark/Luke/John writers in the Bible.
From there we did more wandering. Even though Venice is flat, we had to climb and descend an awful lot of stairs – every time we had to cross a canal! I think we walked for about 7 hours, with only a small break for lunch. The shops were fascinating, I was particularly taken with the hand stencilled paper, and glass handled quills, the glass beads/necklaces and the lovely scarves. The kids loved the masks.
The day turned out really hot. We weren’t sure what the temperature was, but we were in tee shirts and I managed to get sunburnt! There were lots and lots of people in Venice, and we would hate to think what it would be like in peak season. We arrived within minutes of a ferry leaving, and enjoyed the short trip back to the mainland and our camp ground.