We got off the gondola and turned around to take in the vast
expanse of choppy waters. All we could see was white, foggy mist forming a
blanket over the Grand Canal and dark clouds softly gliding our way, ready to
engulf St. Mark’s Square, once called “the drawing room of Europe” in a
thunderous shower. We tucked our hands deep into the pockets of our jacket and
made our way to St. Mark’s square. It was 4th of December, and the
damp, chilly air was seeping into our bones. On reaching the square, as I looked
back, I was confronted with a white sea of mist. Like a stalker, it had
stealthily followed us into the square and was now upon us. I stood stock still,
mesmerized, trying to soak in the sight in front of me. The whole of St. Mark’s
square was drowning in mist and it was suddenly difficult to see beyond 10
feet. Through the mist we caught a glimpse of the onion shaped domes of the
Basilica di San Marco.
The first St. Mark’s was built in 828 next to the Doge’s
palace when Venetian merchants stole the supposed relics of St. Mark the
Evangelist from their original resting place in Alexandria, Egypt. The present basilica,
which incorporates the earlier building was completed around 1073 and is
believed to have been modeled after Constantine the Great’s Church of the Holy
Apostles (no longer standing) and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. While the basic
structure has not changed much over the centuries, its decoration has changed
greatly over time and now comprises Byzantine, Romanesque and Gothic art. The
exterior depicts a variety of artworks from antiquity to the middle ages,
magnificently illustrating St. Marco’s tales as well as scenes from the Old
Testament. On entering the basilica, our first impression was that of a dark
gothic monument, with wooden floorboards laid out to facilitate walking in case
of floods. However, a few steps ahead and we were dazzled by the spectacular
gilded mosaics covering a total area of about 8000 square meters on the vaults
and cupolas. Dating mostly from the 12th century, the interior
mosaics proclaim the message of Christian salvation through events from the New
Opposite the basilica is the Campanille di San Marco (Bell
tower of St. Mark). Standing at almost 325ft, it is the city’s tallest building
and offers unparalleled views of the Lido, the roof of the basilica and the
whole lagoon. On a clear day one can even see the dolomites in the distance. We
were however not that lucky. The clock tower was originally built between 888
and 912. However, after having collapsed into a pyramid of rubble in July 1902,
it was rebuild exactly ‘as it was, where it was’. It is said that the Holy
Roman Emperor Frederik III rode a horse to the top of the original in 1451. Round off the square’s attraction with a visit
to the Doge’s palace, once Venice’s political and judicial hub. Of course,
don’t forget to walk across Venice’s famous Bridge of Sighs which intended to
connect the old prison and interrogation rooms in the Doge’s palace to the New
Exit St. Mark’s square and immediately get lost in a web of
alleys. It is an absolute must for anyone visiting Venice. The charm of Venice
lies in its narrow streets and alleys, various squares and serendipitous
meetings with quaint, narrow bridges tucked at the end of inconspicuous alleys.
Wander aimlessly for an amorous tryst with Venice.
No trip to Venice is complete without a tour of the Grand
Canal. Flanked by erstwhile palazzos of the Venetian ruling class, the fairy
tale atmosphere of the lagoon is only enhanced by Venice’s ubiquitous
vaporettos (water buses). Hop on to the
slow #1 vaporetto that runs the length of the Grand Canal and buckle up for a
mesmerizing tour. Halfway down the Grand Canal is the Rialto, the 16th
century bridge hosting the Rialto Market, which has been whetting appetites for
centuries. The lagoon city has a glorious culinary tradition based on fresh sea
food, usually procured from the stalls of the Rialto. Indulge your taste buds
with fresh fish or crabs, or get adventurous and take the plunge with baby
octopus or inky squid. Personal experience behooves me to warn the uninitiated
against the local pizza. It is mediocre at best and usually of the frozen
variety. Instead opt for polenta (a regional specialty) with fish or meat.
Winter or summer, drown yourself in the delicious sweetness
of gelatos from Boutique de Gelato, a tiny outlet on salizadda San Lio. Bid sweet
adieu to the lagoon city with the tantalizing flavours of Frittole (famous
Venetian fritters made of eggs, flour, sugar, raisins and pine nuts) lingering
on your tongue and creating lasting memories.
Nestled in the French Alps, Annecy will charm its way into
the hearts of even the most jaded travelers. Less than two hours away from
Geneva, it is a popular day trip for tourists visiting the Swiss town. Perched
on the northern edge of Lac d’ Annecy, the town is crisscrossed by a network of
canals and streams, thus earning itself the tag, “Venice of Savoie”.
Indulge the romantic in you by strolling hand in hand with
your paramour by the impossibly azure waters of lake Annecy or crossing the
Pont des Amours (lovers bridge) situated at the edge of the lake.
Wander around the charming Vieille Vile (old town) surrounded
by pastel coloured houses bedecked with lego windows and flower pots.
Stoke the historian in you with a visit to Palais
de l'Isle. Appearing as a ship stranded in the middle of the waters of the
Thiou, the Isle Palace has a long history, having served as the first residence
of the Lord of Annecy from the 12th century onwards to being the
administrative centre for the Counts of Geneva and finally a prison until 1965.
The former castle today houses a local history museum. The Annecy Chateau, built
between the 12th and the 16th century, situated on a hill
overlooking the city and its surroundings, is also well worth a visit.
Stop by one of the multitude
restaurants lining the Thiou canal and sample the gastronomical delights that
the city has to offer. No trip to Annecy is complete without dipping into the
heavenly Savoyarde fondue.