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 Testament.
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 Prison.
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.