The Bridge of Sighs and a Beautiful Goodbye – Venice, Italy

I feel like I write the phrase “it was like something out of a dream” so often on this blog that people must think i’m always half awake when I travel, but the truth is that though I would consider myself a writer of at least some skill- there’s always places that I visit that truly do leave me without the necessary adjectives to describe them in any way that does them justice.

We woke up early that last day to wander our way down the quiet and still sleeping streets to make it to Piazza San Marco and get a chance to see it one more time before we left. Not only did we get spared from the constant drizzle of the days before, but there were absolutely no crowds yet and apart from a couple of other dedicated photographers walking around trying to get their best shots, the area was fairly deserted compared to the last time we had been there.

(credit to the bf for taking the photo of me standing in front of Basilica San Marco, I would almost say he’s looking to challenge me for title of head photographer on our trips  )

The previous two days that we’d made our way to see the Bridge of Sighs, it’d been fairly impossible to try and get a good shot because of the crowds but that morning, we had the bridge that overlooks the canal it’s suspended over all to ourselves. After I had finished looking at the beautiful coastline and the islands on the other side (and wishing we had maybe a little bit more time to make it over to explore them), we walked up to the bridge and there was just one guy there, trying to take a good selfie of himself in front of it. He saw us and asked very nicely if we would take a photo of him and I enthusiastically obliged and snapped two photos from him, after which he thanked us with a big smile and walked off to admire the canal coastline himself and suddenly we had the view of the Bridge of Sighs all to ourselves.

A really rather popular tourist attraction in Venice, the Bridge of Sighs is a beautiful enclosed arch bridge built in the 17th century as a way to connect the New Prison to the interrogation rooms in the Doges Palace. The general consensus seems to be the name of the bridge comes from the idea that convicts crossing the bridge to the prisons would get one last glimpse of the lagoon through the covered windows and heave a despairing sigh but…. historically there doesn’t seem to be much credence to this. Personally I can attest that the view is limited from inside the bridge as the glass panels are very cloudy and also crossed with steel bars on the inside, but I can also say that if I was crossing any bridge as a prisoner, I would probably let out a good number of sighs no matter what.

The walk back to our hotel was unhurried as we had already packed up the night before and had our transportation to the Venezia Santa Lucia train station arranged by the staff, so we had plenty of time to marvel at all the unique and beautifully colored buildings that surrounded us.

Once back at the hotel we tucked into breakfast and then time seemed to rush on by until suddenly our water taxi was there and it was time to check out and begin the journey to Rome.

A thrilling and beautiful ride on a lovely water taxi, bright morning light streaming in through the windows as the city rushed by us made a pretty perfect way to say goodbye to Venice.

~m

The Doges Palace and the Rialto Bridge- Venice, Italy

Having already purchased tickets that granted entrance to the Doges Palace at the Correr Musuem, we were able to get in past the long line that snaked around the building, saving us a whole world of wasted time and enabling us to get more out of our last full day in Venice.

The Doges Palace is a must-see if you’re visiting Venice, so I could easily understand the long lines outside and also justify the way the interior was more than a bit packed in. And what, exactly, is the Doges Palace? This is the question the bf had when we first made plans to visit, and I couldn’t easily provide an answer since I hadn’t really researched it much up to this point (for shame right?). Basically, the Doges Palace was the residence of the Doge of Venice who was the chief magistrate and head authority of the Most Serene Republic of Venice from the years of 697–1797. They were elected for life and served as the civil and military leader and as such, their surroundings reflect this.

Taken from the visitor website to the Palazzo Ducale, this helps give an idea of what the general tour of the Palace will consist of : “the Museo dell’Opera are located at the ground floor; what used to be the palace’s kitchens are now partly occupied also by a space for temporary exhibitions. The visit to the upper floors starts in the extraordinary courtyard, from where you pass up to the Loggia on the first floor (where the Doge’s Apartments are located) and then to the Institutional Chambers, throughout the first and second floors. The visit finishes with the Armoury and Prisons.”

The change of scenery from the Armoury over to the Prisons is an almost jarring one, and one that begins by crossing through the famous Bridge of Sighs.

I do have to admit though, as weird as it probably sounds, our favorite part of the visit was to the prisons rather than through all the grand opulence of the palace. For me it was the great contrast between the two that made it all the more interesting and especially seeing the cells and even some of the artwork the prisoners had made. We spent the longest time here, lingering in the narrow corridors until eventually we made our way back to the Palace over the Bridge of Sighs once more and exited out to head towards the Rialto Bridge, the oldest of 4 bridges spanning the Grand Canal and a top recommended sight to us.

We walked our way through some more winding streets, making idle plans for the rest of the day-pizza and some gelato perhaps? All morning there had been a somewhat steady sprinkling, but for just a few minutes as we looked over the bridge to the Grand Canal, the rain let up enough for us to enjoy the view.

Satisfied with having successfully seen everything we had planned to that day, we headed back into the maze of streets to find a good souvenir shop I could buy some postcards for friends at and then afterwards hopefully procure some tasty gelato to cap our last full day in Venice. The next morning we would wake up at sunrise to take in some of the early morning light and give our farewell to this first stop of our trip, and head on to Rome.

~m

Basilica Di San Marco and Museo Correr- Venice, Italy

Our second day in Venice started bright and early, with the determination to see as much as possible now that our leisurely day of walking around (and souvenir buying) had been allocated. After eating a pretty delicious breakfast at the hotel, we booked it to the Piazza San Marco to see if we could either get into the Doges Palace or the visit the Basilica Di San Marco first. The previous day when we had walked by the Basilica we had seen a line that rounded back towards the exit of the church and we had seen something similar with the Doges Palace, so we had decided that waking up early would be the best bet to get the chance to see more without having to be stuck in line for too long (and also cut down on costs by not buying skip the line tickets- they’re great when you’re more pressed for time but in general if you can just wake up early, it’s always nicer to save that money for other things).

We found only a couple of people in line to enter San Marcos at 9:15 (it opens at 9:30, and is free admission but they do check to make sure you’re not carrying large backpacks) and so we figured that was our best bet for getting a chance to explore the most famous of all churches in Venice and one of the most beautiful examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture. Photography is not allowed inside the Basilica but, I don’t think any photography would really do justice to how beautiful and just awe-inspiring the interior is. I’ve been to my fair share of churches (and I would continue to visit yet more on this trip) but the clear and heavy influence of Byzantine artifacts and style here- like the beautiful mosaic work in the floor- makes it a genuine favorite.

After exiting the main area of the church we decided to wander up and pay the fee to visit the accompanying museum thats housed on the upper level. I would highly recommend paying the 5€ ticket fee even if you’ve absolutely no interest in the historical context of the Basilica or the artwork it houses (although I’m judging you something fierce if you’re here at all and have no interest- the heck are you wasting your time like that for?) if only for the view of the square and part of the Doges Palace that you can only get if you go up to the second level.

After sitting down for a good bit to bask in the veritable splendor of the basilica, we took ourselves back downstairs and across the square, to the Museo Correr. We decided to do this rather than go straight to the Doges Palaces because we found out that if you bought tickets at the Museo Correr, they were also valid for the Palace and would enable you to skip the regular line, and since I had wanted to visit this museum anyways, it worked out perfectly.

The Correr Musuem encompasses both the art and history of Venice and it’s a fantastic primer for someone who’s never been before and has only a small idea of what Venetian history contains (I really only know the history of Venice as it intersected rather bloodily with Byzantine history, namely the 4th crusade). Though the Doges palace also contains plenty concerning the history of Venice, I would really recommend visiting the Correr Museum if you have the time during your visit here because the art on display is supremely interesting, the building itself is gorgeous and honestly there’s just so much to see here alone that we didn’t realize two hours had already passed until we checked the time.

We would have spent longer there, but for reasons not quite well explained to us, the Doge’s palace wouldn’t be open it’s full hours until 6pm that day, and would instead close much earlier. So we exited back onto the now very familiar Piazza San Marco and headed to the Doges Palace, for a taste of another kind of opulence.

~m

The Musée du Louvre, pt 2- Paris, France

A continuation of my previous post, photos from my visit to the Louvre.

I know I usually write words upon words for my posts but the thing is, not to cop out or anything, it’s just that words really don’t do this museum justice and even my photos can’t quite touch on how magical it was to get to explore this building all the treasures it holds.

In total I spent around 5 hours here, just walking from hall to hall, and the further I got from the main central exhibition area the less people I saw, until I was sitting down somewhere reading an info placard and realized I hadn’t seen anyone at all in the last 20 minutes, unless you counted the museum attendants. Eventually though, I had to start making my way back to the main area as the time was approaching when I would be due to meet up with Rachid for whatever that evenings adventures would hold.

Of course I got a little sidetracked when I passed a section with Mesopotamian artifacts, because I mean come on,  how could I resist? And then of course I pass through what I think is the loveliest section in the whole museum, where it’s just sculpture after sculpture and you can’t help but lean in closer to catch all the details carved into the stone.

Eventually though, I got a msg from Rachid saying he was on his way so I knew I had to tear myself away from it all if I wanted to have time to hit up the gift shop (you know I had to). 

I exited the museum with a head and heart almost to bursting with all the beauty I had seen and a slightly lighter wallet, breathing in fresh air and getting hit right in the gut with the realization that I would be leaving Paris the next day and I wouldn’t be able to come back to this museum any time soon. But I shook that feeling off, promising myself I would come back as soon as I got the next chance and went off to find Rachid amid the crowds outside the Louvre and then finish up the day with a visit to the Sacré-Cœur basilica.

~m

 

A Goodbye to Versailles and Hello To A Magical Night Out- Paris, France

 

By the time I had wandered my way to the Grand Trianon on the grounds of Versailles after leaving the the Queens Hamlet, my feet were getting achy and the rain had started to sprinkle down a bit more forcefully. Instead of going inside however (because that would be too logical), I sat just inside the steps, the beautiful black and white tiled floor providing a super elegant resting place to get my energy back up to start the trek back to the main palace and eventually to the meeting place for the tour company I had arrived with that morning.

A lengthy and leisurely visit to the gift shop (but of course) and then it was goodbye to Versailles and back to being a peasant outside it’s gates while I waited with my gathered tour group for the bus to arrive to take us back to Paris.

While on the ride back I got in touch with my friend Rachid who was finishing up teaching a class (because he’s a very smart cookie that teaches mathematics and the story of how we managed to become friends is best left for another day but involves me discovering that some math majors are actually quite cool) and we attempted to coordinate when and where we would meet up, things made a little more difficult because of the weather and unpredictable traffic. Eventually though, I made it back to Paris and the drop off point with the tour group and shortly thereafter met up with Rachid. Being a current Parisian resident, he immediately shuffled us off to the nearest Métro station so we could journey back to my hotel so I could pick up the gift I had gotten for him in Amsterdam and drop off that days souvenirs. He was exceedingly keen on having me experience this form of public transportation, as it’s what he uses on a daily basis and well, why not right? It was a quick trip and soon we were back on our way to our first destination, the french-gothic cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris.

The cathedral was as beautiful as I had expected it to be, almost larger than life in a wonderful way. We didn’t go inside as the area was deeply congested with visitors but just getting to see it up close and personal this way was a great experience to mark off as done on my list of “things to do/see in Paris“. Even as we crossed back over the Seine to head towards what turned out to be the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore, I was already making plans in my head to come back for a more in-depth visit.

Before visiting Paris, I had only heard of the bookstore via movies and blurbs in travel guides- I think I might have mentioned this before but, I’ve never viewed Paris as that interesting to me personally. Not because its not bursting at the seams with museums and fascinating history- it surely is- but just because there have always been other places that interests me much more. That being said though, the history of the Shakespeare and Company Paris bookstore is a fantastic one and I definetly suggest stopping in. It’s situated just across from Notre-Dame and its a really unexpected book oasis that invites you to linger for a good long while.

Once we had managed to extricate ourselves from here (because I of course wanted to buy dozens of books and maybe a couple of postcards) we began the hunt for a place to grab dinner at nearby. After a bit of talking we settled on the idea that we should try and find a traditional French restaurant as I had never really experienced French cuisine before. Eventually after some walking around the area, we stopped to read a menu displayed outside a restaurant and the waiter (or host, I couldn’t quite tell) managed to get us-er I mean, to invite us to come inside.

So… i’m not going to give the name of the place we ate it- mostly because I honestly can’t with 100% accuracy remember it and so therefore i’d hate to drag the wrong place. But gods, I don’t think i’ve ever had a worse meal. Perhaps it might have been because I couldn’t read the menu (as Rachid speaks fluent French and when our waiter asked “anglaise or french” he said French, leaving me a bit in the dark as an unintended result) and I felt mighty uncomfortable asking him to translate every item and so ended up just going with what seemed familiar to me. It might have been the odd neon lighting, the crinkly plastic tablecloth that stuck to my skin the second I dared to let my arm rest on the table, maybe the really narrow table and hard wooden chairs…or maybe the rather unexpectedly terrible food.

The good thing though, is the meal wasn’t an utter wash because Rachid tucked in and greatly enjoyed his food, the vegetable soup I got on a haphazard whim ended up being almost tasty enough to make up for everything else and the really great conversation we had over the hour we were there made everything else fade into the background. Ahhh the powers of friendship, no?

 

And so, with that neon adventure behind us, we walked onward with no real destination in mind and the sky darkened to true nightfall. We walked over what felt like half a dozen bridges, talking about literature, history, our relationships and respective ideas of love (after all, the subject is almost infused into the bones of this city) and eventually found ourselves outside the Louvre. I remember seeing people walking past the gates and towards the illuminated pyramids and turning to Rachid to ask, “Wait, people can go in there at night?” . He hadn’t known you could explore the courtyard area after the Louvre closed for the day either, and so we crossed the street to follow the rest of people wandering in.

To say it was magical would be such a severe understatement. The next day I came back in the bright daylight hours but the way everything look that night- softly lit and only sparsely populated with visitors- thats the way I think I want to remember it forever.

I really can’t overemphasize visiting the Louvre at night- you can’t go inside the museum itself because it’s closed but that shouldn’t stop you from visiting the area to view it at night, to get a chance to look around such a historic place with plenty of breathing room thats very hard to find during the daylight hours. Also, it’s just really freaking cool.

We ended the visit by crossing the street to get a closer look at the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (not to be confused with the larger and more famous Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile ) and idly wondering how far it would be to walk from here to either the Eiffel Tower or the other Arc. Probably overambitious on my part but I was considering walking from either one back to the Louvre the next day, though Rachid was more rational in that taking the Métro would be the better plan (he’s such a smart guy but definetly still needs to learn just exactly how utterly irrational I can be, ha).

Eventually though, as the time got later and later, we decided it would be a good idea to call it a night as he had a class to teach in the morning and I was more than a little tired from the long day. Ever the gracious host to his city and an amazing friend, Rachid walked me back to my hotel before finding his own way back home. Have I mentioned what a great person he is? Yes? Once more then!

Considering I started and spent half the day exploring Versailles and then the other half seeing so many wonderful Parisian sights and treasures, it truly was a day and night to remember and it ended up really cementing in me the deep desire to come back again, and soon.

~m