Honeymoon Part Two

A long, long time ago, after the marriage of my parents they honeymooned in the resort town, Antibes. Antibes is in southeastern France near Cannes. Because of its proximity to Cannes, the city was flooded with tourists, most of which were French. The visitors had not come to Antibes for the sandy beaches and nice hotels, rather they were preparing for the Cannes film festival. During the festival, all the accommodations in Cannes and the surrounding cities are fully booked.

One of Antibes beautiful beaches.

One of Antibes beautiful beaches.

We, on the other hand, planned to relax in Antibes. At that point, the beaches were still a little bit chilly to dwell on. Instead, we vegetated in the hotel rooms, watching news of the festival and all the top celebrities that were supposed to be seen, on the television. One night we went out and got some Lebanese takeaway and watched the recent stop-motion movie, The Pirates! Band of Misfits. Occasionally, we would stroll into town to sit in the parks or watch the locals lawn bowling, which was amazing popular in Antibes.

Seamus and Wanda on the beach of Antibes.

Seamus and Wanda on the beach of Antibes.

The gentle energy of Antibes was a nice contrast from the nonstop touring we had been doing. This time in Antibes was very different from my parents first experience in the city, over twenty years ago. I don’t suppose they would have imagined themselves back in Antibes one day with two extra Quiggs.

– Siobhan

The Leaning Tower

Italy could not be left until we saw the legendary leaning tower of Pisa. So, our final Italian stop was in the quiet city of Pisa. The majority of Pisa’s recognition is from the quirky tower is possesses. That said, the city has been a prominent center since ancient times. This is mostly due to the city’s convenient position on the Arno river.

The leaning tower of Pisa.

The leaning tower of Pisa.

Our first course of action, obviously was to visit the tower itself. It was fairly easy to find. All we had to do was follow the flow of all the other tourists heading towards the iconic building.

Looking up the centre of the tower.

Looking up the centre of the tower.

The leaning tower is famous across the globe because of its lean. It is lesser known was the actual intended purpose of the tower was supposed to be, besides standing straight.

The view of Pisa from the tower.

The view of Pisa from the tower.

As it so happens, the leaning tower is the bell tower belonging Pisa’s Cathedral. Despite taking over three hundred years to complete the construction, the physicalization of the tower did not go quite as planned. Luckily, the lean adds considerable charm to the tower and the surrounding Cathedral Square.

The bell of the tower.

The bell of the tower.

To see the views of the square and the rest of Pisa, we decided to climb to the top of the tower. The number of stairs nearly matches the number of years taken to build the tower. The spindly narrow stair case was a bit tricky to ascend but the top was a spectacular vantage point.

Seamus and Wanda at the top of the tower.

Seamus and Wanda at the top of the tower.

Our time at the top was limited because of the overwhelming amount of tourists waiting to climb the tower. So, we took in as much of Pisa as we could with our cameras and memories before being hurried back down the stairs.

The cathedral square.

The cathedral square.

Back at the bottom, we used some camera angle magic to take a few of cliché supporting-the-tower shots before exploring the rest of the Cathedral Square.

Wanda holding up the tower.

Wanda holding up the tower.

We took a peek in the Cathedral before leaving the square to take advantage of the lovely weather by having a walk around the city.

The baptistery of the square.

The baptistery of the square.

The next day, we had the car packed, ready to leave Italy having seen the endearingly eccentric tower and head onward into France.

– Siobhan

Florence

In Florence, we again utilized the globally present hop-on, hop-off tour bus. The quality of the touring service has been consistently rewarding during this year. It was especially practical in Florence because the history of the region is spread all over the city and surrounding area.

Seamus on the tourist bus.

Seamus on the tourist bus.

The bus took us to a few locations that we likely would have missed if we were relying on our legs for transportation. One of which was the small town of Fiesole, approximately five miles out of Florence. Most of Fiesole’s fame is because of it’s location in relation to Florence.

A view over Tuscany from the Fiesole.

A view over Tuscany from the Fiesole.

On a hill to the North East, Fiesole offers magnificent views of the capital of Tuscany. Fiesole is also visited because of the Roman ruins that remain there.

Fiesole on the hill.

Fiesole on the hill.

Closer to town, yet still handily reached by the bus was the Piazzale Michelangelo. The square, dedicated to the artist, features a replica of the David statue. Not to mention, like Fiesole, the Piazzale also has spectacular views.

The David copy in the Piazzale Michelangelo.

The David copy in the Piazzale Michelangelo.

After we felt that we had used the bus to its full potential we spent some time on foot, dilly-dallying around the city. Our last stop on the bus was at the Boboli Gardens.

Looking down over the Boboli gardens.

Looking down over the Boboli gardens.

The expansive gardens took some time to explore. We spent ages admiring the sculptures, foliage and fountains only to discover we had overlooked the series of museums the garden held.

Seamus in the Boboli Gardens.

Seamus in the Boboli Gardens.

Unable to ignore the stunning collection of items from the fifteenth to seventieth century, we took a quick walk through the museum, rushing to see everything before closing.

Pegasus in the Boboli gardens.

Pegasus in the Boboli gardens.

From there we walked deeper into Florence and happened to cross Florence’s renowned Ponte Vecchio. The bridge has a remarkably unique design.

Meadhbh standing on the Ponte Vecchio.

Meadhbh standing on the Ponte Vecchio.

It’s Medieval stone arch is not unusual in Europe, however the Ponte Vecchio is different in that shops line either side of the bridge, protruding over the Arno River.

View of the city, including the Ponte Vecchio from Piazzale Michelangelo.

View of the city, including the Ponte Vecchio from Piazzale Michelangelo.

Past the bridge we found ourselves at the Florence Cathedral, commonly called the Duomo. The cathedral is adored by locals and tourists alike because of its pastel, easter egg-like facade.

The Duomo.

The Duomo.

Art is to be found everywhere in Florence, whether it be in the architecture, gardens or fountains. The city also features many pieces of art in the main squares for the public’s enjoyment.

A medici lion in the Loggia dei Lanzi.

A medici lion in the Loggia dei Lanzi.

We found one of the best examples of this in the Piazza della Signoria. The Piazza is one of the oldest and most popular squares of the city. The spotlight of the square is the town hall, called Palazzo Vecchio.

A catapult beloning to the medieval festival.

A catapult beloning to the medieval festival.

 However, the real prize of the square is to be found in a corner off to the side. In a sheltered space called Loggia dei Lanzi there is an assortment of brilliantly made sculptures. The theme of the statues depict Florence’s pride for their Italian culture and history. Many were characters from old Roman mythology.

Meadhbh and Seamus watching the medieval happenings.

Meadhbh and Seamus watching the medieval happenings.

Two men sword fighting.

Two men sword fighting.

A man making leather shoes.

A man making leather shoes.

Near our unit, we saw another expression of the Florentine love of history. In a cleared pad a large group of people had set up a medieval festival. Everyone was wearing the clothes of old.

The medieval people wore elaborate costumes.

The medieval people wore elaborate costumes.

Some were fencing in the grassy areas. Along the edges of their grounds tiny huts sold medieval themed goods, some exercising their trade on display.

The medieval festival.

The medieval festival.

This included leather books bound by hand, hand crafted shoes and iron jewelry. Recipes from the middle ages were also offered.

Drummers

The drummers of the parade.

The leaders of the medieval parade.

The leaders of the medieval parade.

We observed the group for until the rainy weather interfered. However, the climate did not rain on the parade of the medieval folk! On the contrary, when it began to rain they assembled and began a parade, complete with horns, drums and batons.

Seamus and Wanda's defence against the rain.

Seamus and Wanda’s defence against the rain.

They began to march into the city as we marched home.

– Siobhan

Et Tu, Brute?

The majority of our explorations throughout Rome had been through the aid of guided tours. On our last days in Rome, we took some initiative and investigated some of Rome’s past by ourselves. Utilizing GoogleMaps we located the exact location of the assassination of Julius Caesar. Ever since my grade nine novel study of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, I’ve been fascinated by the Roman character.

The site of Caesar's assassination.

The site of Caesar’s assassination.

As we were walking to the site, I almost expected a soothsayer to emerge from an alley and cry “beware the Ides of March.” Of course, no such thing occurred and we reached the area, known as Curia of Pompey over two thousand years after Caesar took his final breath there. We peered into the excavated site of the Curia of Pompey for a while before continuing on our way.

The Roman Pantheon.

The Roman Pantheon.

Our journey towards the Spanish Steps was interrupted by a familiar sight. We came by the original Pantheon. Not too much earlier we had seen the Pantheon on Paris based on the building in Rome. The Paris Pantheon was stunning but the Roman Pantheon was astonishing as it had been built without the modern technologies the French had used.

The dome of the Pantheon.

The dome of the Pantheon.

The temple was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa with an almost impossible design. Despite the ambition of the idea and the limited technology the Pantheon was created and is to this day, the largest unreinforced concrete dome of the world.

Meadhbh on the Spanish Steps.

Meadhbh on the Spanish Steps.

We also caught sight of another familiar structure on our way to the steps. We had seen obelisks in Egypt and in Paris and we could not avoid seeing them in Rome. Rome has the most obelisks of any city in the world. Some of are modern and some of ancient Egyptian products.

The obelisk in the Piazza del Popolo.

The obelisk in the Piazza del Popolo.

One of the Egyptian obelisks, brought to Rome from Heliopolic in 10 BC, was very close to where we were staying in the Piazza del Popolo. Eventually, we reached and climbed the Spanish Steps.

– Siobhan

When in Rome

The first tour we joined was so satisfactory that we joined another with the same company. Instead of the Vatican, however, we were guided through the Colosseum and Roman Forum. The tour was just as fantastic as the last.

The Colosseum.

The Colosseum.

To get the most from the tour we did a little bit of investigation on our own. The night before the tour we watched the epic film, starring Russell Crowe, The Gladiator. Even if a little (or a lot) of Hollywood magic was involved, the movie certainly enriched the experience.

Meadhbh peering to the Colosseum.

Meadhbh peering to the Colosseum.

Outside the Colosseum we met our tour group. While taking in the mere size of the amphitheater our guide told us a bit of the history of the structure. Its true name, we learned, was the Flavian Amphitheare named after the Flavian dynasty. The theatre was large enough to hold eighty thousand spectators. The theatre was often full of an audience fervent to see the next animal hunt, drama, gladiatorial contest or execution. We entered the colosseum through the same doors that the gladiators once passed through.

Ancient Roman graffiti.

Ancient Roman graffiti.

Our journey through the Colosseum was assumedly more smooth than that of the gladiators, however. We ambled along the edges following our guide’s lead. She explained the uses of the different entrances and showed us which seats coordinated with which classes. On some of the lower-class seats we saw, not unlike the theaters of today, the graffiti of the audience. That was not the only similarity that the colosseum had to modern day theaters. The Romans believed that the show must go on no matter the weather and had designed a tarp-like system to protect the spectators from the rain.

Seamus and Wanda behind the Colosseum.

Seamus and Wanda behind the Colosseum.

 Eventually our guide took us out of the theatre and led us east to the Roman Forum. We’ve been to the main squares of many cities this year but it was totally unreal to be downtown ancient Rome. We trekked the same worn roads that members of the Roman Senate had. The guide made us familiar with the with area. We saw the senate house arches of note, a shrine to Caesar and a number of temples of various gods.

The remains of the Roman Forum.

The remains of the Roman Forum.

If there was a temple for Jupiter we didn’t see it. Perhaps our neglect towards the god of the sky and thunder was the reason behind the awful weather that began during our time in the Roman Forum. The rain, thunder and lightning did not distract our guide from her job, however. She led us to an indoor museum on the Palatine Hill.

Inside the museum of the Palatine Hill.

Inside the museum of the Palatine Hill.

The Palatine Hill has been the home to influential Romans. Tiberius and Cicero have both occupied the hill at one time or another. Furthermore, the founding brothers of Rome, Romulus and Remus are said to have lived in a cave on the hill with the she-wolf that raised them.

Wanda listening to our guide in the museum.

Wanda listening to our guide in the museum.

The legend of Romulus and Remus is only one of the epic stories of Roman mythology associated with the hill. Apparently, Hercules also performed heroic acts on the hill.

Head statues in the museum on the Palatine Hill.

Head statues in the museum on the Palatine Hill.

Once Jupiter’s temper eased we left the museum and explored the expansive palace of the hill. In the warming rays of Apollo and Sol we walked back to our rooms.

– Siobhan

The City

Our first venture in Rome was leaving Rome to visit the Vatican City. We booked a tour online and upon our arrival at the city’s gates we were more than certain that it had been a great idea. Without a tour booked it is virtually impossible to enter the city without waiting in queues for several hours. Unless, that is, you happen to be the Pope.

A statue in outside the Vatican museums.

A statue in outside the Vatican museums.

Fortunately, with tour tickets, our entrance into the city was hasty. We immediately broke our record for smallest independent state after having been in San Marino only a few days before. Our record would not be broken again, as the Vatican City is the smallest state in the world.

A ceiling in the Vatican.

A ceiling in the Vatican.

Before we entered the Vatican Museums, our tour guide, Niccola told us of the confusion hovering over the Vatican of late. The recent and highly unusual resignation of Pope Benedict XVI left open the ambiguous topic of who was to occupy the Papal Palace. Both Benedict and Francis offered the area to the other. Niccola was unsure if either of them were living in the Palace at that time.

Wanda inside the Vatican city.

Wanda inside the Vatican city.

Without coming to any conclusions, we continued into the museums. As we progressed continued we became even more sure of the decision to book a tour. The museum contains an expansive collection of art of all kinds. The Roman Catholic Church collected great art and even masterpieces for the museum. Unfortunately, the museum suffers from a case of cenophobia or horror vacui.

A lion statue inside the museums.

A lion statue inside the museums.

Because of the fear of empty space in the museum, the entire area has been crammed with arts of all kind. It is not realistic to maintain a collection of that size exclusively with great pieces and thus many unattractive sculpture, paintings and tapestries have been thrown into the mix to occupy the void.

A cherub painted by Raphael.

A cherub painted by Raphael.

 

Niccola explained that she would ignore most of the filler pieces, some of which, she told us, were downright revolting. She took our group directly to the greatest pieces of the museum. We saw versions of the David sculpture of Michelangelo and the amazing frescos of Raphael, (in which he always inserted a small self-portrait). We were also shown a self-portrait of a different kind.

A self-portrait of Raphael.

A self-portrait of Raphael.

In Michelangelo’s most celebrated work, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, we saw where he painted himself as a flayed skin held by St. Bartholomew. The Last Judgment was incredible to behold. Before we entered, Niccolla briefed us on what we would see in the Chapel using an ipad. The details and effort that the artist committed to the piece seemed unbelievable. Yet, moments later we were beholding the ceiling.

St. Peter's Basilica and obelisk.

St. Peter’s Basilica and obelisk.

After the Sistine Chapel we entered the Papal Basilica of St. Peter. Compared to the Sistine chapel, the basilica seemed enormous. Actually compared to most churches the Basilica is enormous as it is one of the largest of the world and is often regarded as the greatest. It is held in such high esteem for a number of reasons. Not only is it a superior example of Renaissance architecture but it also has one of the ideal locations for a church.

Pope John

The body of the Pope John XXIII. 

The genius of Michelangelo’s contribution adds to the churches reputation. Not to mention the collection of tombs and relics contained in the basilica.While there we saw the preserved body of Pope John XXIII, Angelo Guiseppe Roncalli.

The decorate walls of St. Peter's.

The decorate walls of St. Peter’s.

Once we had thoroughly touring the Basilica and grounds outside it, we left the Vatican city and made the very short journey back to Rome.

– SIobhan

San Marino

San Marino is among the smallest of the countries we have visited. Its population of thirty thousand is spread over its petite area of sixty kilometers squared.

The peak of Monte Titano.

The peak of Monte Titano.

The pocked-sized country is entirely encircled by Italy. The tiny country is the oldest surviving Republic in the world, having slipped through the cracks during the Italian unification process.

Seamus in front of all of San Marino.

Seamus in front of all of San Marino.

San Marino’s compact size does not deter from its quality as a country. It is considered one of the wealthiest countries in the world with a rock solid economy. Not to mention, the sixty kilometers squared contains concentrated beauty. It was declared by Seamus, that San Marino was the most picturesque country that he had visited so far.

A suit of amour outside one of the shops.

A suit of amour outside one of the shops.

The views were incredible from western slopes of San Marino. We explored the better part of Monte Titano. Monte Titano is covered with castles, forest and churches.

Meadhbh looking over san Marino on Monte Titano.

Meadhbh looking over san Marino on Monte Titano.

The area looks like the set of one of Tolkien’s kingdoms. This imagery is reinforced by the number of specialty shops found all over the mountain selling fantastical items such as Elven Bows and medieval jewelry.

 A wall in the castles on the mount.

A wall in the castles on the mount.

A significant chunk of San Marino’s economy lies in the tourism industry. Therefore, it made sense that the stores on the mountain were profiting from the epic, storybookesque scenery. Meadhbh made a contribution to the industry by purchasing a small, belated graduation gift for me.

Siobhan wearing the Ring of Power on a chain.

Siobhan wearing the Ring of Power on a chain.

I was very pleased. In case there hasn’t been any hints or suggestions in other posts, some members of this family are devoted J.R Tolkien fans. The ring of power is not a gift one gets everyday.

– Siobhan

 

Four in a Gondola

Venice is one of the tourist hotspots in the world. Approximately 50,00 visitors visit Venice each day to take in the gorgeous cityscape. These numbers surmount to a hectic crowd during the daytime. Venice at night, on the other hand, is rather tranquil. The muted nightlife of today’s Venice contrasts against the earlier periods of Venice. Periods when the visitors were flocked to the city in pursuit of the city’s decadent after-dark activities.

The actors wearing the Bauta masks while gambling.

The actors wearing the Bauta masks while gambling.

At a presentation depicting the past of Venice, we learned the city was not always the elegant destination it is recognized as today. Venice was once the Las Vegas of the Europe. What happened in Venice stayed in Venice and a lot happened in Venice. Gambling, partying and promiscuity were the whole rage. The extravagance was only encouraged by the protection of identity that the Venetian masks offered.

Meadhbh behind a Venetian mask.

Meadhbh behind a Venetian mask.

In one of the alleys behind San Marco’s square, we found the presentation called The Show. Four actors played out Venice’s past and revealed the city’s secrets. The famed Venetian masks were among their props. Throughout the play, the actors taught the audience about the significance of each different mask.

The Show of history of Venice.

The Show of history of Venice.

An actor describing the purpose of different mask.

An actor describing masks. 

Actors depicting the luxuries of Venice.

Actors depicting the luxuries of Venice.

On top of their purpose in theatre, masks were used by the general public to protect the wearer’s from being identified with their reckless acts of hedonism behind mask. All kinds used these disguises. A masked lower class people could frolic like a noble person and monks and nuns could party like an animals. Although, identities weren’t entirely concealed, Rome would often ignore the self-indulgent, masked members of the clergy so long as steady donations came in from Venice.

A gondolier in Venice.

A gondolier in Venice.

The actors of The Show depicted a time in Venice where unmasked people were rarely seen. They showed us the Bauta mask. A mask with a protruding lower half which became hugely popular because it kept the face most hidden without interfering with the consumption of food and drink. Venice was all about veiled decadence. Eventually the  Catholic Church attempted to abolish this behaviour. Masquerades were limited to a time before lent. Thus the carnival, translating to remove meat, was born.

A gondola station.

A gondola station.

Carnivals were the birthing environments of Venice’s great pleasure-seekers such as the famous (or infamous) Casanova. The actors played out Casanova’s careless, epicurean life. Even his imprisonment and escape were shown by an actor climbing a ladder on the side of the stage. We were also read parts of Casanova’s memoirs. Many times he mentioned in his writing using Venice’s signature transportation method, the Gondola. It was in one of the Venetian boats that he saved the life of a nobleman.

A row of gondolas.

A row of gondolas.

Many important people of Venice’s past have traveled the canals of Venice using a gondola. Lord Byron often spent full nights in his gondola after quarrels with his lover. Robert Browning was also known to be fond of the transportation. During Brownings lifetime in Venice somewhere between eight and ten thousand gondolas glided over the Grand Canal. Now, fewer than five hundred are active.We rode one of the five hundred in a quiet cruise through the smaller canals of the city.

Approaching the Rialto in the gondola.

Approaching the Rialto in the gondola.

A gondolier wearing a red uniform.

A gondolier wearing a red uniform paddling nearby. 

Siobhan by the decorative cleat hitch of the gondola.

Siobhan by the decorative cleat hitch of the gondola.

 

It was an incredible experience. Our gondolier did not sing O Sole Mio as the gondoliers of the Venetian hotel had but he did describe highlights of the city as he propelled us by them. Occasionally, he rang out short improvisational songs directed to his fellow gondoliers who would reply back with an Italian ditty.

Seamus and Wanda in the gondola.

Seamus and Wanda in the gondola.

The gentle journey of the gondola was very soothing. It is understandable why Byron and Browning adored the gondola so much. Yet, unlike Byron, we would not go so far as to sleep in one.

– Siobhan

News on the Rialto

The day following Saint Mark’s Day we returned to the Saint’s square. This visit, however, was in recognition of a different prominent character of Venice. We were there to visit the palace of the Doge.

The Doge's Palace.

The Doge’s Palace.

The Doge was the elected chief magistrate of the city of Venice for over a thousand years. There were one hundred and twenty Doges over this time. All one hundred and twenty were selected by the aristocracy of Venice. Their criteria was old, wealthy and most importantly, wise. Yet, despite the consideration of the electing groups, Doge’s were not always  so wise.

The Golden Staircase of the Doge's Palace.

The Golden Staircase of the Doge’s Palace.

In the palace there is a huge chamber. Walls and ceilings in this room are entirely cover with art. There are one hundred and twenty areas of this wall that are reserved for art depicting each Doge. Most of these are favorable. The exception is the Doge Marin Aliero who’s space is occupied by a black cloth representing a traitor of the Republic. Marin Faliero, the fifty fifth Doge of the Venice, had attempted a coup d’etat.

The main court of the Doge's Palace.

The main court of the Doge’s Palace.

The aristocracy of power were none too happy with this and so, Faliero was promptly beheaded and his fellow conspirators hanged. Conspiracies and general mischief were difficult to succeed in around the Doge’s palace. Throughout the palace we saw a number of locked letterboxes where suspicious behavior could be anonymously reported.

The secret letterboxes.

The secret letterboxes.

These compartments, called Bocca Di Leone or Mouths of Lions or Complaints, were well designed. They resembled lions or faces with open mouths, where the letters were to be submitted. Three sets of keys were needed to open the compartments to avoid any interference with the reports. Mark Twain had noticed the Bocca Di Leone and may have had an unpleasant experience with them, as his description of the letterboxes was not flattering.

These were the terrible Lions’ Mouths. … these were the throats down which went the anonymous accusation thrust in secretly in the dead of night by an enemy, that doomed many an innocent man to walk the Bridge of Sighs and descend into the dungeon which none entered and hoped to see the sun again.

Mark Twain

After touring the palace, we returned to the canals. We completed a full circuit of the water bus to enjoy the scenery of Venice. There is so much to see in Venice.

On the back of the boat on the canals of Venice.

On the back of the boat on the canals of Venice.

We made breaks at a few stops including the Roman Catholic church, Santa Maria Della Salute. Our final stop was at the famous Rialto, which was very near to our room.

The lesser-seen side of the Rialto.

The lesser-seen side of the Rialto.

Wanda and Seamus on the Rialto bridge.

Wanda and Seamus on the Rialto bridge.

The Rialto bridge after dark.

The Rialto bridge after dark.

On the Rialto bridge we stopped to take in the views, snap a few shots. Not to mention, Seamus took this opportunity to recite half of Shylock’s lines from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.

 – Siobhan

The Real Venice

On the Las Vegas Strip in United States we had gone to the Venetian hotel to see the Blue Man Group. The Venetian Hotel, like most of the establishments on the strip has a specific motif. The Venetian, as the the name suggests, is themed around the Italian city of Venice. The Venetian has an interior decorated to resemble the city, complete with painted skies and canals with gondolas. When we leaned over the edge of one of the Venetian’s canals listening to a gondolier sing ‘O Sole Mio we did not realize that the scene was a glimpse of the seven months into the future.

Seamus, Siobhan and Meadhbh at the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas.

Seamus, Siobhan and Meadhbh at the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas.

 

The Venetian is a very beautiful and glamorous hotel however, it does not compare to the city itself. Venice is extraordinary. There is not city like it in the world. In Stockholm, we learned that the Scandinavian city is nicknamed the Venice of the North because of it’s intricate canal system. Although Stockholm is a likable city it does not possess the same enchantment of the real Venice.

Real Venetian canals.

Real Venetian canals.

The allure of Venice is not only attributed to the stunning setting of canals and winsome architecture. There is an element of history and atmosphere in Venice’s appeal. Venice’s history as a city of power and parties adds to the experience of the being there. The day after our arrival we became acquainted with part of this history in a festive way because this was the day that Venice celebrates their saint and symbol, San Marco. Saint Mark’s Day also called the rosebud festival is an event that has all the proud people of Venice congregate in the Piazza San Marco, waving flags and roses. The more recent holiday marking the anniversary of Italy’s liberation in World War II also falls on this day.

Saint Mark and his Lion on the Doge's Palace.

Saint Mark and his Lion on the Doge’s Palace.

Saint Mark is very important to the people of Venice for spiritual and historic reasons. Venice was founded by a group of refugees searching for a haven free of the brutal Hun invasions. The lagoons suited their needs perfectly. After some time, the so-called community of incolae lacunae (lagoon dwellers) had evolved into city of trade. However, young Venice still lacked the the history and prominence to be fully successful. The possession of the relic of St. Mark was the defining feature that completed Venice.

The Flag of Saint Mark.

The Flag of Saint Mark.

The Piazza San Marco was a sea of red and yellow. Saint Mark’s symbol, the winged lion, danced on the waving flags of the celebrators. Some people had even been so prepared as to wear clothes with this symbol on them while others only dressed their children or dogs in the Saint Mark themed attire. The throng was particularly dense around the statue of the the winged lion and the San Marco Basilica, wherein the remains of the saint reside.

Two pups dressed up for the San Marco festival.

Two pups dressed up for the San Marco festival.

This was not always the case, however. The Basilica had once been the chapel of the Doge. It was converted when two clever mariners returned from Alexandria with the defining relics of Venice. Legend has it that the mariners had embarked to the middle east with the intention of stealing the relics of Saint Mark from an Arab community. After successfully stealing the body they passed the custom barrier by filling their crates with pork, which the Islamic excismen did not want to inspect.

The crowd gathering under Saint Mark's lion.

The crowd gathering under Saint Mark’s lion.

Slightly outside the crowd we went to one the outdoor cafes on the edge of the square to enjoy some ice cream. A few minutes after we sat down a small band began to play.

The accordionist at the Florian.

The accordionist at the Florian.

Sitting at the Florian.

Sitting at the Florian.

Later we discovered that the cafe, called the Caffe Florian is one of the oldest coffee houses in continuous operation (established in 1720). During this time, the Florian had collected some big names. The iconic Venetian, Casanova had visited the Florian on a number of occasions. Lord Byron, Marcel Prout and Charles Dickens also enjoyed the elegance of the Florian.

Our Florian ice cream.

Our Florian ice cream.

By the time our ice cream was gone, a flag ceremony had commenced in the square. We assumed that the ceremony was in honor of the Italian Liberation Day rather than Saint Mark because of the participation of groups from the Italian Armed Forces, Navy and Air Force participated.

The forces of Italy taking down the Italian flag in front of the Basilica of Saint Mark.

The forces of Italy taking down the Italian flag in front of the Basilica of Saint Mark.

At the end of the ceremony we boarded a boat and let the canals take us back in proximity of our room.

– Siobhan