Thursday, April 17, 2014

Venice 2013 - Doge's Palace

Palazzo Ducale - the Doge's Palace - besides St. Mark's Basilica, is the most recognizable landmark in Venice. Just off Piazza San Marco, the Palace occupies a commanding position on the Grand Canal - facing out to the sea.

Venice was once ruled by powerful merchant families. From these families they would choose a Doge who would be the ruler of the City for life. To symbolize this power, they had to built the most impressive palace for the Doge who would live and rule from the building. And it is of no doubt that the Palazzo Ducale is one of the most beautiful and impressive buildings in Venice. The architecture is in Gothic style, with a colonade on the ground floor and an open loggia on the first floor. This combination make the building appear very light and delicate, visually defying the weight of the stone used for its construction.

The views from the promenade in front of the Palazzo are spectacular.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Venice 2013 - Piazza San Marco

Finding a the police station in Venice is like going on a wild goose chase. We went to the police station at the Train Station, and were told that we had to go to the one at Piazza San Marco to make the report. Once we got to the Piazza San Marco police station, we were told we had to go to another station 2 bridges down from Palazzo Ducale. We got hopelessly loss as the police station was no where to be seen, and asking around didn't help very much. Finally we managed to find a helpful hotel reception staff who pointed us in the right direction. The Police Station is actually in Campo San Zacaria, which you reach through a narrow alley.

While rushing around to find the police station, we felt like we were in a movie as the setting was spectacular. If it was anywhere else it would have been a drag, but in Venice it was actually quite fun !

 Piazza San Marco is the biggest square in Venice - and the only one called Piazza. All the other squares are called Campo. Surrounded by 3-storey buildings with an arcade on the ground floor, this is literally the heart of Venice, a gathering place for both Venetians and tourists who arrive by the tens of thousands every day.

The arcades are filled with shops and cafes, mostly catering to tourists. Some of the establishments such as Caffe Florian is a local institution and has been around since the 17th century - and the decor probably has not been changed a bit.

Some of the cafes feature live music to attract customers. There seem to be 2 main rivals on the Piazza - one featuring red chars, and another featuring yellow chairs.

At the eastern end of the Piazza is the famous St Mark's Basilica, and the impressive campanile - one of  the tallest structures in Venice. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Venice 2013 - Pick-Pocketed in Milan

We took the high speed train from Milan to Venice. It is the Frecciabianca service operated by Trenitalia. This train achieves top speed of 200 kmh and the journey from Milan to Venice would take around 2.5 hours.

After a short wait at the Milan Central, we were ready to depart. 5 minutes before departure I was already settled comfortably in my assigned seat, when 3 young Italian girls came up to me and claimed I was sitting on their seat. I should have sensed something was amiss, but they were young and innocent and dressed liked travelers. I got up to check my ticket - it was correct. They stood around me - one in front, one at the side and one behind. I showed them my seat number, after which they apologized and left. Still not suspecting anything was wrong, the train started moving and I was happily on the way to Venice.

About half an hour later, I was going to buy a drink from the dining car. It was only then that I realized my wallet in my front trouser pocket - with all my money and credit cards inside, was gone ! I had no money, no credit cards, and just a few euros in my left pocket. Luckily I was traveling with a friend and he had enough cash to tie us over.

By the time we arrived in Venice, I had almost left the pick-pocket incident behind - but I still had to make a police report in order to claim on my insurance. One look at beautiful Venice however, all my worries just melted away !

The train station in Venice is not much to look at. 

But the view from the Station is stunning. This is the first temple you see when you come out of the Station - San Simeone Piccolo.

The Grand Canal runs right in front of the Train Station. Our first views of Venice in the evening sun were spectacular.

If you walk right after you come out of the Station, you will reach the Ponte della Costituzione which connects Stazione di Santa Lucia to Piazzale Roma. It is the 4th bridge over the Grand Canal and was constructed quite recently in 2008. Designed by Spanish Architect Santiago Calatrava - the design is more restrained compared to most of his other works. Perhaps he was also intimidated by the location - how do you top what is already there ?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Milan 2013 - Van Bol & Feste Cafe

We only had half a day in Milan and our train to Venice was just after lunch time. There wasn't enough time for a proper lunch, so we decided to grab and go. Van Bol & Feste Cafe is just next to the Garibaldi Monument not far from Sforza Castle. It is a bakery cafe with history going back to Naples. All the baked goods looked really enticing. I grabbed a sandwich roll with cheese, rocket lettuce and prosciutto. It was really good, or maybe I was hungry.

The hard-to-resist display counter.