On our four day stay in Venice we picked the day forecasting rain to visit the Accademia, Doge’s Palace and the Basilica of St Mark. While this seemed like a reasonable strategy that enabled us to leisurely wander the alley ways of Venice and visit the neighboring islands during nicer weather, we hadn’t prepared for the flooding called acqua alta or high water.
The day started out fine, with patches of blue sky even. At 9:30AM the Accademia was relatively quiet and we enjoyed a quick spin through the museum’s most famous works using the Rick Steves’ guide. Although there are a few top master pieces that were a joy to see, such as Tintoretto’s Feast in the House of Levi, most of the museum’s collection is rather underwhelming compared other European museums – not a single Titian scandalous babe.
Walking back across the Accademia Bridge to Saint Mark’s square we find the installation of this work underway. We returned the next day to see the finished product.
Saint Mark’s Square
At 11AM Saint Mark’s square was jam packed with tour groups and tourists of all sizes, nationalities and ages. In front of the Doge’s Palace a long line to buy tickets snaked into the piazza. I remembered that the Rick Steves’ guide recommended buying tickets at the ticket office at the Correr Museum just across the square. Only combination tickets are offered for both the Doge’s Palace and the Correr Museum, so it makes no difference where you buy your ticket. Funny, no one at the short but slowish line at the Correr Museum seemed to know this and the agent was obliged to explain this fact to every person in line buying tickets. Even stranger, no one seemed to be using this nifty trick for avoiding the much longer line at the Doge’s Palace.
Once we had our tickets purchased we made a beeline back over to the palace. By this time the acqua alta was starting to bubble up from the floor of the piazza. It wouldn’t be long before the entire square was flooded again. Nonetheless with tickets in hand we easily bypassed the long line and we were in. Thank you Rick!
Once inside, the palace accommodates a large number of visitors and aside from a few places along the circuit through the rooms where the crowd bunches up, most of the visit was comfortable and relaxed. Again Rick Steves does a great job of walking you through the palace with an entertaining narrative blending history and funny antidotes that bring the sumptuous rooms to life.
During the visit of the palace it starts to rain heavily. By the time we finish it’s still raining and the square is completely flooded. Not wanting to have to return to the square on another day to see the Basilica we decide to check out the lines.
We take off our shoes and socks and wade to the side entrance of the building, the main entrance having been closed due to the flooding. No real lines, but we are told we need to check our bags at the church down a narrow lane just across from the side entrance.
It’s a mob scene getting down this little lane because this is where the tourists just arriving to the square first discover that the square is flooded and stand there blocking the alley way looking at the rising waters and not knowing what to do. Pushing our way through, we find there is really no line at baggage check and we easily check our bag and push our way back to the Basilica.
Once inside we are first amazed by how empty the place is, not really empty, but certainly not wall to wall people, and second the vastness of the sea of golden mosaics covering every wall, dome and archway. Pictures are not allowed, but there were no guards inside deterring those who decided not to obey the rules. Unfortunately, I had left my camera at baggage check. Still it is an amazing experience, not to be missed. If you can arrange a flood for your visit to help deter the crowds I highly recommend it.
After all that water, a nice warming Calzone at Pizzeria al Nono Risorto hits the spot.
Later the same day we return to Piazza San Marco where there is little trace of the acqua alta.
May 24, 2013
For links to all the posts in this series see the Venice page.