Venice: A City of Romantic Decay & Elegant Decline

Apparently in centuries past this city glowed with bright colours. What a site that must have been! The romantic decay of the city recalled to my mind the Japanese philosophy and style called wabi-sabi. As described by artist Serena Barton, wabi-sabi refers to the qualities of imperfection, aging, cycles of nature, and cycles of life. It values rust, patina, burnishing, tearing, staining, and even decay. Venice is a wabi-sabi city. This same quality seems to lend it beautifully to HDR photography.

Venice Grunge HDR.jpg

Venice Grunge HDR.jpg

Venice Grunge HDR.jpg

I was quite keen to do the Itinerari Segreti or “Secret Tours”. According to the Lonely Planet the Ducal Palace is reputed to hold dark secrets that can be found through a passageway disguised as a filing cabinet in the Sala del Consiglio dei Dieci (Chamber of the Council of 10), which to me, sounds deliciously like a Dan Brown novel. Alas, tours only run once a day in English and we didn’t quite make it in time. Reason Number 1 to come back to Venice.

Our next destination proved to be a rather elusive little boutique selling marbled paper called, “Carte”. A blogger friend of mine had coincidentally suggested I try my hand at making some papers a few days earlier so I thought it would be pretty snazzy to check out this ancient craft brought to Venice from Japan via Turkey and Florence. Unfortunately navigating the warren-like streets and canals of Venice in the rain with dodgy GPS proved to be too much for Mike’s sanity. I found the rain rather atmospheric and enjoyed the novelty of wandering around deserted lanes and back alleys rarely trodden by tourists. As we huddled under shelter from the drizzly rain, we once again poured over the puzzling map while a grocer with a cart stocked full of produce rattled by singing a loud tune with obvious relish. For some unknown reason we only own one umbrella and when it rains we huddle under it together. This is usually cozy and fun but today Mike was on a mission and he marched on ahead as I bemusedly followed along behind. We passed what must have been a school or kindergarten two or three… maybe four times during The Hunt. Each time we were amazed at the cacophony of tiny little voices all speaking at once emanating from inside. For full effect turn the volume waaay up.


We aborted the attempt before Mike went completely postal and spent some time wandering the streets of Venice, blessedly without a destination in mind in now very soggy shoes. Despite sogginess, we were delighted to have the opportunity to linger and take tons of photos of the beautiful grunge of Venice’s lanes, canals and buildings.

Venice Teatro Italia HDR.jpg

Venice Gondolas HDR.jpg

Venice Grunge HDR.jpg

Venice Gondolier HDR.jpg

Venice HDR.jpg

Venice Grand Canal HDR.jpg

I’d resolved, during our visit to Venice the day before, to buy a carnevale mask. I’d seen one that was decorated with card suits and was hoping to stumble upon it or something similar again. I did a spot of window shopping but decided to leave serious shopping to the end of the day once we’d done a bit more sight-seeing.

Venetian Carnevale Masks.jpg

Venetian Carnevale Masks.jpg

After wandering around in circles a bazillion times we finally managed to find the super cheap pizza place from the day before with a little help from Andrea. Navigating in this place is near impossible. I was super stoked that we’d managed to eat for under €10 in Venice! We even managed coffee for a couple of euros! We chatted for a bit about combatting grumpiness and making the most of less than ideal conditions when sight-seeing. A handy life-skill too me thinks.

Two unsuccessful plans down we decided on our next destination, something that is impossible not to find in Venice – the Piazza and Basilica di San Marco. As we approached we noticed a whole bunch of tourists huddled underneath the arch leading into San Marco, sheltering from the rain.

Venice HDR.jpg

We made our way through the tight huddle and out into the wide open and blessedly empty expanse of Piazza San Marco, the rain having emptied the piazza of tourists except for those speedily making their way across the void to shelter. If there was ever a reason to visit Venice on a rainy day this is it!

San Marco Venice HDR.jpg

We’d barely noticed San Marco when we were there with Silvia and Andrea the day before as we were distracted by hordes of tourists and interesting conversation with our new friends. This seemed rather startling as we looked on it as if for the first time.

San Marco Basilica Venice.jpg

We’d downloaded an audio tour of Piazza San Marco by Rick Steves to listen to once here but noted with some consternation that the iPhone’s battery was dangerously low – all that navigating to find marbled paper! Damn you marbled paper! We’d listened to his audio tours at the Colosseum and The Forum in Rome and found them immeasurably more entertaining and informative than any of the dry, cheerless, uninteresting and gratuitous detail-gushing, date-quoting audio tours we’ve been subjected to by the official tourist offices. While Mike wandered about trying to find free wifi to set up my iPod (the backup option) with our silver bullet for important historical sites we don’t understand the significance of I meandered around the balcony that surrounds the periphery of the piazza happily snapping photos. Audio tour backup almost-but-not secured, we took our chances with the weary iPhone and waltzed out into the centre of the piazza under cover of our umbrella, blessedly un-jostled by the masses. While the rain pattered on our umbrella, we listened intently to all the fascinating reasons why Venice exists in the first place, why it is famous, and very special.

Happy in the Rain on Canale di San Marco - Venice.jpg

A couple of interesting tidbits we learned from said tour:

As probably everyone knows acqua alta (high tide) in Venice means Piazza San Marco becomes completely submerged. Maybe something most don’t consider, and I certainly hadn’t, is that the water also seeps into people’s homes and other buildings. After the water recedes one must be very careful to wash everything it touched to protect it from the sea water’s corrosive influence.

The bell tower we were to ascend later had actually collapsed in 1902 and the golden angel which adorns it landed right at the front door of the basilica, standing up. The cynic in me wonders if someone came along unseen and respectfully righted her.

Feeling in much brighter spirits after our very successful audio tour despite sloshing with every step we took we headed to San Marco Basilica hoping the iPhone would hold out for another audio tour in there. Alas the Basilica had closed not long ago. Reason number 2 to return to Venice. Bugger, I was reeeaaally looking forward to that!

We approached the bell tower (the Campanile) hesitant to hope that it was still open. It was! And what a view – a damp, cold, view.

Venice from Above HDR.jpg

I love that this looks like a vintage photo:

Venice - Canale di San Marco_HDR.jpg

Venice - San Marco Basilica_HDR.jpg

Venice - Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore_HDR.jpg

We’d originally planned to stay after dark in Venice as this is invariably described as magical. Alas, feet that had been soggy for an entire day and thoughts of a comfy dry Nettle begged to differ so we resolved to grab a mask and get going. Reason number 3 to return to Venice. I half-heartedly perused mask shops but The One continued to elude me and I didn’t have the heart to prolong Mike’s soggy misery. Aaand reason number 4 to return to Venice!

Carnevale Masks - Venice.JPG

We stopped off for a pick-me-up coffee and gaped at the exorbitant bill. I guess we didn’t quite make it out of Venice without being ripped off. So close! I made a quick purchase of two blank Carnevale masks – the long-nosed mask of the quack doctor and pretty columbina – to paint myself and we sloshed our way to the train station.

We left Venice with 3 objectives out of 8 achieved but I think we excelled at the most important one of all – just wander, get lost, and soak it all in.

2 Comments Venice: A City of Romantic Decay & Elegant Decline

  1. Jennifer

    Really good to read this…. we are planning on Italy next week, en Venice is also on our itinerary with all Rick Steves audio guides (and extra batteries) for our mobile devices already downloanded/packed…. The pictures are beautiful, despite the grey sky (or umbrellas). Thanks for the tip on the closing time of the San Marco’s Basilica, and the high tide (I HATE wet feet, so can so relate to Mike’s mood). We will try to find the cheap coffee & pizza place, as we will be there for 3 days, and we do like our coffee (and don’t want to be broke after 3 of them…!).

    1. Katherine

      Hi Jennifer, I’m so glad you found the post useful! I was hoping to give you the address of the pizza place but unfortunately we didn’t save it. You might find something if you just do a google search for cheap pizza in Venice or where the locals/students of Venice university eat. Maybe even just finding out where the tourists don’t go and wander over there. Man, we were so chuffed with our frugal Venetian experience — I hope you guys get as much joy out of it as we did :) You probably already know this but it’s worth re-iterating because it makes such a big difference — drink your coffee standing up at the bar rather than sitting down at a table — much cheaper that way. Enjoy!


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