I left Pisa at 6am on a train towards Venice. Luckily, I was able to get a little sleep on the train before arriving at Venezia Santa Lucia train station. I had a plan for my first day – specific places I hadn’t had the chance to visit last year were on my agenda. After leaving the train station, I headed into the San Paolo neighborhood towards my first destination, the Scuola Grande of Dan Rocco. I made my way past the Rialto Market, purchasing some apricots which I proceeded to eat like candy throughout the day. I stopped only to get some dark chocolate and strawberry gelato from Grom… I think I have become a Grom fan like some people are fanatic about Coca Cola, or Apple products. It might be a problem when I return to the States… maybe I can open up a new chain in Lafayette?
Anyways, I made it to the Scuola, which is most famous for its artwork by Tintoretto, one of the masters of Italian art, who worked on paintings for the Scuola between 1564 and 1567. I was amazed how well the paintings have been preserved and show such intense emotions which, designed to tell a story to those who were often illiterate, and can still be interpreted with clarity today. San Rocco was known as the Saint who saved many Venetians from the plague, so Tintoretto’s paintings are all centered around the theme of healing and the miracles performed by Jesus and the saints. Although the entrance was a little pricey (like everything in Venice), it was well worth it to see the grandeur of the inside of the building. The building was begun in 1517, and still survives largely intact as it was originally. The Scuola was used as a meeting place for the officers of San Rocco, who administered aid to the poor, provided scholarships for education, and endorsed the arts. The interior is certainly one of the most impressive in all of Venice.
After visiting the Scuola and completing the audio guide tour, I walked through the narrow streets of Venice towards the Galleria Academia, crossing over multiple bridges connecting the 400 and something islands that compromise the city. On my way, I stopped into the Chiesa San Pantalon – a most unimpressive church from the outside, but on the inside, I looked up to the ceiling and was amazed by the appearance of a gigantic painting which covered most of the ceiling called “Martirio e Gloria di San Pantaleone”, executed over several years in the 17th century. I spent several minutes in the church admiring the details and inspecting the rest of the church. I was pleased to have stumbled upon such a treasure. Sometimes the best artwork is free and isn’t in a guidebook.
Guidebooks write about places like the Galleria dell’ Academia because it manages to combine several masterpieces into the same space, possible to view with limited time. After eating a quick grocery store lunch on the grand canal, I entered the Academia. I was most impressed with the artwork section that was exclusively for some of the best paintings to come out of Venice, picturing Italian life from a Venetian point of view. Overall, I felt that the gallery did not do a good job of informing visitors what they were viewing, and thus was a little overwhelming. I was wishing for an audio guide like I had at the Scuola Grande of San Rocco. Out of the three major museums I visited that day, the Academia was my least favorite, even though it is the most popular amongst tourists, I found the Scuola and the Querini Stampalia to be a better value for the price of admission.
After cruising through the Academia, I walked all the way around the point where the cruise ships arrive to Venice and looked out at the lagoon. Then I crossed the Academia Bridge and made my way past St. Marks Square to reach the Querini Stampalia museum. This museum is a real treasure, and I highly recommend any visitor to Venice to pay it a visit. Not only do you get to see the royal rooms of the powerful Querini family, you also get to admire artwork from famous Italian artists. The museum’s top draw is a room filled of Venetian paintings by Gabriel Bella, depicting all aspects and seasons of life in Venice. There were paintings of the Doge heading out to sea, St. Marks Square during Carnivale, and more, all captured via Bella’s brush more than 300 years ago! The museum also features temporary exhibits on the top floor, where I discovered a beautiful unicorn crafted entirely out of Venetian glass. The top floor was dedicated to a spectacular modern art display made out of bamboo sticks and paper, put together to make one feel as if in a cloud. Thousands of the small shapes filled the room to make a spectacular display. I really enjoyed the diversity of the artwork on display at the museum and the diversity of artistic expression. I would make another visit to this museum when I return to Venice, since it was my favorite of the day. After visiting the Querini, I made my way to check into my hotel. By this point, I had walked all over Venice and had been standing all day, so my feet were already feeling quite tired. I checked into the Bernardi Semenzato around 5:30pm, and took about 45 minutes to sit down, drink water, and eat some apricots. Even after a long day of sightseeing, I was determined to make the most out of my only evening in the city.