A motor launch took us from the ship to St. Mark’s Square – the heart and soul of Venice. We had a 4 1/2 hour guided walking tour but we didn’t have to walk very far. Our first stop, four bridges from where we were let out of the water taxi, was Doges’ Palace. The Doges were wealthy elected noblemen who were the governing body of the city of Venice for 1000 years. The Doges also had over 200 advisers specializing in various administrative or commercial areas. There were no photos allowed inside the Palace because of all the art masterpieces, so I only have photos outside, and I had already take some as the ship sailed by on its way to the port terminal. All the arches and columns and staircases made for some nice images. If you ever get to Las Vegas, check out The Venetian Casino and Hotel. It is an excellent mini-replica of Doge’s Palace (including the artwork on the ceiling and the carpet and pillars in the entrance hall that we were not allowed to photograph in the real thing). The Venetian also has a mini-Rialto Bridge and the Tower at St. Mark’s Square with the two pillars – plus a little stretch of canal. When we went to Las Vegas a year or so after this cruise we were transported right back to this day in Venice. Entrance to the palace was via the Golden Staircase, so named because of the 24 karat gold gilded ceiling. I was a bad girl and snuck a couple of photos of it as I climbed up. They were the only ones I took inside the building.We were taken across the Bridge of Sighs that connects the palace – which included the law courts – with the jail. The name of the little bridge is taken from a Lord Byron poem about the feelings of a prisoner as he crosses the bridge leaving behind his freedom – and probably his life.
After we had seen all the beautiful art treasures and gorgeous woodwork in the palace we exited through a courtyard and walked around the corner to St. Mark’s square. Our guide gave us a talk on the construction and history of the Basilica (a Venetian-Byzantine architectural masterpiece). It was built in 830 as the tomb of St. Mark the apostle and served as the private chapel of the Doge. The walls are adorned with priceless art, rare marble statuary and magnificent mosaics. No photos were allowed inside and only a specific number of people are permitted entrance at a time. The line was VERY long so we opted to wander around the square instead. I loved the pink glass lamp shades. It makes a lovely light at night. Mark’s symbol is a winged lion and depictions of important parts of his life were carved all around the edge of the building. Look at the line waiting to enter. Another depiction of the winged lion representing St. Mark. And all of these wonderful carvings and paintings were outside the church. I can only imagine how ornate the inside must be! We got back to the ship at 3:30. Sail-away was at 4 and we watched from the deck as we sailed back out Giudecca Canal and past the Lido to the Adriatic Sea once more. Night or day, the crowds never slacken at St. Mark’s square and the nearby bridges. It was Holland America Line’s 139th Birthday so there were appropriate decorations at the dining room entrance – and for dessert. The next day was a day at sea and time to rest our feet and brains.