Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas time in Venice

Christmas Day in Venice
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day have now passed, and we've had a lovely time here in Venice.  The weather has been glorious - sunny wintery days, crystal blue skies, most unexpected...Tour groups appear from time to time and every third person has a camera strung around their neck, but it's not busy and it's very easy to get around the laneways, bridges etc.

St Mark's, late afternoon, Christmas Day

As it's Christmas time, we asked people we know here in Venice about church services at St Mark's for Christmas Eve and searched the web as well.  We got very different information.  In the end we went straight to the Basilica's own website and they noted mass this year was at 11.30pm.  (Last year it was 10.30pm due to Acqua Alta so it pays to check times directly).  We left the apartment around 10.15pm and we're literally a 30 second walk to the church (!) - would you believe the queue to the side entrance was already near the main entrance?!  Needless to say we stood out there in zero degrees for about 45 minutes before the doors were opened.  We talked to a lovely couple, originally from Australia, now living in London and that managed to pass the time away.

By the time the side doors opened, the queue was well past the Palazzo Ducale!  Of course there will always be people who don't queue up and we noticed several people join us as we started to move.  Very rude but what can you do?  Likewise when we got our seat in the church.

When you visit Basilica di San Marco you cannot take photos inside the church.  Yet dozens and dozens of people took cameras and recorders into the church for the service.  To me it is one of the most extraordinary churches in the world.  Those byzantine mosaics are just glorious and it's an absolute wonder to behold, but if you are going to church, you don't take a camera yet flashes went off everywhere for quite some time.  I must say, I was surprised it wasn't "policed", there weren't any obvious signs reminding people not to take photos, nor were any announcements made over the loud speakers.  Of course, I ached for my own camera, but soaked up the mosaics all around me in a totally different way.

Just a note for those planning to attend a Christmas service at St Mark's - hundreds of people left their run to the church late and when they came in realised there was no seating - standing room only.  Again a few people here and there just barged in and tried to take prime viewing spots, blocking the view of those that had patiently queued.  We were lucky - we had good seats.  They were cold but it wasn't nearly as cold in the church as I had expected (then again, I was wearing a number of layers of clothing!).

There were booklets on everyone's seats, translated into 4 languages - French, English, German, Italian.  You could follow it but about 80 minutes into the service, no one could find where we were up to and as it was all in Italian by this stage, you were kind of lost if you spoke English.  We ended up leaving at 1pm but it was an amazing experience.  The choir, the chants, the spectacle, the history, it was quite something to be a part of.   Just remember, if you want to go to St Mark's for Christmas, QUEUE early!

Ristorante Cantinone Storico

For Christmas lunch we went to Ristorante Cantinone Storico over the Accademia Bridge in Dorsoduro.  We had booked prior to coming to Venice.  It was a set menu for 70 euros - six courses, wine, water, coffee etc - and wonderful hospitality.  The owner there made sure we were very comfortable and told us everyone else in the restaurant was Venetian - so we were among locals on Christmas Day.  We spent three hours there, enjoying the meal and the day, and strolled back to the apartment as the sun was setting across the lagoon.  Just beautiful.

One thing to note about Christmas Day in Venice - church bells go ALL DAY!  We're so close to the Basilica, so we're hearing them loud and clear.  Mind you, we do love hearing the church bells ring out through this wonderful city, but let's hope they ring out less often in the days ahead!

Speaking of which, for Boxing Day we'll try and head off to Frari for a 4pm concert.  Just another glorious thing to do around this time of the year in Venezia.

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