I’m betting that the question, “Wonder where the hospital is around here?” passes through the minds of most visitors to Venice… at least those visitors who stay on the island and think about where they would go if they twisted an ankle or suffered whiplash doing a double-take at an especially handsome gondolier.
Last Sunday, my daughter and I wound up at the hospital without really meaning to. We intended to go see the church, Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo (the Basilica of St. John and Paul). In 2017, I had purchased a little folding picture book of the top ten Venice sights and this church was on that list.
During the week that we visited back then, we simply didn’t get everything accomplished. Back home after our trip, I realized that if I was ever to return to Venice, this church would be on my list of sights to see.
And when one sees this church, one also has the opportunity to see the Venice hospital, the Ospedale SS Giovanni E Paolo Venice. That’s because the church is literally connected to the hospital building. You can enter the hospital from either the black front doors (as seen in the photo above) or you can enter from the backside, which borders the waters of the lagoon.
My daughter and I decided to take the water route around the back of the island. My daughter had never actually ventured on the vaporetto route past her Santa Elena stop, so this was a first-time experience for her, too.
Here’s the sign in the vaporetto bus stop that shows the stop for the Ospedale (Italian for hospital). Note the international symbol for hospital, “H,” below the line.
We traveled around the backside of the island to eventually arrive at the church; we didn’t realize it at the time, but the church is joined to the hospital.
Here are some more pictures from the vaporetto ride around to the hospital and the basilica.
According to The Venice Insider, the hospital grounds are not open for tourists. That being the case, I hesitated to take lots of pictures. However, I did snap a few. Here’s a picture of a modern-looking inner garden area you’ll walk through after leaving the vaporetto and walking through the first doors you come to.
Katherine’s roommate had told us to look for the gardens with all the cats. We thought that this was the garden she meant. We were wrong, as you will soon see.
Before we would find the garden full of cats, we walked by the Emergency Room doors. Here it is, for all you ankle twisters or gondolier gawkers:
Keep walking past the ER and you will eventually arrive at a beautiful garden, surrounded by loggia walkways and filled with about a dozen stray cats.
Residents and visitors alike care for Venice’s many feral felines. The kitties are quite comfortable during the warmer months. I’ve read that the cat population can become a problem during cooler temperatures and that there are volunteer groups that help with the problem.
After you exit the cat garden, you’ll pass through an exit where you can continue on to the wards of the hospital or turn left to the Scuole Grande, which leads eventually leads outside to the campo with Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo.
If you continue down these steps, you will enter this grand entrance hall. There are doors and hallways that lead from this hall. This is the Scuole Grande (see caption above). At the end of this hall, is the front door of the hospital shown in the elaborate facade in the first picture of this article.
And this brings us to the front entrance of the hospital on the campo, the large square that is the “city center” of this area of Castello.
In effect, this post has brought you to the hospital from the backside along the water, to the very front door, which is shown in this photo at the far left (see the oval-topped dark door that blends in with the light post).
And this also brings us to the close of this post. I will continue this post tomorrow with our visit to the basilica where you will meet a die-hard Venetian who gave us some very good and timely advice on how to be “better tourists.”
Thanks for reading! Tune in tomorrow for the continuation of our Sunday morning in Venice. Click like, leave a comment, and be sure to follow my blog for the next installment.
What to know before you visit the Acropolis in Athens
“Don’t touch the marble!” a thirty-something woman called out into the distance from her perch in front of the Parthenon. With one hand on her hip, and another shading her eyes beneath her billed beach cap, she waited and watched. About thirty feet below, a woman with short, curly hair had just rested her canvas tote bag on a large, rectangular-shaped stone and was digging through the bag, searching.
“Don’t touch the marble!” the guard called out again. Oblivious, the woman dug deeper into the bag, craning her neck to see into the folds and pockets that held gum, ticket stubs, or sunscreen.
“Ma’am! Please don’t touch the marble!” the guard called out for the third time. The woman shifted the bag against the marble stone, and continued looking.
With this final and futile reprimand, the guard hopped down from the boulder and walked briskly down to the offender. When she arrived, the woman looked up, surprised. The guard pointed at the stone, then turned and motioned to the tattered gray ropes that set the limits on the Acropolis. The woman covered her mouth with her hands, slung her bag over her shoulder, and stepped back onto the walkway. Crisis averted, the guard climbed back to her boulder, placed her hands on her hips, and continued scanning the global audience taking in the Acropolis.
If it shines, step aside. Other than a paved walkway, the walking surface on the Acropolis is rugged. Stones jut up from the ground to create uneven areas, including some larger ledges and steps. Thousands of people walk here daily and it’s been this way for millennia. In fact, all the buildings you see on the Acropolis were built or rebuilt during the 500-300 B.C. As a result, the rocks are very shiny and SLICK. Walk on the connecting mortar or other stones. We witnessed one husband helping his wife, who had apparently just slipped, return to the Propylea (the first building you’ll walk through and the entrance to the hilltop) for an early walk back down.
Wear good shoes. These should be banned on the Acropolis: flip-flops, any shoe without a tread, a wedge greater than two inches, and heels of any height. Believe it or not, I did see women in heels. In the age of Instagram, some people will wear anything for the perfect post. No, you don’t have to wear orthopedic shoes, but definitely wear something sturdy with a tread.
Be aware of the construction. This is a construction zone and you’ll see a variety of work happening. You may be lucky enough to see a stone carver working on a new marble replacement column. We watched as men strolled across plots of ground covered with mounds of old stones sorted by size, shape, or style.
Also, you’ll see roped-off pits that contain stone walls and equipment near the Erectheion, the temple dedicated to Athena and Poseidon with its five “caryatids,” stunning female sculptures that served as support columns. Other areas on the grounds are filled with huge marble chunks, an iron cannon, and other remnants of past activity.
4. Get there early. Lines begin forming at 8 a.m. in early June, so be there early to avoid crowds. We didn’t arrive at the ticket booths until about 8:45. As a result, we crept up the steps of the Propylaea with a steady stream of tourists. I can only imagine how much busier it became as the day continued.
5. Bring sunscreen. Obviously, you’ll be in direct sunlight for an hour or more. Put on sunscreen before you leave your hotel room, and take it with you to reapply when you’re on top.
6. Finish your food before entering. Food is not allowed inside the gates. When we entered and showed our ticket to the man at the gate, he requested I finish the cookie I was eating with my dose of Ibuprofen. He was polite about it, but did ask that I finish it before going much further.
7. Leave your water at home or bring an empty bottle. If you don’t want to lug the extra weight of water in your backpack or purse, you don’t need to. Depending on the crowd, the walk up will only take twenty to thirty minutes, after which you can venture over to a water fountain adjacent to the Parthenon. There you’ll find three bubblers and one bottle filler. The water is clean and cold. In fact, there are water fountains here and there across the grounds, not only next to the Parthenon, but also below near the Theater of Dionysus.
8. Don’t touch the marble. Avoid the reprimand. If a stone is especially light in color, has an unnatural shape (as if it’s been cut or chiseled), or otherwise appears to have been shaped by human hands, don’t touch it. It’s probably marble. Just think, all those missing stones from the structures have fallen nearby and the walking paths weave among them. If you think a stone could be marble, it probably is.
We toured the Acropolis on Friday, May 31, and spent about three hours on the site. The top (the site of the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the Propylaea, and the Temple of Athena Nike) occupied about two hours, while other structures on the slopes of the Acropolis (such as the Theatre of Dionysos and The Odeion of Herodes Atticus) balanced out the morning. Following our tour, we lunched at The Cave at The Acropolis, a restaurant in the Plaka neighborhood district around the base of the Acropolis. I’ll be posting more about our trip. Follow my blog for updates!
When it comes right down to it, I would rather marvel at a Greek monastery than my kitchen.
The linoleum flooring in my kitchen is really old. In fact, it’s no longer white. It’s now off-white with an uneven pattern of nicks and dings that has, over the past twenty-four years, resulted in a floor that looks ugly, dirty, and tired. The linoleum, with its four-inch gray grid, was patterned to resemble white ceramic tile. And it did resemble that for the first five years, which was as long as we had originally planned for the flooring to last.
But, if you’re a homeowner, you know how that goes. Often, those initial fixtures outlast their welcome. And for us, that has especially been the case because we’ve never been in a financial position to update our flooring AND pay our bills.
Owning a ceramic studio, freelance writing, college adjunct positions, public school teaching, and an array of part-time retail stints have always managed to pay our basic expenses, but rarely anything additional. Hence, the ugly and outdated off-white linoleum.
So what does one do when one has a dream but also needs new kitchen flooring? My answer: go for the dream.
Yes, in our case, the practical solution would be to update the floor… to build value in the largest investment my husband and I have ever made. But we also know that paying for a new floor will only defer our creative goals. In other words, practicality has its limits and we have quite a dream: one month in Greece next summer.
Staying anywhere for an extended time requires money, and no, we don’t have the funds right now to go, but we are saving. We have ceased eating out on Friday evenings, for example. We are putting away what we can, and plan to have the majority of our trip paid for before our departure date.
Of course, that departure will lead to a return date. Once home, when I step into our kitchen, flip the light switch, and see the same old linoleum, what thoughts will cross my mind? Will I be glad I still have that flooring because keeping it allowed me to write in a new environment and experience new cultures and people? Or will I scowl at the floor, its ugliness reminding me of what I will still have in my life: uncertainty, bills to pay, the meager income that results when both spouses teach?
Will I be grateful for the dream that we chose to chase? Yes, I think so.
In the end, I believe that one can afford what one wants to afford. And when it comes right down to it, I would rather marvel at a Greek monastery than new hardwood flooring. If I can’t have both, I’ll take the dream.
Many things have happened since I originally published this post last fall on Medium.com. My husband was offered a full-time position at a nearby university, and we are moving from our home (with its aging linoleum) later this summer after our stay in Greece. Since we’re moving into a new home, we’ll pass on upgrading to new hardwood flooring.
Finally, I’ve found a city I can trust myself with — Ravenna, Italy.
I didn’t mean to fall in love. I wasn’t looking for someone new. I had never even heard of Ravenna until I went to Italy.
But, Venice, I’m torn. In so many ways, Ravenna attracts me.
It’s untouristy. Affordable. Strangely familiar.
And yes, I’ll admit that although our relationship was brief and passionate, it has withstood the test of time, Venice. After all, I still long for your watery passageways and roaring, rushing boulevards. I fantasize over your shimmering lagoon and all those glossy gondolas slicing through the wakes of vaporettos, taxis, delivery boats.
But Ravenna, well… Ravenna is different. It grounds me. Located just three short hour away from you by train, its rugged stability thrills me in a comfortable, predictable way.
Finally, I’ve found a city I can trust myself with.
Ravenna is real. For one thing, there are cars. There are people looking right and left. There are horns blaring instead of gondoliers chanting gondullah gondullah gondullah.
In Ravenna, the sights are spectacular, seductive, strong, and silent. And a quick glance in any guidebook shows that my new love interest holds thirty more palazzo and churches from antiquity.
Frankly, Venice, I never thought I would say this, but I see a future in Ravenna, but not necessarily in you. I fear you’re too exotic for a long-term relationship.
After all, I’ve stood in St. Mark’s, your gold-drenched basilica. I’ve felt the reflections from the ceilings and walls warm first my cheek, my neck and then my shoulders as the afternoon sun dipped below the Adriatic. In fact, you’re so beautiful it terrifies me.
Of tenacity and Easter cupcake sprinkles in Ravenna, Italy
Here’s a scenario: Your daughter requests sprinkles on the Easter cupcakes you’re baking. However, pretend the shaker needed to sprinkle on the dotted decorations has not been invented yet, and the only way to get the sprinkles perfectly placed and evenly dispersed on the cupcakes is not by scattering them with your fingers, but by applying them one by one… with tweezers perhaps.
Adding sprinkles to the cupcakes now will take days, weeks or longer. The task will be one of intense devotion and labor, simply because of the time involved and the perseverance needed to complete it.
One by one, each tile is placed into the scene. One by one, each tile forms a bit more of the image. This will take twenty years at least. It’s a painstaking process and creating the picture would be much faster with brushwork, but glass is the medium and a stunning mosaic is the goal.
Each tiny piece of glass—some are half the size of your pinky nail—symbolizes perseverance and an acute attention to detail and artistry, and—by extension—to Jesus Christ.
Cupcake sprinkles are the comparison that came to mind when I began to write about the mosaics inside the Basilica of San Vitale. My family visited the basilica in March of 2017, during a much too brief daytrip to Ravenna. The church, whose namesake was a Roman soldier martyred during the Christian persecutions, was begun in 526 and consecrated in 548.
The mosaics of San Vitale are so well-known in art history circles that they have earned the basilica the description, “the most glorious example of Byzantine art in the West,” according to Ravenna: City of Art.
On the morning we visited, the interior of San Vitale glowed in the sunlight that streamed in through the windows of the church.
As I stood in the grandeur of San Vitale, sheer awe at the handiwork overtook me.
…at the dedication and tedium.
…at the skill and collaboration it required to not only conceive the images contained in the mural, but also to source the materials, create the artwork, and execute their application and installation on the high walls of this old, old church.
In the sunlight, the golden tesserae dazzled.
These are actually pieces of gold leaf sandwiched between pieces of clear glass. When they were pressed into place by medieval workmen, the gold tiles were angled to best reflect the sunlight, or the glow of a candle or lantern.
As we took our self-tour, I stared up and pondered the mosaics and felt nearer to those laborers and artists who spent many years of their lives creating these mosaics. I marveled at their tenacity to produce these works without power tools and machinery, electricity, plumbing and other conveniences.
Would this sort of devotion be practiced today?
I don’t think so, but then maybe it was different for these medieval workers.
Even though creating the mosaics may have been their “job,” would the tedium of producing these masterpieces have been more endurable for those to whom the time of Christ was only four hundred years earlier? True, four hundred years is a long time, but wouldn’t the time of Christ have been within their mental grasp?
To compare, would I find it easier to devote myself to glorifying the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock? I don’t know of anyone from that era, but I do feel a connection of sorts. I know about their concerns and their motivations. I can identify with them to a degree, while I find it nearly impossible to identify with people of Biblical times. Perhaps medieval workers could.
As I continued in my thoughts, my husband and daughter sought the two mosaics-within-the-mosaics below.
The mosaics of Byzantine Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora are considered the masterpieces of San Vitale.
The first photo below shows Justinian surrounded by his court, clergy members and soldiers. The emperor holds a bowl that contains bread for the Eucharist. Justinian never visited this basilica, according to Dr. Steven Zucker in this Khan Academy video lesson, but this mosaic was his way of asserting his power and authority from Constantinople, the Byzantine capital.
The figures in both mosaics are highly stylized. Laura Morelli, art historoian and author of The Gondola Maker, explains it this way:
“A more eastern aesthetic characterizes the mosaics completed in Ravenna during this early period. Elegant, slender, flattened figures on a shallow spatial plane stare out with huge, staring eyes.”
The two famous mosaics clearly reveal this style.
The mosaic of Empress Theodora rests on the opposite side of the apse and mirrors Justinian’s mosaic. In this piece, the empress carries a chalice of wine for the Eucharist. Wearing a finely detailed gown, Empress Theodora is surrounded by her imperial court and attendants. She wears elaborate jewelry, and, like Justinian, is surrounded by a halo.
Ready to finally move my gaze from the brilliance of the gold, I focused on the frescoes that cover the ceiling of San Vitale.
They were completed much later—in 1780—by artists from Bologna and Venice. While they are beautiful, they cannot compare, in my opinion, with the luster of the mosaics.
I felt our visit was coming to its end, and I noticed that even the floors of San Vitale were intricately decorated. Minuscule marble tiles did their best to distract me from the golden “eye candy” above. Over the centuries, the floor tiles do show some wear, but are amazingly colorful and durable. The most wear is to the floor surface itself, which, in some places within the basilica, contains depressions from heavy traffic patterns from worshipers and tourists.
The detail in the flooring reinforced my thoughts about the devotion of those early medieval artists; they spared nothing—not even the floor—in their pursuit to create a beautiful place to glorify God.
As we exited the basilica, we took photos of its rustic appearance and its unusual structure of two stacked octagons. Its unusual shape does not follow cathedrals designed in the typical shape of the Latin cross, but instead evokes eastern influence from Byzantium.
From the outside, one would have no idea of the grandeur within.
Visiting the Basilica of San Vitale was a lesson in humility, reverence, and connection.
As I walked across the same floors, gazed up at the same artwork, and whispered in the same hushed tones that countless others whispered down through the ages, I knew that my visit was not about sprinkles on Easter cupcakes.
It wasn’t even about the magnificent golden mosaic masterpieces. It was instead about connecting to Jesus Christ and historical Christianity… and in a broader sense, to humanity.
Thanks for reading! Please click “like” so others can find this post more easily. Feel free to leave a comment about what your mind wanders to when you gaze at something truly beautiful.
And other observations my daughter made when she visited on a daytrip from Venice
My daughter spent three months living in Venice in 2017 as an intern at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a small, yet world-renowned modern art museum located on the Grand Canal. Her time there was magical, challenging, beautiful, and life-changing. On four occasions, she day-tripped with her friends away from the 124 islands that compose Venice to visit these cities: Bologna, Padua, Verona, and Vicenza.
Since her return, we’ve enjoyed many conversations about her time in Italy. This post is about her daytrip to Verona, home to 257,000 residents and located on the Adige River in northern Italy.
The interview answers are just the two of us talking; see the photo captions for more detailed notes and facts about her trip.
How did you get to Verona? We left the train station in Venice around 8:45 in the morning and arrived in Verona around 9:30. It really doesn’t take long to get there! And let me just start by saying it was the first sunny and clear day of spring. The weather in Venice during the first month or so of my stay there had been rainy, gray and cold, and we were all ready for some sunshine. I didn’t have to wear a jacket at all. It was absolutely beautiful.
Once we arrived at the train station, we had to walk quite a distance to reach the central historic part of the city. It probably took around twenty to thirty minutes. We walked past a café and decided to get cappuccinos for breakfast and then we kept walking to get to the old city walls. This is considered the heart of Verona. The walls are about fifty feet high.
What was first on the agenda? After reaching the center of the city, we decided to go to the arena first to meet Alessandra, one of the interns at the Guggenheim museum in Venice who had returned on her days off that week to Verona, her hometown. She was going to be our guide for the day.
To get to the arena, we walked through Piazza Bra, one of the largest public squares in Italy. There was a garden show going on. Vendors were selling flowers and citrus trees and other plans and lawn supplies. It was very busy. There were people everywhere.
The arena di Verona looks like a coliseum. It’s made entirely of stone and is literally a big stadium. They still hold concerts and theater productions there. It’s crazy old. The day we went to Verona was the first Sunday of the month and throughout Italy, there are discounts to state-run museums. At first, after meeting Alessandra outside the arena, we couldn’t decide if we wanted to go inside, but because it cost only 1€, we went in to see just how large it was.
Where did you go next? After we saw the arena, Alessandra took us down one of the main streets, Via Mazzini. It’s a pedestrian-only street. It has tons of shopping with lots of retail clothing shops.
Did you see anything touristy? Yes! That was next! From Via Mazzini, we continued down to Casa di Giulietta, the “house of Juliet” from Shakespear’s Romeo and Juliet. Legend has it that the stone balcony that’s in the courtyard was the inspiration for the scene in Shakespeare’s play.
The balcony looks exactly like what you would expect it to. There’s also a statue of Juliet in the courtyard. It’s free to see. You pay, however, to stand on the balcony where you can have your picture taken. There’s a sotoportego—a tunnel-like walkway—you walk through to get to the courtyard. There’s a wall where people have written love notes on this wall. It’s totally black with writing and spray paint. It’s covered with notes and anything and everything people can find to stick their notes to the wall with… gum, Band-Aids, whatever.
Did you see any art while you were there? Yes, we were in Verona on the very first day of an exhibition of Toulouse Lautrec, the French illustrator and painter. The show was at the Verona AMO-Palazzo Forti. It was a show totally devoted to his work. I really wanted to see it, so another intern and I went. The tickets cost 15€. We were at the museum for an hour and fifteen minutes. It was an incredible show. The galleries were painted in French blue and a dark, muted magenta. There was one room where all of his prints were displayed. This room was arranged like a café with tales in the middle and strings of light bulbs that led to the center of the ceiling. Seeing this show in this gallery was the highlight of the day for me.
Where did you go for lunch? We went to a restaurant my friend knew about. It was called Terrazza Bar al Ponte. You can sit outside on a balcony over the river that runs through Verona. We were hoping to find a place on the balcony, but it was so crowded outside that we had to sit inside. I ordered totellini with sausage. The pasta was a very thin dough and there was sausage flavored with rosemary and cheese. It had a spicy flavor, but the spiciness wasn’t overkilled. The tortellini was in an olive oil and light butter sauce. It was super light… a lot of food, but very light. The service was great. We did have to wait around forty minutes, but in Italy no one seems rushed when there’s food involved and there were five of us. Also, the staff let me charge my phone behind the counter.
Where did you go after lunch? After lunch, we crossed the Ponte Pietra, a stone bridge that crosses the Adige River and then we walked to the top of Castel San Pietro, the location of the first settlements of Verona. The settlements date from the 7th century… before Christ! From the castle, you get this amazing panoramic view of Verona. There are restaurants there for lunch, but since we had just eaten, we took a walk to the top of the castle instead. There were stairs everywhere. It was quite a hike to get all the way up there, but I’m so glad we did because the views were incredible.
Where did you go after the Castel San Pietro? We went to see the Arco dei Gavi, an arch constructed to honor a family by the name of Gavi. Under the arch, you’ll see stones from an ancient Roman road. We walked over the stones—they’re smooth and rounded around the edged—under the arch. You can see the ruts from wheeled chariots and whatnot that used the roads back during Roman times.
What, no gelato yet?! After the Arco dei Gavi, we went to Piazza delle Erbe, a square that’s the business center of the city. And business for us meant, I guess you could say, the business of gelato. I had one dip each of raspberry and lemon-mint from a shop called Pretto Gelato arte Italiana. It was so good. I really preferred the lemon-mint and wished I had ordered two dips of it.
What was next on the schedule? After gelato, we walked to the Castelvecchio & Museum. It was old and beautiful. So much history right there.
In 1957, Carlo Scarpa, who’s a famous modern Italian architect, began renovating the castle. This in effect created the museum. Throughout the museum, there are rooms with paintings and sculpture. There are also rooms full of weapons that were used back during the era when the castle guarded Verona.
When he was doing the renovations, Scarpa put a modern spin right on top of the ancient. He was making the castle usable again and also put his modern style on top of the old. He intentionally made details stand out so you’d notice the contrast between the old and the new.
After touring the Castelvecchio, we noticed it was around five o’clock, so we decided to head back to Venice. We got back to Venice around six o’clock.
Where does Verona rank on your list of the cities you visited? Well, no doubt, I think it’s the most vibrant. It was the most surprisingly charming. Before we went to Verona, I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t expect it to be so packed with activity and with so many things to see. There were so many sights… and maybe the weather spoiled me a little, but it is probably the one city I would go back to first and spend more time in.
I make no apologies. As a writer and parent, I feel perfectly entitled to take full advantage of my daughter’s experiences in Italy by wringing every possible story idea from it! Yes, our family did visit her in Venice for a week, and while we saw so much in that time, we envied the luxury of time her three-month internship allowed.
Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this post, click “like” so more people can find it, and feel free to leave a comment!