Travel: Venice of the East

imageNick and I actually delayed our travels to the city of Udaipur by a day because we wanted to visit the Fort. Hence, rather than a 7:30 AM bus, we caught a 6.5-hr sleeper bus. Since it was a non-AC bus, we were feeling pretty optimistic that it would not be too cold. After all, how often does a typical commercial bus have openly ventilated windows? Much to our dismay, even though each cot had its own glass-enclosed cubicle, the windows to open air were not tightly sealed, and therefore it was impossible to limit the amount of penetrating cold desert air.

imageEven worse, I woke up at 3 AM with a pressing need to use the toilet, with no possibilities in sight. I was concerned that even if I asked the driver to pull to the side, the language barrier would prevent him from fully understanding that I needed him to wait for me. I was terrified that he’d drive off and leave me, in the desert, by myself, in the middle of the night. A long struggle later, Nick finally woke up, and he made sure the bus driver didn’t leave me behind (though he was concerned when he felt the wheels of the bus inching). ūüė¶ ¬†There is never anything glamorous about popping a squat in a dark ally out of sheer necessity.

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

When we finally arrived at our hostel around 6 AM, they had given our beds away (even though we had called the previous day to give them fair warning)! Nick and I ended up having to squeeze ourselves into two very small chairs with a blanket to catch a little more shut-eye.

 

Needless to say, we did not feel very rested when we finally awoke, and had a pretty lazy day.

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Udaipur, often called the “Venice of the East” for the its beautiful lakes, was founded in 1559 by Maharana Udai Singh II as the last capital of the Mewar Kingdom. It was during this time that the City Palace first came into existence. In reality, the City Palace is not merely one palace, rather it is a sprawling complex consisting of many different palaces that were constructed by 76 different kings over the course of nearly 400 years.

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Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

 

The royal family, the Sisodia Rajputs “Worshipers of the Sun God,” built each palace to face east, in order to greet the rising sun. The exquisite facade of the 11 palaces spans a total length of 800 ft, and a total height of 100 ft. A unique trait of the architecture is that, since the total structure was built over an extended period of time, one can see a diverse blend of different styles. Each characteristic of the Rajasthani, Mughal, Medieval, European, and even Chinese Architecture is paradoxically homogenous and unique at the same time.

 

It is said that the Maharana (distinct from the term Maharaja) built his palace atop the hill following the advice of a hermit who he had found meditating at the summit.

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Travel: Piazza San Marco

Anticipating the crowds we would encounter, my friend and I opted to wake early so that we could avoid the lines. I’m quite impressed with ourselves as we made it to St. Mark’s Square around 8 AM when it was still peaceful and quiet, void of boisterous vendors and the hubbub of tourist groups.

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St. Mark’s Square is the principal public square in Venice. This sprawling open area formed the social, religious, and political centre of Venice.

A popular remark attributed to Napoleon termed this area as “the drawing-room of Europe.”

It is breathtaking to witness during tranquil moments, but also impressive as one of the few remaining great urban spaces in Europe where human voices prevail over the sounds of motorized traffic.

The Piazza is dominated by some landmark buildings:

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St Mark’s Basilica

 

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Torre dell’Orologio

 

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Campanile

Procuratie

Museo Correr

 

 

Doge’s Palace:

The Doge’s Palace is built-in the Venetian Gothic style; it was the residence of the supreme authority of the Republic of Venice. He was the chief magistrate and leader of the Serene Republic of Venice¬†for over a thousand years. Doge’s were elected for life by the city-state’s aristocracy, and was commonly the shrewdest elder in the city. He was variously referred to as “My Lord the Doge”, “Most Serene Prince”, and “His Serenity.”

This institution originated around 700 replacing the  tribunes that formerly led the cluster of early settlements around the lagoon. The official elected was a the local representative of the Emperor of Constantinople, and regarded as the ecclesiastical, the civil and military leader, in a power structure named caesaropapism. His prerogatives were not defined with precision, and despite the position being entrusted to members of the inner circle of powerful families, a law was necessary to decree that no doge had the right to name his successor.

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In 1172 the election process was finally entrusted to a committee of forty, who were chosen by four men selected from the Great Council of Venice, an annually nominated group of twelve people. New regulations were then introduced in 1268 that remained effective until the end of the republic in 1797. The primary objective was to minimize the influence of great families by instituting a complex elective machinery.

The ceremonial formula before the doge took the oath of¬†investiture¬†was as follows. “This is your doge, if it please you.”

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Travel: Islands of the Venice Lagoon

Since my itinerary is pretty flexible, I latched onto my new friend and partook in a 4-hour demonstration and boat tour of Murano, Burano, and Torcello, just a few of the islands immediately off the coast of the Venice Peninsula. To my disappointment, the weather was not the best while I visited the city and ranged from sunny and windy, to gloomy and cloudy

The first boat stop was Murano; it is a series of islands connected by bridges and lies about 1.5 km north of the city. Its claim to fame lies in its history of glassmaking.

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In 1291, the Venetian Republic, fearing destruction of the city’s mostly wooden buildings through fire, ordered glassmakers to relocate their foundries to Murano. Murano’s glassmakers soon became some of the island’s most prominent citizens and enjoyed special privileges by the 14th century. They were allowed to wear swords, enjoyed immunity from prosecution by the state, and married their daughters into the city’s most affluent families. However, they were also forbidden to leave the republic, and often took risks migrating and establishing glass furnaces in the surrounding cities. Today, artisans still employ centuries-old techniques such as crystalline glass, enameled glass, glass with threads of gold, multicolored glass, milk glass, and imitation gemstones.

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Our second stop was Burano, an archipelago of four islands linked by bridges; it is situated 7 km away. There are two stories attributed to how the city obtained its name. One is that the town was founded by the Buriana family, and the other is that the first settlers came from the small island of Burancello, which lies 8 km south. It soon became a thriving settlement as it arose from its 6th century origins, but was administered from Torcello and enjoyed none of the privileges. Burano only gained a foothold in the 16th century when women on the island began creating handmade lace with needles.

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The last stop was Torcello; one of the first lagoon islands to be successively populated by the Veneti after the downfall of the Roman Empire. They used the island as a shelter, hiding from the recurring barbarian invasions, and as refuse after Attila the Hun had destroyed the city of Altinum and it’s surrounding settlements in 452. It remained unsafe even after the end of the Gothic War due to frequent Germanic invasions and wars. In the following 200 years a permanent influx of urban refuges was fuelled by Lombards and the Franks. Throughout this, Torcello maintained close cultural and trading ties with Constantinople.

Fortunately, the wet drops of rain only started as we hopped on the ferry from our last stop. We both enjoyed a nap on the long 45 min journey back to the ferry port next to San Marco Square.

 

Travel: Getting Lost in Venice

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After we arrived back at the port, we decided to snack at this quaint little coffee shop. I had the best Prosciutto, Salami, and Blue Cheese sandwich on an Olive Bread Bun. Mmmmm. ūüôā

 

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We then enjoyed a walk along the, for lack of a better term, ‘boardwalk’, and enjoyed a view of the Venice Lagoon and the well-documented Ponte dei Sospiri.¬†It is an enclosed bridge made of white limestone with barred windows that connects the Doge’s Palace to the prison’s interrogation room.

The translation of the¬†Sospiri is ‘sighs’. The ‘Bridge of Sighs’ gained its name because it was the final view of the beautiful Venice that convicts enjoyed before they were imprisoned within their cells.

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A local legend states that lovers will be granted eternal love and bliss if they kiss on a gondola under the bridge at sunset, as the bells of St. Mark’s Campanile toll.

What a contradiction! The walkway is historically associated with imprisonment and a prisoner’s longing for freedom, but over the years it has become significant for amorous couples?

2013-05-26 DOur last stop was a visit to the Grimani Palace. It was originally a residence of the doge Antonio Grimani, but was rebuilt by his heirs Vittore and Giovanni Grimani from 1532 to 1569.

Unfortunately they had much of the interior decoration was either removed or deteriorated, so I was quite disappointed by the lack of ‘Period-Escape’ provided.¬†Photos were also not allowed, but I managed to sneak a few of some outstanding Stucco and Rococo. ūüėõ

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