A Room 200 Steps From St Mark's

Updated on February 9, 2018
Anne Harrison profile image

I fell in love with Florence at the age of 10 and have travelled widely since, but somehow I always return to this most magical of cities.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Mist on the Venetian lagoon (c) A. HarrisonLooking across the lagoon towards the Chiesa Sante Maria della Zitella (c) A. Harrison
Mist on the Venetian lagoon (c) A. Harrison
Mist on the Venetian lagoon (c) A. Harrison
Looking across the lagoon towards the Chiesa Sante Maria della Zitella (c) A. Harrison
Looking across the lagoon towards the Chiesa Sante Maria della Zitella (c) A. Harrison

A Convent Stay in Venice

The morning mists still swirled over the lagoon as the ferry approached Venice. At first all we could see were the wooden channel markers as they drifted in and out of view. The water lapped softly against the boat, and the cry of gulls filled the air.

Arriving by vaparetto (or water-bus) from the airport remains the most magical of ways to enter in Venice. Against a backdrop of campaniles and medieval torres, the ferrymen shout out greetings while helping tourists and locals alike across the gangway. Subject only to the tides, the vaparetto takes its time, slowly weaving between the islands of the Venetian lagoon. Then comes the stop of San Marco, and the world erupts into chaos.

Ah, Venice (c) A. Harrison
Ah, Venice (c) A. Harrison
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Piazza San Marco - The Drawing Room Of Europe (c) A. HarrisonThe lights of the Piazza San Marco
Piazza San Marco - The Drawing Room Of Europe (c) A. Harrison
Piazza San Marco - The Drawing Room Of Europe (c) A. Harrison
The lights of the Piazza San Marco
The lights of the Piazza San Marco

The Piazza San Marco

The stop of San Marco is along the Riva degli Schiavoni, a sweeping promenade named after those Dalmatian traders (the Schiavonia) who once used this stretch for mooring their boats. Now dozens of gondolas float side by side, waiting for business. The promenade offers spectacular views across the Venetian Lagoon to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. Amongst the jumble of medieval buildings hawkers cheerfully tout postcards, toy gondoliers and t-shirts, alongside stalls selling gelatos of all flavours (for a day in Italy without eating a gelato is day wasted.)

Despite luggage in tow, we paused on the Ponte della Paglia to stare at the Bridge of Sighs. How many have stood here, desperate for a final glimpse of a loved one doomed to disappear forever into the infamous dungeons?

The Piazza San Marco was once the centre of Europe. Our place of abode, the Istituto San Giuseppe, lay merely two hundred steps away. Our path lead under the Torre dell’Orologio, where two huge bronze moors have struck the hour (with variable accuracy) since the fifteenth century. Our next steps lie along the Mercerie, a string of narrow alleys linking San Marco to the Rialto. Famous for shopping, it is only the things sold which have changed down the centuries; not the cobbles, not the buildings, not the throngs of people. The shops are tiny, often with room for only two or three people.

By step forty we'd left the crowds for a world of restaurant-lined streets and tiny piazzas. Chairs and tables spilled from the cafes, and the smell of coffee and garlic filled the air. Our first slice of pizza proved thin-crust and perfect.

A Room With A View, Venice (c) A. Harrison
A Room With A View, Venice (c) A. Harrison
The Istituto San Giuseppe, complete with gondola stop (c) A. Harrison
The Istituto San Giuseppe, complete with gondola stop (c) A. Harrison

The Istituto San Giuseppe

With a turn of a corner – few streets in Venice run in a straight line – a limestone bridge arched gracefully over a canal. Our convent lay directly opposite, a door opening directly onto the water. On cue a gondola glides by, coming to a colourful stop outside our convent to collect passengers.

The Istituto San Giuseppe proves a maze of grand staircases and marble halls. Paintings cover the ceilings and walls – in a room large enough to host a masked ball, a fresco lies hidden under the scaffolding of restoration – and everywhere is bathed in peace.

Our room is simple and clean. The windows open onto a terracotta skyline, with clothes strung between buildings. Across a flower-strewn courtyard a woman in black is busy in a kitchen, filling the air with delicious aromas. Geraniums hang everywhere in pots. In the distance a camponile towers (at a slight angle) over the other buildings, tolling away the hours.

Next morning we wake to the sound of seagulls, followed shortly by the first bells of the day. As is the way all over Italy, each church keeps its own, strict time, and the bells chime a few minutes apart, never quite in unison.

In Italy, convents and monasteries have offered hospitality for centuries. Most provide breakfast, and may have a restaurant attached. Rooms may be simple, but this does not imply austerity. Convents and monasteries are found in Renaissance palaces, medieval walled towns or set amongst lavender fields and vineyards. Many house artistic treasures; a painting by Rubens, or walls adorned by Fra Angelico. Each religious house has its own character, (such as the monastery Convento Sant’Agostino in San Gimigiano which refused entry to HRH The Prince of Wales because he arrived after closing time. The story alone makes the place worth a detour).

Bridges are just high enough for a gondolier to pass (c) A. Harrison
Bridges are just high enough for a gondolier to pass (c) A. Harrison

Venice Of A Morning

One of the delights of Venice is how the city changes with the hours. Of an early morning, the famed four horses of San Marco look down onto a piazza home to pigeons and people downing a quick expresso on their way to work.

The Rialto markets are less than ten minutes of cobble-stone streets away. As the sun rises, stalls overflow with products from the sea – unrecognisable fish, bags of crabs, slabs of fresh swordfish. Aside from les frutis de la mare, there are also stalls of fresh meat, cheeses, breads, and fruit. Breakfast comes in the form of delictable cups of fresh berries and peaches. We sit eating near the statue of the Gobbo (The Hunchback), an expresso from a nearby café close to hand.

Venice is a city to be explored on foot. Chaotic streets suddenly become deserted alleys. No matter how confusing the winding streets, there is always a sign pointing either to the Rialto Bridge or to San Marco's – often in a direction which seems counter-intuitive. Most streets wind, many bridges bend, and by late afternoon even space and time seem to curve until reinforced with a strong expresso.

The magical Palazzo Cantarini del Bovolo, Venice (c) A. Harrison
The magical Palazzo Cantarini del Bovolo, Venice (c) A. Harrison

Venice by Day

By mid-morning, the cafes and restaurants lining the Piazza San Marco are overflowing. Competing string quartets fill the air with waltzes. Seeking the Palazzo Cantarini del Bovolo, (famous for its curving, snail-like stairway), we left the Piazzo San Marco and religiously followed the map, only to re-enter the piazza on the other side. A second attempt and we were rewarded – only by following other people with cameras at the ready, rather than relying on the small signs pasted haphazardly along the way.

The Squero di San Trovaso (not far from the Ponte dell’Accademia) houses a gondola repair shop, one of the few remaining in Venice. Although closed to the public, it can easily be seen from the other side of the canal on the Rio San Trovaso.

Catching the No. 1 vaporetto is a perfect way to sit back and watch Venice unfold. The vaporetto travels from San Marco to the railway station, and with its frequent stops allows plenty of time to watch as grand palaces and forgotten houses float by. Many of the buildings have frescoes on their facades, or grand entrances at water level with exquisite moorish windows on the higher floors.

A gondola repair shop, Venice (c) A. Harrison
A gondola repair shop, Venice (c) A. Harrison

The Evening Promenade

It is during the evening promenade, however, that the Piazza San Marco truly comes alive. As the evening mist swirls in from the lagoon, pink lamps glisten against the gathering darkness, and sense of carnival fills the air as tourists and locals in their finery fill the square.

The light shimmers with white marble. Venice becomes once more a medieval mistress, a city of Renaissance allure and masques, daring you to come and explore.

(c) Anne Harrison 2011

Dusk in Venice (c) A. Harrison
Dusk in Venice (c) A. Harrison

The Literary Traveller

The Titian Committee (Art History Mystery)
The Titian Committee (Art History Mystery)
Part of the Jonathan Argyll Mystery Series, which appeals to anyone with love of Venice, history and art - or who has dealt with the in-fightings of committees or the ineptitude of the Italian police bureaucracy.

© 2011 Anne Harrison


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Jonn Christie 90 profile image

      Jonn Ross Christie 

      6 years ago from Australia

      And the hotel that you stayed in must have been breathtaking

    • Jonn Christie 90 profile image

      Jonn Ross Christie 

      6 years ago from Australia

      Yes indeed it looks stunning haha yes i did very much indeed your welcome i hope that you get time to check the poems that i have been putting up :)

    • Anne Harrison profile imageAUTHOR

      Anne Harrison 

      6 years ago from Australia

      John, it is an amazing place to visit. I'm glad you enjoyed my hub

    • Jonn Christie 90 profile image

      Jonn Ross Christie 

      6 years ago from Australia

      Absolutely love the you description that you gave to Venice when you arrived absolutely poetic its beautiful

      It makes feel as if i was there.

      I too love the photos just beautiful amazing city on the water just breathtaking thank you so very much sharing

    • Mark Buckingham profile image

      Mark Buckingham 

      7 years ago

      Venice is one place in Italy I have never visited that I will one day travel to. Lovely description.

    • Anne Harrison profile imageAUTHOR

      Anne Harrison 

      9 years ago from Australia

      Thankyou for all your comments and encouragement.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Thanks much for sharing your journey!

    • travel_man1971 profile image

      Ireno Alcala 

      9 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      A first-rate travelogue. I've been to Italy way back 2002. I've been to La Spezia, Livorno and Gioia Tauro most of our ports of call. As a seafarer, it brings back memories about our colorful stay there.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, wanderwisdom.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)