Venice - The Doge's Palace
You can't miss the Doge's Palace. No really, it's inescapable, you can't see any of Venice's main sights without walking or sailing past the palace. The elegant peach and white patterned brick walls and carved windows lead you from the lagoon right into St. Mark's Square. The Doge's Palace, aka the Palazzo Ducale or the Duke's Palace, is one of Venice's top attractions. It's easy to see why. Every inch of the palace is designed leave visitors in awe. And it's here you'll find one of Venice's most iconic landmarks, Santa di Spirito, the Bridge of Sighs.
Venetians sure loved their gold. Like St. Mark's Basilica and Cafe Florian, Doge's Palace is gilded to the studs. The grandeur begins in the marbled courtyard. Imagine yourself as a guest of the Duke, being lead into the palace, climbing the marble stairs, ceiling gold and unbelievably ornate. They don't call it Scala d'oro (The Golden Staircase) for nothing. And you haven't even reached the most impressive space. The largest room in the Palace, The Council Chamber, was designed by Andrea Palladio and is lined with massive paintings by Veronese and Tintoretto. Even the view from the windows is picture perfect. South facing windows frame a view of the lagoon and San Giorgio Maggiore, while, to the north, there are sight-lines all the way across the island. The palace is situated like a fortress.
The Bridge of Sighs is pretty, sure, and the story certainly has a tragic sort of romance, but I wouldn't rank it up there with Venice's most spectacular landmarks. Maybe it's more impressive seen from the water on a $100 gondola ride. Still, it was nice to see from the inside. The story goes that prisoners were led from the Doge's Palace across the Bridge of Sighs to the windowless prison. It was through the stone windows that convicts got their last glimpse of Venice and of freedom. What I did like about the bridge was the opportunity to get up close and personal. Unlike most historical works of art and architecture, you can actually touch the windows, stick your fingers through the openings and imagine so many people before you doing the same. Then again, four hundred years of germs.
Back out in St. Mark's Square, the sun was just starting to set, washing everything in a lovely golden glow. There aren't a lot of green spaces on the island, but there's a hidden gem of a garden near the entrance to the Square, opposite of the Doge's Palace. It's small, with just a few benches. But if you can snag one, there's some prime people watching (I spied a regiment of astonishingly handsome Italian officers.) It's a lovely place to take a breather. After the palace, you'll need one.