Italy: Day 2 / by Josh Trudell

Venice-2 “Let’s go to jail,” our guide tells us, and off we march.

We crowded into a narrow stone hallway and looked into the tiny, low-ceilinged cells under the doge’s palace, which is in the heart of Venice - Piazza San Marco.

We don’t usually pay for guided tours on our trips, preferring to read books and wander, but taking the secret itineraries tour was worth it. Winding through the back passages and disappearing doors made me realize how those bad guys in Scooby-Doo always got from one end of the haunted mansion to the other so quickly.

Built first in 1340 and rebuilt several times since then, the ancient building is a maze of secrets, especially the rooms used for torture – some of which were ironically covered in beautiful paintings.

The torture chambers were positioned so prisoners could hear torture victims screaming, our guide told us. From the judges’ chambers, a secret passage built into a cabinet let them go visit the prisoners.

In the administrative part of the palace, the offices were tiny, with low ceilings and small windows even for the most important Venician officials. "It was to keep him humble,” our guide said. “It was Venice that mattered.”

That view is reflected in the art in the palace where Venice is often shown as a woman, and the doge is an old man worshiping her.

Sadly, photography is not allowed in the palace (except for one random staircase where we were allowed to take pictures). However, once the tour was over, we had a nice view of the square and the lagoon from a second-story balcony.

One of the square’s highlights is the ornate clock tower, with wooden slides for numbers and a huge engraved zodiac clock face, topped by a bell. A lowlight was the enormous LG banner covering one end of the plaza, which made photography challenging.

The palace is in the heart of Venice – Piazza San Marco. Our hotel was about a 15-minute walk from the piazza, which made for a nice way to get acquainted with the city as we made our way over.

Walking through the narrow streets gave us much more of the sense of what Venice is – very much a tourist city, but with a strong sense of everything it was – a historic city-state with a glorious past - and the efforts to hang onto that.

She’s a city that has lived a long hard life, but still has a sparkle in her eye and wonderful stories to tell. It

It is also a city that needs some upgrades in public facilities, as we passed one woman squatting in the middle of a street relieving herself.

After exploring the square a bit and going on the tour, we wandered a bit more, strolling across the narrow canals and enjoying the colorful atmosphere. Venice is a wonderful place to wander – It’s not that big, so getting lost isn’t an issue, and every street has something noteworthy on it.

A late-afternoon vaparetto ride was a good way to see a large chunk of the city, and cheaper than any boat tour. Late afternoon sun made the buildings and water glow.

Squid-in-InkOur night finished up with a search for dinner, and an experiment in local dining. My brave traveling companion tried the squid cooked in its own ink.

It was … an acquired taste that we hadn’t acquired yet. I tried a trifle, despite my ongoing belief not to trust anything that resembles Cthulhu snot.

The rest of the meal was delightful, however, and we retired looking forward to another day.