No photos were allowed inside this room of the Palazzo Ducale, so I googled it and found these--Tintoretto's Paradiso, which is in the High Council chamber (Sala del Maggior Consiglio).
The statues are Mars and Neptune, with the Venetian winged lion at the top--it's supposed to symbolize Venice's control over land and sea.
We took lots of shots from the top of the Campanile--it was freezing & windy, so we needed to make the most of it
Campanile bells ringing
We got an early start on Sunday morning and after the lovely free breakfast, we took some photos in Piazza San Marco. We toured the Palazzo Ducale before the tourists arrived (it opens at 8:30am, and there were hardly any other people there). It's an amazing place--the building mostly dates back to the 14th century, and it housed the political institutions for the Republic of Venice, including the senate chambers, courts and prisons. Tintoretto's Paradiso is in the largest of the chambers--it's just breathtaking. Every wall in the chamber is covered with a huge oil painting, but this is the biggest one. The tour continues down into the prisons on the opposite side of the canal--they're dark and dank and smell slightly of seaweed. Not pleasant, and it's such a contrast from the grandeur of the chambers!
After the Palazzo Ducale, we had an espresso and then went up the Campanile (bell tower). I was expecting a long climb up the 99m/300ft tower, like in Florence's Duomo--but no, they have an elevator! Fantastico! When we first got up to the top, the bells were ringing, so I took the little video above. The view from the top of the tower was amazing, especially looking over the Basilica and the Palazzo Ducale.
We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering towards the Rialto (the bridge and the markets around it). On the way over, we found a Co-op supermarket so we picked up lunch at the deli there--pizza, calzone, focaccia and fruit. The Rialto was really crowded with tourists & vendors. It's hard to get good pictures of the bridge when it's completely covered by people (who are also trying to take pictures). The market stalls all sold the same crap at different prices--t-shirts, snowglobes, little plastic gondole, Carneval masks, etc. It was a bit overwhelming (but so is Leeds City Market/Pike Place Market). We followed signs towards the Mercato Antiche, the antique market, and it was much less crowded. The antiques in an old country like Italy are so much older and more interesting than antiques in America. There were lots of housewares, furniture, and jewelry, and even some lovely vintage clothes (coats & dresses that looked like they were from the 30's or 40's). Nothing from the 70's/80's like you see at antique shops in America sometimes ;)
After the market, we went to check out the Arsenale. It wasn't in the guidebook, it's just something Richard found on-line--a very cool historical site, the heart of Venetian shipbuilding since the 12th century. Galileo even worked as a consultant to shipbuilders there! Unfortunately, we found out why it's not in the guidebook--it's still being used as a naval base, so it's not open to visitors. On the plus side, there were no tourists around and we got to see some signs of true local life (clotheslines! We were starting to think that nobody actually lived in Venice...)
We had a siesta back at the hotel (we really enjoyed Italian TV--news was fairly easy to understand, and the infomercials were hilarious! We watched a hair restoration product ad for ages, haha!) For dinner, we decided to try the recommendation that our hotel concierge had given us. It was fairly close to the hotel, and the prices were decent. Even though it was touristy (multi-lingual menus are always a bad sign), the food was good and the staff were very nice. We had a very nice white wine (Soave), I had spaghetti with clams, and Richard had lasagna and for dessert I had tiramisu and Richard had a really interesting & tasty ricotta cheesecake. Besides, since they didn't rush us out of there, or make us stand at a bar, they were already better than the other places we'd tried.
After dinner we went to Aciugheta, a restaurant and wine bar near our hotel for more wine. It was so subtle about being touristy...I spoke Italian with the bar staff, but I did overhear them speaking English with other customers later. We had dinner there the next night, and the menu was printed in Italian, English, French, German and Japanese, but again, it was very subtle. A lot of the "menu turistico"s that you see in touristy restaurants just have big brash flags in color printed on separate menus for each language, and the waiter hands you the menu of the language they think you might speak (so presumptuous! What if you're multi-lingual?). This menu was more like a binder, with 2 pages in Italian, 2 pages in English, etc. Very classy-- nice touch! The wine was a 3 euro/glass red Zinfandel, and it was seriously the loveliest, softest, fruitiest wine I've ever had. I can't believe how cheap & good the wine is in Italy...It was a lovely finish to a much better day in Venice :)