One of the best decisions to make in Venice is paying admittance to the Ca D'Oro as the view of the Grande Canale from its top storey is sensational.
This is the one chance you will have to visit the palazzo of a Venetian merchant family and view some of the best artworks in Venice. On a sunny day you can see up and down the Grande Canale from its gothic arches and there is no finer view in the world.
And after a visit here, there are the narrow lanes of the Merceries which lead from the Rialto to the Piazza. This is the kingdom of plastic gondola's, postcards and glassware kitsch but also includes one of the most enigmatic sights in Venice - the pool of gondolas. Which gives you a chance to get really close to these craft without paying the exorbiitant price.
The Ca'Doro has it's own vaporetto stop on the Grande Canale or you can reach it along a side alley along the Strada Nuova. From the water there is the added thrill of seeing the palazzo as visiting merchants would have seen it. Three columned loggia's stand on top of each other with swirling gothic arches and ornamentation. It stands opposite the Pescheria whose produce boats can be seen moored on the Grande Canale. And is only 500ft from the Rialto Bridge which cannot be seen as the Grande Canale bends at this point. The Casa is a bargain at 6,000 lira a visit and guidebooks are available for a further 3,000 lira. Most of the palazzo has been tampered with over the centuries and now houses a superb art collection. But the feeling and atmosphere of a Venetian merchants palazzo is still discernable.
A Venetian noble's palazzo wasn't just his home it was his workplace and warehouse. His ships would sail into the lagoon and along the Grande Canale and unload their cargoes at his palazzo. The ground floor was kept specifically to house merchandise from around the world, and would also have a grand entranceway and garden. Upstairs would be the Mezzanine floor which would be an office and staffed by clerks. The floor above would be the most luxurious and used to entertain important visitors. But above this at the very top would be the families quarters - with servants living in the attic.
The garden in the Ca D'Oro is still open to the elements and looks out onto the Grande Canale with little classical statues in niches. Upstairs are mainly works of art labelled in Italian and consist of religious works by Tintoretto and Titian. The most famous is probably Mantegna's portrait of San Sebastian with arrows sticking out of him. But you get your moneys worth from the top storey with views of the Grande Canale. The aquarmarine water glitters in the sunlight (see photo) and gondolas pole past the Casa and around a bend. What must it have been to be a Venetian noble and look out on this view every day. No wonder the Venetians thought they were above everything else in the world.
Talking of gondolas - one of the most photogenic sights in Venice has to be the Bacino San Orsolo where the gondolas are crammed together to create quite a spectacle and the gondoliers tout for custom. This can be reached by just going north out of the Piazza or from the Rialto via the Merceries. These are a set of narrow, twisting streets drowning in tourists. This was always the merchants section of Venice but now has probably more souvenir shops then disneyworld and when the crowds build up lane discipline is introduced and it gets very claustraphobic in these narrow alleys.
If you want to avoid the crowds then strike off on your own. The Bacino is at the end of Calle Carlo Goldoni which you can reach from the Merceries with a turn to the right after the Church of San Salvador. The Bacino itself is very picturesque with its stone bridges and hundreds of gondola's bobbing away. You can now examine them very closely and they reminded me of funeral coffins - all black wood and crimson upholstery. And at £90 minimum for a ride I would expect gondola, pole and silly hat thrown in. Please don't serenade me!