Moving right along………while pretty much everyone in the land of Oz was happily sleeping in their warm toasty beds I sneakily hopped on a Ryanair plane in Wroclaw Poland (yes I dared!) and landed in VENEZIA!!!!
Ah Venice! Historic home of canals, bridges, sculptures, food, glass, masks, lace, gondoliers and of course amazing engineering.
‘In Venice Tasso’s echoes are no more,
And silent rows the songless gondolier;
Her palaces are crumbling to the shore,
And music meets not always now the ear:
Those days are gone, but beauty still is here.
States fall, arts fade, but Nature doth not die,
Nor yet forget how Venice once was dear,
The pleasant place of all festivity,
The revel of the earth, the masque of Italy.’
(Venice, from Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage)
Lord Byron (1788-1824)
Venice wasn’t on my original list for this grand tour (after all I discovered on my first trip there that it is yet another of those places that are best shared with an understanding, normal fellow traveller). However, seeing as I needed to get to Pisa I discovered that the easiest and cheapest way to get there from Wroclaw in Poland was by Ryanair to Venice, then by train to Pisa- so of course I had to factor in some days of canals and vaporettos. I had fallen in love with Venice on my very first trip there in 2006 and had sworn that one day I would return, and here I was! It was night time on Sunday 7th July when I arrived, I had no idea where exactly my hotel was, nor how to get there after catching the bus from Treviso airport. Luckily for me a friendly Italian lady who spoke English came to my rescue.
There were two things immediately noticeable – 1) The huge number of mirrors in the lobby and 2) The tiniest shower/bathroom space ever!
I was still pinching myself the next morning, not quite believing that I was really in Venice, so unplanned and so exciting. I couldn’t wait to get back to explore more of the islands, passageways and canals. I started out thinking I’d get a vaporetto to San Marco Square from Piazzale Roma (where all traffic stops) but then I saw the sign so I thought I’d walk it! Pretty soon I decided that the signs pointing to San Marco and Rialto are designed to make sure you walk past every possible shop and cafe. So exciting though, finding little places in those alleyways, I was so glad I walked otherwise I wouldn’t have seen so many little nooks and crannies along the way especially the myriad of Venetian mask shops. I just love the variety of stunning masks. As in most of Europe though there are very few places to sit and rest so be aware of this if walking long distances is a challenge. The other thing you will find, especially in tourist areas of Italy, are signs in shop windows saying ‘No photos’, I guess they haven’t caught up on the idea of advertising through social media, oh well, the long lens came in handy at times.
I got to the Rialto before I found San Marco Square so I thought coffee and the obligatory photos would be a good idea, especially the coffee giving me an opportunity to sit down for a little while. I knew this place was expensive and expected it but 9 Euros (about $AUD13-14) for 2 coffees? Admittedly I did sit down to have them AND it was the cafe closest to the Rialto so that shouldn’t have been a surprise.
(Tip for the new traveller
For those who haven’t been to Europe, be aware that you are charged more if you sit down at a café, so if you don’t want to pay double the price, get take aways)
The Rialto was of course packed with tourists, it was high season, but the view, was as beautiful as I remembered. The Grand canal, boats, gondolas and of course the charming palazzos rising from the water with waves lapping against their foundations. The crowds, of course, made taking selfies difficult and then the saviour of solo travellers kicked in, the random stranger. I made a deal with a lovely American guy with a professional looking camera that if I moved so he could get his shot would he take one of me on my camera, of course he did. Choosing the right person to take your photo for you is quite a game when you travel solo, these days of course, if you have a smart phone I guess it’s much easier, however I still prefer a real camera.
I was very quickly ‘peopled out’ by the crowds at the Rialto so I decided I’d go to Burano instead of San Marco Square. In July Venice is packed, it’s impossible to get a photo of anything without tourist crowds in the main tourist areas. So off I went. It took quite a walk to find a jetty where I could catch the correct vaporetto but find it I did. However, I must have mis-heard the boat man and he must have mis-heard me when I checked that the boat was going to Burano – because after travelling right around Murano I had a look at the map and figured I’d better get off, because this boat wasn’t going to Burano after all and there wasn’t enough time to go back to Venice and catch the right boat. At the time I didn’t realise that I could have caught one from Murano. I guess I should have brushed up on my Italian before leaving home. So instead of lace I set off looking at glass. Back in 2006 I missed the glass blowing because we got to the island too late, and I didn’t get to it this time either. It took me 3 hours just to check out all the galleries and shops in the area around the Colonna jetty, not realising when the factories closed. Murano glass is certainly something to behold. Some of it is so recognisably garish and some spectacularly stylish and beautiful. There was a coffee and wine/water set in green and gold that I would have loved to see in my own home – I didn’t dare even look at the price!
The sculptures around the island are of course all mostly made of glass, I hadn’t noticed these on my first trip there 8 years earlier, perhaps they weren’t there. This time, as I was on my own, it was a delight to be just aimlessly wandering around and suddenly coming upon a massive, colourful glass sculpture. Next time I will be more prepared and allow a lot more time for exploring Murano.
And so ended my first day in Venice, a sunset boat ride back to the main island topped off a beautiful day.
Day two of Venetian Adventures
I wanted to give my feet a rest after all that walking the previous day, so I thought it would be nice to do more tripping around on vaporetti. As it happened I was given lots of opportunity for foot resting. First off it took an hour to get to Venice from my hotel on the mainland instead of the normal 15-20 mins (thanks to an accident near the bridge and the resulting traffic jams). Then I decided that I just had to get to Burano, the island of beautiful handmade lace. I didn’t realise just what a long trip it was, especially when I got the slow boat to Fondamente Nove and then a very long trip via Murano on another. So my feet got heaps of rest and I got lots of boat travel, pity it’s all inside though I would have liked to be outside with the wind and the waves. I didn’t get to Burano till just after 3! So worth it though! I found myself thinking I could rent a place for a couple of months and get those books written! There was beautiful lace everywhere, colourful houses and lots of canals and bridges (I seem to have developed a ‘thing’ about bridges). Normally I hate shopping but Venice was different. Every store has stunning creations to enjoy, it was so tempting to buy more than necessary, however, good sense prevailed and I only succumbed to a few souvenirs on Burano to send home to friends. On Burano the trick is to find the shops where you can see the owners creating the lace as there are some selling the cheap imports as if they were made locally. Then, back to the main island and the Jewish ghetto.
Ah, learning after learning! The previous day I learned (luckily by observation, not experience) that it’s not a good idea to sit in the back of a vaporetto, a bunch of people got drenched by a rogue wake from a passing boat. Today I learned that the word ‘ghetto’ used to mean ‘foundry’ in Venetian (one of the etymological roots for the word) and took on the new meaning after the Jews were confined on the island where foundry slag was stored, forming, apparently, the first ever ghetto in 1516, interesting how meanings change.
I’d vaguely remembered reading about the ghetto ages ago and looked it up – well blow me down if the Old Ghetto wasn’t the setting for Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (probably should have paid more attention seeing as we did it 3 years in a row in High School). The ghetto is in the Canareggio region and is divided into the Ghetto Nuovo (new) and Ghetto Vecchio (old). The two areas are separated by a narrow canal. There are memorial wreaths with explanatory plaques on many buildings commemorating previous inhabitants of the houses, synagogues and schools and who perished either there or during WWII.
The ghettos have many kosher stores and restaurants as well as synagogues. Of course I had to investigate at least one Kosher restaurant as I love the food. I came across Gam Gam, just the name fascinated me. The menu was extensive and so I, of course, ate too much, again! Surprise, surprise! How could I not when the flavours were so wonderful and the ‘red’ Israeli beer was really good. I can highly recommend this restaurant especially the sardines.
I managed to get some thinking time, why not spend a bit of my time relaxing over dinner next to a Venetian canal. My thoughts took me to another learning. I noticed that people thought I was doing something amazing in my life. The lovely owner at the 4 Seasons in Wroclaw thought it amazing that I spoke fluent Russian although born in Australia. The very helpful Italian lady (named Elena) on the bus from Treviso who helped me find my hotel in Venice, couldn’t believe that I was travelling alone and kept congratulating me. The waiter at Gam Gam was equally amazed. I guess I should pay attention and give myself some recognition for the things I take for granted about myself. Traveling solo was giving me the opportunity to take time out and think through many things.
Having had a delightfully full day of experiences it was time to make my way back to the mainland for the evening.
A Sad Farewell
10 July 2013, my third day in Venice, was a day of saying farewell, and isn’t it ridiculous but it actually brought tears to my eyes! There must have been a reason for this but I didn’t know what it was, perhaps this time I had made a closer connection to the city and the thought that I could see myself spending more time on Burano writing may have had something to do with it. I certainly would have liked to stay much longer. Anyway, as it was my last day there I thought I’d better do some of the things I hadn’t yet done, so….. off to the Bridge of Sighs, only from the outside as I had no intention of standing in line for hours, the line stretched a very, very long way. However, one day I will return, perhaps in October again when the crowds are gone, and go inside the bridge which connects the Doges Palace to the prison. Descriptions I’ve read of the inside of the bridge are very interesting. One can only imagine the devastation felt by prisoners being led from the court to the prison, especially if they really were innocent. Poor old Casanova (the only prisoner to ever escape, did he have help I wonder?) must have had some interesting thoughts go through his head. Others knew they would never see the outside world again.
‘I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs;
A palace and a prison on each hand:
I saw from out the wave her structures rise
As from the stroke of the enchanter’s wand;
A thousand years their cloudy wings expand
Around me, and a dying Glory smiles
O’er the far times, when many a subject land
Looked to the wingéd Lion’s marble piles,
Where Venice sate in state, throned on her hundred isles!
(Venice, from Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage)
Lord Byron (1788-1824)
In my wanderings I discovered the royal gardens, a lovely green area with trees and flowers and seats! The majority of tourists obviously weren’t interested in this lovely space so it was really delightful to be able to sit and dream.
I walked the arcades of St Mark’s Square (I don’t remember the facades being quite so black in 2006). I really wanted to have coffee at the Florian Café but it was right on lunch time so I realised I could be there for a long time, so instead, I went back to the Guglie area, planning to get some good healthy fresh smelling strawberries and nectarines for lunch! I started well with a cup of watermelon, ended up at 3pm with an espresso, a mini pizza and a Sicilian cannolo.
Then a brief re-visit to Murano followed by a re-visit to Burano. All this mainly in the interest of some decent sunset photo chasing, although I really did want to say a personal farewell to the two outlying islands. Unfortunately this time of year doesn’t seem to lend itself to great sunsets in Venice (or maybe it was just the 3 days of my visit there) – they were so much more spectacular in October 2006. However, I had a ball just riding around on boats and and checking out the views of ruins, sculptures on the lagoon and passing boats of various uses.
I miss the creak of the boats at their moorings, the smell of the diesel when you stick your head out of a vaporetto to take a photo, the rush onto the boat to try and get an outside seat, even though you risk getting drenched (it helps when you can either understand the verbal language or read the body language).Then there is the window and door closing ‘police’ (there is always one) who keeps telling other passengers to close the windows and doors (because the vaporetto to Burano is airconditioned, when it works!) I had to laugh when a guy told everyone to close the windows, then went round and closed them all, then discovered that it got hot, he then went off somewhere, (perhaps to talk to the captain) and came back and opened his window!) Hilarious!
And so it was farewell to beautiful Venice, with a promise to return one day, there is so much more to experience in that unique city, and who knows, maybe I’ll figure out a way to spend a few months there writing, after all, miracles do happen.
Since returning home I have seen a program on Venice that covers those parts that you don’t really see there, the emergency workers, the method of rubbish disposal etc and I find it fascinating how innovative Venice is and I wonder why we can’t adapt some of their ideas, especially the rubbish disposal. They have a way of recycling the rubbish and turning it into energy for use in the city that is nothing short of amazing.