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Essential Venice by Expat46





ESSENTIAL VENICE BY EXPAT 46

18/7/13


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We are pleased to introduce our guest blogger and Italian resident Expat46,who has been generous enough to share his considerable knowledge of Venice with the emwi community.




 



Superlatives for Venice abound. You’ll choose your own when you’ve been there. For me, in its literal sense,  that much overused word “awesome” is just about right. Venice inspires awe. Just the building of the present city between say the 11th century and the 18th century was an amazing accomplishment. Built, as all the huge palaces and churches are, on dozens of islands joined together by hundreds of bridges, it  would probably give even modern architects and engineers some headaches. And it is not all standing on solid islands. For example, the church of the Salute (by our  standards  cathedral size) constructed between 1630 and 1687, stands entirely on wooden piles driven into the bottom of the lagoon: no less than 1,156,627 of them (although who counted so precisely in the 17th century I’m not sure).




Crowds: People tend to say Venice is crowded. If you stay on the main street (Strada Nuova) or around St. Mark’s Square then, yes, it can be crowded. But then you can often find quite a few souls on Oxford Street or in Piccadilly Circus in London. If you visit some of  the residential areas of the city  ( not more than 10 minutes’ walk from the centre) you will find deserted canals and quiet leafy squares to relax in.

Accommodation:I have been going to Venice for years and stay in a smal hotel on the mainland at Mestre-Marghera(a 10 minute commute),just around the corner from where my daughter used to live.She has moved on but  still stay there out of habit.In fact,if you ask me to take sides on the vexed question of hotel in central Venice or hotel on the mainland,I would tend for the mainland.It is cheaper(and that’s a good enough reason to start),plus if you are in a car you’ll have no expensive parking charges,and it’s so easy to travel over the bridge into Venice by either train or bus.Trains every 5/10 minutes E1.20 each way.Buses,also extremely frequent,are included in the vaporetto passes,therefore extra cost=nil.Both trains and buses run very early and very late so you won’t miss much by not staying in the centre.On the other hand,if you do decide on a hote lin Venice itself you should plan the location carefully otherwise you’ll find yourself traipsing miles with your luggage along cobbled streets and up and down bridges.The vaporetti charge extra for more than one piece of luggage.And Mestre itself is not the industrial wasteland it is sometimes made out to be,in fact the main piazza is quite charming and a noce place to end a hectic day of sightseeing with a quiet nightcap under a pergola.

If you are into hostels, I had a peek into the official Youth Hostel on the Giudecca island and that looks quite good. I guess you would have to book well in advance. The only problem with this hostel is its island location: you will be obliged to have a vaporetto pass for your whole stay just to go backwards and forwards, which can be costly if you are on a very tight budget.



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Transport: It is not always appreciated that you can see 95% of Venice on foot. However, it’s bigger than you think and it’s a tiring city (up and down all those bridges all day!). A three day pass on the water buses (vaporetti) is well worth it. You’ll probably recoup your money on the first day (bear in mind that the minimum ordinary fare, even for only one stop, is €6,50). Try always to travel outside “on deck” as you can see very little from inside and they can get very crowded and stuffy. I am not as young as I was and I try to restrict my serious sightseeing to the mornings. After lunch I take one of the longer vaporetti routes out into the lagoon and rest up. The vaporetto stops at different islands and there is lots of bird life to see on the way. I often don’t get off– just do the round trip, which can take up to 2 ½ hours on some routes ( no.13 for example).

Do not under any circumstances take a water taxi, these are ruinously expensive, although if you are arriving at Venice airport the collective water taxi system to the city “Alilaguna” is ok. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the gondolas. Expensive? Yes. Touristy? Very. But……you want to try everything once, don’t you?. If you get a group of 4-6 people together and split the cost, then it’s acceptable (they’ll probably ask €80 for forty minutes or so). And you don’t get to Venice every day!



Food & Drink: The general rule is the further away you get from St. Mark’s Square the cheaper it is going to be to eat. I am not a gourmet so I can’t recommend any special restaurants. I usually make do with panini at lunchtime and pizza in the evening with perhaps the once a trip splurge at a trattoria before I leave. There are so many good little bars where you can eat and I have not heard many complaints. Don’t sit down (either outside or inside) unless you want to pay a surcharge. I often take the vaporetto to the Lido (15 minutes from St. Mark’s) where the food prices are“normal Italian” and you can have a stroll along the beach after. This is the beach where Lord Byron and Shelley went horse-riding and of course where Thomas Mann set “Death in Venice”. Or you can drop into a supermarket (there’s one called “Billa” near the Lido vaporetto station) and buy a few rolls and some Parma ham and munch away on the beach, maybe washing it down with a glass or three of what you fancy. While you are on your way out to the Lido look back towards the city. The view is truly sublime (and “sublime” is a word I do not use lightly). Don’t whatever you do try to eat your sandwiches sitting on the steps in St. Mark’s square. This year it has been banned for reasons of decorum (in my view quite rightly). If you are caught you will be politely asked to move on, but if you start to argue (as unfortunately many Anglo-Saxon tourists do) you may be fined.

Florian’s coffee-house on St. Mark’s Square is not to be missed. Not at all cheap, but like the gondolas, a once in a lifetime thing. Sit inside, the décor is amazing. Choose your room. Outside all you see is the square and if the band is playing you pay a surcharge. The literary and musical connotations are endless. One restaurant/osteria that was always good (I’ve not been recently) if you want to splash out and like something fishy: Osteria da Alberto www.viaggioadagio.it/venezia-osteria-da-alberto/ or just look for its reviews on google. Not ruinously expensive. You may have to book a few hours before.

The national drink of the Venetians is spritz. It is a long drink just right for that aperitivo after a heavy morning sightseeing: chilled white wine, a slug of Aperol or Campari, tonic water, slice of orange, one green olive.




Things to see: I’m a socks-with-sandals tourist, so nothing strenuous here. You want something breathtaking? Take an early morning slow vaporetto (no.1) along the whole length of the Grand Canal and see the sunrise painting the palaces and the Rialto Bridge pink. It will take nearly an hour. The only other traffic will be barges taking produce to the Rialto markets and the occasional post office or refuse collecting barge. Must get up before the tourists though. And unless the weather is very very warm, wrap up well. It can be quite chilly on the canals and lagoon in the early morning and evening. Now, having got up and enjoyed the sunrise, what do you do next? Unfortunately Venice is not really a place for early risers. Most things, including shops, open at about 10 a.m. Bars will be open of course for your first cappuccino of the day (but not Florian’s which opens at 10). Luckily the state-run Accademia opens at 8.15 (see below) and the Naval Museum at 8.45. 



There is no point in my listing all the sights you can find in any guidebook. St. Mark’s Basilica is magnificent of course, as is the Doge’s Palace. You might find long queues to get in. Try arriving before they open in the morning, or possibly during lunchtime when the tourists are back in their hotels browsing and sluicing. Some of MY favourite things to see and do are as follows: If you are an art fanatic the Accademia is a must but it can be a bit overpowering. If, like me, you just like a bit of art now and then, a good idea is the “Chorus Pass” which you can buy in tourist offices, hotels, or the churches themselves. Bearing in mind that you have to pay to get into almost all Venetian churches, the pass gives you access to 16 churches. It costs €10 and is valid for a year (single admission to each church would be €3). There you will see all the Titians, Veroneses, Tintorettos, Tiepolos, you could wish to see. As well as lots of other things as well. The Frari church is included in the pass and is really a must. The nearby “Scuola di San Rocco” is not included but should be visited for a feast of Tintorettos. While we are on the subject of churches, Venice is the only place I know of where Old Testament figures have been accorded sainthood: St. Job, St. Jeremiah, St. Moses (Ruskin hated the façade of S. Moisè with its baroque “ wedding-cake” style). San Sebastiano, also on the Chorus Pass is well worth a visit. It’s in the Dorsoduro area, near the old Maritime Station, and just about everything in it is by Veronese: the frescos, the pictures, the ceiling and, fittingly, his tomb is there as well.

You won’t find many paintings by Canaletto left in Venice, they are now mostly in foreign collections, including the Queen’s collection at Windsor Castle and the Duke of Bedford’s at Woburn Abbey. But there are one or two in the Ca’Rezzonico gallery on the Grand Canal (this, by the way, is the palazzo in which Robert Browning died. It was owned by his son). If you are into modern art (I’m not) then go to the Guggenheim Collection – a short walk from the Accademia. For me the best thing in the Guggenheim is the restaurant where you can get a light meal. Their house red is superb!




Go back to the Accademia for a moment. As you face the building with your back to the Grand Canal there is a calle going down the right-hand side. Take it and you will come to a small canal. Walk down the canal for a few metres without crossing it and you will see on the other side a rare sight these days: a squero, i.e. a boat yard where gondolas are made and repaired by hand. There are very few squeri left in Venice. The workshop building is made of timber and rather resembles an alpine chalet, even down to the geraniums on the balcony.



The Ghetto is nice, and if you are interested the guided tour of the synagogues is well worth doing (they are all hidden away in incongruous looking buildings and interconnected by hidden passageways). Incidentally, this was the original ghetto: the area formerly being an old iron foundry, the word “ghetto”comes from the Venetian “ghettare” = to throw or to cast (i.e. iron). Just at the entrance to the Ghetto (approaching it from the Cannaregio Canal) is a lovely English bookshop called Old World Books run by an English gentleman of the old school.

For music lovers the museum of baroque musical instruments in Campo San Maurizio is worth seeing (and hearing). A CD of Venetian harpsichord music would make a nice and not expensive souvenir of Venice instead of some of the tourist tat on sale around the Piazzetta. Go to the Murano glass factories only if you have to. There is not much to see and they will try to sell you expensive items which are not necessarily made there. You can see plenty of lovely glass in the shop windows of Venice itself. The islands of Burano and Torcello are worth a visit (perhaps in the afternoon, see above) but they may be crowded. One island not to miss is San Lazzaro which is the home of an Armenian monastery. It is open only for 2 hours each afternoon and the visit is guided by a rather comical monk (or was when I was there). This is where Byron stayed 6 months to learn Armenian: vaporetto no.20 from near St. Mark’s. You could also go island hopping by taking the no.11 bus from the Lido to Pellestrina, a fishing village at the western end of the string of islands that form the southern (sea) approaches to Venice. At one point the bus gets loaded onto a small ferry to pass from one island to the other. If you are into cemeteries, the island of San Michele is just for you. You’ll find the graves of Stravinsky, Dhiagalev (spelling?), Ezra Pound, but you’ll have to look hard for them. If you like scary things, the lovely old Jewish cemetery on the Lido will do the trick.



If the weather turns bad on you there are of course all the art galleries and museums. Something different, if you like classical music, would be a harpsichord recital which they give on a few afternoons a weeks in the Querini-Stampalia gallery in Piazza Santa Maria Formosa.




One of my favourite occupations in Venice is just to wander through the streets (calli). You’ll get lost, but that doesn’t matter. If you ask a Venetian the way, he’ll just say “straight on” anyway, but eventually you’ll come out into some piazza or campo which you recognize, even if it’s not quite the one you expected. On my last visit I spent half a morning browsing in a coin shop looking at old Venetian “ducati”. I ended up buying a tiny silver“soldino” from the time of Doge Dolfin, 1356-1361.



Etcetera: Don’t worry about “acqua alta” (high water). It is usually an autumn/winter phenomenon and, unless it is very high it affects only the St. Mark’s and Rialto areas. If it does happen while you are there do not be tempted to do what a lot of tourists do and take your shoes and socks off for a paddle. Apart from the refuse that tends to float about in the water, there is another problem. For a city with very few green spaces, the Venetians are inordinately fond of dogs. In other words, dog shit abounds and you wouldn’t be the first person to find something nasty and squelchy between your toes. In a very high water a couple of years ago I even saw Japanese tourists swimming in St. Mark’s Square. If after a few days in the city you are missing a bit of greenery take the n°. 13 vaporetto to S. Erasmo. This is the largest island in the lagoon and it is totally agricultural. You can walk through green fields and admire the islanders’ vegetable gardens: their speciality is artichokes. If you want you can hire a bike and do the whole island. There is even an “agriturismo”.



Nightlife: Sorry I can’t help you here. I’m an early-to-bed-with-a-good-book man. But from what I’ve heard it’s not up to much.



Books: For me the best guide book is“Venice for Pleasure” by J.G. Links published by Pallas Athene. It was first written in the 60s and then updated, but seeing the age and immutability of Venice, a guidebook written in the 17th or 18th centuries would do just as well. Links takes you on walks through different areas of the city with lots of detailed history. The pictures in the guidebook are just that, pictures, by Canaletto among others, and definitely not photos of today’s Venice. If you wish to gen up on the history (and it’s well worth doing, your visit will be all the more meaningful), get “History of Venice” by John Julius Norwich. It’s quite hefty but easy to read. I got both books through Amazon. You should read at least a bit of Ruskin: there is a good abridged version of “The Stones of Venice” published by Pallas in 2001. Who abridged it? J.G. Links as above.



Excursions: Again, you can find out all you need to know about the nearest places (Verona, Padua, Treviso etc.) from any guidebook One unusual trip would be to Aquilea. This is a town about

100 kmeast of Venice and is full of Roman ruins. Not only. There is a Romanesque Basilica with an intact Paleo-Christian mosaic floor dating back to the 4th century: the largest known floor of its type in Europe. Really magnificent. Historians say that the very first inhabitants of Venice came from Aquilea to escape invasion by the barbarian hordes in 500 A.D. If you are travelling by public transport get an early start on this one. You take the train from Venice to Cervignano and then bus about 10 km to Aquilea. The bus does not necessarily connect with the arrival of trains (this is an article of Sod’s Law which seems to apply worldwide). However, you can always invest in a cappuccino while you’re waiting.

After a morning in Aquilea, get the same bus and go on another 6 km to Grado. This is a delightful and very civilized seaside resort full of good places to eat.









 





                                                                           



I have included in the above notes only things which I have actually done myself. I shouldn’t like to recommend anything I haven’t tried out first. However, there are many other interesting things to see and do, some of which I hope to cover during my next visit. For example, there is a tour of the secret gardens of Venice, or you could visit Richard Wagner’s apartments in what is now the Casino, go to an opera at La Fenice Opera House, see the museum of fabrics and costumes (think of the Carnival) in the Mocenigo Palace, visit the island of Lazzaretto Novo where sailing ships from the Levant were quarantined before being allowed to dock in Venice (a sort of Venetian Ellis Island).If you are nautically-minded you could take a tour of the islands and wetlands in the northern lagoon in a flat-bottomed wooden boat or a trip up the River Brenta as far as Padova to visit some of the magnificent Palladian villas along the banks of the river. And many, many other things. You will never be bored in Venice.














Comments

  1. Useful recommendations! Venice must be explored by everyone, at least once!

    ReplyDelete

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