A June 2003 trip
to Venice by Invicta73
Quote: Having felt for a long time that Venice really was somewhere that should be visited, I eventually and unexpectedly ended up there four times within a two year period. This was undoubtedly very fortunate, because the city is so amazing that it never stops enchanting.
Meanwhile, although it may now be an expensive and clichéd thing to do, riding through the canals on a gondola is something that would be a real shame to miss. Enjoying the breathtaking views that are seemingly everywhere whilst cruising along at a slow pace in one of the instantly recognisable craft was among the most incredible aspects of my time in the city.
A personal recommendation is to explore one or more of the quieter neighbourhoods, such as Dorsoduro. Taking the time to do such a thing will reveal the usual pleasures associated with being in an Italian city but all in a particularly appealing setting, such as relaxing with a good coffee and watching life unfold on a lovely peaceful square, or sampling cheap but tasty food and drink whilst interacting with the gregarious locals in an unheralded canal side trattoria or bacaro, such as the very decent Cantina di Vini già Schiavi.
However, when the distances involved are shorter, walking is usually a better option. Even though getting lost in the maze of narrow alleyways is admittedly a distinct possibility at times, it is nevertheless very worthwhile because of the very good chance of encountering more everyday but still attractive scenes.
Hotel | "Hotel Europa and Regina"
The lavish establishment occupies some centuries old mansions on the Grand Canal, fairly close to Piazza San Marco. The understated nature of the entrance, which is located on a quaint courtyard, is deceptive because the best way to describe the style of the rich interior would be Venetian palatial. Meanwhile, history has bequeathed not only a profusion of marble in many hues, but also an eccentric and almost maze like layout, which makes for confusion, but also a discreet atmosphere.
It is a large-scale hotel, with almost 200 rooms, although very few of them actually overlook the famous waterway, which seems a shame given the prime position. Each of the chambers is to a certain degree unique, and all feature some fabulous original baroque fittings. It is therefore a real shame that the owners have imposed an uninspired international chain type of décor wherever the opportunity has arisen, which has resulted in the unflattering presence of bland, modern furnishings and paintings.
Thankfully, the facilities are more typical of such a high-quality place to stay, including a very well regarded and high cost gourmet restaurant, and also charming vintage style bar. It is also possible to drink or dine in a small quiet internal garden courtyard, or more spectacularly on a canal side veranda that is directly opposite the striking Church of St Mary of the Salutation. Although neither the food nor the views were as good as at the more famous Danieli's rooftop terrace, being so close to the gently lapping water made the experience more atmospheric. Meanwhile, residents can also make use of the leisure facilities and private beach at Hotel des Bains on the Lido, which are a complimentary boat trip away.
However, to be fair, there is little other generosity on the part of the proprietors, and one complaint is that it felt as though there was a cynical policy of over the top profiteering in operation. One of several examples encountered is the outrageous amount charged for breakfast. Whilst guests might choose to spend extravagantly to eat sumptuous dishes and drink fine wine in opulent surroundings, expecting them to pay quite so much money for a morning meal seems to be unjustifiable, even if the buffet and the locale were both pleasant. Obviously, whilst some may think that a rate of several hundred euros per night is quite enough to ask of people, the management of the Europa and Regina would seem to strongly disagree!
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 9, 2004
The Westin Europa and Regina
SAN MARCO 2159
Venice, Italy 30124
The charming but slightly basic little place to stay is located almost at the intersection of two waterways in a pleasant corner of Dorsoduro. Even though most of the major attractions are conveniently within a fair walking distance, the surrounding area is generally so peaceful that the crowds of Piazza San Marco often feel many miles away.
The common areas of the interior are full of various heirlooms, and there are also some distinctively local touches, such as the mottled marble floors and windows containing circlets of lightly coloured glass. In fact, a resemblance to a domesticated and much less opulent version of the décor experienced in the city's palaces means that it is conceivably how a traditional local home might look. The result of such an aesthetic combined with the genuinely warm nature of the staff is an undeniably cosy and relaxing atmosphere.
Each of the bedrooms is somewhat lacking in the range of modern facilities usually found in more expensive counterparts, such as televisions and air-conditioning, and some are not en-suite. However, all are clean and comfortable, face out onto a canal and feature appealing and mostly vintage furnishings. The overall effect is an unusual amount of character that eludes the better-appointed chain accommodations, and which in my opinion is more than adequate compensation for the aforementioned deficiencies.
A fairly simple but tasty breakfast in a typically nice ground floor dining area is included in the rate, which is already very reasonable by Venetian standards. Starting the day in such a manner is lovely, especially when sitting next to one of the windows that look out to the very close waters. Lunch and dinner are also on offer, and apparently the owners sometimes insist that guests take the offered half-board package, although that did not happen to me. The deal is perhaps good for those people who want to avoid the hassle of finding respectable meals every day, but it is supposedly not the greatest in terms of either food or value, and sampling some of the city's many fine eateries can be a lot of fun.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 9, 2004
+39 41 528 6858
The café opened almost 300 years ago, and has subsequently attracted all kinds of people from local merchants to famously cultured visiting patrons, for example Byron, Rousseau and Stravinsky. Meanwhile, the legendary Casanova was also a regular customer, mainly because at that particular time it was the only such establishment to admit women!
In terms of aesthetics, if not atmosphere, imagining some of the aforementioned past customers on the premises is quite easy because the décor has not changed much since an extensive refurbishment during the 1850s. The interior comprises numerous little rooms, each with a different visual theme, probably the most spectacular of which is that of Illustrious Men, featuring portraits of eminent local citizens, such as Marco Polo and Titian. Common characteristics throughout include ornate lighting, decadent banquettes and marble tables that are almost too small for the silver trays upon which the orders arrive, brought by the seemingly permanently busy waiters. However, my preference is for sitting outside under the arcade, enjoying the views of the usually bustling and always beautiful square, which no amount of decorative elaboration can compete with.
The establishment's undoubted downside is the rather outrageous amounts charged. For instance, any of the numerous types of coffee that are available will cost many more euros there than in a humbler equivalent elsewhere in the city. Anyone not perturbed by such expenses can also enjoy good light lunches, including smoked salmon, carpaccio, or a club sandwich, as well as lush cocktails and fine wine.
Finally, during the summer months musicians often play a mixture of well-known classical and popular pieces on the terrace. The generally extravagant performances, for which an extra fee is charged, are certainly good, but the group that performs almost directly opposite in the rival Caffe Quadri usually entertains me more.
Piazza San Marco
+39 041 5205641
Attraction | "Peggy Guggenheim Collection"
The gallery takes its name from a member of the rich family behind the more famous art museums in New York and Bilbao. The items that she accumulated over the years are still on display in the lovely white single storey villa that was her home for three decades. Apparently a visiting princess once said, "If you would only throw all those awful pictures into the Grand Canal, you would have the most beautiful house in Venice." I am personally very glad that particular piece of advice was ignored!
Most of the bright and crisply decorated rooms in the building exhibit works by Picasso, Kandinsky, Klee, Magritte, Miró and others. The eclectic collection not only represents most of the major schools of the 20th century, but also offers personal insights about Guggenheim's life. For example, she was married to Max Ernst and promoted Jackson Pollock, and art created by both is also on show. Meanwhile, my favourite item is a stunning black and white photographic portrait of her by Man Ray.
In the grounds behind the edifice is the grave of the former resident, alongside those of the beloved pet dogs. Appropriately, the rest of the pleasant garden is full of relatively modern sculptures by the likes of Arp, Giacometti and Moore, making it an intriguing and often surprising spot in which to relax. However, even more eye-catching is Marino Marini's Angel of the Citadel, which proudly shows its erect member to the passing boats from the waterside terrace out front.
Collezione Peggy Guggenheim
Venice, Italy 30123
Attraction | "Church of St George the Greater"
Nevertheless, standing virtually alone in such a prominent position, the edifice rarely fails to attract attention. The German writer Goethe thoroughly approved of it, but John Ruskin was very condemning. As per normal, I find myself in disagreement with the latter, which probably should not be a surprise as the man responsible for the construction, Andrea Palladio, is a personal favourite.
The place of worship is not only attractive and distinctive, but is also important in structural terms, as the design was the first to properly reconcile the classical inspirations of Renaissance architecture with the standard requirements of church design. Work got underway in 1565, and took almost half a century to complete. In fact, the architect was already dead before the building of the gleaming white colonnaded façade started, which has led to some questions about whether it actually follows the original plans. However, that it is striking both from afar and close up is definitely beyond any doubt, which is partially due to clever construction that enhances the visual impact through the use of light and shade.
Meanwhile, the crisp interior is plain by Venetian standards, but that proved very refreshing to me after previously experiencing the excesses of places of worship elsewhere in the city. Massive columns dominate the main area physically, but the main adornment is in the form of religious art, including two eye-catching paintings by Tintoretto that hang on the wall of the high altar.
Finally, it is possible to ascend the tall bell tower by lift for a small fee. The views across the water to the city's most famous attractions really are unparalleled, and make the short boat ride over worthwhile alone.
Church of San Giorgio Maggiore
Island of San Giorgio Maggiore
Venice, Italy 30100
At first glance, the massive brick structure, which dates back to the 14th and 15th centuries, may seem like a rather strange choice. After all, there are plenty of churches in the city that are externally much more attractive than the somewhat elegant but rather plain building. The simplicity is due to the Franciscans, the friars suggested by the name, who preferred austerity to the more usual complexities of Gothic architecture. Structurally, the interior is also short of ostentatious elaborations, although the vast red and white marble floor and the high vaulted ceiling are both noteworthy, and together result in a pleasantly spacious aesthetic.
However, much more extravagant is the superb array of art that is on display inside. In fact, the main reason that my visit proved to be memorable was that the lack of clutter and the peaceful atmosphere meant that it was a wonderful place in which to appreciate the works. Paintings from the likes of Giovanni Bellini adorn the walls, and Donatello's impressive wooden effigy of St John the Baptist is located in a chapel. However, the single most striking piece is the Assumption, produced by Titian in 1518. Hanging above the high altar, it is incredibly bold, both in terms of sheer size and the amazing vibrancy of the colours used, especially the vibrant red.
Given that seeing one of his masterpieces is among the highlights of visiting the edifice, it is perhaps appropriate that the tomb of that giant of the Venetian Renaissance is located there. Antonio Canova received the commission to create a monument to the painter, but died before completing the job, and the massive marble pyramid that he had been working on became his last resting place instead. The Neoclassical sculptor's students then proceeded to build a replacement directly opposite that features a sweeping arc and an array of statues. Although both structures are definitely eye-catching, it comes as no surprise to me that few people seem to like them, as stylistically neither really fits into the overall décor.
Church of St Mary the Glorious of the Friary
Campo dei Frari
Attraction | "St Mark's Basilica"
Construction of the first Venetian place of worship dedicated to the saint occurred shortly after his body had been smuggled out of Alexandria, allegedly hidden in a barrel of port to elude the attentions of the Muslim guards in 828! The current edifice is just over 900 years old, and was the private chapel of the Doges until Napoleon liquidated the republic, after which time it became the city's cathedral.
Although the original Byzantine style still predominates, the eclectic and unique exterior comprising domes, arches, columns and so forth alludes to the long process of modification carried out over a period of seven centuries by the local rulers in order to enhance their prestige. The façade is a magnificent sight from any distance, its full grandeur only becomes apparent when surveying the amazing mosaics overlooking the doorways, something that is easy to do whilst queuing for admittance.
Having been deemed to be appropriately dressed and so gained entry, the gilded designs that decorate the upper portions of the internal walls and also the ceilings quickly show themselves to be even more spectacular. The overall effect of being in the midst of the mostly golden portrayals of religious scenes is almost like standing within the pages of medieval illuminated manuscript. In fact, the glittering spectacle is so overwhelming that missing the other striking sights, including the impressive geometrically patterned and often-undulating floor is a very real possibility, as is forgetting about the surrounding crowds.
There are far too many notable features to describe each individually here, but among the most prominent is a superb stone iconostasis, a huge baptismal font and the attractive high altar, under which is supposedly the final resting place of the apostle's remains. The single most stunning thing is a splendid gold and enamel screen covered with various elaborate images made from thousands of precious stones, which is stored in a separate area at the back of the basilica. Meanwhile, there is also a treasury that is full of chalices, icons, reliquaries, and suchlike, much of which stolen from Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in the early 1200s.
However, the greatest prize taken as plunder from the erstwhile capital of the Eastern Roman Empire is stored in the small museum located in the upstairs gallery. The renowned classical era bronze statue of four strutting horses is the original version of the replica that adorns the outside of the building. Making the ascent is also worthwhile due to the absolutely wonderful views both of the luxuriant interior and the renowned square of the same name that are available.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on March 9, 2004
Saint Mark's Basilica
Piazza San Marco
Venice, Italy 30124
Attraction | "Doge's Palace"
The fabulous and unique building was the centre of power during the Venetian heyday, not only acting as the palace of the Doge, but also as the seat of government. The splendidly ornamented nature of the exterior not only reflects the republic's affluence and power, but combined with the lack of strong fortifications also illustrates just how secure the elite felt from internal strife and invasion.
Externally the structure is easily the finest example of the typically florid version of Gothic architecture, which has a lighter feel than the more usual examples of the style found elsewhere in Europe. The façades of the lower two storeys, which overlook the square and waterfront, feature rows of elegantly proportioned and ornate arches. In addition, a beautifully simple geometric pattern of interwoven white and pink stone covers the upper portions of the walls, further enhancing the already appealing effect.
The elaborately carved 15th century Paper Door is, now as in the glory days of the past, the main entrance to the lovely central courtyard. The Giant's Staircase, with its massive statues of Mars and Neptune, leads up to the distinctively floored galleries that overlook both the enclosed space below and the square outside.
From the first floor terrace, a fixed route through the interior starts with the ascent of an exuberant gilded internal stairway. In general terms, the second storey hosts the former residential quarters, whilst the level above is where the important governmental branches operated, and the décor of both mostly dates from a restoration undertaken during 1500s following a devastating fire. Fortunately, numerous Renaissance heavyweights, such as Carpaccio and Veronese, lived in the vicinity at the time of the disaster, and contributed a wealth of art that cover the walls and even the ceilings of the chambers, forming a magnificent display that overwhelmed my senses, and surely has had the same effect on visitors for several hundred years. There are simply too many rooms to describe in individual detail, but probably the single most amazing is the immense Hall of the Great Council, which previously hosted meetings of up to a couple of thousand patricians, and is still home to Tintoretto's Paradise, one of the largest paintings in the world.
Finally, also of note is the chance to walk through the legendary Bridge of Sighs, which is a certainly interesting experience, although far less scenic than seeing it from the outside. The romantic and evocative name is a later poetic invention based upon the imagined sounds issued by the various reprobates who would had the misfortune to make the short trip across to the prisons.
Doge's Palace/Palazzo Ducale
Piazza San Marco
Venice, Italy 30124
The perhaps now confusingly named schools were actually a distinctively Venetian institution, where lay citizens would gather for charitable, communal and religious reasons. That dedicated to St Roch was one of the most significant, and from the early 16th century onwards it was located in the purpose built structure that is now an especially noteworthy sight.
The edifice’s very fine white marble Renaissance façade illustrates the erstwhile wealth and importance of the organisation to good effect, so much so in fact that the small square that it overlooks seems somewhat overwhelmed. However, even such external grandeur does not provide first time visitors with any real clues to the unique splendour of the interior.
The one man primarily responsible for the magnificent décor is Tintoretto, whose involvement began in 1564, when he beat off tough competition to win an assignment to beautify just one of the smaller chambers. The resulting fruits of his labour were so impressive that more and more work followed, until over two decades later, the whole place had received the wonderfully imaginative attention of the painter.
Thankfully, the various rooms found in the two storeys of the building are still home to the glorious end product of the Renaissance master’s long period of amazing creativity, which occupy an incredible proportion of the walls, separated only by ornate frames and small pieces of elaborate woodcarving. In addition, the ceilings are similarly covered, but thankfully risking neck ache to survey the stunning view overhead is not necessary because large mirrors are available for use. None of the 50 or so depictions of biblical scenes would particularly move me if encountered individually in a more typical museum environment, but I was completely awestruck by the impact of finding them all together in the originally intended context.
Grand School of St Roch
Campo San Rocco
The edifice's intricate pale stone Gothic façade is undoubtedly one of the most attractive that overlooks the Grand Canal, and is easy to admire whilst travelling along that particular stretch of the waterway. When first constructed in the 15th century for the wealthy Contarini family, it was reputedly even more spectacular, due to a liberal external covering of prized materials, most notably gold, hence the name. Several hundred years ago, the fabulous sight would have welcomed important guests as they arrived by boat, and the intention was clearly to impress and overawe.
However, although approaching on a vaporetto is a pleasant substitute, modern day tourists have to walk down a narrow alleyway before entering. Passing through the gate yields splendour in the form of a lovely garden courtyard, which is colourfully paved and home to an appealing array of statues. Ascending an ornate staircase gives access to an interior that has fallen victim to numerous changes made by successive owners that almost verge on vandalism, which sadly means that the wonders of the past are pretty much unimaginable, despite the restoration work carried out by Baron Franchetti after he purchased the place during the late 1800s.
In fact, the most noticeable legacy left by the Italian aristocrat is actually the assembled works of art that are on display in the building, which he eventually left to the state. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the artists represented include most of the usual Venetian suspects, for example Carpaccio and Tintoretto, and there are a couple of particularly eye-catching pieces by Mantegna and Titian respectively. However, to be honest the collection generally does not compare favourably with others in the city.
Instead, the best reason to visit the palace is to enjoy the superb views through the open arched windows on the upper two stories up and down the world's most famous canal, which are to me much more captivating than even the most stunning of the exhibited canvases. Even though major sights such as the Rialto Bridge are out of sight, I spent a very long time watching scenes unfold from such a superb position, and cannot help but think just how lucky the wealthy previous owners were.
House of Gold
Calle della Ca' D'Oro
In many ways, it is the perfect example of a bacaro. Such establishments are a world away from the more famous and glamorous counterparts that are often popular with tourists. Customers nearly always stand at the bar, mainly because the generally basic places do not tend to feature much in the way of tables and chairs. Constantly on offer is the region's wine, which is most usually available by the glass, a measure colourfully known in the local parlance as an ombra, which translates to English as a shadow. Also served are chicheti, which are small and often seafood-based tapas-like snacks, including classics such as are sarde in saor and baccalà mantecata, marinated sardines and dried cod in garlic and olive oil respectively. The latter is particularly popular in the Schiavi, but vegetarians like me will obviously be more interested in the tasty combination of Gorgonzola and Mascarpone on walnut bread.
What makes it stand out in particular is the cosy atmosphere, which is mostly due to the friendly Gastaldi family, the owners for several generations. All through the day and early evening, regular visitors drop in for a drink or some food, accompanied by genial conversation, and newcomers also receive genuine warmth. Meanwhile, on sunny days, the customers forsake the low ceilings and dim lighting of the interior and instead enjoy the canal side location.
Finally, it also doubles as a very good bottle shop. Covering the walls is an immense range of wines and spirits, from local specialities to more exotic items, which is for sale at reasonable prices.
Cantina di Vini già Schiavi
Rio di San Trovaso
The subtle charm of the famous watering hole starts with the tale of its founding. Whilst working in a hotel bar, Giuseppe Cipriani lent a not inconsiderable sum of money to a young regular customer who was down on his luck and needed to settle some large bills before returning home to Boston. Two years later in 1931, the recipient of the loan came back from the United States having experienced an upturn in fortunes, and repaid five times the original amount. The generosity was conditional on barman opening his own establishment, which had to take its name from the American donor, Harry Pickering. The rest, as they say, is history.
From the unusual beginning, it has grown into the best-known drinking venue in the city. The classy vintage décor, which makes much use of polished wood, suggests that little has changed since the days that Humphrey Bogart, Charlie Chaplin, and of course Ernest Hemingway all drank there. However, such grandeur and glamour is not necessarily obvious when joining the mass of tourists that vie for standing room at the bar during the usually busy evenings. The formally dressed members of staff provide a level of service in keeping with the surroundings. Normally in charge is Claudio, a real character with a comfortable and authoritative manner that reveals that he has been working there for time immemorial. The tipple of choice is the Bellini, the archetypal Venetian cocktail, which is made simply from prosecco, the region's sparkling wine, and peach nectar, and is so called because the works of artist Giovanni were being exhibited nearby at the crucial moment. Although available almost everywhere nowadays, normally for a lower price, the quality varies quite a lot, so the surest bet is to pay a little extra and sample the concoction where it was invented.
Although most renowned as somewhere to enjoy a drink, Harry's is one of only two local restaurants that have a Michelin star. Although I cannot personally vouch for the quality of the food, it is reputed to be the most consistently good gourmet fare in the city. That so many people dine there despite the huge cost involved supports such hype, and also means that reservations are essential. The menu consists of high quality local dishes, with an emphasis on seafood, and a full meal is likely to cost over 100 euros. It is possible to dine in the area adjoining the bar, and there is also a room upstairs that has excellent views.
San Marco 1323
Attraction | "Piazza and Piazzetta San Marco"
The best way to approach the much loved spot is from the waterfront, passing the two tall granite columns upon which stand symbols of the city's past and present patron saints, namely a representation of the demoted St Theodore with a vanquished dragon and a massive version of the famous winged lion of St Mark. Having then entered the Piazzetta, the views on either side of the lovely Old Library and even more attractive Doge's Palace respectively are a great introduction to the other wonders that will soon be seen.
Right at the meeting point of the two distinct sections of the open space is the landmark Campanile, which dates back to a faithful reconstruction at the start of the 1900s that followed a dramatic collapse. The panoramas that are available from the top are truly spectacular, but perhaps a little deceptive, because whilst nearly every building is visible, very few canals are. Happily, climbing the long and claustrophobic stairway up what is the tallest structure in the area is not necessary because there is a lift. One piece of advice is to think about the timing of the ascent, as the loud ringing of the bells can be even more overwhelming than the stunning vistas! Also nearby is a much-loved clock tower, but unfortunately throughout the couple of years that my visits spanned, it was under wraps due to major renovations.
Meanwhile, a harmonious contrast to the eclectic exterior of the justifiably world famous St Mark's Basilica is provided by the arcaded Procuratie, which surround the main body of the Piazza on three sides. The northern and southern stretches of the interlinked complex both date back around five hundred years, and house among other things a venerable pair of coffee houses, Caffe Florian and Caffe Quadri. The newer third wing connected the two much later, at the start of the 19th century, but blends in surprisingly seamlessly and completes the scene in fine style. Nowadays, it is home to the Correr Museum, which displays a decent variety of items pertaining to the region's art, crafts and past, including early Renaissance paintings, statues by Canova, and various historical artefacts.
The somewhat daunting crowds have long been an integral feature of what is really the heart of the incredibly popular city. However, appreciating the aesthetic splendour in more relaxed circumstances is both possible and indeed very pleasant at the start of the day, when the whole place is almost deserted. In addition, late at night it is nearly as empty, beautifully lit and incredibly atmospheric.
St. Mark's Square/Piazza San Marco
Venice, Italy 30124
Just like most of the city, the area is steeped in history. During the early 16th century, there was a policy of forcible relocation of the Jews to a small island away from the centre in Cannaregio, which was previously the centre of metalworking activity, and therefore known as the foundry, or ghetto in the local dialect. It was the first time such a thing had occurred anywhere, and as the idea spread to other parts of Europe, so did the now evocative name. Subsequently, anything up to 5,000 people lived in the area, but today very few remain in the once involuntary enclave. However, it retains more than just historical interest or symbolic status, as it is still the heart of the small community.
The impact of the claustrophobic conditions was that a noticeably different aesthetic. Building upwards was the only option, but restrictive legislation meant that the residences could not tower over more mainstream Venetian architecture elsewhere, so the result was distinctive structures with lots of low storeys.
Such qualities are easily discernable today in the main square, which is among the finest and most unusual around, and is also home to things that are not found elsewhere in Venice. An example is a Jewish rest home, one wall of which bears a memorial to the Italian victims of the concentration camps, which is appropriate because the elderly residents were marched away to almost certain death by the Fascists during the 1940s. It was certainly hard to imagine such vile events whilst drinking a coffee on the terrace of the plaza's nice café and watching old people pass the time by sitting on benches and talking, as children kicked a football around nearby, which together made for a homely atmosphere.
Unsurprisingly, some of the most important edifices in the neighbourhood are places of worship. Each of the five is stylistically different from the next, but none is particularly obvious, bearing only small tell tale signs, including a small dome on the roof that marks the position of the internal pulpit.
The lower stories of building that houses the German Synagogue are nowadays also home to the small but worthy collection of religious artefacts exhibited in the Ebracio Museum, from where guided walks start. The informative hour-long tours are not only the best way to see inside a couple of the temples, and also vital to gaining any real understanding of the surroundings.
Campo di Ghetto Nuovo
Attraction | "Rialto"
The most obvious focal point of the area is white marble bridge of the same name, which is the oldest spanning the Grand Canal and an instantly recognisable symbol of the city. I first saw it after rounding a bend on the famous waterway whilst travelling on a Vaporetto. Viewing the robust-looking and classically styled crossing was certainly a moving experience at the time, especially as the familiarity of the sight reinforced the sense of location and excitement. Sadly, such a favourable impression did not last, because although the views from the pinnacle are quite superb, the short walk up to see them is made less than nice by the shabby souvenir shops that now occupy the distinctive terraced buildings and the crowds that invariably throng the footpaths.
Meanwhile, the alleyways that lead towards the equally popular Piazza San Marco are similarly full of both tourists and sellers of tacky goods. Such uninspired items have replaced the valuable commodities and international information that the vicinity was once famous for, which prompted Shakespeare to use the memorable line "Now, what news on the Rialto?" in The Merchant of Venice. However, one equally long serving but humbler type of trader has survived, and they continue to operate in the markets that are found on the opposite bank. Every local foodstuff imaginable can be purchased somewhere in the vibrant open-air emporium, from the renowned produce of the region to the abundant catches of Adriatic fishermen. The rich colours of the fresh fruit and vegetables, the aromas of the recently caught fish, and the banter between the vendors and their potential customers all combine to make what is perhaps the most wonderfully atmospheric Venetian setting that I have had the pleasure to encounter.
On an appealing square right in the middle of the hectic scene is the charming and venerable Byzantine-style Church of St James. It has been unsurprisingly popular with the stallholders for many centuries, and visiting is possible most mornings, which is a worthwhile thing to do because the peaceful and graceful interior is both attractive and a fine contrast to the vibrant chaos outside. Finally, whilst on the same plaza, look out for an unusual statue of a hunchback.
Ponte di Rialto
Venice, Italy 30124
Nessun telefono disp
Attraction | "Dorsoduro"
Undoubtedly, the single most important sight is the Accademia Gallery, which is located close to the unusual wide wooden bridge that it shares a name with. The edifice originally housed a convent and then a school, before becoming the home of the renowned museum. The large collection is undoubtedly impressive, and includes works by renowned Renaissance masters such as Bellini, Carpaccio, Mantegna, Tintoretto, and of course Titian. Meanwhile, anyone who shares my preference for 20th century art should enjoy the nearby Peggy Guggenheim Collection.
Also extremely noteworthy is the Church of St Mary of the Salutation, which towers above the area's numerous and generally fairly small other places of worship, both literally and metaphorically. Built during the late 17th century, the domed structure is a relative newcomer to the venerable Venetian skyline, but the prime canal side location, immense scale and distinctive baroque design combine to make it one of the most prominent landmarks in the city. The incredibly light octagonal interior hosts a typically Venetian array of religious paintings, but the highlight is the high altar, which features a spectacular gold and red icon of the virgin and child.
However, its true charms only become apparent when exploring the quieter parts of the district, away from the aforementioned popular sights. Generally, getting to know a more real, less fabulous side of the city by simply wandering around and passing the time of day with the friendly locals is a great experience. The multitude of peaceful canals, alleys and squares are lined with many examples of some of the finest domestic architecture in the city, which provides an appealing counterpoint to the often over the top splendour found elsewhere. The Rio di San Trovaso is a particularly good place to visit, as it is not only a picturesque waterway, but is also home to an operating gondola workshop. Such places are uncommon these days, and watching the production of the symbolic boats using traditional methods is a fascinating and rare treat. Nearby is the lovely Cantina di Vini già Schiavi, one of Dorsoduro's many places to enjoy a reasonably priced drink or snack in a convivial environment. Finally, strolling along the promenade that faces onto the Giudecca canal is a very nice experience, and also a good excuse to taste what is reputed to be the best ice cream in Venice at Gelateria Nico.
District of Dorsoduro
The name of the island is synonymous with the world famous glass that has been made there since manufacturers were moved from the centre due to fire risks in the late 13th century. As the former hub of an international trading network changed into a major destination, so too the industry has adapted, nowadays providing visitors with instantly recognisable gifts and souvenirs. Whilst it is true that buying the distinctively vibrant and ornate products is easy in the city's inner districts, heading to the source probably yields better prices and selection. Visiting some of the numerous shops and browsing the goods, which vary all the way from cheap and garish to expensive and classy, should be a diverting experience even for those who are not interested in making a purchase, especially as it often possible to see the creation of pieces in progress. One possible way of making the journey out is to take advantage of free boat rides that are offered by many retailers, but going on the vaporetto proved to be a better idea because doing so gave me the time to explore the island at a leisurely pace.
Meanwhile, anyone who wants to view incredibly eye-catching examples of the local craft would be well served by a visit to the Vetrario Museum. It is located in the former palace of a bishop, and exhibits some of the finest pieces ever produced locally, from elaborate baroque and Art Nouveau creations to stunning contemporary works. Although almost everything displayed is magnificent, probably the single most spectacular item is the famous enamelled blue cup that the master artisan Angelo Barovier created several centuries ago.
In addition, there are some other worthwhile things to see that are actually unrelated to the ubiquitous glassware and can make the excursion a fuller experience. For starters, it is possible to wander a short distance off of the beaten track and discover a charming area of pleasant canals and attractive architecture, which is reminiscent of the main part of the city, albeit on a much smaller scale and without the crowds. Of the numerous appealing buildings, the highlight is the Church of Ss Mary and Donato, which really should be the island's primary attraction. It is an excellent 12th-century example of Byzantine architecture that is not only home to some richly colourful floor mosaics and a breathtaking altar painting, but is also a nice sanctuary from both the tourists and pushy salesmen found elsewhere.
Attraction | "Torcello & Burano"
Today, Torcello is a sleepy place where tourists often outnumber the residents, but for several hundred years from the 7th century onwards it was home to a population of up to 20,000. Such a past is certainly hard to imagine whilst wandering down the rustic canal side path leading from the vaporetto stop towards the heart of the old settlement. The overgrown main central square is one of the few places where any indication of former glories is evident. On one side of it are a couple of lovely mansions built during the 1200s that now house an interesting museum of local history. Meanwhile, in the middle of the grassy plaza is a strange rough stone seat known as Attila's Throne. No one is sure about its origins, but folklore states that anyone that sits there will be married within a year!
However, by far its most important structure is the Byzantine-style Cathedral of St Mary of the Assumption, which is among the oldest buildings in the region. Within its coolly lit interior are some amazing venerable mosaics, the most notable of which is that depicting the Virgin and Christ on a striking pure gold background. There are also some interesting external features, such as an excavated ancient baptistery, unusual stone window shutters, and a tower from the top of which a superb view of the surrounding area is available.
Despite being just on the other side of a small stretch of water, Burano is an altogether different proposition, as it is a living and working fishing community, which is made obvious by the sight of the occasional boat being repaired and a decent selection of restaurants serving freshly caught seafood. In addition, the village features many small cottages that are prettily painted in bright shades of blue, green, red and yellow, which are a real contrast to the nearby eroded grandeur and makes visitors feel as though they are in the midst of a scene from a postcard. However, such distinctive decoration was not originally meant purely for its appealing aesthetic effect, but was actually done so that the each individual house could be distinguished from far out to sea. Meanwhile, the island was for a long time a major centre of lace making, an industry that occupied the time of the women whilst their husbands were away working. Nowadays, the shops in the vicinity mostly offer cheap imported goods, but seeing people undertaking the traditional craft is sometimes still possible, and there is even a school that endeavours to keep the skills alive, and also shows some relevant exhibits.
The one factor that may put many potential customers off is the large amount that is charged. There is an official rate, but the initial asking price can often be much more, so haggling is usually a good idea. Meanwhile, anyone who wants a really kitsch time can also hire a serenading singer at extra cost.
Using the similar but larger traghetti that ferry passengers across the Grand Canal is a very cheap substitute, but the trip is short and much more basic. Overall, despite being handy when the nearest bridge is some distance away, standing on board with numerous other passengers for just a few minutes is really nowhere near as enjoyable as the more lavish and expensive alternative.
Having decided on a romantic Venetian break with my wife, the choice of whether to spend the extra money on what would probably be a once in a lifetime experience was not difficult. However, the standard excursion along the city's main waterway did not appeal, as it is often busy and is easy to see when on a vaporetto. Fortunately, whilst in our beloved Dorsoduro district we encountered a local gondolier who was getting ready to go to one of the main stands to find work. He appeared both surprised and happy to discover that our preference was to travel through his home area, and offered us a very reasonable fee. The following hour did not disappoint at all, in fact it was truly magical. Despite a lack of major sights, the almost deserted and predominantly residential canals were more beautiful when viewed from the different vantage point. For much of the time, there was an incredibly peaceful atmosphere, which was infrequently interrupted in a charming manner by a few greetings from acquaintances of our oarsman, as well as the celebratory shouts that seemingly came from all directions when Italy scored during their opening World Cup football match, which was being played at the time. One particular highlight was passing the traditional boat yard where the building of our graceful vessel took place, and watching the craftsmen down tools briefly to engage in some good humoured conversation with their friend and former customer.
The second gondola ride was much less expected and really quite different. It occurred a year later when I was acting as a friend's best man and accompanied the couple to the ceremony in what is perhaps the most wonderfully appropriate vehicle for such an event. Although the route followed was by necessity much busier and perhaps also less evocative, the journey was still extremely memorable, primarily because of the occasion, and the numerous congratulations offered to the bride and groom by both visitors caught up in the sheer romance of the surroundings and the generally family focused Italians, who tend to love weddings.
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