A September 2001 trip
to Venice by actonsteve
Quote: Venice has an ethereal quality. A fairytale city that floats on a lagoon dotted with palazzo's, bridges and domes. A city so beautiful that it thought it was the centre of the world. And when you stand in Piazza San Marco and gaze around, you may agree with that claim.
The sound of ancient bells tolling across the streets, the growl of the vaporetto as it bumps into Zattere stop, the slop of the the Adriatic as it washes against the ancient palazzo's, being pitched into the tourist maelstrom of the Riva degli Schiavoni and the sound of classical music being played across Piazza San Marco at night.
This is the most beautiful city in the world. This is Venice.
You cannot but think of purple prose as you wander the bridges and narrow streets of this city. Everything is a feast for the eyes, with the exception of Paris no city in the world is so geared towards sheer aesthetic beauty. You will marvel at the creativity of those who created such a wonder. And each visitor, they may be irritated by the crowds and prices, will fall in love with the place and will certainly come back for more.
As for layout - Venice has the most unique in the world. The streets of Venice are exceptionally small, designed for residents hundreds of years ago, not thousands of tourists - so you will get lost - and need a week at least to see the city properly.
I would also recommend a trip to Murano and the Venice Lido. Venice is a city for quiet contemplation and having thoughts to yourself. With the absence of noise and commotion I found it one of the most relaxing places I have ever visited.
Of course there are the gondolas. It is quite a thrill to see these glide from under a bridge with the gondolier singing for the first time. But in truth they have priced themselves out of the tourist market at £90.00 for a thirty minute ride. The gondoliers always seemed to be waiting around for fares when I saw them, perhaps if they lowered them they would get more takers.
It''s location has to be one of the best in this watery city. As the crow flies it must be 300ft from San Marks Basilica and a short walk to the Rialto and Riva degli Schiavoni. But this being Venice no directions are straight and in reality it will take ten minutes of traversing the canals and narrow streets to reach such locations. The Locanda is situated on a quiet canal. Housed in an ancient medieval building it has stairs leading up to a reception manned by an affable gnome of a man who bids you a hearty "Boungorno!" each morning. The rooms are on three floors with the most luxurious being on the first two. The rooms themselves are reasonably plain with bed, sink, wardrobe, writing desk and a view over the rooftops of Venice. Free breakfast comes with the price and in the dining room each morning there is a chance to tuck into peach juice, rolls, jam and chocolate while chatting with that Swedish family on the next table.
But the real trick is finding it. Being so close to Piazza San Marco means that you can reach it along Calle Guerra and over the bridge to Campo San Maria Formosa. If you take the bridge in southwest corner of the Campo this will take you to the Locanda Silva. But the nearest vaporetto stop is San Zaccaria on the Riva degli Schiavoni and from there you must take a side alley onto Camp San Zaccaria with its baroque church. Then a left over the canal, if you follow this street and turn right there should be a church. At the church turn left across the square and the alley in the northwest corner takes you onto the canal where the Locanda is situated. Complicated? Once you have done it a dozen times you won''t notice it. Of course I can''t guarantee you won''t get lost in those dozen times. But isn''t getting lost what Venice is all about.
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The Locanda Silva - Amidst the maze of Venice
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Restaurant | "Squid, garlic and antipasti- dining in Venice"
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Squid, Garlic and Antipasti Dining
Rio Terra di Colonne
From the first level a set of stairs takes you up to the Doge's apartments. These stairs, the Sala D'Oro, were covered in gilt and reliefs (see photo). The apartments themselves were completely bare and full of befuddled tourists struggling with their audioguides. But the ceilings were impressive, especially the Sala D'Escudo which had frescoes of the Venetian trading empire (I picked out London on one of them...) The audiotape weakly guides you through rooms hung with paintings by Titian and Tintoretto. On one wall was the lion of St Mark taking on the bull of Europe - a pointed reference to the league of Cambrai where the whole of Europe deservedly ganged up on Venice. But the highlight was the Sala de Collegio where the Doge met foreign ambassadors. Veronese did magnificent frescoes and the tour groups tramped across the marble floors. The best part, though, were the views through the windows. Salute could be seen at the entrance to the Grande Canale and the column's of St Mark looked so close they could be touched.Then it was down to the dungeons. To reach them you must cross the famous 'Bridge of Sighs' named after the noise of those crossing it. I think it really should be called the 'Bridge of Implausible Explanations' (It wasn't me guv! It was him! I'm innocent I tell you...innocent!) Which is far more realistic. There is a small museum before you descend with cannon's, cutlasses and flintlocks and a tiny suit of armour for Henry of Navarre. But by that time you have passed through hundreds of rooms and barely glance at the dungeons. A climb back up will take you into the sunlight and courtyard. And standing there gazing up at the Sala di Giganti I found that it was one of those places in the world that keeps in your mind for hours afterwards. It really is a fairytale palace and it came as no surprise to learn when I got home that Venice was Walt Disney's favourite city.
The Musei Correr is linked with a combined ticket with the Palazzo Ducale for about 18,000 lira so you may find yourself visiting it just to get your money's worth. It is situated in the Ala Napoleonica on the western edge of the Piazza where you step through the colonnades to enter western Castello and the route to the Academia. It once served as the offices of the civil servants who ran the Venetian Empire. The entrance is under the Procuraties and up a marble staircase.There was something of the drawing room in this museum which housed the cities bric-a-brac and each gallery is covered in portraits of dour looking Doges. Venice's relationship with the sea was commemorated with models of galleons and watercolours of the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. The maps on the wall were very interesting including an aerial one of Venice in 1500 where I could pick out the passageway which housed my hotel. And a globe from 1688 which showed the world without Argentina, California and Australia.The weapons on display were memorable with plenty of halberds, swords, helms and polearms. And the Libraria Sansorvino was epic with gilt ceiling and parquet floor. But I felt there was something empty about the Musei Correr. I wanted to know how the people lived and what life was like hundreds of years ago and despite the treasures on offer it did not accomplish this. It is in no way as good as the Budapest Historical Musuem or Museum of London. You may see the Musei Correr as it is combined with the Palazzo Ducale, but I would seriously save it for a rainy day.The Campanile (9.00am to 7.00pm, 10,000 lira)You can't say that about the fabulous Campanile. I originally wasn't going to visit it as everytime I passed it the queues were horrendous and it seemed just that little too much of a tourist cliche. But after chatting with other hotel guests I felt I had to visit and I was so glad I did. I chose early morning on my last day when Venice was laced with rain clouds. It is slightly expensive at 10,000 lira but worth every penny.This is the tallest building in Venice and the original one dates back to 1514 when they used to dangle criminals in cages from the summit. In 1901 the whole thing collapsed into a perfect heap and it was rebuilt to include an elevator/lift. At any time day or night the queues for the lift/elevator are horrendous, but stick with it because after you crowd into the elevator and ride to the top the views are sensational. You will have to share them with dozens of others but once you get a clear view you can see as far as the Dolomites a hundred miles away.As you look down to the north is the Piazza, grey in the rain but with red rooftops reaching to the horizon. The view stretched as far as Tronchetto where cruiseliners could be seen in the distance. To the south is the open sea with Salute and the Grande Canale looking ethereal in the mist (see photo). The Molo was impressive from this height with the columns, gondolas and an identical Campanile in Islola Maggiore staring back at us. To the east you can actually see into the courtyard of the Palazzo Ducale, and next door the Eastern domes of the Basilica looked like they were from the 'Arabian Nights'. But all around us were the rooftops of Venice hiding thousands of passageways and canals. We aren't in Italy anymore, we are on a different planet.
Whatever, you think of San Marco - and it provokes some pretty extreme reactions - it is without doubt one of the greatest cathedrals in the world. And your first sight of it, particularly if you enter the Piazza under the Musei Correr, is unforgettable. The mish-mash of styles is stunningly striking - gothic, byzantine and Romanesque and the great domes overlooking it all give it the appearance of an Ottoman mosque. It became my favourite sight in Venice (despite the crowds) and one I returned to on my last day to enjoy all over again. I rather like Mark Twain's description of it - "a vast meditative warty bug out for a walk..."
The version of St Marks you see before you is nearly a thousand years old. While the rest of Europe was struggling out of the dark ages and batting off the Vikings, the Venetians, hidden away in their secret lagoon, were creating this wonder. Like all good Christian churches it had to have a relic and this one had the body of St Mark poached from Alexandria in 828AD. Venice enjoyed collecting loot and those rearing horse statues above the doors are 'the Quadriga' - stolen from the Emperor's box in the Hippodrome in 1202. But it is the sheer profusion of styles which is so striking about San Marco - frescoes, gothic tracing, statues, peaks, balconies, arches, and marble columns. Put lots of film in your camera as you will not be able to take your eyes off it.
You can examine all the fine detail as you queue for entrance. Get there as early as possible, the Basilica opens at 9.30am (free entrance) and there will already be a queue there. As the day wears on the tourists from the cruiseships arrive and the queues stretch the whole way down the Piazzetta. But as you move slowly along you can have a good look at the mosaics above the doors. The best of the lot is the 14th century "Removal of the body of St Mark" which shows the body of St Mark being sneaked past muslim guards in pork barrels. Once through the door you are in the narthex which is the great dark marble entranceway with stairs leading up unto the balcony. The floor is uneven inside the church but the interior is breathtaking. A soaring dark nave overlooked by golden frescoe covered domes, marble columns and gilt ornamentation (see photo).
I was immediately struck how Byzantine it seemed - this is a church of the Old World, where Christianity was orthodox, still in its infancy and centred on Constantinople. Shadows hid the corners and shifting light from the domes didn't quite light the gold ornamentation. As you walk the dark marble echoes underneath you and golden mosaics of the saints stare back at you from numerous vantage points. Highlights include the Rood screen with its brown statues, the side chapels and the sarcophagus of St Mark where the saint was buried.
But the best advice I can give you for visiting the Basilica are the front balconies. As you enter the narthex a set of stone stairs leads up to your right. Paying 3,000 lira enables you to stand on a balcony behind the Quadriga and gaze out over the Piazza and the Molo. When I was there it was so early I had the balcony to myself and could examiner the Quadriga in detail. These are copies, the real ones are inside to prevent weather damage. Take a look, much bigger then I thought they would be and scratched by the elements - they are the crowning glory of the Basilica San Marco.
But it is essentially a very relaxing city and one which I can't wait to return. Venice in early Autumn has a sense of mystery about it. There is a bleak loneliness to the place huddled in it's little lagoon. It was once master of the world and thought it was it's centre. But as you gaze around you at the crumbling palazzo's, the narrow bridges and the ancient churches you can see why. All this beauty makes narcisstic introspection unavoidable.
The 'Aqua Alta' - High Tides of Venice
As I strolled out the exit of the Palazzo Ducale an extraordinary sight met my eyes - Piazza San Marco had flooded. The Adriatic had gurgled up from beneath the flagstones. The sea swished around cafe table legs and tourists climbed onto duckboards whilst queueing for the Campanile (see photo). To get from one side of the Piazza to the other I had to squeeze between hordes of tourists, flocks of pigeons and spreading pools of water. The Molo was even worse; lagoon waters flowed over the edge squeezing everybody between the sea and the Palazzo Ducale (see photo). Souvenir sellars tried to find dry islands for their stalls and gondolas bashed together on their poles.
Between September and April in Venice there is a fair chance that you will encounter the high tides. To Venetians it's just part of living in their city. When high tides occur and they are coupled with winds preventing outflow from the lagoon then the water level rises and the cities lowest points disappear. When this happen everybody resorts to duckboards. You may see them stacked along the Riva and Molo and they are most frequently used at the vaporetto stops.
Everybody has to use the duckboards including the Venetians so certain etiquette is used and woe betide any tourist who breaks it. But really high tides occur in winter and the city can be under water for days. When this happens klaxons sound and everybody reaches for the rubber boots. Still, Aqua Alta is uniquely Venetian and if you get the chance to experience this phenomenon it can be unforgettable.
The Empire of the Tourist
As I was catching my bus back to Marco Polo airport to fly home I realised that I hadn't spoken to a single Venetian. In Rome and Bologna I had spoken to Italians and in both cities had made friends, but in Venice I felt I hadn't spoken to a single native. The Venetians, of course, are outnumbered a hundred to one by the tourists. In fact Venice at times becomes nothing more then a tourist colony with thousands blocking the alleys and canals. The Venetians are here somewhere; but mostly live east of the Piazza in Castello. Once there were 500,000 people living in Venice - now there is only 50,000.
There are however 28 million tourists visiting a year. Your heart cannot but go out to the Venetians for having to deal with this deluge. Granted many are employed in the tourist industry, Venices' great trading empire vanished hundreds of years ago - but the sheer numbers are stunning. I think the problem are the cruiseships (see photo), whilst we were there four were in port disgorging thousands and thousands of tourists. Each of these wanted to see the Basilica, each of these wanted to see the Rialto bridge until the narrow lanes between the two become a crushed gauntlet of angry, confused, impatient tourists. It is no joke to be trapped on a bridge by a group while a guide won't let you pass.
It must drive the Venetians mad. So they have come up with rules for tourists. In the narrow alleys there is lane discipline where tourists must keep to the right and overtaking is on the left. There are no picnics allowed anywhere in the city (I broke this inadvertantly outside Salute)and you must not block others on bridges and allow others to pass. I try to keep to these rules and if you don't the Venetians will let you know you are in the way by telling you off. And let's face it - you can hardly blame them....
All vaporettos, traghettos, gondolas and alleyways lead to Piaza San Marco. When the tourists disembark from the Stazione or their Cruiseships 90% of them sprint for here and click their cameras at Basilica San Marco. It is also the most expensive part of Venice and the famous cafes Quadri and Florians really do charge 'an arm and a leg' for the privilege of drinking their coffee. But it is also the most classy part of Venice - the floor is white marble, the restaurants have purple velvet curtains across their windows and the super-rich disembark from their speedboats on the Molo. But for the simple-daytripper or tourist, the vaporetto #1 or #82 travels from the Ferrovia (train station) along the Grande Canale to San Marco or Valleresso and stops where the hordes disembark. On foot, the Calle Larg 22 Marga enters from the west under the Procuraties and from the north the tourist-swamped Mercerie leads from the north and spills out at the Torre Orological.
The Piazza is immense, the size of two football pitches. Unusually it stretches west and is covered on three sides - the western, southern and northern by the white marble Procuraties. Its eastern end is taken up by the extravagant domes, decorations and mosaics of the Basilica San Marco. On its southern side it opens up with a great piazza leading to the Adriatic - this is the Piazetta and where it hits the lagoon - the Molo. Opposite the Basilica on the corner is the tallest building in Venice - the Campanile. The Piazetta is the route most people traverse to the Piazza. On its eastern side is the incredible Doge's palace where 'La Serenissima' was ruled by its dukes for a thousand years. Before the Molo are two 50 ft granite columns topped by the lion of St Mark and St Theodore who was Venice's first patron saint. Extending from the Molo is the spectacular Riva degli Schiavoni - the opulent waterfront promenade which contains the 'Bridge of Sighs'. You are now in the very heart of tourist Venice and it's almost an impossible choice to decide what to see first.
No doubt you will rush to see Basilica San Marco and join its queues. But at some point it is good just to traverse the Piazza and Molo and just enjoy the spectacle. It is even better at night when the whole place is floodlit and accompanied by classical orchestras. The best place to start, I think, is the western edge of the Piazza, underneath the Musei Correr. The great Procuraties stretch away before you (see photo) and you can enjoy the sight of the hundreds of tourists being led by the nose by tour guides or Japanese visitors squealing when hundreds of pigeons descend on them. The Procuraties (see photo) are renaissance buildings and were where the civil servants ran the Venetian Empire. At the eastern end is Torre Orological, a great clock dating back to 1497 where figures beat out the hours. It was through this clockface (currently under scaffolding) that James Bond ejected Draxs' manservant Chang in "Moonraker". Please don't ask me why I remember such rubbish, I just do...
A visit to the Piazza cannot be a visit without a look at the world-famous cafes - Florian and Quadri. These are the notorious cafes that tourists are always mention costs you $6 for a cup of coffee. But you are not paying for just a pretty view - you are visiting a Venetian historic monument. These cafes have been here for hundreds of years and during the Austrian occupation Quadri, along the north side, catered to occupying troops while patriotic Venetians frequented Florians. At night, the entire Piazza vibrates with classical music when chamber orchestras in each cafe try to outdo each other with Andrew Lloyd Webber numbers dressed in full evening wear. The cry of the violin solo as you wander the colonnades in the evening can be very haunting...
The Lido is a sandspit protecting the lagoon from the Adriatic and at its narrowest point is only 500m wide. Golden beaches line its eastern side and the west has fabulous views towards the city and opulent hotels where people stay for the famous Venice film festival. Byron used to ride his horse along the beaches but it was only in the late nineteen century that it became the most fashionable resort in Italy. It was amongs bathing huts and drawing rooms of this era that Thomas Mann set his masterpiece "Death in Venice" which was made into a film. Dirk Bogarde played Gustav Von Aschenbach the aging composer, whose death scenes on the beach were accompanied by streaking hair dye and the stains of Mahlers ninth sympthony - death, indecision, obcession and voyeurism - they don''t make ''em like that anymore.
To get there is easy and half the fun. Vaporetto #1 stops there when it finishes San Marco and the Grande Canale. A return ticket to the Lido costs 10,000 lira but even quicker is the bus to Piazza Roma which takes about 30 minutes for half the price. You can also reach the Lido from other islands in the lagoon. Vaporetto #12 runs from Burano and #20 comes up from Chioggia. But part of the fun is the vaporetto ride. And on a sunny day the views of a retreating/arriving Venice with its Campaniles and domes is spectacular. The lagoon is onl 1.5 metres deep in places and is lined with wooden buoys to shepherd vessels through its shallows. After a while you may think it is the ultimate lifestyle - travelling everywhere by boat with glittering water and seagulls wheeling overhead.
After disembarking at the Lido stop it might be a good idea to hire a bicycle. There is a healthy Teutonic presence on the sandspit made obvious by the hundreds of bicycles by the vaporetto stop. Across the way is a bicycle hire shop which can let you have one for a couple of hours for about 90,000 lira. The town itself is rather posh and the abode of wealthy Italians and Germans, the main street which leads from the stop to the beach is Via Maria Elisabetta. This sunkissed street is full of gelataria''s, baracho''s, restaurants, newstands and very expensive hotels. The Hotel Pannonia looked like it had stepped out of the pages of an Agatha Christie novel with art deco frescoes in mauve tortoiseshell. The Lido is rather smug in a way that all wealthy European resorts are - but it is irredeemably classy.
At the end of Maria Elisabetta is the famous Beach. A promenade stretches along its length and the actual beach itself is cut off from the road by a tall fence. The best parts of the beach have been snapped up by the luxury hotels where in season non-guests have to pay a fee. The public beaches are at the northern and southern end of the promenade but if you are canny you can sneak into the middle section without paying. The first part of the beach is covered in fin-de-circle bathing huts (see photo) which you have to thread your way through to get to the sea. The sands are golden and when I was there at the end of September the water was too cold for swimming. But a good walk along the shore is mandatory and it is a good place to calm your soul and be alone with the world.
Back on the promenade is the enormous Hotel Salle des Baines setting for "Death in Venice"(see photo) If you can climb its steps to have a look inside where the dining room is beautifully art-deco. The hotel is part of the Sheraton group and is very expensive (up to 1,100,000 lira/www.sheraton.com/desbains) but what do you expect from a hotel which used to house the aristocracy of Europe.
All in all, the Lido is a wonderful place to relax after the rigours of tourist Venice. End of summer Venice has that beautiful bleakness that Thomas Mann captured and is a wonderful place to let stress drop away and enjoy your own thoughts. It maybe the highlight of the holiday.
Every visitor to Venice must make one trip to the islands. Vaporetto #42 leaves from the Riva degli Schiavoni and a return trip costs 10,00 lira. The vessels to Murano are a little faster and more enclosed then the vaporettos which ply the Grande Canale. And it is quite a thrill to whoosh through the seaspray and follow the bollards to the island. The vaporetto stops at San Michell Cemeterio - Venices' burial island - and then ten minutes later pulls up at Colonna on Murano. Like its cousin to the south Murano has a Grande Canale . From the Canale you can catch #12 vaporetto to Burano and #13 to the remote island of San Erasmus.
Murano was Venices' great secret. Part of her source of wealth was the production of glassware of such quality that it was famed all over Europe. After a fire in the city in 1296 the glassblowers were moved to the island and stayed there for life. No glassblower was allowed to leave in case he took his secrets with him. Murano depends heavily on the glassware tourist trade and a walk down its main artery Fondamenta de Vetrai will take in dozens of showrooms. When I pushed my nose against the glass I realised some of the glassware costs millions of lira - you'd keep your elbows to yourself in there wouldn't you?
Tours of the glassware factories were advertised everywhere and each gallery could arrange a visit. Visits are invariably free but often there is pressure to buy something. But the opportunity to witness someone creating glass from sand using just fire and air should not be bypassed.But what I enjoyed about Murano was the sense that real life goes on here. Along the main canal were gelateria's, snack bars and bacari's. Women came out of the church and men bought vegetables from a sellars boat moored on the canal. The town itself is very beautiful with cream coloured buildings set against blue canals and sky - you can see why it was no hardship to live here.
On the corner of Canale Grande di Murano and Canal di Sant Donato is a little Madonna in a wall niche (see photo). This looked wonderfully kitschy made of blue/purple glass and is a wonderful introduction to the Musei Vetrario nearby. Costing 8,000 lira the Musei is a good way to round off Murano and is situated in the old bishop of Torcellos palace (open 10.00am to 5.00pm). The secrets of glassware go back to 1 AD and examples were in the first galleries. Upstairs were some real beauties - green octopi, swirling red bowls and magnificent white glass chandaliers which hovered above a pure glass dinner set created in the shape of a renaissance garden (see photo).
After all that glassware the ride back in the vaporetto is very refreshing. We were overtaken by buzzing speedboats whose wake splashed aboard our vessel. How fabulous it must be to live in Venice and take the speedboat out for lunch. Oh, how the other half live.
"In the Rialto you have rated me about my moneys and my usances. Still I have borne it with a patient shrug; For sufferance is the badge of our tribe: You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, and spit upon my jewish gaberdine.
The Merchant of Venice, Act 1, Scene 3
If Will Shakespeare ventured onto the Rialto Bridge today he would be trampled to death by Polish coach parties. The marble Bridge is smothered in tourists so that you have to fight your way to its parapet for views up and down the Grande Canale. Every visitor to Venice makes his way between the Piazza and the Rialto and the narrow streets around here are a continual street of baffled tourists tempted by the Murano glassware shops and canalside restaurants. You will probably venture here and the real find is across on the San Polo side with its fabulous market where you can leave the tourist kitsch aside and discover where the real Venice shops.
The approaches to the Rialto are probably its best features. It is a stop along the Grande Canale for vaporetto''s #1 and #52 and the view through the forest of mooring posts as you approach is amazing (see photo). On foot you just follow the hordes, yellow signs direct you to it from the Piazza and Lista de Spagna. The Lista di Spagna route has the advantage of travelling the Strada Nuova which is really the High Street of Venice. The locals stop here for a pachito, post office, bank or other the requirements of life. Before the Rialto is the Campo St Bartholemew and south from here is the famous Merceries - probably the most tourist clogged route in the world. To the west is the Rialto - you can''t miss it - just follow your nose past all the plastic gondolas, carnevale masks, postcard vendors and oodles of Murano glassware shops.
I''m probably being unfair. The Rialto has always been heaving with people. In Shakespeare''s time it was famous as a central commodity exchange and was known as ''the bazaar of Europe''. Gold, silver, Italian fabrics, precious stones, spices and dyes from the orient could all be bought here. People had to shove their way past on the bridge just as they have to do today. And once you have climbed the ascent to the middle of the bridge the views up and down the Grande Canale are fantastic. There are about twenty shops actually on the bridge all catering to the tourist trade. And when I wanted to pick up a piece of Murano glassware as a present for those at home this is where I came. The Ruby gallery on the San Polo side is superb and very reasonably priced.
But the real find on the San Polo side is the Pescheria (the fish market). This begins just below the bridge and spreads along the Grande Canale where produce boats draw up to unload. This is really worth a wander, if only to watch the old ladies amble around and squeeze the tomatoes. On show were mushrooms from the Veneto, calamares in fresh ink, catfish and crayfish from the lagoon and grapes so juicy I was tempted to buy. The place was full of bawling stallholders, picky customers and barking dogs. Thank god! A piece of real life amongst all the tourist kitsch.
The native Venetians also use the traghetto''s which cross the Grande Canale here. These are tiny gondola like vessels where people stand and a poled across the canal for 6,000 lira. The natives use them all the time and its is commonplace to see six of them standing in this small boat as it crosses the water. I didn''t try it out as I have a terrible sense of balance, and returned via the tourist rugby scrum on the bridge itself.
Of course the best way to see it if your bank balance cannot afford a gondola (and whose can?)is by vaporetto (water-bus). Single fares cost 6,000 lira and there are fourteen stops along its length which takes 45 minutes to an hour to traverse. So if you are planning a night out in Mestre (as we did) give yourself at least an hour to travel from the Piazza to the Stazione. One good thing is that vaporetto #N runs all night, and the place looks even more extraordinary in the moonlight. Tickets can be bought from bobbing stops. If you are there for more then two days, I think it is worth investing in a three day ticket for 35,000 lira. You may be tempted to just jump on a boat without paying but the conductor will hit you with a 36,000 lira on-the-spot fine if he catches you. In any case, try to bag a seat at the front or the rear of the boat - the views are superb.
Most visitors arrive at the Stazione at the start of the Grande Canale in western Venice. Across the Canale Grande is Piazza Roma - the bus station, also incorporating a huge multi-story car park. From here you can get tickets for the vaporetto, and please make sure you check which direction it is going. When we arrived we caught the #54 which traversed the whole of Doursodouro before hitting San Marco. But words cannot describe a sunny morning in Venice, and when you growl away from the stop and head eastwards along the Grande Canale it is such a thrill. The first bridge is the Ponte Scalzi which crosses near the station and is one of only three bridges which cross the Grande Canale. After that the white marble Palazzo's begin. There are over 150 in the city and fifty lining the Grande Canale alone. And you cannot help but have a pique of jealousy when viewing these - how grand it must be to wake up to this view every morning.
After the Riva di Basio stop you can really get a good view of these Palazzo's. Most are decrepit and ancient with paint peeling, but some were brightly coloured and covered in frescoes. Around the Palazzo Soranzo is a waterfront casino which was only reachable by speedboat (very Ian Fleming..) and crossing our paths are vessels laden with groceries and gondolas bobbing against red-and-white twizzle mooring posts. The best of these Palazzo's is probably the Ca D'Oro (Golden House) which is covered in a separate journal. But as the Canale curves the Rialto bridge comes into sight set against a forest of mooring posts. Around here the gondola trade reaches fever pitch with terrified Japanese tourists crammed into tiny gondoliers being serenaded by a Venetian with an accordion. It's a wonderful free show..
Past the Rialto Bridge the Grande Canale curves again and Palazzo's become even more magnificent. What you have to remember is that these amazing buildings are built on thousands and thousands of wooden piles driven deep into the lagoon mud. In fact, the Grande Canale itself is not deep at only 5m. The last bridge - the Accademmia - comes into sight and Palazzo Contarini is worth a picture with its gold embossed frescoes (see photo). And then finally its a small spurt past the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and past the magnificent church of San Salute and it widens out into the Bacino San Marco and the Piazza.
By this time the vaporetto will have gotten very full with locals and tourists. I've often wondered what the 50,000 locals make of the tourists. Not much I expect, after all, they have the advantage over us with Venice. Sooner or later we catch a plane and fly away - they see this city every day. Lucky things!
But getting there is half the fun and you will be entranced by the walk from the Piazza. The Accaddemia Bridge is one of only three bridges that span the Grande Canale and the views from its heights are sublime. Vaporetto's #1 and #54 stop at the Accademia stop and my advice to you is to go to the gallery about 1.00pm in the afternoon. Every visitor to Venice heads here after the Rialto and Piazza and the crowds can be horrendous. 1.00pm is about the right time to visit as it is when they head off for lunch. But the Accademia is not jus a dry dusty gallery, it is still an art school whose pupils draw inspiration from the watery city around them. And who knows they may throw up another Canaletto or Veronese?
To reach it from the Piazza take the exit under the western colonnades. Ignore Via Valeresso where it heads down to the vaporetto stop and travel along Salizzada San Moise. The big names of fashion line this street - Versace, Gucci, Armani and Valentino and all have shopfronts which glitter and dazzle. At the same time Senegelese street-traders try and catch passers-by with fake designer bags and boots. After the over-the-top church of St Moise, and across the bridge, is the huge stone-paved Campo Santa Maria deli Giglio. This is a good place to get a gelato, and I often used to come here at night when gondoliers plied under the bridges and the whole Campo was lit with gaslamps. After another bridge, antique shops line Calle Spezier before it spills out into the massive Campo San Stefano (see photo).
This square leads to the only bridge across the Grande Canale and is one of the biggest Campo's in the city, an almost perfect medieval piazza. The tourists head for the Accademia bridge only breaking their journey to look at the statue in the centre or eat at one of the restaurants around its side. My big find on the Campo was a fabulous internet cafe on its western side. At 5,000 lira a hour it was an excellent deal.
The wooden bridge itself is in the southern side of the Campo and the views across the bridge have to be seen to be believed, especially to the east and the mouth of the Grande Canale. The Accademia gallery is directly in front of you and at 12,000 lira is one of the best sights in Venice. Due to overcrowding they only allow 300 people in at a time so you may have to queue for an hour to gain entrance.
Inside is superb - the first landing is mainly Byzantine religious icons decorated in gold leaf. Upstairs were Bellini and Carpaccio with 'Presentation of Jesus at the temple' and Veronses' 'Last Supper' which covers an entire wall. Tintoretto had 'St Mark freeing the slaves' but my favourite was Gentiles 'Procession of St Marks' with the Piazza on a huge canvas and the Basilica looking awesome in black and gold. And of course there are the Canaletto's - but the problem with these is that they are competing with the beauty of the real thing outside.
If all this dramatic art is too much for you a trip to the spectacular San Salute church is a must (see photo). You can reach it along the back alleys behind the Accademia and time your visit carefully because it is often shut between 12.00pm and 3.00pm. It is without doubt the most amazing baroque edifice in the city. And every visitor to Venice has seen it from a distance and wants to get up close. It's a good place to bring a slice of pizza, a good bottle of wine, ready to rest those aching limbs on the marble steps and enjoy amazing views of the Grande Canale.
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