Venice is probably a city for the rich.
It's glossy lustre is probably best appreciated along the waterfront promenade just south of the Piazza, called the Riva degli Schiavoni, which stretches from the Arsenale to one of the most gorgeous churches in the world - Chiesa San Salute. This is where the empire of the tourist collides with international jetsetters. Where shoppers roll off the vaporetto at Valleresso to visit Gucci, Prada and and Bulgari before having dinner at one of the luxury hotels at the mouth of the Grande Canale.
Venetians themselves are outnumbered a thousand to one by assorted Eurotrash, school groups, daytrippers and cruise passengers who crush everything in their path. But when you stand on the Riva and gaze across to the Isola Maggiore as twilight falls you will understand why it attracts so many millions of visitors.
The Riva degli Schiavoni and the Molo are the true hearts of Venice. The Molo is the part where the Piazzetta hits the Adriatic, and the Riva is the opulent promenade which extends eastwards for half a mile lined with luxury hotels, palazzo's and marble bridges. It gets its name from the Italian word for Slav or slave which were sold on the Riva. This was before Christianity had made proper inroads when the city was first founded. But now it houses the prime real estate in Venice, and the old Palazzo's have been turned into luxury hotels such as the Londra and the Danieli. Their multi-coloured frontage look out onto a white marble promenade only broken by five canals arced over by bridges. To get to the Riva walk south from the Piazza or take vaporetto's #1,#82 along the Grande Canale or #6, #14 and #61/62 which come in from Murano, the Lido or the airport.
The main attraction of the Riva and Molo has to be 'The Bridge of Sigh's' immortalised by a thousand postcards or movies. Having traversed it on a visit to the Palazzo Ducale I was eager to see it from the outside and it arcs over the Rio de Vin canal connecting it to the Palazzo's prisons. I've seen copies (Oxford's replica extends from New College, and Cambridge's over the river Cam) but this is the original and the best.
Unfortunately, it is also first target for the cruiseship passengers who swamp the bridge. Wait until the evening when they all go home and you will have the bridge all to yourself. The experience of watching a singing gondolier pole under the bridge when it is illuminated at night is unforgettable.
From the bridge is a view of the Riva extending half a mile along the curve of Venice to the Giardini Pubblici. An evening walk is mandatory along its length for Venetians and visitors alike as it is buzzing with activity during the day. Restaurants, gelateria's, hotels and statues all line the Riva and it is where cruiseline passengers await their transport back to their ships. Senegalese/Dijbouti hawkers try and sell them fake Gucci bags from rugs as they wait. And on one occasion when we were there a cruiseliner was actually moored at the end of the Riva and lit up in the darkness.
But it is the view from the Riva which really makes it - across a forest of gondola mooring posts (see photo)is the Isola Giogiore Maggiore with its red Campanile and island of Guidecca spreading eastwards. Between this and the entrance to the Grande Canale are thousands of watercraft plying the Bacino San Marco. Maybe not the hundreds of gondolas you see in Canaletto's paintings but still vaporetto's, watertaxi's, gondolas and ferries bobbing between the Isola and the Molo. One dusk one of the cruiseliners was towed past from the Guidecca canal and out to sea. Thousands of flashbulbs erupted from her decks as she was leaving and she was silhouetted against an orange sky - magnificent!
To finish off walk westwards from the Molo. Most tourists head this way, and the promenade is lined with tourist stalls and bobbing gondolas. But the views of Chiesa San Salute across the canal are fabulous. This is where the watertaxis congregate ready to take the rich back to their luxury hotels. The exclusive air is also confirmed by the courtesy speedboats to the Hotel Cipriani and 'Harry's Bar' where the tourist feels obliged to sip an overpriced Bellini. Whatever your budget a walk along this stretch of the Riva near Valleresso vaporetto stop makes you feel like a millionaire without costing you a lira...