Venice Stories and Tips

Glassware shopping paradise: The island of Murano

Murano's Gramde Canale Photo, Venice, Italy

Take your wallet and your credit card, but most of all take your sense of humour when you visit Murano. The kitschiness of some of the glassware is hysterical and you have to wonder who buys the green hippoes and pink flamingoes on show in some of the galleries. Of course there is fantastic glassware as well, some of it in the million lira range, and the glass museum is astonishing. But most of all is the feel for the beautiful island itself only half an hours journey from Venice. Murano is a self-enclosed world with the pastel buildings, canals and bridges of its larger neighbour. But at the same time wonderfully quiet and relaxing. Here you can shop for glassware,wander the galleries and avoid the crowds in what is probably Venices' most exquisite island.

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.

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