Saturday, 5 May 2012

La Serenissima: Venice at last

The Rialto bridge
La Serenissima: The local nickname for Venice.  I've wanted to visit for many years and we finally got there this April, as part of a 3-city break.

The Grand Canal
 We arrived by train from Padua - a little the worse for wear after a woman did her best to break my toe on the platform in the scrum to get on the train. The toe was beautifully black for a few days but fortunately that was the extent of the damage, so although it slowed me up (further) it didn't stop me getting round the city - and as we had Vaporetta passes, we could always retire to one of those for a rest if we were tired of slogging along on foot.
We had tried to get a hotel within walking distance of the station and by and large achieved that. although we might have done better with 2 light bags to negotiate the intervening bridges, rather than one larger bag between us. At least I would have felt less guilty as George lugged the bag up and over every bridge.  Although it was on wheels, the uneven pavements weren't ideal for the clearance we had!

Mansion with frescoes
 Once we got settled we headed back to claim our Vaporetta passes and to get started by taking the "number 1" vaporetta down the Grand canal from the station.  Definitely a good way to sample the atmosphere and become orientated. I was lucky that the boat we ended on had a lower window than some, and a free window seat, letting me get some early shots from the boat.
As it was lovely and sunny, we decided to stop on the boat to the end of the line, going all the way to Lido - a good move as the weather closed in and a prolonged shower made the rest of the day a bit damp, to say the least. It was great to get out into the lagoon and get a view of the famous city skyline.
Building in Venice: barge-born concrete mixers (Gritti Palace)
More external art work
 Our hotel was in Campo Sta Margharitta which we discovered was a lively place frequented by students in the evening, but luckily we weren't too disturbed by any late night revels.  There were several nice bars and restaurants and an artisanale ice-cream parlour. What more could anyone want?
Campo Sta Margheritta
One of the other best things we did was to book Doges; Palace tickets for 9am. (OK - I could have got as early as 8:30 am but I thought that was pushing my luck!). I'm an early bird anyway, but we headed out as soon as we were awake, taking the boat to St Marks Square arriving before 8am.  We almost had the place to ourselves and got plenty of opportunity to get some images.  My favourite of these is the sun streaked arcade around the outside of the palace. However I did get a selection of others including the campanile and the Bridge of Sighs without having to use my elbows to obtain shooting space. Apart from the obvious targets there was a lot to capture, including the usual selection of frescoes, mosaics and statues, my favourite being the ones carved to fit around the exterior corner of a building - the Doge's Palace has several.  The palace itself was amazing and full of prime 14 / 15th C art.  My favourite of all the rooms was a map room with enormous terrestrial / celestial globes as big as 2 metres across and frescoes depicting Venice's view of the world, including a map of the south China sea painted "upside down" compared to our normally expected view of the region. The palace reflects the riches of the Venetian empire as well as the power and organisation of the civil administration centred there. Because of our timing we almost had some rooms to ourselves.

Gondola boat-yard
 When we finally emerged it was a bit of a shock. So many people were queueing for St Marks basilica and wandering through the square, it was hard to move - a real change from 8am!
We then spent the rest of the day touring the streets enjoying the nooks and crannies we found as well as all those magnificent buildings and views,  with the odd stop-off for a coffee - or later on the almost obligatory Campari Spritz... when in Italy...!!  Later in the afternoon we took the boat to Murano and wandered through the glass-making area admiring the fantastic art glass work on display - way beyond my budget.

Classic Venetian view from St Marks Sq.
Doge's Palace with Venetian Lion
On Saturday we headed out to the northern lagoon. We had a later start as we had to meet the hotel staff to check out - our hotel was only staffed at limited hours, meaning we couldn't book out in the evening or early morning - the only drawback with an otherwise nice pied-a-terre.  Our big mistake was to try and catch the vaporetta at any stop other than the first - as a result it was crammed, standing room only, and too many people trying to get off at Mazzarbo that the crew got fed up and just left, taking us all on to Burano - not a great distance but annoying all the same. we took the boat out to Torcello immediately, which turned out to be a gem - an oasis of calm in comparison and mostly a wildlife island with a few houses - and the oldest Basilica in Venice- founded in the 7thC and the building largely complete by 11thC.  As usual I was a good rule-abiding person and didn't get the camera out as it was banned (note to self - and other travellers: Get a compact!) so I have no pictures of my own to share.  However I can't recommend this church enough as a highlight of my tour - the walls are decorated with glass mosaics and are the most incredible art works, along with the worked stone and marble tiled mosaic floors - and not at all crowded as other churches in Venice might have been.  So to see what I mean take a look here to get a flavour of the place.

The Campanile in St Mark's square
We then headed to Burano for a walk through it's lace vendors, and very colourful streets. I must admit I found it very attractive and not as busy as the vaporetta had led me to believe.  As we'd headed to the islands. we'd taken a picnic, so we headed across the bridge to Mazzorbo, courtesey of a web recommendation and we sat in the public gardens, beside a vineyard, under the shade of some fruit trees, looking at the small community at the other end of the island - perfect!

Corner statue of (?) Mayans? - St Mark's.

One entrance to the palace
External arcade of Doge's Palace

Torcello - "High Street"

Torcello: Basilica maintenance


Colourful Burano

Burano: the leaning tower

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