A Three-Island Tour

Trip Start Oct 21, 2009
Trip End Jan 12, 2010

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Flag of Italy  , Veneto,
Wednesday, December 2, 2009

12.2.09                  A Three-Island Tour

We were up and out of our room for breakfast a little later than usual today – because, hey, you can do that on an 11-week vacation.  For breakfast, we found a place near Ponte di Rialto called "Mister Sandwich."  Hah.  I bought several yogurts at a grocery store on the way there (Lactobacillus acidophilus is good for my stomach!), so I had the yogurts plus an orange/hazelnut/chocolate biscuit and fresh-squeezed OJ.  Murray enjoyed a salami sandwich and two cappuccinos (he tells me he has yet to have a bad – or even mediocre – cup of coffee or cappuccino in Italy, surprise, surprise).

After breakfast, we attempted – yet again – to call Sydney and talk to Murray's dad, who is recovering from surgery.  We finally got through (hooray!), and we were so happy to talk to Perce, who is recovering and sounds great.

Our plan for today – rather than visit the Dorsoduro, where both the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (modern art) and the famous Gallerie dell’Accademia (Venetian art from the 14th to 18th centuries) are located – was to spend the day “outside” Venice, hitting the nearby islands of Murano, Burano, and Torcello.  So, near our breakfast place, we jumped on the Ponte di Rialto vaparetto to S. Marco, and from there, we took another boat for the roughly 40-minute ride to our first island of the day: Murano.

The people of Venice have been making crystal and glass since at least the 10th century.  A few centuries later, the industries were moved to the island of Murano because of the fire hazard they posed to Venice proper.  At one time, the methods of the crafts were such a well-guarded secret that it was considered treason for any glass-worker to leave the city!  Today, Murano glassmaking is still known throughout the world, and the island still contains numerous glass-making factories (look for the “furnace,” or “furnace” signs) where you can see glass-making and glass-blowing demonstrations.

Murray and I spent a few hours walking around Murano, and I remembered a few things from when I went there with my parents as a kid.  The island has a lot of charm, filled with tiny inner-city canals, great Venetian architecture, and loads of glass shops.  (I was tempted to buy so many different pieces of beautiful glass, but ultimately I refrained myself!)  Many of the shop owners had their little dogs inside their shops with them, so we did quite a bit of dog-petting.  Also on our tour, we popped into a few interesting churches, too, including the Chiesa di San Pietro and the Chiesa di SS Maria e Donato.

The Chiesa di SS Maria e Donato was fascinating (and, we read, a wonderful example of Veneto-Byzantine architecture).  At first dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it was later dedicated to San Donato after his bones were brought here from Cephalonia, along with four bones from a dragon he allegedly slayed!  Those four “dragon bones” still hang above the altar, under a magnificent mosaic of the Virgin Mary, dating back to the 12th century. 

After churching it a little, Murray and I had a great little lunch right on one of the canals.  For primi piattis, I had lasagna while Murray had salmon farfalle.  For secondis, I had grilled chicken and Murray had grilled pork (guess what he had to drink?!).  Yumm-o.  In order to digest our lunch, we did some more walking around Murano, and then later stopped for espresso and hot chocolate before boarding a ferry to our next island, Burano (26 minutes away).  By that time, it was already later afternoon, so when we got to Burano we immediately boarded another vaparetto to Torcello (only a 5-minute ride), as the church we wanted to see in there had an early closing time. 

Torcello was an awesome little place!  It enjoyed a golden age from the mid-7th to 13th centuries, when it was home to more than 20,000 people.  However, rivalries with Venice, along with several malaria epidemics, systematically reduced the island’s population (and its splendor) over the centuries, and today, only about 20 (!) people call it home.  However, with its rich-looking farm fields, overgrown main square, and sparse, scruffy-looking buildings and monuments, Murray and I really fell in love with the understated charm of the place.  (We even saw a glorious old estate with a “for sale” sign on it – a salmon-colored old palazzo, with acres of unused vineyards behind it and numerous cats and chickens running about – and we seriously imagined ourselves, if just for a few minutes, purchasing it…!) 

Walking on a newly-cobblestoned path along Torcello’s main, tiny little canal, Murray and I went directly to the Santa Maria Assunta, another Veneto-Byzantine cathedral.  We were blown away by this place, too!  Founded in the 7th century and rebuilt in the 11th, the Santa Maria Assunta is Venice’s very FIRST cathedral.  From the outside, it is completely unassuming – simply built in chalky brick and containing a small reflecting pool in front.  The interior of the church, however, was something to admire. 

The back wall of the cathedral is flanked by a massive and spectacular mosaic with several panels depicting the Last Judgment.  Moreover, at the dome in the front of the cathedral, an even more magnificent gilded mosaic of the Madonna resides.  Starkly set on a pure gold background, the figure is serene and striking all at once.  (Unfortunately, we couldn’t take photos inside this or any other church on the three islands we visited today.)  It was a very interesting church, perhaps made even more so by its idyllic location on this island.

Before leaving the Santa Maria Assunta, we also stopped in to see the adjacent, tiny Chiesa de Santa Fosca, which houses the body of Saint Fosca.  For such a small space, it also packed a fighting punch in terms of its architecture and artwork.  (Due to restoration work, we couldn’t climb the large bell tower related to both the church and the chapel – although that probably would’ve been just Murray and not me!).  As we were leaving Torcello and returning back to Burano, we saw a gorgeous sunset over all the islands in the area.

I didn’t think anything could top little Torcello, but upon returning to tour Burano, we found we loved it there, too!  Burano is a bright, cheerful fishing village, known for its lace industry (there are gorgeous lace shops everywhere; I did have to refrain myself from buying a few little girls’ dresses, as we don’t yet know if Baby Boo is a girl or a boy…!).  What we really adored about this place, though, was those vibrant colors.  Even though it was getting dark out by the time we walked through the island, still we could admire the shocking rainbow of colors adorning all the different shops and houses that line the island’s streets and canals (if they were this vibrant after sunset – imagine what they must be like in the middle of a sunny day!).  The brightly-colored buildings made for a really unique and spectacular setting. 

While in Burano, we did walk to the Chiesa di San Martino Vescovo, which contained, in its entryway, a large gold statue of Pope John Paul II.  This particular church also was situated on a large piazza of the same name, and we were amazed by the number of schoolchildren that were playing there (a large soccer game was going on, and there were many tiny bicyclists around, etc!).  I thought that if I lived in Burano, that would be a really fun thing to do each evening – head to the piazza and let your kids loose to play with other kids in any number of activities, while you chatted with the rest of the parents on the sidelines.  

After a quick dessert in Burano, we grabbed the ferry for the hour+ ride back to Venice (this time, we discovered on the map that if we got off at the first stop back in Venice, we could walk back to our hotel much more quickly than taking two more vaparettos to get there).  We spent a few hours in our room before grabbing dinner at the local l’osteria, which we really enjoyed.  We had beautiful eggplant and mozzarella croquettes as an appetizer, and for our pasta, we shared a plate of gnochiette (baby gnocchi) in butter and fresh sage.  Divine!  For our main meal, Murray had liver and onions in gravy (double yuck), with polenta, while I had an eggplant, mozzarella, and tomato dish with polenta.  Aside from the spectacular food, the noteworthy event at dinner was Murray’s beer, which was served in a boot!

After dinner, back to our hotel, and sleep... 
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