Venice weaves its way into our hearts

Trip Start Jan 01, 2012
Trip End Feb 24, 2012

Flag of Italy  , Veneto,
Friday, February 3, 2012

We spent most of yesterday traveling from our monastic hotel in Assisi, to arrive last night our our "uber" modern Laguna Palace Hotel on the Venetian mainland.  The interior of this hotel is designed to look like the inside of a cruise liner and they've done a pretty good job of it too.  But, I am disappointed that our hotel is on the mainland of Venice, which is very modern, boring and a touch of the ugly side.  We need to be bused into the Venice that we've all dreamed about, which is disappointing.  there's nowhere to go and nowhere to eat other than the hotel or "sushiwok" across the road, so my dreams of strolling around Venice after dinner when we have our free time have been dashed by Trafalgar's "sensible" hotel options.... there, vent over.

But, hotels are just lodgings after all and we did so much more of interest today.  We headed into Venice by private ferry, taking in the sights as we went.  Venice has its mainland, which I ready mentioned, is a non event, but the part of Venice we all dream about is made up of more than 130 islands, most of which are linked together by little pedestrian bridges.  Aside from the mainland, there are only two islands that allow motor vehicles on them, and then, the cars are limited in size, otherwise, to get around the Venetian Islands, one must travel by ferries that connect the islands or on foot, where the islands are connected by little foot bridges.  But even if you're on foot, Venice is very easy to get around.

We were taken for a stroll through the back streets, which is my favourite thing to do, because it really gives you a feel for a place and what it's really like, and not what the tourist industry WANTS you to think it's like.  Venice, without tourists is eerily quiet and peaceful, with the sounds of water gently lapping at the sides of the canals and the weak winter sunlight struggling to find it's way to the ground through the tall ancient buildings towering on either side of streets wide enough for people to walk three abreast at most.

Eventually, we came out to the tourist reality again, which is OK too.  We crossed the next bridge down from the Bridge of Sighs, a very famous, beautiful and yet very sad bridge.  It's an enclosed bridge that used to be crossed by the condemned, to take them to the prison cells once they'd had judgment passed on them in the Doge's Palace, which is directly across the canal from the dungeons and goal.

We next went to a place where beauty in glass is created, at the Murano Glass workshop and showroom.  Here we watched a very skilled glass blower create a vase and a figurine of a horse right before our eyes!  These guys must be a little like Michelangelo, in that they are able to see their creation in the raw materials.  They are true craftsmen.  We visited their showroom next, where some would say we spent some the kids inheritance, but I prefer to think of it as investing in treasures or heirlooms for future generations.

After putting a sizable dent in our finances in Murano Glass, we enjoyed an hour or so of free time (when on tour, free time is treasured time, kinda like recess or lunchtime at school), when we strolled around the beautiful Piazza of San Marco and took in the breathtaking beauty of the facade of St. Mark's Basilica before heading off to the Gondola version of a taxi rank to be moved around the canals by the expert gondoliers who navigate their vessels smoothly and silently through waterways of Venice. 

There were five gondolas in all for our group, so as an added treat, the middle gondola contained a guitarist and an Italian singer to serenade us on our 45 minute voyage.  It was a peaceful form of transport to show us the magic that Venice has to offer. I'm led to believe that Venice is very hot and stinky in the summer months, but we saw none of that today.  It was clean, serene and marrow-freezingly cold.

Alighting the gondola, we went straight into the hard rock Cafe Venice (yes, that's right, so totally what you wouldn't expect to see in Venice) for a deliciously warm, sweet hot chocolate and of course, they had toilets there, so we also took the ever sought after toilet break.  In Italy, you use the rest rooms wherever you eat or drink, otherwise, you have to pay to use the very infrequent public facilities.  We've paid up to a euro (about $1.30) for a wee in a public toilet!  Unheard of in Australia, but very common over here... and, don't even think of telling them you don't have change because they either have change machines, or attendants that guard the doors and give you change!

Next up was a tour around the larger waterways in a flash, James Bond type water taxi to take in some of the sights such as the Rialto Bridge, Markets and cathedrals that sit on the shores of the larger waterways.  Our tour guide, for reasons known only to him, was exceedingly impressed with himself at having secured a ride on a water taxi for us, and continually referred to them as James Bond Taxis, followed by this silly little noise he made whenever he thought he was gave Stuie and I a giggle every time he did it, and we'd put our heads together and do a very quiet mimic... we'll get sprung one of these days, but for now, it's our own private amusement.

Alighting from the water taxi and stepping out of our James Bond persona's, we souvenir shopped some more (because we love everything Venice) and made our way back to a larger chartered private ferry for a trip out to the Island of Burano, famous for it's hand made lace, leaning church tower (there are at least two in Venice), and it's beautiful, bright coloured houses.  We were told that the houses were painted different colours, so the fishermen, as they were making their way back to their village from sea, could see and identify their own houses... a very romantic notion, and I'm not sure how much of it is true, but we choose to believe it because it's a sweet tale.

Landing on the island of Burano was like stepping back in time into a small fishing village, with a town square, a church with yet more ancient frescoes, and beautiful, quaint little village shops selling their hand made lace, sweets and local wines and pastas. 

We had our lunch at a little restaurant on the island.  Stepping inside the restaurant was like stepping into a local art gallery.  The walls were covered with the art work (all for sale) of the local artists and also the many artists that make their pilgrimage to the island each year to paint the enchanting scenes of the many coloured houses calling out to the returning fishermen. 

The food was some of the best we've tasted.  All seafood (so you were stuffed if you didn't eat seafood) we started with a seafood pate type dip, spooned onto crusty Italian bread.  Entree followed (2 dishes), a seafood lasagna & a seafood risotto that was to die for.  Main course/s were fillet of sole, prawns & calamari served with salad.  Dessert was a chocolate tart & coffee, and then the cheeky owners handed out little bottles of Amaretto, an almond liquor they were calling Viagra!  We washed all of this down with a lovely light white wine, served in jugs, so I've no idea what I was drinking! Finally our coffee shot was served with a shot of Grappa to fortify us for our exit back into the freezing cold.

Once they rolled me out of the restaurant, we took a stroll through the square and purchased some of the beautiful hand made lace.  They had handmade lace clothing, table cloths, you name it and it was made of lace and for sale.  You should, at this point have a picture in your head of Stuart, in his sternest voice saying "no more, come on... if you don't come now, I'll go without you", mainly because I was eyeing off tablecloths that cost hundred's of Euro!

The ferry ride back to the mainland was sad, knowing that we were saying farewell to one of the most magically places I've ever visited. When I think of Venice, it'll be a riotous memory of colours and sounds and beauty all around me and a sense that we really should have ditched the tour for the rest of the night and made our own way back to the hotel in ugly mainland Venice, just so we could have had a few more hours in this beautiful place.

Tomorrow we have a fairly big day in store, so we'll need a good night's sleep tonight for the hard slog that's planned for us tomorrow.

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