Tuesday, October 06, 2015


Up until now, the closest I'd ever gotten to Venice -- or to Italy, for that matter -- was the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas with the fake canals and gondolas. The real Venice is much better.

We arrived from London at about noon on Saturday, and were met at arrivals by Cia-cia, who would be our shepherd at various times throughout our stay in Venice. Cia-cia is a retired river taxi driver, who is a great friend of the parents of one of Roger's students. He picked us up at the airport in his friend's water taxi and dropped us off at the Arsenale vaporetto stop, where we were met by the young woman who showed us to the flat that Roger had rented for our stay. It was a 2-minute walk to the flat in Calle de Pestrin, in Castello and very near the venues for the Biennale where we planned to spend a lot of time looking at art (weird, edgy, inexplicable, all of the above). Anyway, Cia-cia will return in this story and will be a central figure in our Venetian experience.

So, on Saturday afternoon, we mooched around the Arsenale venue of the Biennale. Some of the art was cool, but a lot of it seemed pretty pretentious and selfindulgent. I was just happy to actually be inside the Arsenale and see the architecture of the place, which is normally inaccessible except during the Biennale. This is where, for centuries, the great ships of the Venetian navy were made by incredible craftsmen.  At its peak time of operation, there were 16,000 skilled craftsmen working in the Arsenale, turning out a boat a week.

I really wanted to see the Jewish Ghetto more than almost anything in Venice, so that was our destination for Sunday morning.  First, we bought 2-day vaporetto tickets and headed up the Grand Canal. A short walk took us into the ghetto, where we saw the 6-storey houses (because the area was so confined, there was no where to go but up, and even then families had to sleep in shifts for lack of room) and the oldest pawn broker shop in Europe (or the world, I forget which). The pawn broker was Banko Rosso, which issued red receipts for goods, hence the term "in the red."

From there, we wandered along various canals which were blissfully devoid of tourists until we reached Fondamenta Nove vaporetto stop, where we got the water bus to San Pietro and then walked down to the Giardini venue of the Biennale. More weird, edgy, inexplicable art, but a few things were incredibly cool. Stay tuned for photo evidence, which will eventually turn up on my Ipernity photo site. Just as we were leaving at around 6 pm, we got caught in a torrential downpour, which turned out to be the only truly crap weather we had. We waited out the worst of it back at the flat, where I used the hairdryer to dry off my only pair of slacks, until the rain let up and we wandered out for dinner, finding a lovely trattoria near the flat.

Monday was our day on Cia-cia's speed boat, being shown around wherever we wanted to go, all as a treat from Roger's student's parents. Cia-cia and his co-pilot Tony met us at 10 at the dock by San Giorgio Maggiore. We boated from there to Murano, where Roger and I got out to visit a glass foundry and to mooch around the island for a little bit. The next stop was Torcello, where we saw an amazing Byzantine church with a huge mosaic depicting the last judgment. Then, on to Mazzororbo for an incredible three-course al fresco lunch -- sardines, risotto, sole, eel, lots of prosecco, dessert and espresso. Roger and I staggered from there over a bridge to Burano, were we gawped at the multi-colored houses and then met the boat for the ride back to San Giorgio.

I can't believe that we had room for more food after that lunch, but we did venture out in the evening to a great place for pizza. We had enough strength to stop in St Mark's Square for a bit before our exhausted, sated bodies fell into our beds beds back at the flat. During the night, I was attacked by mosquitoes and woke up with blood blotches, but thankfully no hangover.

Today -- our last day -- Roger and I each went out early to explore on our own for a bit. I wanted to find the spiral staircase at Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo. I reckon I hadn't walked five minutes from the flat before making a wrong turn. Instead of going west, I found myself at the magnificent entrance to the Arsenale, which was east of where I started. A happy mistake, for sure, because I got to see the lions that guard the entry.  Somehow, I made my way back westward, finding the church of San Zaccaria (I didn't go in because early mass was going on) and then to St Mark's Square, where I found Roger. We worked our way in the direction of Palazzo Contarini, but Roger decided to head back on his own, perhaps not trusting my ability to find it or just how cool it would be to see. I zigged and zagged, found some signs, and then found the Palazzo as the rain started to fall. But I got my photo op and the satisfaction of mission accomplished.

Cia-cia then picked us up in the water taxi at the Arsenale vaporetto stop and delivered us to the airport in plenty of time for the return flight to London. Did I see all that there was to seen in Venice? No, not by a long shot. But I saw some of the iconic places, wandered off into places where few tourist venture, and had a great time. I will return.

250 euros, including lodging, meals, Biennale, vaporetto 2 day ticket, etc.
About £44 for Gatwick Express for Roger and me
£32.10 for 7-day travel card on my Oyster card when we got back to Victoria Station today
Saturday -- 19,731 steps, 8.18 miles
Sunday -- 22,110 steps, 9.11 miles
Monday -- 20,225 steps, 8.33 miles
Tuesday -- 14,645 steps, 6.13 miles

1 comment:

  1. Sounds excellent. Hope your back is holding up after all those many many steps. Looking forward to seeing pic of Cha Cha although perhaps better just to imagine!