With our time in Lucca at an end, our caravan of people and multiple suit cases headed off to Venice. We caught a local train to Prato and then changed for a long distance train to Venice. Because the area around Prato & Florence is surrounded by hills, much of the first 1/2 hour was through a series of long tunnels. The countryside was a bit similar to that which we had seen from the train while travelling south from Munich. It was fascinating to walk out of Venice station right onto a canal.
We caught the water bus around past the port area to San Basilio to meet the ladies from whom we had to pick up the key to our apartments. All we had to do was dodge the dog poo of the way. We have a couple of two bedroom apartments with a little lounge room, shutters on the windows and even a washing machine. We even get to hang our washing on the line outside the window.
Our first night was a bit of a disaster. We had a booking for a gondola ride at 7.30 pm. This would have been difficult to reach from our location anywÃ¤y but we missed the ride by getting lost. We couldn’t get on another ride until 8.30. By this time it was raining and we were very wet & cold. The agent may have booked this location to save us some money but its location is not at all convenient. By the time we came back all the restaurants were closed and we were lucky that Ken had bought some eggs for breakfast on the next morning that we could cook for a very late dinner.
Somehow in the middle of all this travel, Rob & Mary have bought a new house. They have had their eye on one that they have liked for some time. One of their family saw that It was on the market and rather than miss out on it (as they had once before) they were very busy in a series of phone calls and SMS messages, they are now than proud owners of a new home in Cranbourne. Rob had to pick up some papers to sign today that had been faxed to him.
On our first morning in Venice Jill had a bad migraine. It is the first one that she has had for a long time. I think that it was probably bought on by the stress and tiredness from our previous night. She needed to sleep it off so we sent the others on to the walking tour that we had booked while she slept and I caught up with some washing and ironing.
The guys went off on their city walking tour which mostly covered St Mark’s Square which is one of the great city squares of the world. They learned that the square was first created in 800 AD. It is an amazing sight and partly floods on high tide because Venice is slowly sinking. Today, there was up to six inches of water in some of the square and it was interesting to see waiters from the restaurants wearing gumboots as they waited on people dining at their outside tables.
Then they went over to St Marks Cathedral which houses the remains of Mark the Apostle. It had a very elaborate Baroque architectural style. The inside was covered in gold mosaics – much more style than Franco Cotso! Rob thought that this church was equally as spectacular as any of the churches that we had seen in Rome.
Then they went to the Doge’s Palace (the original elected head of Venice). The tour covered the main rooms of the court that governed this area as far back as Marco Polo. A very elaborate set of rooms that contained the Senate, Council Chambers & Court Rooms of the very wealthy Venetian Empire.
Crossing from the court room to the prison, they went over the ‘Bridge of Sighs’ which was a two way bridge over one of the canals. It earned its name from the fact that it had a small window and prisoners would sigh as they obtained their last glimpse of freedom before entering the uncertain world of prison and perhaps their long sentence.
By lunch time, Jill was still sleeping and Rob had SMS’d me to say that they had finished their tour. I decided tn meet them in St Mark’s Square so I caught the water bus around from our stop as St Basilio. We had a quick bite to eat and then a look at the museum which had a fine display of Venetian history. I was surprised to find that Venice was still minting its own coinage as recently as 1967.
Jill texted me to say that she was feeling better so I headed back to our apartment with something for her to eat. Back home, Jill was up & about and when everyone returned we went down to the loca restaurant by the water bus stop.
On our second day we had a tour of three of the outer islands of the lagoon. Our first stop was at Murano, the home of much of the Venetian glass. We visited one factory for a typically quick demonstration of glass blowing and then onto the standard tour of the showroom and shop. There were some splendidly ornate chandeliers but I think that some of the glass that we later saw in a shop in Venice were much better artistic pieces. By this stage I was wondering whether we had signed up for a dud tour, but it improved as it continued.
Our next stop was to the island of Burano which had historically been a center of lace making. Now it seems to be more renowned for its many coloured houses. It has a church with a noticeably leaning tower. We walked around there for the best part of an hour before moving on to a third island that was the original site of the settlement of Venice when the original people moved to the island to avoid the Barbarians who were invading from the north west. All that remains now is a 12th Century basilica and a few houses.
We were back at Venice by lunchtime so that Rob & Mary could pick up some paperwork that had been faxed to them in relation to their new house. St Marks square was still flooding with an exceptionally high tide. In the 1920′s it only flooded on an of 52 days per year. With an increased water level of 23 cm (as a combined result of subsidence & higher tides ) it now floods on an average of 250 days per year.
Jll & I retraced everyone’s steps from the previous day by catching the No 1 bus down the Grand Canal which was probably the most spectacular city street (canal) that I have ever seen. This site of Venice is spectacular. I find it hard to describe as anything other than grand! I saw a couple of wonderful 1700′s paintings in the National Gallery in London that showed the Grand Canal in great detail. Well, it looks just as fantastic in real life.
Here we were travelling down this wonderful thoroughfare on a water bus looking in awe at the sights. There were churches with elaborate marble facades. Three or four story palaces in white or pink marble or otherwise painted a dark musky pink color lined the canal. At high tide water lapped above their boat steps into the ground floors. Some of these entrances may have been built as boat entrances but now that the water level is rising are more likely to be disused living or storage areas. Now and then a garden appears or an entrance gate is covered in purple Wisteria. The water laps against the steps or paving of the piazzas depending on the level of the tide. All the while there were rows of coloured barbershop poles for tying up the boats.
Meanwhile, the canal is busy with boat traffic. Gondolas bobbing along with tourists and weaving their way between other boat traffic. Water buses plodded along between stops on pontoons. Strealined water taxiis cruise along with well dressed people to some destination. Low work boats with a cabin at the back ply up & down carrying their cargo.
Everything here is done by boat – refrigerated ones deliver gelati, the local version of Grollo Bros carry scaffolding and construction materials. Others carry everything from office equipment to garbage. Of course the police boats and ambulances have lights and sirens and travel at high speed on their way to some emergency just like they do on the road. The super market near us obviously gets a daily delivery as each morning a semi trailer on a barge has been backed up to the from door and unloaded by fork lift.
We went back to the little restaurant and bar near our bus stop – across the square, past the church, over the bridge and along the canal past the fruit shop and the glass blower. It was run by a friendly man named Roberto and his dad who was the chef. Over two nights we worked through most of the menu – local delicacies such as an entree of sardine salad, main courses of sea bass, calves liver or risotto with dark black squid ink. On leaving, he offered each of us a liqeur and we had a long conversation around the bar before leaving to walk back to our apartment.
Once again, it was time to pack up for the next part of our journey to our villa in Tuscany. By the time I will send this we will have arrived but more about that in my next message.