Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Venice - It's called La Serenissima, "the most serene,"

The Grand Canal

After breakfast, we had one last walk around the Duomo area before departing from Florence. The train ride took three hours to Venice (ah, Venice) and it was pleasant and comfortable.
Basilica di S Maria della Salute from Grand Canal

Venice is one of those cities that everyone knows of, but it’s definitely one of those ones that you just have to go to and absorb for yourself. No matter how many times you've seen it in movies or on TV, the real thing is more dreamlike than you could ever imagine.If arriving in Venice by train this bridge over the Grand Canal is probably the first one you see, Ponte degli Scalzi.

The Firehouse ( no trucks here, only fire boats)

I don’t understand how the place still exists, to be honest. The buildings are hundreds of years old, jammed in cheek to cheek, with brick and plaster walls bowed, cracked and eroded. And yet just inside the crumbling facades and weathered window shutters are marble interiors and double glazed windows. And of course, half of these buildings are standing with their feet permanently wet in the canals. As you round another tiny laneway, it opens up to a square with yet another beautiful old church, most in astounding condition, and built on such an enormous scale for such a cramped city.

Venice is the place to get lost in. Deliberately. There is a main tourist strip located around St Mark’s square, where you can drown yourself in Gucci and Prada and any other designer label you can care to mention. Yet venture off in any other direction, and you’re soon immersed in the equivalent of (inner city) suburbia. This is where the real heart of Venice is to be found, with small alleyways and locals going about their business. Today, only about 60,000 people reside in the historic center (compared to an estimated 180,000 in the heyday of the Venetian Republic)

St. Mark's Square

Across the smaller canals, there are lots of bridges of all shapes and sizes and age. Each one began and ended with a tiny alleyway between buildings, but to someone at sometime, it must have made perfect sense to build one there, and not one laneway in another direction that may have been more open and inviting. Must have provided a shorter path to Mamma’s house. Across the Grand canal, however, there are only three bridges. If you want to cross anywhere else, you can take a ferry across, as they zigzag from bank to bank, just to add to the confusion. Alternatively, for 50 euro you can stand up in a Traghetto, which is an even longer than usual gondola. Ten or twelve people all standing up in a long thin boat bobbing across the water; a certain recipe for disaster, but it works.

The Vaporretto, or water buses, are a great way to get around. We got a 2-day pass so we could get on and off as many times as we wanted. Pretty much everything is delivered by boat……tourists, laundry, food, supplies of all kinds with garbage boats hauling off the refuse.

In Venice as with all cities in Italy, window boxes of flowers (real flowers) are everywhere. Usually geraniums. Flying like flags everywhere else is drying laundry.
Also everywhere are places to eat. They range from ‘bars’ (not the alcohol purveyors that they are here) to trattoria to osteria to ristorantes. And, of course, pasticcierias for pastry and gelaterias for ice cream.

The grand churches that consigned work from the most prestigious artists of the time are more magnificent than most museums around the world.
A tradition unique to Venice is a pub crawl (giro d'ombra). Venice's residential back streets hide plenty of characteristic pubs (baccari) with countless trays of interesting hors d’oevres (cicchetti) and blackboards listing the wines that are uncorked and served by the glass. Cicchetti bars have a social stand-up zone or a few tables tables. They’re similar to Spanish tapas. In some of the more popular places, the local crowds happily spill out into the street. While you can order a plate, Venetians prefer going one-by-one...sipping their wine and trying this...then give me one of those…and so on. This was right up our alley. We went from one place to another sampled a few things and a glass of ombra rosso and then moved on to discover another place. A small glass of house red (ombra rosso) was €1 per glass in some of these places, and I didn't have one bad tasting wine!!! There were literally 30-50 of these Cicchetti bars each unique with different food and different atmospheres, some were part of a larger trattorias or osterias. We got to meet alot of different people this way.


Anonymous said...

It's too bad in a way that Venice feels more like a museum, or a tourist trap, than a living city - but if you can get away to the side canals and the pedestrian areas in the centers, that are quieter and inhabited by real Venetians, there you get a feel for the real city. It is a magnificent city by any measure - I've only been there once but vividly remember it.

Stephanie said...

My daughter had the opportunity to visit Venice at Christmas time with several 'native' friends. She loved it and expressed the same thing about getting off the beaten tourist path best showed the real charm of the city.

What an excellent trip you had!! You have the wheels in my head turning!

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