Thursday, November 12, 2015

Festa Di San Martino in Venice

For the past few days we've noticed a treat that we haven't seen before in the windows of the local pasticceria, the supermarkets, general food shops etc. The treats are of varying sizes with the same picture on it - horse and rider - and the words San Martino.


Today in the Rio Marin Pasticceria across the canal from our apartment a few women came in and purchased the biscuit/cake which was of course wrapped up beautifully by the shop keeper there. When the shop had emptied we asked about it and what it meant. 

She told us that it was today, in Venice, the Festa Di San Martino and that it was mainly for children. (We had guessed that by the design and components of the treat which included chocolate coins, Lindt chocolate balls, loads of icing etc) she told us about the crowns - and a few hours before we'd seen a large group of children singing with yellow crowns on their head - and she told us about the noise.

What noise.....?

Well it didn't take long before a group of school kids, young, primary school age, came tumbling down the canal, banging and clanging on pots and pans, and singing a song. I filmed them as it was very entertaining, but won't post the actual video here, just a screenshot from it.


We then spent some time researching San Martino and the festival itself. Time Out described it as "Kids armed with mamma’s pots and spoons raise a ruckus around the city, chanting the saint’s praises and demanding trick-or-treat style tokens in return for taking their noise elsewhere. Horse-and-rider shaped San Martino cakes, with coloured icing dotted with silver balls, proliferate in cake shops."

One of the things we discovered today was that many Venetians were pleased to see old traditions get a new life, even if it is with noisy children who will be in a sugar coma at the end of the day after the treat! 

It was educational too for us as we were not familiar with the story of San Martino. Legend says that St Martin met a starving, freezing beggar in Amiens. He cut his cloak into two pieces and gave the beggar the other half, hence his association as the saint for the poor and for charity. When he did this, the sun apparently came out. Now we do love Venice on a blue sky day and these past few days have been foggy and overcast. St Martin, would you mind sending some sunshine our way? That would be wonderful, thanks... 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

We have arrived home to Venice

After a couple of weeks traipsing around Tuscany and Lake Garda we finally came home to Venice on Thursday. Once again we are using Luxrest Venice and we are staying in the same apartment we spent a month in back in 2010. We made our own way to the house on Rio Marin canal this time around as we were on very familiar ground. That said, I did take a wrong turn off the Grand Canal, I'm embarrassed to say, and ended up down a dead-end! But it didn't take long for us to be back in the Venice swing of things, particularly around Santa Croce.


It's been five years since we last stayed in this part of town and I must say there's been a bit of change. Firstly, the graffiti throughout the city is worse. I'm surprised at how much there is. I mean, it's always been there, but now it looks ugly. 

Secondly there are a lot more restaurants (by that I mean everything from an osteria to a ristorante). And a lot more are open in November! It may be because of the Biennale but it's very noticeable. 

Thirdly there is a lot more restoration work going on. We ventured up the Grand Canal today and of course spent some time in Rialto. The entire bridge is under construction! Over the years we've seen the Bridge of Sighs covered up, Salute covered in scaffolding, St Marks itself seems to be an endless round of work, but to see the Rialto Bridge today, well let's just say it left me a little sad. 

But then again, I'm home. Our canal is still beautiful and the pasticceria is still open (very important for a) hot chocolate and b) morning pastries when you feel like a change in your breakfast routine!). 


The local mask maker gave us a very warm welcome (we have been a good client over the last five years) and the wonderful sales person in Fanny's glove shop was so delighted to see us it warmed the cockles of our hearts. In fact, she told us how many years since our last visit. Four. (Too bloody long between visits I say!j The waiter in the restaurant opposite told us that he recognised us and knew we'd been in there before. And it's so nice to have that in a city that millions upon millions of people visit every year, often for only a day or two.


This time we have a two weeks. Plenty of time to start the plan for returning to Venice for a seventh time wouldn't you say? 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

We continue to be drawn to Venice

It's been a while between posts but I'm excited to say I will be shortly in Venice - trip number six is very much on the horizon. We will be staying in the same red house we stayed in nearly five years ago. We lived there for a month then, and it was too short a time! This time it's only a fortnight but I think it will be like coming home.

The best thing about this next holiday? We have no plans again. In fact, we're thinking of cutting out a batch of things to do and draw them from a hat each day! I'm looking forward to taking a few thousand photos, as I always do. I love the canals - whether it's the Grand Canal or small canals away from the hustle and bustle - and I love the ambiance of the place. Each canal has it's own light, it's special colours, it's special meaning. And I hope I capture those in my photos.

I think I will take a tripod again and get out some nights and early mornings. I haven't done sunrise from the Rialto Bridge or Accademia, so I might try that this year.

Just being in Venice will be enough. It's not in the busy tourist times and it's a little colder, many places will be shut, but we don't care. It's our second home. And we love it. x

Monday, January 2, 2012

Spending New Year's Eve in Venice

Three initials say a lot - O.M.G. What an experience spending New Year's Eve in Piazza San Marco.  We didn't spend the whole evening there but did the countdown to the new year and watched the fireworks.  Here's some things you need to know.  
  1. BOOK A RESTAURANT.  Just about every restaurant will be fully booked (with some doing multiple sittings).  We chose one of our favourites - Taverna San Lio between San Marco and Rialto and watched dozens of people come in for dinner only to be told they were fully booked.  Restaurants generally put up their NYE menu a week in advance - most are set menus for 90-100 euros so you need to be prepared for the price hike!  
  2. ALLOW TIME TO GET TO PIAZZA SAN MARCO.  The crowds start increasing around 11pm as everyone makes their way from their restaurant to the Piazza.  The crowds at this point are reasonably well behaved but it's packed, it takes time, and you have to be patient.  We left our restaurant around 11.15pm - normally it would take 5 minutes to be in the square.  We got there 11.45pm.  
  3. BE AWARE FOR THE NYE DRUNKS!  Yes people are already sloshed before the new year commences.  We saw an awful lot of young people (funny saying that considering I'm still in my early 40s) already behaving badly, tantrums, crying, sobbing even!  You don't have room to move in the square comfortably so find the mood of the crowd that suits you. 
  4. BE AWARE OF BROKEN GLASS and CIGARETTES.  There's an awful lot of bottles littered about during the evening, many of them smashed.  Keep your balance and be aware of your surroundings.  You could really hurt yourself.
  5. THE FIREWORKS AREN'T AT MIDNIGHT.  This year they advised on posters they were at 12.15.  The crowd will surge from the Piazza to in front of the Basilica, the Palazzo Ducale, and out on the water.  Be prepared because that's where the fireworks will go off - in San Marco basin there at the front. 
  6. THE FIREWORKS ARE GOOD BUT NOT MIND-BLOWING.  If you're from Sydney (like we are) we are spoilt with our fireworks.  Incredibly.  Off buildings, off barges in the harbour, off the Bridge of course, but not in Venice.  Don't be disappointed.  Just enjoy.  It's pretty special being in the Piazza and experiencing NY there.  
  7. BE PREPARED FOR SOME SCARY CROWD MOMENTS.  When it's over, it gets frightening.  The crowd surges, like a football crowd.  Let's just say you can see how people are trampled to death.  We would encourage NOT to take small children, prams, animals etc into the vicinity, or if you do, sit it out somewhere away from the movement and let the crowd disperse.  We saw some horrendous things last night with families trying to protect young children and people practically falling into prams.  The paramedics cannot get to you quickly.  You can't move.  It's hard to breathe.  And you are pushed about in ways you never thought imaginable.  If we'd known how scary it would be, we would have planned better - but once you are caught in the crowd, you have to go with it. 
  8. IF YOU ARE STAYING IN THE SAN MARCO AREA, BE PREPARED NOT TO SLEEP WELL!  Our apartment was less than a minute from the square.  We had drunks singing under our windows throughout the early hours. (We'll never again hear Meatloaf's I will do anything for love (but I won't do that) ever again without thinking of the drunk who sang it at the top of his voice while on the bridge below our apartment!!!)  We endured loads of cheering, loud conversations, whistles, smashing of bottles etc. for many hours.  The music in the piazza eventually died down, it was really just the crowds coming home that create the noise.
At the end of the day, enjoy the evening but be prepared for the behaviour of the crowd, particularly if travelling with small children, elderly, and animals.  In fact, I would seriously reconsider bringing babies and prams to the event unless you can sit tight for quite a while after the fireworks display has ended.  Play it safe, and have some fun, but be aware of the pitfalls and plan your evening accordingly....

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Night photography in Venice

I love taking photos.  Most people I know would consider me an addict.  I can't help myself - I see beauty and composition in so many things.

Venice is a photographer's heaven.  No one can take a bad photo here.  All you have to do is head in front of San Marco and take the gondolas in front of you with San Giorgio Maggiore in the background.  It's the postcard shot and I have several of them on my Flickr photostream.  Go down a canal.  Catch a gondola going under a bridge.  Look for the beautiful reflections in the water.  And for my personal favourite, go to the middle of the Accademia bridge and look across to Salute.  That's probably my favourite view in all the world.  Glorious - whether it's a sunny day or a foggy day, the grand old dame at the mouth of the Grand Canal is wonderful.  Time it just right with a vaporetto or gondola going by, and bang, another postcard shot!

These past two visits to Venice I've bought my tripod along for the ride.  I don't have a really fancy camera - it's a digital SLR, Sony A350.  I love it, it does the job nicely, and I have a few lenses I take with me when I travel.  I'm not an experienced night photographer by any means but it really is lovely to "have a go" and get out there into the piazzas, along the bridges, when the sun goes down.  The only thing I've noticed about Venice, particularly in off season which is when we travel here, is the lack of buildings being lit up at night.  I'm used to Sydney where all the sites are proudly and magestically lit up but I remember on my last trip to Venice being disappointed Salute wasn't glowing at night, there was small light, but nothing to show off her beauty.

So a tripod is what you need.  I play with various settings on the camera and just enjoy the experience but last night, in FREEZING weather, I went to Piazza San Marco (around the corner from our apartment) and IN THE RAIN took dozens and dozens of photos.  The rain - particularly at night - produces such wonderfully creative reflections.  The light from buildings casts such a glow on the water, it really is a lot of fun.  Mind you, I didn't like the cold or the rain, but here's a few from last night:






If you can pack one, bring a tripod to Venice.  And head off one night to your favourite campo, bridge, canal, and see what magic can happen.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Burano - it's all about the colour

We've had a gorgeous time here in Venice.  Because we had no plans, no itinerary, for this holiday we've pretty much relaxed and walked around our favourite parts of this glorious city.

On the 27th we went out to Burano again.  It was one of the things we wanted to do but it was dependent on the weather.  And what stunning winter weather we've had.  Days and days of sunshine.  It's been wonderful.  So we woke up on a beautiful day and walked the back streets from San Marco down to Fondamenta Nuove.  Since our visit to Burano last year, the vaporetto number had changed - it's no longer the LN, it's the 12.  There are also several vaporetto points at Fondamenta Nuove to get out to Murano, Burano, various islands, the airport, the cemetery etc so check the boards carefully and make your way to the right departure point.  There is 100 metres between them so if you have bags, leave enough time as there are bridges (and steps) between them.

The trip to Burano still takes around 40 minutes.  This time we got off at Mazzorbo and walked around the island.  One of the canals was undergoing major work so we just walked around it.  There was a detour in place as once we got to the other end near the church (Santa Caterina)  it was a dead end. We found the church relatively small and plain, so it was a quick visit.  I had read about a byzantine church on the island so I was a little disappointed, having equated byzantine with golden mosaics!  Or more to the point, my love of the church at Torcello - a highlight on any trip to Venice.

We then strolled alongside the path to the cemetery.  It was an incredibly beautiful blue sky day - not a cloud to be seen.  We had Burano to our right and it was lovely.


We then walked across the bridge to Burano.  Burano is one of the most colourful places you can visit.  Make sure your camera is charged and you have plenty of space on your memory cards!  Every corner is a delight.  The colours are vivid and the reflections they produce in the canals are absolutely stunning.  It really is a photographer's paradise.  Whether you are a professional or a hobbyist, you can't take a bad photo in Burano.

Here are just some of my favourites from the day however you can also view my Flickr album here.

Burano


Gorgeous gorgeous reflections

This year we didn't treat ourselves to a fabulous seafood meal at Trattoria al Gatto Nero, but went to Trattoria Al Raspo de Ua near the piazza.  We took the recommendation from our Lonely Planet guide and I must say I was a bit surprised it was there.  Bit touristy - not helped by a few tourist groups in the restaurant - and food average.  Nevertheless it did the job and there was a clean toilet there (even though we purchase our weekly vaporetto tickets with the public toilet passes, it's always good to have back-up plans!)

Once we had lunch, done some shopping, and looked at the church - Chiesa di San Martino - the one with the lopsided bell-tower/steeple - we stopped for a hot chocolate and a pastry.  I wouldn't recommend the former, it was one of the worst hot chocolates we'd ever had, but the pastry was fine.  We then caught the vaporetto back to Venice and spent hours in our apartment checking out the photos we took while in Burano.  Just gorgeous.  It's not about the food or the drink, it's all about the colours.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas time in Venice

Christmas Day in Venice
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day have now passed, and we've had a lovely time here in Venice.  The weather has been glorious - sunny wintery days, crystal blue skies, most unexpected...Tour groups appear from time to time and every third person has a camera strung around their neck, but it's not busy and it's very easy to get around the laneways, bridges etc.

St Mark's, late afternoon, Christmas Day

As it's Christmas time, we asked people we know here in Venice about church services at St Mark's for Christmas Eve and searched the web as well.  We got very different information.  In the end we went straight to the Basilica's own website and they noted mass this year was at 11.30pm.  (Last year it was 10.30pm due to Acqua Alta so it pays to check times directly).  We left the apartment around 10.15pm and we're literally a 30 second walk to the church (!) - would you believe the queue to the side entrance was already near the main entrance?!  Needless to say we stood out there in zero degrees for about 45 minutes before the doors were opened.  We talked to a lovely couple, originally from Australia, now living in London and that managed to pass the time away.

By the time the side doors opened, the queue was well past the Palazzo Ducale!  Of course there will always be people who don't queue up and we noticed several people join us as we started to move.  Very rude but what can you do?  Likewise when we got our seat in the church.

When you visit Basilica di San Marco you cannot take photos inside the church.  Yet dozens and dozens of people took cameras and recorders into the church for the service.  To me it is one of the most extraordinary churches in the world.  Those byzantine mosaics are just glorious and it's an absolute wonder to behold, but if you are going to church, you don't take a camera yet flashes went off everywhere for quite some time.  I must say, I was surprised it wasn't "policed", there weren't any obvious signs reminding people not to take photos, nor were any announcements made over the loud speakers.  Of course, I ached for my own camera, but soaked up the mosaics all around me in a totally different way.

Just a note for those planning to attend a Christmas service at St Mark's - hundreds of people left their run to the church late and when they came in realised there was no seating - standing room only.  Again a few people here and there just barged in and tried to take prime viewing spots, blocking the view of those that had patiently queued.  We were lucky - we had good seats.  They were cold but it wasn't nearly as cold in the church as I had expected (then again, I was wearing a number of layers of clothing!).

There were booklets on everyone's seats, translated into 4 languages - French, English, German, Italian.  You could follow it but about 80 minutes into the service, no one could find where we were up to and as it was all in Italian by this stage, you were kind of lost if you spoke English.  We ended up leaving at 1pm but it was an amazing experience.  The choir, the chants, the spectacle, the history, it was quite something to be a part of.   Just remember, if you want to go to St Mark's for Christmas, QUEUE early!

Ristorante Cantinone Storico


For Christmas lunch we went to Ristorante Cantinone Storico over the Accademia Bridge in Dorsoduro.  We had booked prior to coming to Venice.  It was a set menu for 70 euros - six courses, wine, water, coffee etc - and wonderful hospitality.  The owner there made sure we were very comfortable and told us everyone else in the restaurant was Venetian - so we were among locals on Christmas Day.  We spent three hours there, enjoying the meal and the day, and strolled back to the apartment as the sun was setting across the lagoon.  Just beautiful.

One thing to note about Christmas Day in Venice - church bells go ALL DAY!  We're so close to the Basilica, so we're hearing them loud and clear.  Mind you, we do love hearing the church bells ring out through this wonderful city, but let's hope they ring out less often in the days ahead!

Speaking of which, for Boxing Day we'll try and head off to Frari for a 4pm concert.  Just another glorious thing to do around this time of the year in Venezia.