Friday, December 3, 2010

Acqua Alta in Venice

There are certain sacrifices you make when travelling to Venice in November and December.  For us, we don't have a problem with the weather (cold and rain) if it means less tourists and easier access to site-seeing with a minimum of hustle and bustle.  And seeing we are here in late autumn and the beginning of winter, it also means Acqua Alta time.

Doge's Palace

Before we came to Venice we knew our apartment was in an area prone to flooding.  We knew there would be a flood barrier at the front door and we were told to leave it on at all times.  The downside is that we have to jump over it every day but the upside is the place doesn't flood!

For the past three weeks, we've only had a little bit of water to contend with.  We hear the sirens (often in the early hours of the morning) and then listen out for the rising tones.  When we first arrived the tones were level, usually repeated four to five times.  In the earlier part of the trip, we thought the number of times it was repeated was indicative of flooding levels.  Until we heard the rising tones.  We've had a couple of two tones, but this morning at 5.15am the siren went off and there were four tones, which I believe is the maximum.  Yep, it was going to be a biggie today!

We're based in Rio Marin canal in San Croce. Even when we hear two tones, the water levels outside our apartment aren't too bad. The water is above the canal for a while and then subsides. By the time we leave for the day, a good pair of boots or walking shoes is sufficient to get around.

Until today. Unfortunately I haven't been able to acquire a good pair of gum boots or "wellies" due to my enormous calves! (The less I say on that one the better!) I tried on a few when we first got here - but we feared they would cut off my circulation! And then when we realised we didn't have to worry about the tides that much, we stopped looking. When we hear the sirens and the tones, we simply work out the areas least affected by flooding and go there.

A little acqua alta to start your day

But this morning, after the four tones, we knew it was going to be a different day. You could hear the SLOSHING noises very loudly and it was soo unique. Slosh Slosh Slosh. Those with high gumboots or the waders are still getting around. Mind you, I had to laugh when I saw children being carried. Oh and dogs. The poor little things would drown at the current water levels. So they are being carried around. Looks very sweet.

Acqua Alta

I'm just glad we aren't leaving Venice this morning. The thought of carrying our bags instead of rolling them across the sidewalks (see earlier blog post on "the sounds of Venice"!!!) filled us with dread.  Afterall we've done A LOT of shopping!  Luckily for me, most of it consists of light weight presents - jewellery, scarves, CDs, pens etc.  Oh, drats, forgot the books.  There's one or two of them.  Oh, and the painting we picked up.  Hmmm.  Needless to say we are praying it's not Acqua Alta when it's our turn to leave!  Praying. Hard!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Weekdays in Venice

Ah, the weekend is over and we all breathe a sigh of relief.  Bucketloads of tourists have left Venice, returning home or moving onto the next point of call on their holiday.  Mind you, there are still plenty of tourists here, even in the "off-season".  But nothing like the weekend onslaught.

We actually caught "peak-hour" on the vaporetto yesterday afternoon.  Soo many people crammed into the number 1 down the Grand Canal with their backpacks and suitcases.  All headed for either the train station or Piazzale Roma to take the bus (or taxi) to the airport.  Ah the Sunday rush.  Up until yesterday, we didn't realise it existed here in Venice.  But it does!

As per the last blog, we struggle with the massive amount of visitors to this glorious place.  Particularly the day-trippers.  And we have learnt to plan our days around the increased numbers on the weekends.  We know about avoiding Rialto and St Mark's, no matter how much we love the areas.  They can get too cosy and there's a lot of bustling going on, particularly with those keen photographers who are angling for the shot.  (Although as I've said before, you can't take a bad photo here.  It's a photographer's paradise whether you are a professional or amateur...)

Reflecting on the day

When you stay in Venice for an extended period, you really do notice the massive increase of visitors on the weekends.  Because come Monday or Tuesday, it's much easier to get around.  There's no congestion along walkways or bridges.  It's pretty easy and you can take photos without having dozens of people in the way.  Some Thursdays are also pleasant.  Last Thursday, for example, was relatively quiet, but then again - we are travelling here in "off season" and the weather wasn't that great.  And today, it was heaven.  Quiet.  Peaceful.  And only a handful of tourists in sight!

Afternoon light

The weather does play a part.  Winter in Venice is actually quite pleasant, except when the cold sets in - particularly the wind.  Sunny days are just lovely.  Blue skies.  Gorgeous light.

Traghetto trip across the Grand Canal

But turn a corner and boom, that cold rush can go right through you.  And it's hard to get excited about going out for dinner when you have to walk 20-30 minutes somewhere in the dark, cold or wet.  We try and keep dinners to the local area on those nights. And don't get me started on the rain.  Rainy, cold days have an impact.  You can be guaranteed of getting into places on those days and nights.  Everyone who can is remaining indoors, safe and warm!

We've only got a week and a half left on this trip before we catch the dreaded flight home.  We'll go from probably zero degrees to 30+ in Sydney.  And before you know it we'll be back at work and dreading weekdays in Sydney.  Ah peak hour traffic jams.  Cars!  Urgh, after a month in Venice we're soooo not looking forward to that!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tourists Tourists and more Tourists

After several weeks in Venice, we wish we could be defined as being "locals" rather than "tourists". What point do you cease being a tourist and become a visitor, a local, a resident?  I'm sure there are legal definitions but in our hearts, we don't wish to be tourists. (That said, I'm a photography nut so I've always got the digital SLR close-by - a dead-giveaway we're not as local as we'd like to be!!!).

I once read the average time someone visits Venice is one day.  ONE DAY!  How on earth can you get a feel for La Serenissma in 24 hours?  A large number of people come here on cruises and basically hop off for some general site-seeing, shopping and eating, before heading off to the next destination. Tourists come in droves - from the airport, from the train station, from the buses.  And it gets worse on the weekends, particularly when the weather is nice.  You can't cross a bridge without running into massive tour groups, even in our quiet and suburban canal.


At a vaporetto stop today we overhead a conversation between several British people and they were all basically staying for three days. Now three days I understand. Three days is the number I spent here when I was a 21 year old backpacker and then again some 15 years later. Since then it's been seven days and now this one at 30 days. Even now, we're trying to work out how often we can get back and how long should we stay for each time. Apparently we're moving here but after checking the property prices - and not speaking much Italian - I seriously doubt it! But we dream....

Out and about in Venice

Venice is a tourist mecca regardless of the time of year you travel. We like to come in the "off-season" as I previously mentioned on this blog. The downside is that some restaurants are closed over the colder months and general tourist sites often have shorter hours. But you can get around much easier. Except in St Mark's, you aren't generally bustled about it. You've got room to move. You can soak it up much easier. You can be at one with the place.

A corner bridge

Except on the weekends when even more tourists pour into this place!!!  Note to the large French group we passed this morning.  It was obviously day one, first hour, of your trip.  Yes, you are looking forward to all the wonders of this glorious city.  But learn the "road rules".  Keep to the right.  And don't friggin "hog" the bridges, especially the smaller ones used for local routes.  The locals like us get really p***ed off when you don't move across and let us pass.

Yep, when then are dozens and dozens of tourists around and you've been here for a couple of weeks (and it's not the first time visiting the place) THAT's when you call yourself a local! :)

Friday, November 26, 2010

The pink lamps of Venice

The last post on this blog was about the sounds of Venice. Today I thought I'd start tackling the colours of Venice.  But then I realised I didn't want to go through all the wonderful autumn and earthy colours of the palazzos, the glorious ultramarine blue of the gondola covers. I didn't want to think about the local campos and normal residences, bridges, the water reflections, the Murano glass and general art shops, the walkways, the canals... I only wanted to talk about one love, and that is the pink lamps of Venice.

Venice pink lamps

I fell in love with them when I first visited Venice as a 21 year-old backpacker. Each visit since, I still photograph the gorgeous lamps. I try for different lighting behind them. Different colours in the sky. Different buildings...

The gorgeous pink lamps of Venice

I think my favourite collection of pink lamps are in St Mark's Square near the Basilica and next to the Doge's Palace. But then there's the walk along the Riva degli Schiavoni or along the Zattere. Over across at Giudecca, single lamps light the walkway. I think I prefer the three lamp configuration. Yes, I do. I love the three.

I don't know about the history of them or why the colour pink was chosen. (If anyone knows, do drop me a line).

It's funny. I don't actually like the colour pink. Shades of pink are okay. But the soft pink lamps of Venice. Now they are gorgeous. And I love them to bits.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The sounds of Venice

After being in this wonderful city for the last fortnight, we're getting to know the sounds of Venice.  Yes, we've been here several times but for this is the first time we've spent a whole 30 days in La Serenissima.

Firstly, the main sound you'll hear is the sound of luggage wheels going across the pavers.  Big bags, small bags, early morning until late at night.  Click Click Click as they go from their landing spot (Piazzale Roma or the Ferrovia vaporetto stop outside of Santa Lucia train station or boat/water taxi) to their accommodation. And back again. Some might be like us - renting an apartment through one of the agents based here.  Others might be enroute to a hotel or a pensione.  Either way, tourists are coming and going. Constantly.

The second sound -- and one of my personal favourites -- is the sound of church bells ringing out across the city. Again, they ring at all times of the day. And with 100+ churches in Venezia, there are bells ringing close to where you are staying. On this trip I've heard church bells ringing so often my partner jokes that I must have tinnitus! But I know I'm hearing them. They are beautiful.

With all the water around us, there's the sloshing noises as we all weave around/ jump across/walk through the puddles. Sometimes there is a little and sometimes there's a lot of sloshing to do! Particularly in St Mark's after high tide.

Wide-angle across St Mark's

Speaking of high tide - there's the sirens. We've never noticed them when we've visited the city before, but it's November. That equals Acqua Alte. The siren blares out across the city at various times (early morning, evening, night) and then you listen for the rising tones that indicate the height of the water. We heard one a little while ago - two tones x 5. If we look out our front door in another hour or so, we'll be glad we had the flood barrier left up!

Then you have the noises of the raised walkways that are placed strategically around the city. Around Rialto, St Marks, anywhere that has localised flooding. Tourists and locals go bang bang across them. Lots of feet over raised boards. They aren't usually quiet things to walk across..

Of course in a city dominated by waterways, there's also the waves lapping against the sidewalks. Or against the vaporetto stops. There's the noises of the vaporettos heaving to a stop. And all that accompanies the ferries up and down the major canal routes.

Of course, this is Italy. And Italy = food and wine. So another sound of the city must be associated with the restaurants - whether an Osteria, Pizzeria, Trattoria or Ristorante - there are glasses clinking, cutlery and plates being taken out to diners. The sounds of a kitchen. Of waiters. Of movement.

Speaking of movement, what's Venice without gondoliers?  There's nearly always a gondolier close by asking whether you want a "gondola" trip.  "Gondola?"  they ask.  "Gondola, Gondola?" Sometimes you hear them singing. Sometimes you hear music. Lately we've been hearing accordians more often. In fact there was a group of gondoliers going down our relatively quiet canal the other night making quite the song and dance. It was entertaining. If only I could capture the moment better for you.

Speaking of capturing moments. Cameras clicking. Now THAT's a sound of Venice. Click Click. There's ones that are old fashioned, others that are more electronic. Cameras whirring this way and that. There's the noises as they are turned on and off. And of course the camera shutter opening and closing, opening and closing. That's a noise that is all around you.

And then there's the lovers. Kissing. Afterall this is a city of love. Sometimes they are a little noisy (too noisy!) and sometimes they are sweet. Sweet nothings whispered into ears. A nuzzle here and there. You can hear it. Love is definitely all around here.....!

Kissing couples

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The magic of St Mark's

We've been in Venice well over a week and managed to resist the pull that is St Mark's. We've been there so many times but until you go there, you're really not in Venice.  It's a sight to behold.  Ignore the tourist traps, it's fabulous up around the square - the Basilica, the Doge's Palace, the Campanile, the shops, the buildings, the institutions like Florians etc etc. Basilica di San Marco is a show-stopper. Whether you are inside or out.

Today across the square

Unfortunately there is restoration work going on and so photographer's from all around the world are sighing they can't capture the full magic. But it depends on what side you take your photo from.

And then there's the Palazzo Ducale and the soft pink light that falls from it onto the square. Look up to the Campanile on a beautiful day and let your mind wander.  If you're game, go up there and marvel at the view.

There's so much happening in the area. There's the moors -- The Torre dell'Orologio -- and all their history. There's the Lion of St Mark perched high and across from him St Theodor the patron saint. In between there used to be public executions, but let's not go there. Today we are marvelling at the magic.

And for me, there's the pink lamps of Venice. I could blog about them alone. I love them so much. In fact I should do that one day.  An ode to the pink lamps of Venice.  Ah, Venice....

My Venetian love

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Light and reflections

One of the most beautiful things about Venice and the surrounding islands is the way the light works - across the squares, the canals, the buildings.  Different times of day produce amazing results. There's beauty in every corner.

Yesterday we looked at some of the palazzos on the Grand Canal in the afternoon light.  It had been raining all day but glancing down the Canal you could see such beautiful reflections off the buildings as the sun after the rain touched them ever so gently before the light faded and the evening was upon us.

The canals reflect such beautiful light, off the buildings and walls, that when you come across something special, you know it. You can't help but take the camera out and attempt to capture it. I caught many beautiful moments today. Too many to load on Facebook, Flickr and this blog. Here's just one favourite:

Pink reflections

And then there are the times you don't have a camera on you or the light is too poor. Last night we went around to Campo San Giacomo dell Orio, very close to where we are staying. Puddles were everywhere but what was magical was the way the lights from the buildings and the lamps reflected on them. Red, orange, yellow. The Campo was pretty much deserted - a handful of people in the local Osteria and Trattoria - and a few people travelling along the walkways at night getting from A to B, but generally it was very quiet.

Even though it was a cool evening, we picked up some gelato after dinner and strolled slowly back to the apartment. I would have given anything to have had the tripod with me. The colours across the square and the church there were beautiful.

We still have three weeks here and rain is forecast for the next week at least. I will have to make sure I stroll around one night to try and capture the magic. So beautiful. And such a delight.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A day trip to Burano

Yesterday was a lovely day in Venice.  We knew rain was forecast for this week but that Sunday should have been fine.  And it was.  So we headed off to Burano.  It was somewhere we had never been to (ok I lie, on our last trip in 2008 we got off at the Burano ferry stop and caught another ferry to Torcello, which was absolutely amazing, so technically we have been there)  Anyway, we made up for it yesterday.

We had a longer than expected ride from Riva de Biasio (our vaporetto stop on the Grand Canal) as the vaporetto we could take to Fondamenta Nuove wasn't in service.  So we hopped on the number 1 vaporetto, packed with tourists, and squeezed in for a few stops, getting off at Ca'D'oro and weaving through the back streets and campos of Cannaregio to FN.  We then got on the LN ferry that stops at Murano first and then heads to Burano.  It's about a 40 minute trip, slow (20kms an hour the maximum speed).  I love going past San Michele - the cemetery island - particularly when it's misty.

We arrived at Burano close to lunch and had already been tipped off to TRATTORIA AL GATTO NERO on one of the canals.

It was a bit cool so we decided to try our luck at a table inside.  Did we have a reservation?  No, but they cleared a table for us and we knew we got lucky!  We decided to splurge.  For antipasti we chose the degustazione option and three plates of seafood came out, some cooked, some not.  There were prawns, mussels, vongole, a scallop (with tomato and olive oil on top -- delicious!), smoked salmon, baby octopus, razor clams and langoustine.  Plenty to share for E26.00.   We then shared the homemade taglioni with spider crab.  Add on wine (the house wine was superb), a bottle of san pellegrino, and an espresso, well let's just say it was a bit of a splurge!  But worth every second of it.

We then strolled around and of course I took dozens and dozens of photos.  Burano is a photographer's heaven.  So much colour and light.  And you look for the light in the water.  You wait for the reflections.  And they are beautiful.  I would love to see it on a really sunny blue sky day.  That must make the place sparkle!

Burano Reflections

We shopped - and yes I bought a scarf (yes surprise surprise however bit disturbing in that it was my second shiny shiny glitzy one this trip, but it was lovely - and colourful!).  I also bought a print from the local artist.  Just a cheap momento of the place.  A handful of postcards later and another walk around the square and a few of the canals, and we were back on the ferry for the long but relaxing trip back to Venice.

On the way back the sun shone directly on my face - and it was beautiful.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A day of shopping, food, wine and music

Last night we went to see a performance by Interpreti Veneziani at the Chiesa san Vidal, across from Accademia.  For E25.00 each it was a lovely night out, easy listening, in a beautiful location.  According to our Lonely Planet guide the venue is no longer functioning as a church, instead it is the concert hall for Interpreti Veneziani.  The church was built "as a monument to the glories of God and two Venetian dogi".  Inside were some lovely paintings and sculptures but I regret not walking around a bit more before we found our seats (right in the front row!).   I'm sure I would have enjoyed looking at all of them.

When the concert had finished we had no problems hopping back on the vaporetto 1 and heading back down the canal.  It was quite cool but there were still lots of people about.  I was disappointed the canal wasn't very lit up at night, particularly Salute.  It's such a grand statement that church.  So beautiful at the mouth of the Grand Canal.  A masterpiece. 

Speaking of masterpieces, the Rialto Bridge is always spectacular.  I love the area.  The hussle and bussle.  The bridge, the shops, the view.

View from Rialto Bridge

We actually spent most of yesterday around the Rialto area.  We left our apartment around 10am and wandered the back streets enroute to Fanny, which is where we've picked up leather goods in the past.  We also had to check out a small shop that sold model gondolas and kits for DIY.  Unfortunately the ready-made one was E110.00 so that didn't exactly encourage a sale.  We realise a lot of work went into it, but still a bit on the expensive side for us.

We weaved around the streets and back canals, with me stopping every 10 or so minutes to snap at something that grabbed my eye.  Everywhere you looked were glass shops, jewellery outlets, mask shops, leather, shoes, tourist stalls.  Every corner there's something to look at.  I got stuck in a scarf and jewellery shop for a while (yes how surprising) but didn't end up acquiring anything (even more surprising!).

I did manage to part with quite a bit of money at my favourite shop on the Rialto Bridge - Rivoaltus.  Everytime we have visited Venice we can't help but buy things here.  The people are lovely and the shop has some lovely notebooks and journals, pens, pictures.  I managed to control myself and not buy any of the journals this time, however we still have more than three weeks here and my resolve could still weaken!  Time will tell.

As we were in the Rialto area I checked a restaurant tip from an industry colleague.  We followed the instructions to the church of San Giovanni Crisostomo and then the little alley opposite.  We weaved down and around and came out a beautiful old courtyard.  And there is was Taverna Del Campiello Remer, hidden away in a picturesque spot.

For E20.00 we had a buffet lunch, pasta, wine, water and coffee.  Absolute bargain and the food was scrumptious.  Personally I could have spent all afternoon at the buffet.  And the wine was very easy to drink - I dare say we got ourselves a little bit tipsy!

A day of shopping and an evening of classical music.  It was a lovely way to spend the day.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Feeling at home already

Well it's been an interesting couple of days. Firstly, it feels like we've been here for weeks - not days. We feel so at home in Venice. There's something magical about it.

Even though it's my fourth trip here, we decided on the first full day to take vaporetto No.1 down the Grand Canal. Yep, for the fourth time! You know what?! It never loses it's charm. Everyone who arrives in Venice should do it. It's a wonderful experience. There's a photo opportunity everywhere you look. Whether it's boats, people, palazzo, bridges, side canals. It's a masterpiece.

However I did laugh when I realised the closer we got to St Mark's Square, the more gondolas we saw!  It was very touristy and a bit over the top for my liking but it's Venice!  What's Venice without gondolas? 

Of course, we did have a handsome Italian gondolier pose for us. I felt like such a tourist taking his picture but I just couldn't help myself!

But we don't want to be tourists!  That's not the plan! We're supposed to be locals for the month (locals, mind you, who know a handful of Italian words and have no knack for learning languages!) Oh well, hopefully sometime during the next four weeks we will pick up more than knowing menu items, everyday pleasantries, and "il conto, per favore" when we need the bill!

Anyway, back to the Grand Canal....  as we have no itinerary and have seen all the major tourist sites (multiple times!) we decided to stay on the boat, which went out to Lido. Of course Lido pretty much shuts down outside of summer so we just strolled around for a while then headed back into Venice. We got off at the Accademia stop and found somewhere for a late lunch. We ended up at Osteria al Vecio Fornier where we had cichetti. The E3.00 coperto (cover charge) EACH was a bit much. We can't remember cover charges being a big thing on prior trips. Maybe because they charged less, I don't know. We normally don't eat the bread so we aren't hit with the bread charge, but we have been hit twice with this "coperto" so need to be a bit more on the ball!  The food was fine but I wouldn't rave about it. 

After lunch, and to my surprise, we realised my favourite scarf shop was only a short stroll away. (Everyone who knows me, knows how I love my scarves and shawls!) Needless to say I shopped myself stupid picking up several scarves - one simple and every-day, one for work, and one that's a bit shiny shiny for evenings out. We also bought some glass jewellery for nieces and god daughters - easy presents for Christmas, and not a strain in the luggage.  And of course, I picked a few earrings for myself.  Afterall I have a terrible tendency to lose them (must have something to do with those scarves I'm sure!) and for E5.00 they were pretty without being expensive.

We then went back across Accademia and booked tickets for a Vivaldi concert on Friday night at the Chiesa di San Vidal performed by Interpreti Veneziani. Tickets were only E25.00 each which I thought was a bargain. I'm very much looking forward to it. The program is:

Concerto for violin, strings and harpsichord op. 7 n. 8
Concerto for bassoon, strings and harpsichord RV. 484
Concerto for violin, strings and harpsichord op. 9 n. 8 "La Cetra"

I can't wait!  An evening on the town.  Venice, Vivaldi, a wonderful old church and my shiny shiny new scarf. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In my happy place.

We arrived in Venice shortly after midday.  We were greated by a representative of Lux-Rest Venice at the ticket office in Piazzale Roma and were welcomed to our apartment in San Croce.  I nearly fell over when I saw it.  For months I've had a photo of the canal on my wall at work (thanks Google!).  And finally I was staring at the real thing.  I had to pinch myself.  Even more so because I've joked for months our apartment was the red building in the photo.  How true that was!  I couldn't believe it! 


After going through all the formalities with the apartment, we headed off in search of somewhere to eat.  We weaved through the back alleys and came across a small place called Trattoria Taverna Capitan Uncino.  Most of the tables were occupied by local workmen and it didn't take long to realise we heard no accents other than Italian -- which was great!  A local joint!! The menus were extensive and it took a while to decide what to order.   In the end I went for a tagliolini with mushrooms and truffle.  It wasn't at all bad - a little expensive at E18.00 but that was okay.  A bottle of aqua frizzante and an espresso later we were off again to explore the local area. 

In the next hour I took about 100 photos!  San Croce is an area of Venice we haven't explored previously.  To my absolute delight the rain stopped and blue sky appeared.  Again, I couldn't believe it.  (I have a running joke about the weather in Venice - afterall it took me three trips here before I experienced a sunny day.  And the forecast was supposed to be rain, rain, rain, rain for the next week or so.  A little bit of blue sky made my day!)  So I snapped away.  I absolutely love the canal we are on. 

There's magic around every corner.  I really don't think you can take a bad photo in Venice.  There's so much beauty and interest.  Whether it's in the water, the bridges, the boats or the decaying old buildings and magnificent churches.  There's colour everywhere.  And gorgeous reflections.  Light and dark.  Movement and silence.

At the end of the day however I feel like I'm home.  Actually I know it.  The headache I've had for the past two days has stopped.  It stopped when we arrived.  Afterall I'm now in my happy place.  And have 30 days to enjoy it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Only a few days now and I have driven EVERYONE insane with this countdown (so much so that a colleague has a photo of Venice outside her office with a big red cross through it!).  I can't recall ever being this bad -- I desperately need this holiday!  

As you know, it's in honour of my mum who passed away on the 24th April.  Before she died I said to my partner I wanted to go to "our happy place" when mum went.  That place is Venice.  When I made the comment I thought mum would have another 1-2 years, not 1-2 months.  I was relatively strong during that period, able to organise the funeral and do the eulogy, but as the months go by I've really weakened.  I can't look at a photo of her without crying, I can't listen to songs that remind me of her because they make me too sad.  I've weakened over the months and I need the Venice trip to recover and heal.  I think mum would be really proud of that.  She would understand.  She did something similar when my step-father died.  Hopped on a plane and tried to find herself again.   

Thirty days in Venice to just "be".  I really love that idea.  For the first time ever, a holiday isn't planned to each hour of each day.  Well, actually I lie.  We've got a few days in Rome first and I've booked Galleria Borghese (and you have to nominate a time!).  The day after we'll probably just stroll around and spend more time in places we've enjoyed previously.  I want to really discover the Roman Forum and the other half wants to do the Collosseum again.  But when we get to Venice, there's nothing.  No plans.  We can just enjoy and soak it up. 

Thankfully we have friends that love Venice and they have given us some wonderful tips.  We've pre-booked a weekly transport card - and the toilet card! - at much cheaper rates than if we had sorted them out on arrival.  We've already been alerted to a vaporetto strike on the 19th November and the Feast of della Madonna della Salute.  As we want to just blend into Venice during the month, we'll make sure we watch the procession over a pontoon bridge to Salute.  Venetians give thanks at the altar for ending the great plague of 1631.  I also found out it is customary on the day to eat the castradina, a mutton-based traditional dish.  We'll check that out too. 

Oh and I have adopted a Venetian alias - no longer will I be Rachael, but I'm changing my name to Veronica.  Veronica Franco was a poet and courtesan, in an age when courtesans were the most educated women in Europe.  I read a book on her and Hollywood attempted to recreate her life in the movie Dangerous Beauty (A Life of Her Own) with Catherine McCormack (absolutely stunning as Veronica), Rufus Sewell, Oliver Platt, Jacqueline Bisset and many others.  I loved it.  I'm making sure my favourite pieces from the Soundtrack are on the ipod so I can enjoy while I'm away.

Trip Number Four - here we come x

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Three weeks and counting

It's only three weeks until we're off to Venice again. It will be trip number four for me and will be the longest, at some 30 days in La Serenissima. I mentioned it to an industry colleague recently and they looked at me and said "30 days in Venice, you'll be soo bloody bored!". I was horrified! Most people remark about how envious they are. Many want to share their favourite sights, their favourite memories. However this is a different trip, as it's in memory of mum. I actually made another colleague cry when I told her the reason for the trip - she thought it was a beautiful idea and having lost her mum two years ago, wished she had also done something to honour her mum's memory and spend time recovering and healing.

With three weeks to go until the next visit, I'm starting to think about what to do. Normally when I travel I have a schedule of sights I want to see, places I want to go, things to do, food to eat, shops to explore etc. This time I've highlighted bits and pieces in a guidebook but there's no real plan. We're going to live there and just soak it up. Literally, afterall it will be during Acqua Alta time! Cold, rainy, flooding. Great for photography!

I've actually never been to Venice in the peak tourist season. It has soo many visitors at the best of times, the thought of tens of thousands more just makes me shudder. It's nice going in off season. The queues are less, you can roam the streets without being pushed day in, day out. Mind you, they still get busy, but it's not the same. And of course, from what I gather, the smells are different. Then again, we've been there while they've been doing work to smaller canals and I can't say that was particularly pleasant, but throw in the summer heat and tourist overload, I'd rather have off peak any day!

That said, there are problems. From November onwards many of the bigger shops and prominent restaurants close for the winter. Places like the Hotel Cipriani and their dining establishments are closed. Opening hours are different. Day trips need additional research as many attractions shut down totally. Reduced daylight hours do have an impact, you can't deny it. It gets dark earlier. You need to be prepared.

But we don't mind. I have very fond memories of the last trip to Venice when we went out to Torcello. It was misty and cold. On the vaporetto from Burano there was no one onboard but us. When we got off at Torcello we walked our way around a canal with not a person in sight. We crossed a bridge and went into the Cathedral that was founded in the 600s. The Byzantine mosaics from the 12th century were mind-boggling. The only other visitor to the Cathedral was a cat who purred away and led us around the church. It was a local, no doubt, and we loved the way it sat on the charity box. We were free to observe the mosaics in silence. It was glorious. As we left the Cathedral we saw some other people who had come in on another vaporetto. It was still misty and cold, but for a while it was all ours. It was magical.

Having seen all the major attractions in this glorious city, we have no plans. We will have time to spend shopping. We can soak up the place without being rushed. We can blend in. We can be at one with the magic. I can't wait.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Staying in Venice

Only three months until the next trip to Venice. This time it will be for a month. A whole month! We can't wait. We know it's going to be cold, wet, rainy, misty, foggy, flooding. But we don't care. It's a month in Venice.

The flights and the accommodation are booked. We're treating ourselves to business class flights and we've used the same organisation for the apartment - LuxRest Venice. Barbara Carron was so helpful in finding somewhere that suited our needs. She did the same a couple of years ago when we organised an apartment not far from St Marks. The reason I mention Luxrest specifically is their commitment to finding something that works for you. Other apartment websites simply expect you to go through their websites and look at every single apartment. To me that's the easy way out. I want to list requirements (i.e. be on/look out to a canal) and have the estate agency actually do the work! Then I'll go on a website and check out all their suggestions. And Barbara's suggestions have been good in the past. We hope the next apartment - this time in San Croce - will work well for us.

Here's some photos taken from the last apartment:

Revisiting Venice XII

Revisiting Venice XVI

And here's the link on Luxrest if you're travelling to Venice and want an apartment in the heart of the city, a hop, skip and a jump from St Mark's Square: Ca'Francesca where these photos were taken from.

When we get to Venice in a few months I'll be blogging regularly. Then you can see photos from our next apartment! We actually didn't have San Croce in our top three sestieres but it's where we've ended up. I've been playing around on Google to get a feel for where the next apartment is. We are thinking it's somewhere around here. Excellent!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Memories from a much younger me

I've kept so many journals and travel diaries over the years. They are all in a drawer or two in our back room. After finding the travel journal from 2004 yesterday, I decided to find the one from 1989. Yes, my first impressions of Venice as a 21 year old backpacker:

Sunday 2nd April 1989, Venice, Italy. Cloudy, cool.

[text removed] We arrived in Venice at 3.44pm precisely. I rang a few numbers, got a map and headed off to a pensione near the station that was "cheap, clean and central" according to the guidebook. The lady running it was very nice. All the female pensione owners have been lovely. We then ventured out and wandered through this AMAZINGLY BEAUTIFUL city, past bridges, gondolas, vaporettos, shop after shop, restaurant after restaurant. We walked into piazzas and watched kids play soccer. We found dead-ends and like most people we got lost in the canals. Not surprising afterall there are 117 islands connected to one another. It ain't hard to get lost! We then found our way back to a restaurant that looked nice and had a great meal. Probably the nicest we've had in Italy so far. For [equiv] $AUS 15.00 we had pizza, drink, wine, coffee and a crepe. I had a Banana and Grand Marnier one. It was delicious!

Monday 3rd April 1989, Venice, Italy. cool.

Woke up this morning to the sound of church bells chiming and birds singing - very nice! I then had a long, hot shower which was WONDERFUL and we left to go walkies. We strolled around the canals, looked through all the shops, changed money and sat down for a breakfast of coffee and cake.

We caught a vaporetto to St Mark's Square which took ages. We walked through the Doge's Palace which was incredible - one room had drawings of Venice from 1400-1700 and it hasn't changed at all! The drawings were brilliant as were all the paintings on the walls, on the ceilings. The dungeons were cold though. You could almost hear the prisoners screaming and clawing through the bars. I found it a little scary actually.

After the Palace we went to St Mark's Basilica which like ALL churches in Italy is amazing. However it's older and different. It was mostly gold mosaics in the domes and ceiling. It was wonderful. It was interesting.

Revisiting Venice XX

We walked back to the pensione, filled in some postcards we picked up and had dinner at the same restaurant again.

Oh, by the way, mum would LOVE this place. Paperweights and eggs are in every shop window. I'll try and buy her a paperweight even if they are expensive.

I'm going to leave the memories there. I did buy mum a paperweight. She had it in her paperweight collection for years. As you know, this next Venice trip is in memory of mum who passed away at the end of April. On the weekend I will be arranging to collect some of her belongings that we've had in storage since she died. Mum left me her paperweight collection. I'll let everyone in the family choose something they'd like from it and send some to her friends. But the one from Venice will be removed from the batch. That one is returning home. To me.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Memories from another time and place

Today I went looking for a map of Venice and while rummaging through the drawers in the back room I came across the travel diary from our Italian trip in 2004. I took it out and enjoyed reading it. I thought I'd share it with you.

After a long, tiring journey to Venice including a 4-hour transit experience in Rome airport, we managed to find the right vaporetto, get off at the right stop, and drag our heavy bags across numerous bridges and squares to B&B Sandra - arriving close to midnight extremely hot, sweaty and frustrated.

But all was forgotten at 7am this morning when we woke in our attic room, opened the window and saw the wondrous view across the rooftops of Venice. Church bells were ringing, waves were gently rocking across the canal blow, and seagulls were resting on the rooftops nearby. Absolutely magical! I couldn't wait to get onto the upstairs landing and take photos - even if it was a little misty. The Breakfast Room was divine and I continued to take photos between mouthfuls of cheese, bread and prosciutto.

We headed off about 9am and hopped on the Number 1 vaporetto to go up the Grand Canal to St Marks. {text removed} The church had flooded so we had to use walkways. It is amazing and once inside we realised there was a Sunday Mass in progress. The place, the time, the awesome feeling when the hymn was sung, it all nearly reduced me to tears - it was just so emotive.

Glorious St Mark's Basilica

Next stop the Palazzo Ducale including the Bridge of Sighs from inside. Just amazing! We ate lunch in the cafeteria then headed to Bacino Orseolo where the gondolas were moored. By this time it was raining steadily and this increased over time. We wandered through alleyways, walkways and piazzas to Ponte di Rialto. It was now bucketing down! A quick visit to the markets and in and out of a few shops before walking back to Fondamenta Trapolin - only stopping for coffee.

Busy Rialto

We are now back in B&B Sandra. The sun is trying to come out but I don't care. Church bells are ringing across the city, evoking a beautiful and peaceful feeling, which is only interrupted by the occasional horn from a vaporetto on the Grand Canal nearby.

I'll try and find the journal from the last trip to Venice and share that as well. Actually I should dig deeper and find the one from 21 years ago. Now that would be entertaining!

If only we were going tomorrow. For now we've got the deposit on the apartment ready to go, the flights just about organised, and travel insurance fully paid up. If only it was tomorrow and not many months away

Ah, Venice.....

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The most beautiful Venetian travel journal

Every time I travel I take a travel diary - something to record the activities, the places, the food, the events. The whole memorable experience. I usually take something light and easy to carry. Not this time. No, the next trip to Venice I will be taking this beautiful hardback book published by Murdoch Books. Murdoch focus on production and quality. They do some exquisite work. And this one is no exception.

The description on Amazon is relatively flat and doesn't really tell you how gorgeous this journal is: A companion to the bestselling Venezia by Tessa Kiros, A Venetian Journal encourages food lovers who travel and those who explore the world via recipes to map their own journey, recording favourite recipes and memorable cooking and eating experiences. Structured around the classic Italian meal: Antipasti, Primi, Secondi, Contorni, Dolci, A Venetian Journal features the photographer Manos Chatzikonstantis' personal selection of photographs from his frequent visits to Venice with Tessa and fragments from her own journals as she sought to imbibe the very essence of the world's most romantic city. Key points: lavish recipe journal using atmospheric food images from Venezia; a beautiful keepsake and gift; heavily embellished, with the addition of illustrations.

Of course we have the Venezia cookbook that was published first. I'm ashamed to say the only things I've prepared out of it are the alcoholic drinks! (My friends will not be surprised by that!) We love making Bellinis and pretending we are in Harry's Bar. Ah, sweet memories.

Which brings me back to the travel journal. This gorgeous journal by Tessa Kiros will keep me busy for the month. Not only can I write about my experiences but I can use it for recipes. The thought of going to Rialto (a hop, skip and a jump from where we are staying) and cooking a traditional Venetian recipe from the book sounds wonderful! But the book also has other lovely features. It has clear envelope-type pages where you can put in pieces of paper you might collect - recipes even. The book comes with it's own tear-out postcards. I'm thinking of putting one up on the fridge in the apartment as a little joke. Marvel at the beautiful picture and then go outside and realise I'm living it!

I won't blog from Venice but will use the travel diary on my return to share the highlights.

I wish the trip was tomorrow. But it's not. I just have to dream about returning to sweet Venice for a little bit longer....

Friday, June 4, 2010

The love affair with Venice

La Serenissima

My partner and I have a love affair with Venice. For me, it is a love that has blossomed over time. I remember my first trip to Venice in 1989 as a 21 year old backpacker. I started in Egypt and worked my way across to Europe and to the United Kingdom. We had rushed to get to Italy after staying on Santorini in the Greek Islands. Boat, train, boat, train. Non-stop until we reached Rome and went to the Vatican for Easter Sunday with half a million others. Neither of us were of the Catholic faith but it was an amazing experience to see the Pope. And it was also a heartbreaking experience when we both realised we had been robbed getting there. Somewhere enroute to Rome and St Peters we had our cameras and Walkmans (yes that's a sign of the times, isn't it) stolen. I grabbed a cheap camera somewhere in Rome so we could continue recording our travels throughout Italy. But somehow we never got quite over the robbery. We said the right things (it's happened, accept it and move on) but in our hearts we were really disappointed by the experience. We traipsed through the countryside for two weeks and made our way to Venice. Ah Venice....

I still remember the day we stood on the Accademia Bridge on the Grand Canal looking across to Salute. That first time. It was a sight like no other. I remember the first time I stepped into St Marks Basilica and saw those beautiful, golden Byzantine mosaics. It was awesome. It was inspiring. It was magical. But unfortunately Venice was too expensive for a backpacker who was attempting to live off $40 a day. And at that stage in my life I was still learning about history, about art, about culture. I walked into the Accademia and rushed around, absolutely bored by the medieval works. If I saw another painting of Jesus and Mary, or St Sebastian, I was going to scream. But that changed over time.

Twenty one years later I'm planning my fourth visit to Venice. This time for a month. I'll still stand on the Accademia Bridge like I do every visit and gawk at the view. I'll go across the Rialto Bridge more times than I can count. I'll cross St Marks square time and time again. I'll go in and out of churches and galleries, having no problem whatsoever with the medieval artworks. I'll cross canals and take a million photos. But this time I'll absorb it.

In the 21 years since the first visit I've read countless books on Venice and Venetian history. I'll soak up the Italian culture and the wonderful food, wine and coffee we will no doubt encounter along the way. It will be a different trip to all the others though. This trip will be in memory of my mother who passed away in April. It will also be a healing trip. And we will work out a way to take something of hers with us. She always wanted to return to Europe...

And I'll blog about it here.