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