RWH: Venice 9 – 16 February 2019
My travelling companion, Judith, and I were the first passengers to board the BA578 flight to Venice because we agreed to have our cabin baggage switched to the hold and were in the front of the queue. A good start methinks.
It was only when we were seated on board that we started to meet other members of the group, 11 in total, including our Tour Leader, Roger. Despite leaving Heathrow a few minutes late we arrived at Venice airport a few minutes ahead of schedule to lovely sunshine and a few degrees warmer than the UK.
After meeting everyone formally we had a spot of lunch at the airport while Roger obtained our travel passes. We then took the bus to the Piazzale Roma where we boarded our first Vaporetto (water bus) to the Ferry Terminal at Ferrovia, Venice (St Lucia) Railway station. We then had a short walk to the Hotel Continental.
Our time of arrival at the hotel coincided with a demonstration by a few hundred people who were marching from the Railway station area past the hotel in support of more immigration to Venice. And we thought it was a welcome greeting for us! After having checked in and refreshed we assembled at the hotel reception for a brief familiarisation walk around the locale whilst understanding what the street signs meant before returning to the hotel for our first dinner.
On Sunday we walked through a chilly early morning mist across Ponte delle Guglie in the Cannaregio sestiere (district) to the 16th-century Jewish Ghetto, the oldest ghetto in the world where we saw in the square reminders of what persecution the Jews have suffered throughout history. The ghetto area is in fact an island itself surrounded by canals. From there we walked to the Campo dei Mori area whilst Roger explained the architectural changes reflecting the different historic influences on the city and which we were to see continually during our trip.
We saw where Tintoretto lived and worked and then the Madonna dell’Orto – Tintoretto’s parish church. We had a full schedule of visiting a number of churches housing several of Tintoretto’s masterpieces as well as those of other famous Italian artists.
We meandered through narrow gaps between rows of houses to find ourselves at the entrance to, by comparison, vast squares. We climbed steps and crossed over bridges. We could see signs of how water and the drains had been managed historically and could only wonder at how hard life must be for the elderly or families with small children living on the top floors of some of the buildings we walked past; and we saw how they got their washing dry!
We made it to the Ponte Rialto via the Hospital, and saw the floating A & E entrance wondering what their waiting times were like! The Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal has shops on both sides. We lunched close by and then continued our tour taking in San Giacomo and San Polo. A modest façade hiding an amazing interior where we saw works by Tiepolo and Tintoretto then on to S Giovanni e Paolo one of the largest churches in Venice where 25 Doges (Dukes) of Venice are buried. Next to the Basilica dei Frari, an enormous Gothic-style church completed in 1330s, housing 2 works by Titian along with his tomb and featuring a pyramid tomb to Canova, and paintings by Titian and Bellini.
Having savoured some of the delights of Venetian culture by day we were then treated to some Venetian cuisine with our first dinner away from the hotel. We were not disappointed.
With slightly less mist than yesterday we took the Vaporetto to Piazza San Marco where we saw the Bridge of Sighs and took in all the sights of St Mark’s Square. We had a guided tour of the Basilica San Marco and the surrounding area with a captivating lady who had a tuneful whistle sound to make us follow her! From there we made our way to the Rialto Bridge and had lunch close by.
The afternoon saw us catching a Vaporetto to Arsenale, the Venetian dockyard area, which is still operating and is in the process of constructing the giant cement barriers that will help protect Venice from flooding. From there we walked over the canal and made our way to San Pietro, Venice’s original cathedral. From there we did a little more sight-seeing before taking the Vaporetto back to the hotel.
Tuesday was bright and sunny as we took the Vaporetto to the island of Murano where we had a private demonstration of glass-making by three cousins. The ‘Master’ was making flower petals for a chandelier and making it look easy! This was followed by an opportunity to browse some of the items available to buy in their showroom with some purchases made.
A couple more short Vaporetto trips and we were on the island of Burano with spectacular backdrop of the snow-covered Dolomites in the distance. A short walk along a Rio – formerly a canal but filled in and converted into a walk-way – took us to the Bar Sport for lunch. Afterwards the group split up with some going to a lace museum, some visiting the church of San Martino and the remainder having time to shop, take a walk and take in the sights, particularly the gaily covered fishermen’s houses along the canals that criss-cross the town itself.
Then it was the return trip via Vaporetto to the Fondamenta Nove terminal from where we meandered on foot back to the hotel. We had a pleasant dinner at the Restaurant Faro that evening.
Our free day. I returned to San Marco and wandered around the square taking another look inside the Basilica San Marco. Afterwards I visited the Museo Correr, a museum of Venetian artworks & antiquities dating back to the 13th century. The museum was holding an exhibition on printing and I was fascinated with many of the exhibits. Fortunately, descriptions were in various languages so for an avid reader as well as being visually captivating it was extremely informative.
I had been impressed with the St Marks Clock tower to the left of the Basilica looking at the latter from the front. It dates from 1499, with a huge bell on top with two metal figures to strike the bell, on the hour (see phot). Below that the time is shown in two formats: the hours are shown in Roman numerals and the minutes in imperial figures that change every five minutes. We had been told that at various times on the hour figures appeared in front of the clock similar to the Swiss cuckoo clocks. As if that wasn’t enough to tell the time below all this is a 24-hour clock.
Whilst I was in the museum I noticed through a window overlooking the Clock Tower that the time was approaching the hour. I rushed to get into the Square to witness the hour being signalled by the clocks but because I hadn’t appreciated the size of the museum I missed the show by some 5 minutes. Better luck next time I’m in Venice.
Apart from it being St Valentine’s Day Thursday brought with it an opportunity to experience a train journey, and it was hugely rewarding. We boarded the train at the Venice St Lucia station and made our way to Padua. We walked a short distance, without seeing a single canal, to the Scrovegni Chapel/Museum/Art Gallery complex. We handed in our bags to prepare for our visit inside the chapel which is now protected from environmental pollution by air-conditioning and timed visits by restricted numbers of visitors.
We were treated to a video presentation about the chapel whilst a visiting party was inside. When we entered it became obvious why such protection is taken of the chapel and its contents. Almost every square inch of the chapel is covered in frescoes by Giotto depicting three main themes: the lives of Joachim and Anna, the Virgin Mary’s life and Christ’s life and death.
It is claimed that it took Giotto and 40 helpers three years to complete the frescoes. It is an extraordinary sight and for me my ‘champagne moment’. It made the whole holiday worthwhile: a truly remarkable and memorable event.
We bought our own refreshments and leaving two members of the group in Padua to do other things the rest of us took a local bus to Battaglia Terme, a local spa town, from where we walked for a couple of hours via a local vineyard. From Battaglia railway station we took the train to the next stop, Monselice, from where we caught a direct train to Venice St Lucia.
Our final day of sight-seeing and a sunny and warm morning greeted us as we made our way via Vaporetto to the island church of San Giorgio Maggiore. Inside we saw another amazing church and two more Tintorettos. We took the lift in the Campanile (bell-tower) and enjoyed a fantastic 360° view taking in the vista of St Marks with the Dolomites again in the background. After this we saw salt warehouses and passed the Salute Church, housing works by Tintoretto and Titian, and the Guggenheim and Accademia Art centres.
We walked around the little island noting how supplies were delivered by vehicles on boats and seeing passing RORO car ferries plying between Venice and the Lido. We took the Vaporetto back and then had lunch after which we made our way back to the hotel at a leisurely pace taking in a visit to the last working Gondola boatyard.
In the evening we met as usual for our evening briefing with our Tour Guide, Roger, and presented him with a small token of our appreciation. We had a glass of wine to toast the holiday and the friendships that had been made during our time together.
I asked everyone to let me have their ‘champagne moment’ for inclusion in this blog. Here they are:
Scrovegni Chapel (x 6, with a few alternatives included below).
Glass factory demonstration, Murano.
Starting our journey home: Roger ducking under the barrier to rescue Judith who had lost her (Vaporetto) ticket. What a gentleman!
The atmosphere of having a week in a living historic city with canals instead streets and boats instead of cars is my lasting memory.
Three of us got lost on Burano for a short time! Our main worry was holding the rest of you up. However, my daughter said it was a beautiful place to get lost in!!
The special printing exhibition in the Museo Correr was a highlight for me.
Being locked into the Chiesa Santa Maria Dei Miracoli while the lady from the ticket office went out to do some mopping. I was there alone for a few minutes and it was so beautiful and peaceful. I was a bit worried that she wouldn’t come back, and I’d be there until the next morning. (Birmingham may claim to have more canals than Venice, but it isn’t quite as beautiful).
View from the Cinderella shoe shop as it was so unexpected!
View from atop the Campanile de San Marco looking down onto the Basilica di San Marco which reminded me of Mark Twain’s description as ‘..a vast warty bug taking a meditative walk…’.
And finally, ……
We met for the first time in a unique place, one of the world’s gems. They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. How true is that statement: we saw the same thing but through eleven pairs of eyes and nicely summed up with the varied nature of the ‘champagne’ moments.
Our Tour Guide, Roger, was patient, accommodating and knowledgeable and it was a pleasure to meet him.
Would I go back? Possibly but not in the summer as the thought of those narrow footways and bridges in the height of the summer season is a daunting one. Even after a tour of 1 week there is a lot of Venice that has not been seen.