Well, dearest reader, I feel I must apologise as I’ve been a somewhat neglectful correspondent of late, but all of this holiday-making is exhausting work. I suspect I will need a little lie down in a dark room when it is all over but, until then, we forge onwards!
After a restorative few days in the blissful surroundings of Varenna on Lake Como, we hauled our luggage back onto a train and headed for Venice. I’ve been to Venice before, but in the winter time when tourists tend to stay home, so I was in no way prepared for the sea of people who greeted us outside the train station when we disembarked. It was a lovely sunny day and everybody in the whole of Italy was out for a stroll alongside the canals. Actually, that’s not really true, as at least 70% of the tourist population in Italy was queuing to get inside San Marco. Note to self – wintertime travel may be chilly, but is much less crowded.
Venice is hugely popular and, for those who haven’t been there, it is almost like a separate kind of Disney world. Most of the city has been given over to tourism now and many of the old families who lived and worked there for generations have moved away as the price of real estate has sky-rocketed. Many of the old palazzo’s are now hotels or the owners have moved themselves into one part of their houses and rent the rest out as self-contained accommodation. While perhaps not the best thing for the preservation of community life, it does offer the tourist (that would be me) the chance to stay in a 16th century palace with views across the canals.
This breaking down of local communities also means that most of the restaurants are aimed at tourists, making genuine local cuisine difficult to find and the local small shops – greengrocers, bakers, etc – which once held the neighbourhoods together are now selling clothing, handbags, jewellery or the ornate, tradition Venetian masks. I was startled to see a mushrooming of the so-called “exclusive” designer houses, with some of them taking over the entire ground floors of some buildings and queues outside of a store which I later discovered to be a Hard Rock Cafe. Nevertheless, Venice is an experience and one not to be missed when in Italy.
For our first night in this unique city, Venice had a very special treat in store. At just after 4.00am we woke to the feeling of the building swaying from side to side and watched in wide-eyed horror as the large chandelier over our bed swung wildly, crystals tinkling all the while. We were feeling the effects of the devastating earthquake which had caused enormous damage and the deaths of at least nine people further north of Venice. Fortunately, there was no damage in Venice, but the feeling of being in a 16th century building whilst it is swaying like a reed is not one that I’d care to experience again – although we were treated to an encore in the form of significant aftershocks an hour later.
Despite the crowds and the vague feeling of being in some sort of theme park, we managed to find enough to keep us very happy for a couple of days. The Venetian community boasts some remarkable art collections and galleries and also goes to some lengths to ensure they maintain their cultural cachet. This means there is always some kind of classical musical recital to be found, often being performed in any one of the dozens of exquisite churches the city is littered with and there are frequent significant exhibitions. We were very fortunate to be there during a wonderful exhibition of Gustav Klimt’s work and we spent a gloriously sublime evening listening to a string recital of some of Vivaldi’s work which was performed in a magnificent 16th century church.
Like the rest of Italy Venetians like their food and, while it may be tourist orientated, the use of a great deal of seafood in many of the dishes reflects their history and relationship with the ever-present sea. If you hunt around you will find some exceptional restaurants who won’t disappoint – just avoid the main tourist traps where possible and don’t go anywhere that boasts a “Tourist Menu”.
One very distinct tradition in Venice that has not changed is that one will/must get lost in the narrow, twisted, winding streets. When I was there with my eldest daughter three years ago we managed to get most satisfyingly lost one grey, foggy afternoon. The Husband took this very seriously on the night we attended the string recital. Despite the fact that the venue was a ten minute walk from our accommodation, our stroll home took well in excess of a hour, in the middle of the night, through deserted streets, with a tour of wharf-side railway switching yards thrown in for good measure. What is it with men and asking for directions?[mc4wp_form id="16750"]