Once again, Lady Luck appeared to be on our side. We had armed ourselves, and were awaiting the battle that lay ahead! We were not expecting to find a place quickly nor easily. Once being let off the bus in Mestre, we walked to the information office 50 metres up the road, inside the train station. We could not believe how many people were around, mainly youngsters who had come from all over for the concert. We asked about cheap accomodation and were promptly told that the cheapest option was at a 3-star “budget” hotel close by, which would cost 97 euros per room, including a full buffet breakfast. We were also told us that there were only a few rooms left that were still available. Alex and I looked at each other and promptly accepted! We knew that finding something else at this point would either be impossible, or so time consuming that it would waste enough precious time to write off the day!
It was a short bus ride to the hotel, and we were checked in in no time at all. Was our room worth 97 euros (approximately AUD $160.00)? Absolutely not! But these are the prices here. It was by far the most expensive place we had stayed in since leaving Australia 10 months ago. Although we had missed out on the buffet breakfast that morning, I knew I should not have too much trouble making up for it the next day! Due to the accomodation situation, we had already booked and paid for our train to Florence, which we would leave for the next night. With two full days, we knew we would have a lot of walking to do (so, what’s new?), but we also knew that we would be able to fit in most of the main sights.
By midday, we were on our way to the Venetian city centre. Whilst the area around where we were staying was nothing spectacular, absolutely nothing can take away from the point when you reach that first tiny canal, see the first small bridge and that first cobble-stoned road, or I should say alley-way. Whilst there are neither cars nor motorbikes nor scooters on the islands, there are certainly throngs of people. The Venetians go about their merry way, weaving through what seems like a maze to us, but is really their backyard for them. Despite the masses, each new turn presented another exciting little snippet of life in a city which is built on 117 islands, with some 150 canals and 400 bridges.
Throngs aside, and I do not mean to focus on this, but I really do mean throngs (to qualify this, we catergorically had not seen this many tourists in one place, possibly on our entire trip) we had a whirlwind but fun two days in Venice. It is said that Venice receives some 20 million visitors a year. That is Australia’s entire population!
On that first afternoon, I suggested to Alex that we just wander around and get lost! It really is part of the fun of being in Venice. So, we set off without a fixed agenda! In no time at all we had stopped at a local “salumeria” (basically a place where they sell deli goods, such as ham, prosciutto and cheese), and were buying the ingredients for lunch. A smile swept across my face as I recalled having done this many years before, when I had backpacked Europe alone in my early 20s. Alex’s eyes lit up as the plethora and variety of food loomed in front of him and coaxed him to try it! We both agree, without a doubt, that there is no place on earth with the constant excellent quality of food to be found in Italy. It truly is impossible to find bad food! Regarding the coffee, I would be restating the obvious - it is without a doubt the best in the world!
We were soon sitting on somebody’s doorstep, munching on cheese and sundried tomato (add mortadella and proscitto to Alex’s) pannini, and watching the world go by. And there really is no better place to do this than Venice. If people watching is your thang, and it certainly is ours, it can provide hours of free and fun entertainment. The Italians are, without a doubt, the world’s walking fashion statement! It is a world where looks and style rate above all else. Interesting to observe! Sure, when I was much younger brands seemed to be of utmost importance, but at some point I grew out of it. Here the “older” people wear the likes of Gianni Versace like he only started creating two months ago, and Channel like it only became fashion yesterday......whilst the youngsters wear whatever the catwalks dictated last week! I would like to once again reconfirm that midriff and muffin tops are back, and it does not seem to matter if you are 12 or 50! Beware the "mutton dressed up as lamb" look, which when crossed with a muffin top becomes.....a "mutton top" (you can quote me, Ombretta Zanetti on that one!) Oh, and also, knee high boots with micro minis and shorts are oh so very in......trust me, we’re in Italy!
People, mostly visitors, were buying designer clothes, shoes and bags, like the next day would provide us with the Apocalypse. Alex and I entered the Ferrari store, just to try and get a whif of what the hype was all about. As people flocked to the counters, I checked out various garments, their price and where they were made: T-shirt, made in Bangladesh, 85 euros.......cap, made in Sri Lanka, 35 euros.......baby’s tiny t-shirt, made in China, 60 euros. I had to get out!
We walked up, over and down many, many bridges, and admired the multitude of old and beautiful buildings with their distinctive Renaissance architecture. The Grand Canal is obviously the widest of the canls, and it snakes through the entire city centre, imposing and grand, commanding the city’s attention at all times. Whilst gondolas and their “gondolieri” await and lure tourists, the “traghetti” or ferries come and go, taking people everywhere from Murano (Venice’s famous glass-making island) to Burano (where they make lace) and the Lido (the beach area). Venice is synonomous with hustle and bustle, where simply observing is an activity!
No visit to Venice would be complete without strolling through the majestic Piazza San Marco, which is astoundingly big for a sqaure built on a series of islands. Whilst breathtaking, our Lonely Planet guide hit the nail on the head when it described it as....“filled for much of the day with tourists, pigeons, balloon-vendors and policemen”. The reality check is that we are part of those tourists! The piece de resistance is the Basilica di San Marco, an enormous structure that was supposedly built to house the remains of St Mark. Regardless of whether you are into religion, architecture or history, it is a must see, as both the exterior as well as interior embellishments are spectacular. The square really does embody overseas romantic travel, and even I could not help but slip Alex a little kiss or two!
To describe Venice’s churches, both inside and out, would be impossible, as there are so many, most of which are spectacular. As we walked around we viewed and popped into many. I repeat, the architectural design and style, is a sight to behold. Italy was the seat of the Renaissance, and those who had designed and created these places of worship had done a brilliant job of providing future generations with some memorable eye candy! Nothing can really take away from their splendour!
We also visited some of Venice’s most famous sites, such as the Galleria Dell’Academia and the Peggy Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art. The former is set in one of Venice’s most impressive and grand Gothic palaces, and traces Venetian art from the 14th to the 18th centuries. As you wander through, it is not so much the paintings that you admire as much as the very famous Renaissance artists who painted them, such as Titian, Carpaccio and Tintoretto. You cannot help but lose yourself in the past, and wonder what life in this world was really like. The Renaissance played an extremely important part in the history of the world, and I wondered what it must have been like to have lived, worked and created in such a special and important age! The latter (www.guggenheim-venice.it) was a modern art museum. It is probably of no news to most of you that neither Alex nor I are particular afficionados of modern art, but my ears always prick up when I hear the name Salvador Dali, and this museum houses a number of his works, as well as some of Picasso’s. Both of these men worked with the surrealist genre. What attracts me to this genre, is that it works with people and the mind. It is about psyche and what people think. Voila! It makes sense that I would be thus interested!
Although we declined one of the steeply priced gondola rides (which I am sure would have been romantic, despite the fact that I am not really a romantic!), and avoided the stereotypical tunes to the likes of “ La Donna e Mobile” , we did opt for a squashy ride on a ferry, which provided some lovely views of the grandiose gothic palaces along one of the smaller canals. As I closed my eyes, I immagined that Alex and I were alone....and I could almost hear that tune!
Venice had been short but sweet! I was really looking forward to Florence, our next destination, as I would be seeing my Florentine friend Irma again after some 10 years.
"Let us not be ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, but ashamed of shabby ideals and shoddy philosophies" - Albert Einstein (It might be one of Albert´s quotes, but it is oft used by one of my best friends, Lizzie Leveridge).
(Photos: 1.- A Venetian gondolier in one of Venice´s many canals. 2.- Making the most of our Venetian buffet breakfast! 3.- A Venetian "street". 4.- Life in Venice is even more expensive for some! 5.- Ombi and Alex enjoying a gelati...........buonissimo! 6.- A typical Venetian scene. 7.- Romantic Venice, Piazza San Marco. 8.- The famous St Mark´s Square (Piazza San Marco). 9.- Beautiful Venetian architecture. 10.- Cruising the Venetian ¨highway". 11.- Another typical Venetian scene.)