THE MOST ROMANTIC PLACE IN THE WORLD... SURELY!
Dazzling, intriguing and fascinating, ANTHONY LYDEKKER spends a week in Venice to find out just what it is that keeps people going back…
VENICE is surely the most dazzling, intriguing, fascinating city in the world. And one that has had so much written about it over the centuries.
It is easy to run out of superlatives and understandable that so many people keep going back. This makes it hard to write about particularly as so many great writers and poets have covered it with so many notable quotes.
My two favourites are among the shortest: “Venice is the most romantic place in the world but it’s even better when there is no one around” - Woody Allen. And “Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.” - Truman Capote.
Over the years I had never spent more than couple of nights in Venice so a week was my first first real visit. All the superlatives are justified it’s a great experience and knowing all the things remaining to see is why so many people just keep going back. In a few hundred words I am going to highlight a few of Capote’s chocolate liqueurs and pass on some practical tips of aspects “on the ground” including cautions about some perils in Venice involving steps and not going in the water!
The very best way to get into Venice from Marco Polo Airport is to share a speed boat taxi for a drop off near to where you are staying or even to the hotel. It’s a great experience to come across the bay and see Venice emerging on the horizon. There can be spectacular skies and water reflections and the city is a cornucopia of inspirational views for painters and photographers. Once first thing to notice is the complete absence of any motor vehicles – no cars, trucks or scooters. Every single thing and all services go by water. So you need to get to know where and when the Vaporettos go. Incidentally you can get your passes and maps on line before travelling – and there are links at the end of this article. And of course you can travel in a bit more slowly from the airport in a Vaporetto.
Venice need not be expensive to eat and drink. There are numerous small bars and cafés. Look out for the Chichetti which have a great choice of “small plates” many for just a few Euros each like Tapas bars. There is a very good choice of meats, cheeses, fish and pastries. Among a great variety I go for the meat balls and you must try Baccalà Mantecato a very traditional Venetian dish made from dried Atlantic cod pounded with olive oil, milk and garlic very like the French Brandade de Morue.
At present the aperitif of choice seems to to be what they call a Spritz made with a small amount of Aperol topped up with Prosecco – the latter of course comes from nearby Treviso.
Getting round Venice has to covered on foot or boat. There are of course the Gondolas which are not cheap and some of the Gondolieri do sing!
One of the great features of Venice is of course St Mark’s Square with Basilica San Marco, the Doge’s Palace and the Campanile Tower. However, it can be very crowded so early in the morning is probably the best time to visit.
There is another factor to bear in mind which is that it is prone to flooding. Some “old hands” suggest taking your wellies. They do put boards to walk on low scaffolding but be careful because the boards can be very slippery. This prompts a very important caution: do not ever walk down any steps leading into the canals. Even if they look dry they can be dangerously slippery. I know, as I once slipped into the Grand Canal on a photo shoot just moving the camera eight inches and one foot down just one more step.
There many guided walks to get the feel of the whole city and there are quite a lot of blind alleys. But very often they lead into a charming piazza and often a church. Many of the churches, even the smaller ones have rare paintings and fine decoration. Many repeat visitors find this the most appealing aspect of Venice.
There are of course the great art galleries and museums. One of the most notable is the Gallerie dell'Accademia covering the 14th to 18th Centuries with work by Bellini, Titian, Tintoretto and many others including Giorgione who produced The Tempest which I have reproduced here. No one has any idea what it means and it is possibly the most enigmatic major work of art. The picture which I shot at the Accademia has been on loan at our Royal Academy (it goes back to Venice in mid-June). Surprisingly, photography without flash is allowed in some of the Venetian Galleries.
Modern art and photography is also well covered in Venice and every other year there is the Biennale which is running in 2016 from May to 27th November and at the same time there is the 15th International Architecture Exhibition. This includes pop up shows, fringe activities and significant pavilions from the USA and China.
There is also the permanent Peggy Guggenheim Collection of 20th Century art converted from her palazzo. When I was there there was a major show of American and European women photographers with a lot of work by Diane Arbus. When in Venice a very good outing (about 40 minutes by Vaporetto) is to the Islands of Murano and Burano. Murano glass has been popular for a few centuries. Burano is smaller and quieter and is famous for lace making originally introduced from Cyprus in the 16th Century. All the houses are painted in different and distinctive colours and Burano has a small canal system. The boat trip itself is a relaxing antidote for some of the crowds around the main Venice sites.
This has been only a brief introduction to what Venice has to offer and why so many keep going back again and again. There is a vast range of tourist packages but I would pick a couple to look at first: venicewelcome.com and veneziaunica.it. This an official site for booking Vaporetto season tickets. It also has a Call Centre with English speakers on this number from the UK: 0039 041 24 24