Monday, 1 October 2012

Summer 2012 - Venice

Within days of getting back from Greenbelt I was moving house, and within days of that I was in Italy! My youngest sister and I had been planning to have a trip to Europe before she began university this autumn.  After a lot of deliberation we went with Venice, city of canal, culture, and good weather in September!
St Marc's square

As usual on my holidays, I kept a short diary of what we did each day...

Arrived and had the classic mental holiday arrival experience:
1) Wow, it looks so amazing from the air
2) Oh, but the airport looks like every other airport
3) Oh, but the weather is warmer.
4) Except that it's raining.

The usual bumble of trying the find your bus and hotel with limited language skills, the indignation at the local facilities (I'm on my idealised fantasy getaway, how dare you have a petrol station!")  But once the room and dinner have been secured everything levels out.

Day 1
Breakfast, and took the vaporetto (water bus) to Rialto (by accident!) and then to San Marco.  This square has the Doge's Palace, the Cathedral and the Campanile all together so it's a major tourist spot, and it's easy to see why.  So much wow!  The Lagoon was wow, and the Doge's Palace was wow, and the view from the Campanile (bell tower) was wow...  So much wow.  Wandered about for the rest of the morning, got lunch, then went back to St Mark's square where the queues were all magically shorter and we got in at double quick time. 

View south from St Marks, across the lagoon
St Mark's Cathedral was pretty amazing - old and almost dingy in the gloom but then, you realise, covered in gold.  It definitely helps having a Christian upbringing in these situations because so much of Venice's art is religious in nature and we got to play my favourite game for old buildings - Decipher the Historical Artifacts!  With our Bible knowledge and my dodgy translation skills we figured out as many of the scenes as we could, including one on a carved pillar marked "Demones mittin porcos" - demons in the pigs.  Felt so proud of ourselves!

Inside St Marcs

The Campanile was great, being so high really gave you an idea of the strange isolated place that Venice is.  It almost feels like a Disney display or a movie set - t can't grow, it's unlikely to change being the tourist attraction it is, and with it's tiny streets and traffic an impossibility I can't imagine that the crime rate is very high.  I've not seen a supermarket or high street clothes shop, yet people do live here  It's almost bizarre, but a beautiful city.

My sister atop the Campanile

View into the city
Every room had this level of decoration
on every wall and ceiling
The Doge's Palace went on foreeeeeevvveer.  Emma and I were pretty overwhelmed by epic-scale art and the amount of gold their was.  The Doge was barely allowed to leave the palace, let alone the city, and his home is huge to reflect this, including spare rooms, council rooms and antechambers upon antechambers.  Went over the Bridge of Sighs and had my assumptions corrected.  For some reason I'd always imagined the sighs to be romantic ones - a famous bridge in a romantic city - but instead they linked the palace and prison so the sighs were of despair.  Charming!

We opted to walk back from St Marco to Rialto for dinner and then pack to the Piazalle del Roma via a gelato shop.  I'm not really using the map to navigate a great deal, more as a directional aid to take a bearing from,  To get back to the hotel simply head North-East from St Marco and aim to hit the Grand Canal, which we duly did.  Really one needs a compass more than a map - then again I am the girl who drives by the Sun, so it could just be me.
It's easy to find food in the tourist spots but on our way back we spotted several smaller cafes that were tucked away.  We seem to stumble on them by accident en route to other places but we plan to do it again.  My dinner was good - spaghetti and cuttlefish.  It looked like tar and stained my tongue black but tasted excellent.  Even the simple pasta dishes taste good here - as one would expect being in Italy!

Day 2

Took the vaporetto (we're getting good at these now!) to Murano.  Got off at the first stop and were directed left, over a bridge, and into a red building for a free glass-blowing demonstration.  there's a couple around, most cheap, some free.  We paid a few Euros for a second one where a master and apprentice co-created a swan, then blew up a bubble of glass until it burst!  There's shop after shop after shop, all full of Murano glass.  Some of the stuff appears in most of them, but there's almost always something a bit more unique and bizarre, from elaborate chandeliers to giant sculptures of cuttlefish, tiny glass orchestras to demons staring at their own decapitated heads.

Glass sculpture in a Murano piazza

Grocery shop on a boat
Back to Venice after lunch and we went to find the Ghetto Nuova, the world's first ghetto.  Missed the Museo Ebraico (Jewish Museum), tucked into a corner of the square, quite badly labelled.  If anything this was the most interesting place we've visited so far.  there's a museum explaining the history of the Jews in Venice and parts of their culture.
In a nutshell, the Jews in the area weren't allowed into Venice - they lived on Veneto, the mainland, and were only allowed into the city for a week or two at a time.  As the Catholic nation viewed the Jews as 'lost souls' the only job they were allowed to have was as a Usurer - a pawnbroker - which was a sinful profession.

Memorial wall in the Ghetto Nuova 
In 1509 a war was lost on Veneto and the Jews there applied to live in Venice, which was granted despite protest.  In 1516 the German Jews were moved into the Ghetto Nuovo (new ghetto).  The word comes from 'geto' which is old Italian for an iron foundry, after one which used to be in the area.  In 1541 an area was added for the incoming Levantine (Spanish) Jews who were wealthy merchants.  Jews were also banned from Spain in 1492 and some arrived in Venice in 1589.  These were the Pomentine Jews.  All of them were over-taxed and charged rent a third higher than the standard.  In 1797 there were 1,626 Jewish inhabitants in the ghetto.  The area was made an island by the canals around it, gates were locked from midnight until morning.  They organised their own council to represent themselves.
After a brief freedom the ghetto was re-imposed in 1938.  Italy was a fascist country during WW2 and over 2000 Jews were removed from the ghetto and taken to Poland and Auschwitz.  Only eight returned.  The rest were gassed.  The tour from the Museum takes you round some of the five synagogues set up by the Jewish nations that joined the ghetto over the years.  It was a fascinating and sobering thing to see, and a good counterpoint to the unending romanticism that Venice caters.

There was a Jewish couple on our tour as well as my sister and I who are Christian, which added an interesting dimension.  For the other couple this was the history of their people; they were keen to attend a service in the synagogue and the stories told had a very personal impact for them.  Even though Emma and I aren't Catholics it was other Christians that forced the ghetto upon the Jewish ancestors when we should have known better, but I felt more that Christians and Jews are only a single step of truth away from each other.  In a sense the Jewish people are our older brothers and it was good to stand with them and acknowledge that what had been done was done to all our ancestors.

The canals around the ghetto
After a quick catnap at the hotel we set off wandering in search of food.  Found a place that sold good dinner, away from the main tourist area and cheaper for it, although they did manage to overstretch themselves and we had to wait nearly an hour to eat.  On the plus side we found some pretty great gelato on that street.  Pear-flavoured.  I did not see that one coming but it is delicious.  Too late to find authentic snacks so settled for a couple of American-style cookies and a lolly for Emma.

Day 3
Went to the Gallerie dell'Arte today, the world's largest collection of Venezian art.  Understandably a lot of it was religious (so many Jesuses!  So many Marys!) and me and Emma, who is the best  person to visit these things with by far, spent a long time going round them all, marking them and guessing who was in them.  Our favourites included the incorrectly labelled "Noah and the Unicorn" (really 'La Creazione degli animals') and the 'Burrasca di mare', which leant itself to a whole different storyline involving a five-man naked stag-do and someone riding a fish.  Had lunch (more gelato flavours to try!) then went for a browse across the Ponte d'Academia, back to Rialto and then the hotel.  You really can traverse the whole city in about an hour if you've a mind to.  We stopped so I could buy some Murano glass and a pack of biscottis.  trying new things is fun!

Noah and the Unicorn

Pretty much every time we saw a church we went in it, which is a great thing to do.  Each one is different and some of the art is magnificent.  I had time for a little drawing and dangling my feet in the lagoon.  Food today was cheap and cheerful - we're still baffling the waiters by not having starters or coffee - and our confidence at asking for things seems to be improving, although our pronunciations still err on the side of dodgy at times.  Re-visited our favourite gelato stand (it sells Pear!  I've not seen that flavour in any other so far and it's definitely my favourite).  Spent the rest of our evening surrounded by the fliers and tickets we'd accumulated during our stay, using them to make collages of our trip.
Inside St Maria de Salute

All packed and an early start tomorrow.  As long as we get to the airport in time I guess we can sleep on the plane.  I'm convinced Britain will be in the gip of autumn by the time we get back but here it's been skirts and strap-tops every day.  I've had my summer.

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