On the Good Ship Venice

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October 12th 2013
Published: October 12th 2013
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On the Good Ship Venice, my God you should have seenice.

3rd October

Whisked along in speed and comfort to Milan where we had to change for another high tech train to Venice.

Ron needs to work on his Italian language skills. While changing trains a young lad approached Ron at the carriage door asking (as it turns out) if he would like assistance with the bags. Ron says I’m ok - meaning no. He hears “Okay” and our bags are summarily wrenched from Ron’s grip, launched into the carriage; “whicha seat, whicha seat numero?”; “6D & 7D”; and with superhuman strength he lifts the giant suitcases into the overhead carriers, plus the smaller bags as well. All in less than 30 secondos; “Five Euro pleasa.” Ron has only one Euro and eighty cents in change; or a fifty note; which the lad is not getting! “Five Euro pleasa.” “Five Euro pleasa.” Starting to look ugly. Other passengers are staring. Judy to the rescue. Four more Euros are found. All good and he got us on the train in record time. Next time we know to just say; “No No!”

Scenery is relatively unremarkable until we are closer to Venice with vines, wineries and pretty villages whizzing past our windows. Water. We are on a causeway, a long causeway, a very long causeway. There are docks and moorings on both sides, and a few boats. We then roll into Venice St Lucia Station.

Walk out the front entrance and whammy! Canals, water taxis, water buses, boats, barges and people everywhere. This is incredible Venice. We see a “Water Taxi” sign. Moored at the bottom of the pontoon ramp is a sleek white and timber craft with a folding canopy at the front and a long cabin complete with sliding roof for the passengers. A charming and elegantly attired young man comes up the ramp; ”where to?”; he does not know the hotel but we have a map; no worries! He draws a neat diagram on the map showing us how to walk to the hotel from the proposed drop off point and we are off!

This is just like the movies. Ron stands at the rear and strikes his best Johnny Depp pose as we weave through scores of gondolas, ferries and pleasure boats to San Marco. Bags are deftly lifted onto the landing and Judy gracefully alights. Ron waddles carrying the bags until the pavement is reached. A five minute walk and we are at Hotel reception. This hotel is across three properties, with two receptions, but it is all wonderful and we find ourselves in a delightful 14th century Gothic Venetian room of medieval aspect including ancient exposed beams, a Murano chandelier, antique furniture, modern plumbing, flat screen TV and free WiFi. Yes folks, in case you did not absorb the previous sentence, this place was built 400 years before Captain Cook sailed to what is now Australia. Our room is not actually on a canal, but Hotel reception is; complete with two singing gondoliers and a brilliant street café and bar that we call home whenever a quick caffeine injection is needed, or a beer, or a Bellini, or another Bellini. For those that do not know, a Bellini is a peach and Prosecco cocktail. For those that do know, a Bellini is a peach and Prosecco cocktail.

At around 4pm we take stroll back to San Marco to encounter the tourist throngs that crush around San Marco and St Mark’s Square. Flotillas of souvenir stalls and hawkers everywhere. We have never seen crowds like this. Despite the daunting crowds, this place is impressive. The Basilica is breathtaking and worthy of further investigation as is the Doge’s Palace. The shops and restaurants surrounding St Marks Square are fascinating. Yes there are the usual high priced designer stores, but here in Venice it all seems more exotic. Every fifteen metres or so there is a small café orchestra belting out a tune for the respective diners. On the south eastern corner near the Doge’s Palace a crowd (make that a bigger crowd) has formed around a brilliant classical musical group. They are very, very good and their spirited playing is rewarded with a steady shower of coins in their instrument cases. All of this until two sheepish Carabinieri arrive. No permit apparently. The crowd boos and hisses but to no avail. The concert is over. The crowd want blood but eventually dissipate quietly.

So many picturesque streets and alley ways. A photo opportunity every ten metres. Several times we encountered fashion shoots, with models prancing and draping themselves against the patina of statues, ancient architecture and of course canals and gondoliers in striped shirts. Ron is not once mistaken for Johnny Depp nor Leo DeCaprio and does not have to fend off the paparazzi.

4th October

Ron finds an unassuming joint at the waterfront that sells tickets to the Basilica and the Doge’s Palace. It is also a Bureau de Change and on entry, a pleasant American fellow informs Ron that; “you’re after me buddy” and smiles wryly. Ron stands in the corner and begins to understand why the American chap was bemused. At the counter are two Asian ladies, with two Italian friends in tow. They have clearly been there a while and are exchanging currency, having just signed the credit card slip when the card owner notes the seven Euro commission (which is pretty standard at these places) and starts yelling NO, NO, not pay. Her friends tell her that they must have this cash to pay for tickets, the American tells her to go some place else. They argue with her for some time but she has gone white hot with anger. The clerk rips up the transaction receipt and snatches the credit card off her; “I reverse the transaction for you, so you can please go away. I have other customers waiting.” She then has to sign the reversal, but refuses; “I not sign anything here!” “OK I call the police”; says the clerk. She signs and they leave. The American laughs and tells Ron that commission is usually at least eight Euros. She will not do better anywhere else. Ron buys our tickets that save us queuing at the venues. Meanwhile, back at St Marks Square, Judy wonders where the hell Ron has been.

Meanwhile back at St Marks square, the place is turning into St Marks Lake! It is high tide and water is bubbling up through cracks and manhole covers. Only a few millimetres deep but enough to ruin your Jimmy Choos; hence the duck boards set up across the square. There are enough high spots to get about and our Nikes did not get wet. After around an hour it subsided. According to a shopkeeper it happens every day; sometimes much worse.

The Basilica tickets are for a particular time and we turn up at the dedicated entrance and straight in we go. The entrance area is now permanently flooded and the punters have to walk on the duckboards. Despite the clear symbols and signage in four languages there is the usual quota of morons trying to go the wrong way.

It is difficult to quantify the beauty and the splendour of these places of worship. Westminster, St Pauls, Notre Dame and Tours cathedral all are all glorious in their own ways. For us, perhaps St Pauls in London was the most beautiful, if not the most historic. St Marks is incredible. The interior features over seven thousand square metres of gold leaf. A very beautiful and moving place.

That afternoon we wander across to the Doge’s Palace. There is a very long queue plus an entrance for advance purchased tickets – that’s us and we go straight in. The Doge’s is a less extravagant version of Versailles, without the excesses and obviously no gardens. We loved it and often just sat in some of the grand spaces just soaking up the beauty and the history. The Doge’s also connects to the prison on the other side and we walk through the famous Bridge of Sighs; where prisoners had their last view of the outside world after sentencing. The dungeons moved us for different reasons and must have been a dank, dark and brutal place to be incarcerated.

Later we bought a twenty four hour Vaporetto Pass (water bus system) and did the full loop around the outside of the island and then the complete Grand Canal. A great tour for only a few Euros. There were a few massive cruise ships near St Lucia, sleek water taxis, impressive pleasure craft and work boats carrying everything imaginable. If it needs to be moved in Venice it has to be by water. Of course, gondolas were everywhere in the Grand Canal. We did not partake of Gondola heaven; watching them glide past in our local “street” was enough.

After some fairly perfunctory service in a touristy Ristorante the previous night, lured by exciting aromas, we tried a little place around the corner from our room called “Luna Sentada”. Venetian food inspired by Marco Polo and the spice trade. The food was a fusion of Italian, Asian and Middle Eastern flavours. Absolutely brilliant with a helpful waiting team eager to explain everything. We were clearly lucky to get a table. Not long after we were seated, there were people waiting patiently outside in the rain for tables to become free. We booked a table for the next evening.

5th October

The morning was spent ambling around and exploring the alleys and passageways near our hotel. Around the main canals there are scores of souvenir shops with mass produced T shirts, novelties and particularly; Carnevale masks. In the back street near our room there were some serious Carnevale costumeries featuring incredible hand made masks and costumes. These workshops were an endless source of wonder for us both. It was wonderful to see these artisan skills are still alive.

We still have a valid Vaporetto pass and decide to head out to Murano. Well, that was a few hours of our lives that we won’t get back! If you are not into glass (and expensive glass at that) then basically give it a miss. We did stumble across a small museum which was quite interesting but that was about it. Enough said!! The boat rides to and from are always fun however and are integral to the charm of Venice.

It is enjoyable just wandering about taking in the ambience and after making it back to our “street” we succumb to the temptations of hand painted papier mache and blue chicken feathers.

6th October

The hotel concierge arranges a water taxi pick up almost at our door. It is high tide and our wake clearly washes over doorsteps as we glide through small local canals. It is raining and Ron foregoes the Johnny Depp / Leo DeCaprio posing. We emerge into the Grand Canal and the throttle is opened a little whilst we weave around slower traffic and the ubiquitous gondolas. He takes a left and we are in open water, the engine roars and we are skimming across choppy water. A few bridges later and we are at St Lucia station.

Off to Florence . . . .


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