Thursday, June 08, 2006

Torcello, Burano and an evening on the Grand Canal

Venice, May 2006: Day 2
> Previous day: Venice in the rain
Sunshine! I arrived at the quay to a beautiful view: the lagoon glinting green - the warm brick-and-stone towers of Venice - a mountain backdrop, peaks capped with white snow – the sun dancing on little waves – like opening a jewel box.

I was exploring the lagoon today, so from my base on the Lido I caught the large ferry which ploughs along the outer edge of the lagoon northwards towards the islands of Burano and Torcello. Sitting with the sun and wind on my face I was able to observe the various activities of the lagoon: dredging, fishing, construction works (perhaps the controversial Moses project, against which I saw various banners and posters organising protests).

Torcello, the abandoned island, was my principal goal. But to get there you need to take a smaller ferry from Burano, and by the time everyone had piled off my boat, the Burano ferry was already leaving its jetty. With half an hour until the next departure, I explored Burano. The island is famous for its brightly-painted fishermen's houses, and is incredibly picturesque. As I snapped away with my camera, I wondered whether the locals are legally required to live in gaudy houses, for the sake of the tourist trade. What would happen if you fancied living in a plain white house?

Although maintenance works on one of the canals detracted from the views, Burano was still a very pretty and charming island. Far more real and working-class than Venice, and on a much more human scale. Although the larger canals were busy with tourists, there were also quiet alleys festooned with washing lines that were just as appealing.
Umbrellas growing from houses on Burano
The most bizarre thing about Burano when I visited was the way in which the houses seemed to be growing umbrellas. Presumably because it had rained all the previous day, the town was full of umbrellas hung out to dry; dancing out from windows and washing lines like strange excrescences against the bright-painted walls.

Burano would have been a nice place to spend a couple of lazy hours; but I had a schedule and it was time to head off to Torcello.

Torcello is an evocative expanse of marshland, interrupted by the cathedral and town square which are all that's left of the island's busy past. I could write far more about the island, but suffice it to say that it's well-worth visiting: for its atmosphere, for the lagoon view from the campanile and for the cathedral's Byzantine mosaics. Wear insect repellent, though. I was planning to stop for lunch in a pleasant garden restaurant, but the clouds of insects put me off. I'd already been bitten once in Venice and I had no intention of providing lunch for the mosquitos of Torcello.

After returning to the Lido I made an afternoon sortie into Venice, wandering around in a daze of canals, palaces and vistas. I returned in time to take some photographs of the fine old hotels on the Lido before the sun sank. Then it was time for the Venetian evening.

A chance encounter on my previous visit to Venice had led to a rendezvous on a bridge, which led to an evening attending a party overlooking the Grand Canal (looking down on gondolas sliding past in the moonlight) and taking a private tour of Venice. So often the unplanned moments of holidays are among the most memorable...

> Day 3: The Lido, a Venetian quest and a new hotel

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Venice in the rain

Day One in Venice - May 2006

This was my second visit to Venice and it started off in the dark and in the rain. My delayed flight arrived at Marco Polo Airport at around 10pm and I didn't see much on the ferry journey to the Lido. Murano appeared out of the night, looking picturesque, then vanished again. The Lido itself was unromantic – streets and cars rather than the canals and gondolas of Venice – but I was too tired to care about my surroundings. By now it was too late to go out for the evening, so having found my accommodation (Hotel Reiter) I did not leave again till morning.

My first day started with the ominous sound of raindrops on tarmac. It rained heavily for the entire day. So what is there to do in Venice in the rain? I soon discovered the limitations. With rain outside and condensation inside there wasn't a view through the windows of the vaporetto I took over the lagoon to Venice. And wandering the streets of Venice in the rain isn't as easy as it sounds. For a start, they're mostly narrow lanes, with room for only two people holding umbrellas to pass. Tourists in Venice aren't put off my the rain (most are only here for a day or two), and negotiating crowded thoroughfares with an umbrella while jumping puddles is no easy task. The covered colonnades around St Mark's Square had become a refuge and gathering point for hundreds of bright waterproof-clad tour groups.

Before long I found that getting around and sightseeing was far from straightforward. And with my shoes beginning to let water, the only thing to do was to get out of the rain.

So I visited the Museo Correr and the Museo Archeologico, a rambling complex containing some fine art and classical statues, as well as interesting scenes of Venetian life. The museum's facilities were inadequate, but apart from that it was a good way to spend a couple of hours.

I ate a quick, late picnic lunch in my hotel room, then braved the heavy rain once again and wandered the lanes of central Venice for a while, more from duty than inclination. I contemplated buying a new (dry!) pair of shoes to cope with the wet, then decided that I should be optimistic and hope for an improvement in the weather.

I was lucky: by the time I'd eaten dinner (a good asparagus risotto with white wine in a cheap restaurant close to the Lido ferry stop, called La Pizzeria) the evening was drying out. There were streaks of pink sunset in the sky over the lagoon. I wandered down to the waterfront to look at the view over towards Venice. An elderly drunk was singing loudly in a small park by the water's edge. He was singing in Italian, too – it's not often you see an Italian drunk. A police boat had pulled up alongside to investigate this untoward behaviour. A strangely picturesque way to end the day.

> Day Two: Torcello, Burano and an evening on the Grand Canal.