Thursday, March 29, 2007

From Venice back to Gatwick - March 2007

Day 5: Back to the UK through Marco Polo Airport

> Previous day: pottering around Venice

Once more I took the ATVO bus between Piazzale Roma and Marco Polo Airport. I noticed that I was the only passenger to receive the driver's assistance with getting a suitcase onboard (and again the other end to take it out of the luggage hold).

Once more I appreciated the calm atmosphere in the departure lounge – so different from budget flights where everyone is desperately queueing for ages. I was a bit miffed with Marco Polo Airport, though. I had been told cheerfully the day before (by a Venetian) that Venetians are a sly lot, and when I was told at the BA desk that they'd 'run out' of regulation see-through bags, and was directed to a newsagent where I had to pay 30 cents I was sure it was a racket. (During my visit, incidentally, the headlines in Venice were all about a car-parking 'racket' – yes, the English word – in Venice. Oh, and bedbugs in hotels.) I've since heard of someone encountering the same plastic-bag problem at Bristol Airport – though I'm not sure that proves it's not a racket. Since it's airport security who insist we use the bags for our liquids, it seems only fair that they should provide them. At Stansted I've always been handed them (free) at the check-in desk or at the security barrier.

The BA plane (female pilot) was fairly empty. Once again I relished the free food and drink, stretched my legs out in the space provided and felt no nostalgia for those crowded Ryanair planes. There were fabulous views of the alps (so many of them...). I sat sucking boiled honey sweets that I'd bought from a monastery shop in Florence and listing all the great things I could do once based at my new Venetian flat.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Pottering around Venice - March 2007 trip

Day 4: Wednesday - Pottering around Venice

> Previous day: A trip to Treviso

In the morning it occurred to me that I hadn't even been near St. Mark's this trip.
Tea and cake at the Rialto, Venice
After viewing the studio I was thinking of renting I wandered to the Rialto and enjoyed tea and cake at a canalside table next the the bridge. I watched some men manoeuvring boats loaded with boxed goods for the nearby shops. My biro ran out as I was writing notes, so after crossing the bridge I purchased a new slidey pen at a souvenir stall. Walking back in the direction of San Polo I purchased a nice fresh roll (30 cents) for my lunch at a tempting bakery. Then I was enticed into a stationery shop selling fancy notebooks and cards.
Luggage conveyor belt
I didn't do any hardcore sightseeing in the afternoon. I visited Piazzale Roma on a quest which failed. Alongside the bus stops is a canal where boats pull up to load/unload travellers' suitcases. These are lifted on and off the boats by an extendable conveyor belt. I find the process an intriguing example of how Venice copes with its unique logistical problems. Sadly, the conveyor belt wasn't operating at the time, so I failed to shoot any interesting footage.

From Piazzale Roma I headed south to look at some of Venice's twentieth-century architecture, which makes an interesting contrast with the rest of the city.
Modern architecture, Venice
Next I sat myself down and enjoyed a lovely freshly-squeezed blood orange juice in the sunshine outside a nice little bar in a tiny square. Sitting in the sun in the campiello, sipping my spremuta and writing notes, I listened to the noisy chirping of sparrows, contemplated a forthcoming rendezvous and decided I simply had to rent the flat I'd viewed. The idea of a life like this (albeit temporarily) was just too seductive.

Much later, after dark, I bought some exciting chocolate gifts in a shop near San Toma, and took a trip on the vaporetto. Alighting at St. Mark's (it just didn't seem right to visit Venice without passing the Piazza) I walked towards the Rialto. I inspected the exterior of my new flat (the lane was satisfactorily quiet) and then caught the vaporetto back to my holiday accommodation. This was an exciting trip – I saw three Grand Canal palaces decked out for parties, with guests in costumes, flaming torches and even two liveried trumpet-blowing heralds.

> Last day: back to the UK

A day in Treviso - Venice trip March 2007

Day 3 - Tuesday: Venice to Treviso by train

> Previous day: a tour of the islands

This was just a four-day trip, and I was already panicking about not being in Venice for long enough. One of my goals was to find a flat to rent for a longer stay, and I hadn't even started looking. I spent half the morning nervously considering letting agencies (but they're hard to locate, as are all addresses in Venice) and making notes. The most promising one (as recommended in Time Out) was already closed at 11:50. So I decided to go to Treviso. I wouldn't have a whole day for sightseeing, but enough to take photographs and make notes. And it was another glorious day - blue sky; hot sun.

I just missed a train and couldn't be bothered to walk to Piazzale Roma to investigate buses. Instead I hunted for food.

I was very happy to find a branch of Brek on Lista di Spagna. This decent Italian chain was a reassuring sight among the tourist traps. A bar at the front sold sandwiches and fruit juice. Further back was a full self-service restaurant with pasta dishes (3 per day), salads, meat dishes, fruit salads etc. You could fill a glass of local Veneto red or white wine from self-service taps for €1.10. I didn't really fancy wine but I couldn't resist the opportunity to brag about it to English friends. I ate pappardelle ai 4 formaggi (€4.50) – a little soft and salty, perhaps, but fine for refuelling purposes. The restaurant even had a few tables outdoors in a little yard. The toilets weren't very nice though.

I caught the 12:50 train for Treviso, arriving at 13:27. I bought my single ticket from a machine; it cost €2.20. You wouldn't get far for that in England. As the train crossed the rail bridge over the lagoon there was a hazy view of distant snow on the mountains.


Arriving in Treviso I followed signs through an underpass to the centro and walked further than I had expected towards Piazza dei Signori, the heart of town. Before getting there I took a diversion to the Church of San Nicolò, stopping to buy an ice cream with zingy citrus flavours to cool me down. It was a lovely cheap (90 cents) way of getting back into an Italian mood. Having selected lemon the motherly lady behind the counter recommended adding some ACE, an popular Italian mixture which I'm never quite sure about (I believe it's orange, carrots and lemons; I used to think the name referred to the the first letters of the ingredients – arance, carote and what?? but perhaps it's the vitamin content). It tasted lovely and was the perfect thing in the hot weather. The church was impressive and ridiculously elongated. It was, of course, closed with no intimation of opening times. So I resumed my course towards Piazza dei Signori. I was concerned that the tourist office might still be closed for lunch too but it had reopened at 2pm (I was glad of the pauses for lunch and gelato).

The young girl staffing the tourist information office tried hard but didn't speak terribly confident English. I waited while an English-speaking couple interrogated her about places to watch sport on tv, and the location of betting shops (some inventive descriptions to convey their meaning to her). Speaking Italian, I found her much more able to help. Friendly and chatty, she produced extra maps and described the town's attractions. She added that you could see most of them in an hour which seemed a rather modest statement. Some of the information about the province was very tempting.

I saw my ideal dress in a shop window along Calmaggiore, the (relatively) busy street leading to the cathedral. It was out of my price range however, so it was probably a good thing the shop was closed for a long Italian lunch.

I was disappointed with Piazza del Duomo (a car park and busy road, with handfuls of loitering students) and also with the Duomo itself – it had obviously been rebuilt at quite a late date so didn't have the historic charm I was expecting. It too was closed so I opened my 'Treviso, city of the waters' leaflet and set off on one of the recommended strolls.

This led me along some very pleasant little lanes and canals, past two moving waterwheels – I was going to saw 'working' but although they were operating I'm not sure they fulfilled any industrial or energy-generating purpose (it would be great if they did provide electricity though). A little island surrounded by water is the base for the morning fish-market, which had packed up and gone home. A fish sculpture sticks out of the water alongside the road.
Treviso was quiet in this early-afternoon lull, with a few smartly-dressed professionals on their way to or from lunch and several cyclists wheeling around the quiet streets. The arcaded streets provide great protection for pedestrians from blazing sun or torrential rain.

Despite the air of prosperity (even wealth) and the much-vaunted north Italian efficiency, the 'closed for lunch' encounters reminded me of many past day-trips further south. Arriving at the Church/Museum of Santa Caterina, eager to see the frescoes by Tomaso da Modena of which I had read much praise, the Italian curse struck again. The church is being restored. The frescoes can't be visited. Nor can the Titian. Actually, most of Treviso's museums seem to be under restoration and rearrangement. Still, I paid my small entrance fee and admired the paintings in the museum's open galleries.

I rather liked Lorenzo Lotto's Portrait of a Domenican, who appears to be writing his accounts – one hand is protectively across his papers, alongside a pile of coins and the keys of his calling (the guardian of the convent of San Zanipolo in Venice). I also much admired the pretty gardens that formed the background to a Concert in a Villa by Ludovico Pozzoserrato.

A short walk from the museum was the church of San Francesco; a nice cool refuge from the sun. Although not quite as dramatic as San Nicolò, this is another lofty brick structure and featured a large version of the wooden ships-keel roofs I've recently seen in Venice and Mazzorbo. There are more winged angel faces here, painted onto a column, which remind me of the faces I found so creepy in the Accademia. In the smaller chapels were faded medieval frescoes by forgotten artists; like the sad attributions you see so often: Pittore Veneto (Veneto painter) etc.

The stroll back towards the heart of town was picturesque, passing along arcaded lanes (with hints of fresco) and over a pretty bridge. I visited the Duomo and found the interior matched the neoclassical portico. However, the crypt contained some truly old wallpaintings. I dug out my last small change to pay the 30 cents required to illuminate them. Unfortunately, when I headed back upstairs to admire Titian's Annunciation I found that another 30 cents was required. So I had to view it as best I could in the shadowy church.

On the way back to the station I stopped off at San Nicolò, now open. Again there were some sweet frescoes by Tomaso da Modena (who I will have to look up) and less-remembered artists.

I'd enjoyed wandering around Treviso with its secretive waterways and arcaded streets. I passed several tempting bars and cafes, and thought it would have been a nice place to spend an evening or two.

A welcome spremuta di arancia (freshly-squeezed orange juice) and it was time for the train back to Venice. Unlike the smart modern carriages of the outward journey (a double-decker with a display informing passengers of the speed, temperature and punctuality) this was a terribly old rickety thing. After the sunshine and Italian-style refreshments of the day (pasta, wine, gelato, spremuta) I found myself dozing off during the short journey.

Nevertheless I found the energy to pop into that promising estate agency on my way back to the flat. They didn't have anything ideal on their books but I arranged to view a small studio in the following morning. A successful day.

A short video clip I made of Treviso:

> Next day: Pottering around Venice and decisions in the sunshine

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Mazzorbo, Burano and Murano - Venice trip March 2007

Day 2 - Monday : A tour of the islands

> Day 1: From London to Venice

Currently writing my journal on the LN ferry to Mazzorbo and Burano. Can see snowy mountains; a glorious day. The light is incredible this trip. I walked to the Fondamente Nuove stop across the Rialto and sometimes during the walk I could hardly breathe for admiration of the town's beauty. Gondoliers perched on bridges, old couples in suits and furs out buying bread, the smell of coffee (normally don't even like it!) spilling out of bars, the steel prow of a gondola sliding into view from under a bridge, Santa Maria dei Miracoli etc.


I got off the boat and walked past the occasional cycling resident back in the direction the ferry had come from, past picturesque houses and fishing nets. I headed for the old campanile I'd seen from the outdoor seat of the ferry. Santa Caterina was a lovely old church with a wooden arched ceiling, irregular brick walls, a worn red and white marble floor and an assortment of decorative features from different eras. There was no-one in sight, but this was the homely safe sort of place where offerings are left in an open dish. My only reservation about Mazzorbo was the persistent buzzing noise – of planes landing at the nearby airport and of – much, much worse – mosquitos.

The path towards the Burano bridge headed along grass verges with flowers and white butterflies dancing around. Some local people were sitting under an awning alongside the path. Given the homemade banners beside them and all around the island, I deduced they were forming a peaceful protest against a new projected communications mast. A man cycled past and was greeted familiarly, before being asked if he had a few hours free to take part. A short distance along the path three men were standing around chatting, their fluorescent tunics identifying them as 'Polizia locale', there to keep an eye on the protestors, I assumed.


I was tempted into a posh little restaurant called Riva Rosa, attracted by the tables outside in the sun by the colourful canal. Staff – all charming, English-speaking and mostly handsome – produced a lovely vegetarian dish. I know if I'd been travelling with friends we'd have been tempted by the wine list, as were fellow diners, and would probably have spent a tidy sum and most of the afternoon basking in the sunshine and quiet views.

However, the lovely sunny weather was ideal for appreciating for Burano's brightly-painted houses. Walking along with my coat over my arm I noticed a remarkable amount of attention from men. This year's fashionable smock and leggings look seemed to go down rather too well with Burano's menfolk. I remember a friend in Rome theorising that Italian men go a bit crazy in spring, after months of seeing the female form covered up in giant inflatable winter coats and scarves. Certainly the mere hint of woman was bringing men out of their houses on the Venetian lagoon. One middle-aged man descended from his front steps to greet me.

Despite the tourists who roam their streets all day, Burano still feels like a village or even a family home. Many households were drying their laundry outside in courtyards and lanes, and I watched one housewife hanging her wet sheets right across the street from her house, against the wall behind the church. In the main square a girl in dressed in alternative fashion sat lace-making outside a shop, which made me hope that the guidebooks' pessimistic comments about a dying art might be premature. The church being closed for lunchtime, I explored more of the little lanes and canals. It's not hard to get away from the tourist groups, although you'll encounter the odd photographer prowling every so often. I spent some time myself trying to get the best photograph of the canals and of Torcello over the water against the lovely mountain backdrop.
> My previous visit to Burano and Torcello

Return to Venice via Murano

On my way back to Venice, after marvelling at a man in a red gondola who was travelling across the lagoon from Murano to Burano, I got off the boat in Murano. I had recently broken a glass ring I bought here, so I was on the hunt for a replacement. I wandered for a while, and discovered that the island is surprisingly big, with some rather grand villas hidden away off the main canal. I looked around one or two glass shops, rather impressed by the range of products (from beads to dragons), then it was time to return on the vaporetto to Venice.

> Next day : a trip to Treviso
> Venice tourist guide

From London to Venice - March 2007

Day 1 - Sunday: Arrival

3:50 alarm clock. Walk through the City of London to St. Paul's to take the number 8 bus to Victoria. Revellers after their night out, bleary eyed. Some Russian-looking girls and a young man sitting awkwardly next to a pool of sick left by a previous passenger. The Gatwick Express was a smooth journey but without a trolley service (I needed tea). It was a scenic journey; still night on the right-hand side of the train, the sky turning morning blue on the other. Four vapour trails of aeroplanes were lit up by the still-invisible sun. Ate a very welcome cheese and marmite heated roll (good idea) at the airport, came out of the loos to find the information board was displaying my gate; walked to there (15 minutes) to find there were no other passengers there. I was afraid I was the last and everyone else had boarded, but in fact I was the very first. Eye-opening relaxation about boarding on a scheduled airline with prebooked seats.

The journey was fine. Being used to Ryanair, I found it exciting to get free food and drink – even the roll accompanying my smoothie was so disgusting-looking I saved it for later and never ate it. Asked for tea, whisky and coke. Only drank a little of the whisky (probably reeked of it though!) but the combination woke me up. The couple next to me were as depressingly stereotypical as last time (that time they had matching his and hers mags: his was full of oiled snogging lesbian pics, hers of celebrities). These were older than me, but he had a handheld electronic toy (something to do with football) and she was engrossed in a magazine comprised of many pages comparing the thighs of 'celebrities' and a Q&A with Hugh Hefner. Very saddening.

I had chosen the correct side of the plane during online check-in – from the right-hand side I had a superb view over the southern lagoon with buildings/farms/shacks stuck out along causeways and marshes in a place where lagoon and land seemed hard to distinguish between. Then over the lagoon between Venice and the mainland with amazing views of the city and snowy mountains. At that point I felt that this trip was already worthwhile.

Marco Polo Airport was modern, and reasonably sign-posted with newsagents and bars. But there were long queues at the ticket desks for public transport. I defeated a dreadful local queue-jumper thanks to my years of experience in the jungle of Rome. I had actually to run over her feet with my suitcase before she gave up her determined attempts to edge in before me. Without a word or glance she then slotted in behind me; the English girl there being too English to stop her (we just exchanged pained English glances).

I took the ATVO bus outside the terminal. I took a photograph for the website as the coach rolled up -'Smile!' the lounging drivers behind me called out to their colleague. It was crowded but I got a seat. No seatbelts. The journey into Venice was very short – 20 minutes on the timetable.

I collected my plastic abbonamento from the ACTV office at Piazzale Roma, from a girl in a secret little office. This is a great thing. You have to pay for the initial photo-card and buy a month's season ticket (which is about the same price as a tourist 3-day ticket). From then on you're entitled to the same discounted rates as residents of the Veneto (10 single journeys for euros, for example).

Then I caught the 82 vaporetto to my rendezvous at San Tomà. I met Enrico who had the agency keys to my holiday flat. He wasn't what I'd expected: young, scruffy student type, very friendly. He showed me to the flat, we sorted out thekeys and so on. I was very pleased with the flat and location. It boasted a kitchen-in-a-cupboard which I found rather appealing.

I was on a high from the tiredness so instead of being sensible and sleeping I walked off to the Zattere, took the 82 past the Giudecca and San Giorgio to see if I could see the mountains with snow. But either it was too hazy or the viewpoint was wrong. Next I took a fast boat back to Piazzale Roma to the supermarket, grabbed a random selection of food and walked back. I made tea, ate a roll and some apple strudel, showered, then it was time to head out for the evening. I enjoyed a nice aperitivo at an outside table in Campo San Giacomo dell'Orio.

> Day 2 - a tour around the islands
> Venice tourist guide