Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Last Days in Venice

On Sunday we took the Vaporetto to the lagoon islands of Burano and Murano, using our handy pass that allows us to hop on and hop off the boat. It was a lovely sunny day and many other tourists and Venetians alike had the same idea. The lagoon was dotted with boats of all types, filled with families or friends enjoying the sunny weather.
Burano is a small island known for the exquisite lace that the wives of the fishermen made during the long days of their husbands' absences. You do not have to like lace to appreciate the work that it takes to make these delicate lace pieces. It is hard to imagine straining your eyes for hours on end in order to make the tiny stitches required for the lace work. Tablecloths, serviettes, doilies, hankies, dresses, and other lace products are sold at every shop in town. But who uses doilies or lace tablecloths these days anyway? This is a dying industry, supported for tourists by the Venetian government. The younger generation of women is not interested in the painstaking work required to make lace. This island is also remarkable for the colourful little houses built by the fishermen. They are painted in bright shades of the rainbow, with flowers spilling from the window boxes above the streets.

We wandered the back streets and came across a whole section decorated with white ribbons, bows and flowers on every door step, in celebration of a wedding that day. This is a small village and it appeared that everyone was involved in the wedding in some way. Back on the main drag that was filled with tourists, we passed a big restaurant decorated again with celebratory ribbons and pictures of the married couple. Inside a typical Italian wedding feast was being served to a large crowd of people, probably most of the island residents, gathered to take part in this noisy, happy event. If we had been there an hour earlier I bet we could have seen them all parading through the streets of this car-less town. It would have been a special sight.

On our walk today we were stopped along one canal because a funeral had just finished in the little church on the canal street. The flower-bedecked casket was being lowered into a funeral barge while the family waited. Everything here is done in the open, and on the canal. Instead of a flower car and hearse, there are funeral boats. Being able to witness everyday life is another reason for slow travel. So, one wedding and a funeral...not bad!
We are now at the end of this trip. We have seen the sights, visited more museums, churches and galleries than we can count, and even seen how St. George had his arm and lance reattached on top of the church of St Giorgio. It had fallen off during a bad storm 10 years ago and waited a long time before finding a benefactor (Swarovski foundation) to pay for the reattachment. This is a delicate process for a statue that has been perched atop this church for over 500 years.

Pierre's map-reading has got us out of many dead-ends. We took one last long walk today, ate seafood in a cone, a Venetian specialty, snacked on tramezzini (Venetian equivalent of party sandwiches eaten standing up while sipping wine) and got lost one last time! We look forward to being home, reliving these many great moments. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Campari spritz and other Venetian pleasures

Venice is a city made for exploration. Small narrow streets, beautiful little back lagoons that take you by surprise as you turn a corner, and morning drinks on a sun-warmed terrace. What a life.
I had been hesitant about coming to Venice after reading some travel reviews. But we are thoroughly charmed so far. I am reminded of old films and stories. With the sun shining it is a beautiful city.
Our tiny loft apartment is nestled behind the green dome of San Simon Piccolo Church, across from the train station. This building is actually part of the church, probably used for church functions in the past but now converted into apartments. You can see our little terrace in this picture. We awaken to the sound of pigeons cooing outside our window. Too bad I hate pigeons.

It is a pleasant experience to be in a city where there are no cars, no bicycles or motorcycles and where everyone walks. After dodging traffic in Italy's other major cities, this is very relaxing. Other than using the Vaporetto, the large boats that are the main mode of transportation here, riding up and down the Grand Canal, we are using our feet and trying to find places to visit away from the many tourists that crowd the most important sites. That is not hard to do as most people gather at Piazza San Marco and in the area around the train station, where there are many restaurants, shops and services catering to tourists. Even the large hotels have river taxis that bring the suitcases to the dock outside their premises. Most people just walk from the station to the hotel, dragging their bags over cobbled streets and up and over the many little bridges that pass over the canals. It is quite a sight.
Taking the Vaporetto along the Grand Canal is a great way to see the palaces and churches that are on this main thoroughfare. Merchants owned these old homes, using the bottom floor as warehouses where goods arrived and left by boat, coming from all the corners of Europe and Asia. They lived on the second floor, away from the water. Kitchens and servants quarters were on the top floor. Many of these old buildings are now government buildings, apartments or hotels. The bottom floor at water level is flooded and useless in many of them. We have learned that strict city rules prevent home owners from make many structural changes to the historic buildings so they live with them the way they are. 
The Vaporetto works on a ticket system whereby you purchase your ticket and validate it before boarding. There is really no one to check on board unless a ticket taker gets on at one of the stops. A ticket costs 7 Euros and is good for 1 hour, one way. Quite an expensive ride. It is a lot less for Venetians. We bought a pass that is paying for itself as we can hop on and hop off as we like. But yesterday we were witness to what can occur if you try to beat the system. An English speaking couple and their son were asked to show their tickets to the ticket taker that had boarded along with 3 of her colleagues. The family appeared to have overrun their hour and only had a printed bill rather than the requisite pass with a bar code. With the woman in tears as her husband berated the meter-maid, threatening to go to the police, we all watched. He finally calmed down and agreed to pay the fine......52 Euros per person. I guess this was a painful lesson to all of us on the boat. Be sure to buy a ticket and have it validated each time you board.