I write this piece with somewhat grumpy nostalgia, for Dublin is spewing out freezing horizontal rain, and it’s too disgusting to leave the house. I wish to be nearly anywhere but here right now, ideally some warming, functioning alchoholic class of a country. Yet as much as I love travelling, what can technically be done in the space of six months is sadly limited, due to revolting financial constraints. (Friends and family take note: send me on holidays for my thirtieth!) The man of the moment received quite the enviable gift for his big birthday: a trip to Venice. Of course he brought me with him.
Never having even been to Italy before, I was delighted and excited to go. I went out and bought my map (essential security blanket for any anally-retentive soul, like me), clutched it, and sat up dozily all of the night before, waiting for the stupid-am flight. The enthusiasm remained unquenched even when the film, Death in Venice appeared by random on TV. This is quite a creepy little film in which the protagonist chases a little girl in a red coat around abandoned canals, eventually finding she is in fact an evil old witch who slashes his throat. Yummy. I did then for the duration of the trip keep my eye out for red-coat-clad children, but thanfully none were spotted. This time, anyway.
So we got to the airport, and after a prolonged runway debacle where the cabin crew informed us that our plane was ‘broken’ (alarming!), we did finally fly to Italy (on a different plane), land at Marco Polo and make our way to Venice.
It was a hack and a half to find the landmarks St. Mark’s Square and the famous Rialto bridge (near where our hotel was) simply because once you get ‘into’ Venice, the buildings are tall and the streets are narrow and winding, like alleyways, criss-crossed by canals and bridges. Every so often you arrive at a square, which usually has a church and a bar. It is utterly beautiful, even if The Map (damn you, Map!) was pretty useless. The city simply swallows you up and in honesty, the only two choices are either to cry about being lost, or to put on your big-girl pants and enjoy the experience of it. Once we eventually found the hotel and dumped the lumbering suitcases, we went for a wander and immediately went missing . It was pretty fantastic. There were a few touristy attractions that we discovered during the first few days: Harry’s Bar being one of the most famous amongst them. Nice Bellinis!
We walked for miles every day, visited the museums and art galleries (I am now jealous of poor dead Peggy Guggenheim’s life), had pastries for breakfast and beer for lunch. Could very much get used to that… We also discovered that the best way to get around is actually by boat, which is a ‘bus’ type boat that travels up and down the Grand Canal. On the boat, you can sit open-air at the front, and view all the buildings’ gorgeous facades. Never has a bus jouney been so appreciated, even if the bona fide Venetians looked frankly underwhelmed by it. If you simply want to get across the river, rather than down it, there are set points where gondoliers charge a very small fee to take people (in a gondola!) to the other side. This was another first for me, yet normal to Venetians. Gondola trips through the lesser canals are a notoriously overpriced tourist-trap, so I enjoyed the ‘real-life’ ride much more.
One of the last days, we ventured out on the boat to the famous Murano glass island. Here, we saw glass being cut into beads, blown into the shape of a jug, and then, amazingly, made into a horse. The glass-man held a stick glowing from the oven: on its end was a lumpen clump of molten glass, at which he pulled with tweezers. That turned into hind legs. He stretched the clump, to make a body, fiddled with the tweezers to make front legs and a head, and with one final curve to make the whole thing stand upright unsupported, there was a glass horse. That was one of the most skilful things I have ever witnessed. After that, I saw a glass chandelier that I liked. It was only €125,000 so one for every room is in order now, of course.
Finally, we had some food and went back off to visit the cemetery island, which is the stop between Murano and Venice. When the boat stopped at the cemetery, we were the only people to get off. We stood on the gangway, confused, whilst the boat went away. It was dusk, and the cemetery door (black, imposing) was closed. A creepy old man came out with some clanky keys. It seemed (oh, stupid tourists!) the cemetery had shut for the night, and we were left alone with this ghostly old man, to wait, by the cold dark water for the next boat, should one ever come. The man of the moment whispered to me that we could push him into the water if he tried anything, and no-one would ever know.
We didn’t. But they wouldn’t have.
On a lighter note, much of the visit was peppered with quirky food to be eaten standing up in a café- gorgeous little mini-pizzas, bread, chocolates and pastries. I particularly liked the snowmen below.
Finally, one couldn’t go to Venice without playing around with the masks. Always a fan of disguises, trying on the new personas (for the most part, hand-crafted and unique) provided plenty in the way of fun. I wanted each and every one of them!