To Hel and Back :: Edit your Template To Hel and Back: February 2004

Saturday, February 28, 2004

A taste of Venice

La Serenissima. I dreamily sighed Venice's nickname as our vaporetto skimmed over the lagoon waters, through the partly submerged "street lights" and towards the fog enshrouded silhouette of the city. True, Venice at Carnevale was anything but serene, and true I was standing in near zero temperatures, my red raw hands clasping the boat edge, my legs encased in two layers of socks, and two of stockings lined between with plastic bags, but such was the romance and magic of Venice that reality fades away in the face of her gracefully ageing buildings and her never ending water ways.

Hundred of years ago, the followers of the Catholic religion in Italy started the tradition of holding a wild costume festival right before the first day of Lent. Because Catholics are not supposed to eat meat during Lent, they called their festival, carnevale - which means "to put away the meat." In Venice, the Carnevale took the form of masked balls, the masks providing people with the freedom to do whatever they wanted, most notably, courting people from outside their class system.

Nowadays the class system is tourists and locals and I think it would take a lot more than a mask to bring the two of those together. Being in Venice at Carnevale meant we did have to share the city with thousands of tourists but it also meant bumping into costumed characters on boats, crossing bridges, and posing in St Marks square. And the tourists were never hard to lose - Venice has some 400 bridges, and 200 canals and the average tourist was happy to frequent only four of each.

Because of the incessant rain, we chose to spend a lot of time on boats. Staying on Murano, a lagoon island beyond Venice known for its glass making industry, meant that boats were also essential. It was quite a habit, remember what time the last boat was to get home, and making sure you were on the right side of the Grand Canal or at least within reach of one of only three bridges that cross it.

Vaporettos took us from Murano to Venice, wood panelled water taxis served as back up. Gondolas powered by men in striped black and white tops and red-ribboned boater hats served the tourists while trajettos took locals across the grand canal where they stood, despite the choppy waters from the vaporettos, for the duration of the short crossing, clutching their day's market produce, or home furniture, whatever needed to get home in the reality of living in the city.

To escape the cold and the wet we explored the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. The building was originally founded for the relief of the sick - today it was for the relief of the bitterly cold. The patron of the building was canonised for his work with the ill, and donations to the building consequently increased. As such the building is wall papered with magnificent floor to ceiling religious frescos.

Also warming was the local drink - a spritzer - made of campari, white wine and a dash of soda water. Costing only 70p per glass, it was great value as well as tasty and on our final day we copied the locals who never look at their watch before a drink, and ordered one before our flight - at ten minutes to nine in the morning.

For me, this Venice trip was a taster. A city to explore again in a drier climate, to wander through possibly alone, day dreaming and sighing (as girls in poetic European cities are prone to do), fuelled by Spritzer, hot chocolate you can stand a spoon in and creamy Venezian pastries. Forget the romance of 1950's love movies, my quest in Venice will be for a cat that lets me pat it, and a fabulous meal and reasonable prices.

For Adrian, it started as a world famous city to cross off the list, but perhaps he might be tempted to return, to explore the famous museums we simply didn't have time for, to piece together the history of this once powerful city (which formerly owned parts of modern day Croatia), to photograph its buildings and bridges each with their own character and changing mood, and to capture the animated street life. So long as a girl stuffing cream pastries chasing cats doesn't get in the way of his photos…

Adrian's photos of the trip