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Venice - The Place

Venice is a very interesting City and for obvious reasons there are few places like it in the world. Being totally surrounded by water gives Venice a unique set of problems, which in turn provide advantages that other places can never achieve. Venice is a very good example of how not to plan a City, but having said that it is also a very good example of how human ingenuity can overcome problems that most of us have never considered.

Built on a series of islands presumably for defensive purposes, space is obviously at a premium, the streets are narrow and one is constantly crossing canals, mostly small via bridges, but then occasionally larger canals which require the use of the vaparetto, or waterbuses. The immediate effect of these canals, which I had not considered in advance, is that there are no cars, mopeds or motorised vehicles of any description within Venice, except of course the boats.

So it's quiet, and it's like living in a previous age. Remove the necessity to constantly monitor if a car is about to run you over and it's surprising how relaxed you feel. Sue's intake of pills, potions and lotions dropped significantly during the nine days we were there. Having to walk where ever you want to go brings you very close to the buildings and culture of the local area. You start thinking in yards instead of miles.

Several years on (late 2008) we have both agreed that this was a special (or different) holiday that had turned out to be much better than initially expected.  We would love to go back to Venice and explore the streets, culture and places of interest more closely, however the biggest hurdle ( apart from the lamentable pound-euro ratio ) is the need to move constantly on and explore other European cities.

Some typical views

Botero's Swan
A local grocers shop in Arsenal

Woman and Swan - Botero

Local Grocer in Arsenal

Passing Gondoliers

Venice - Harry's Bar

Harry's Bar
Harry's Bar...Hmmm. The world's most expensive bus station cafe? or an English tap room abroad? No less, no more than a very expensive bit of fun. At £45 for five drinks ( May 2003 ) it's an experience you only go for once. The impression of stepping into an English bar from the 1900's is spoilt only by the waiters in immaculate white suits and the clientele, in the ordinary daily dress of the 21st century. Apparantly the only thing for a girl to be seen drinking in Harry's Bar is a Bellini so it was three Bellini's. Steve and I decided to go for a dry Martini, which if you haven't tried it be careful.
Harry's Bar
Despite it's reputation they do let anybody and everybody in, although men in shorts were politely asked to leave. The waiters were very friendly and obliging, each an expert with numerous types and make of camera, even to the point of framing a good shot.

Harry's Bar There is also a restaurant behind the front bar, although you wouldn't know it was there just by looking. Somehow I think the dress code would be a little more exacting if you wanted to eat, or perhaps I should rephrase that, if you could afford to eat.

And the Martini's? They were very very dry!

Venice - The Future

As Venice is small (it will allegedly fit into Hyde Park) it has a tendency to be slightly claustrophobic. The buildings are normally only three to four stories high but with the narrow streets, better described as alleys, they feel taller. As an avid reader of science fiction stories in my youth I could imagine Venice as being one of James Blish's Cities in the Sky.

Our flat had a roof patio and the view to the east is of houses on four sides with a garden in the square. One could be forgiven for thinking of this as the hydroponics lab, growing food for the voyagers. Even with a roof patio Venice is claustrophobic. The rest of the view is like Aerial City, wires, satellite dishes and long thin bits of metal everywhere. Don't suppose they will ever have cable.

To continue the Sci Fi illusion for a moment one could imagine being a player in Westworld, or more accurately RomanWorld, as the entire City seems to cater for tourists during the day and then there must be an army of people clearing up during the night. Unsurprisingly I never got up early enough to test this hypothesis. The canals of Venice are very busy, with a multitude of different kinds of craft zipping around without any apparent regard for any form of traffic regulation. In the busier parts you can imagine where the screenwriter of Stars Wars and The Fifth Element got their inspiration for the aerial motorway scenes, with speedsters flying around in crowded three dimensional patterns.

Venice - The past

If you go back in time rather than forward then you could imagine the waterfront being very similar to that of the Thames in London during the 1700's. Go back further and strange noisy creatures roam the canals day and night. Some very small and fast and some very large, brightly lit up and slow. The canals are constantly full of boats zipping here and there, with the occasional liner sliding majestically past. There is little that is modern in Venice, hardly surprising, there is nowhere to build it, but it is a shame that there is so much decay to the buildings, especially to the canal based entrances around St Marco, It must have been quite a sight to see people arriving by Gondola at ones front door.

Venice - The logistics

We did a fair bit of walking through Venice itself, I suspect you could cross Venice in less than 30 mins if you wanted to. As you walk round it becomes apparant that there are no real centres of activity, the restaurants and shops are spread out everywhere.

This seems obvious when you consider there are no cars, so you cannot drive your weekly shop home, therefore you have to carry a daily shop. So how do they get the goods to the local supermarket? Believe it or not they float the lorries in on barges just big enough to hold a single artic!

This is the sublime, the ridiculous being observed on Murano, the nearby island famous for glass production. A 12 foot launch stacked with expanded polystyrene packing presumably for the local glass industry, that would have quite easily coped with one hours production.

No wonder it's expensive!

Venice - The light

The absolutely incredible thing about Venice is the light! You can understand why artists come here as the colours are truly amazing. Everything seems to have a pastel overtone, which goes completely against the normal Mediterranean sea colours of bright blue and green. From the brightly coloured houses of Burano, the island famous for lace, to the pastel colours of the palaces flanking the Grand Canal, the scenes are a beautiful variety of colour and tone. My personal SWAG theory on the light (scientific wild arsed guess for those of you who are unfamiliar with this method) is that it is the sunlight bouncing off of the water that gives it the unique colour. The water, by the way, is a light blue murky colour.
Venice - The sights

But less of impressions, on to the gossip, what did we do? where did we go? Well Charlotte managed to get her bum pinched on the Rialto Bridge, she was absolutely indignant about it although a subsequent chat with her Grandmother revealed Grandma being absolutely indignant that she didn't get her bum pinched on the Rialto Bridge.

Charlotte on Bridge I suspect the Venice Parish Council hire someone to pinch tourist's bums. Unofficially, of course.

Charlotte seemed to enjoy the whole thing. In the queue for the supermarket checkout there was a boy, two or three people back, who was making eyes at her. Very obvious eyes. She went quite embarrassed and sought solace in Dad, Hey! that's what I'm here for.

Dad, however, was looking at the girl between us and the boy, who was gorgeous (the girl not the boy). She reminded me of someone I knew some years ago, I think called Chrissy, and she smiled a lot. Later that same week I was standing outside the supermarket, waiting for instructions, when a little old Italian lady tapped me on the arm. I thought she wanted me to get out of the way so I said 'Scusi' and stepped aside, but she grabbed me and said something else. She wanted me to hold her hand while she came down the step outside the shop. Ever the Knight in Shining Armour. The picture to the left shows the Post Office (left most house) and the Supermarket (right most house), whereas the picture of Charlotte shows the view from the Supermarket entrance.

We did all of the tourists stuff, St Marco (St Marks Square) which is very intricate at the Basilica - Doges Palace end, quite boring at the 'other' end and then some idiot built a big brick pillar in one corner.

We also went round the Doges Palace, a worthwhile trip because you get to walk across the Bridge of Sighs and visit the dungeons. Saturdays sees several couples who have just got married going for a photo shoot across the inner courtyard. As we reached the first floor balcony one bride was so keen to see over the parapet she had to hitch her skirt up to her waist to allow the manoeuvre. She had very nice legs, which were on display again several minutes later to show her garter to a passing tourist.

The island of Murano was interesting for it's glass which varies from 'tat' to very nice pieces. We sat and had a drink in a bar on the side of a canal, only to have one of the boatmen blow Charlotte a kiss, but the best incident was the poser. Thirty something, standing on the street corner, posing, flicking fluff off of his shirt collar, I think he moved on embarrassed at our stares, I wonder if he was related to the bride in the Doges Palace..

We did the island of Burano, a pleasant 90 minute boat ride away, famous for lace and American tourists, so we bought two, American tourists that is, but they whined so much we set them free. Venice also has a surprisingly good beach, on another island called Lido, very long and sandy.
And so we come to the Waterbuses. Fast (for a water based bus service), with very powerful engines and good value. Our first encounter with a water bus, on the trip from the airport, was interesting, the prop shaft on the boat was way past it's sell by date, and must have been bent like a banana, judging by the noise and vibration. I doubt very much that it was going to last the season.

There are two crew on the bus, working closely together, the Captain drives and the 'conductor' docks. The buses approach the stations and standoff by a foot or so, at which point the conductor lasso's the station bollard and secures the boat with two half hitches. The Captain then tries to turn right, which has the effect of driving the boat into the station, but the rope holds fast and a nice neat interface is made with the land. They must get through a lot of rope. To set off, the Captain backs up to release tension, the conductor drops the rope and off we go.

When the bus pulls into a station the conductor always pulls on a pair of white gloves, I wonder how many times they go on and come off a year. There are 1300 crew (with 200 extra in summer) on the waterbuses, that's a lot of boats. Sue largely lost her fear of water here although she did refuse to get on one boat because it was crowded and we had to walk home. No problem, Venice ain't that big.

Venice - The Holiday

Venice had not been quite what I expected, it was far more interesting and much more fun. I actually read a book while I was there, the first book, other than a technical manual, that I have read in the best part of twenty years. But a word of warning, Venice is not for partying. On our last night we ate at a restaurant some 400m from St Marco, on the main drag to Academia, lovely food, and as we left the restaurant at 23:00 they locked the doors behind us.