Wings outside a cathedral. Nothing unusual about that. Not for Venice, anyway.
Her streets may be thronged with tourists, but the city is alive with those who live and work here – simply rise at dawn and wander through the fish markets behind the Rialto, or have a quiet coffee with the locals in a backstreet cafe before they head off to work and you realise how many people live in this place of no cars.
Lugging my bags over the cobbles of Venice I vowed never to travel again with an ocean
of luggage in tow. The essence of elegance is, after all, simplicity. To travel lightly and so leave a small footprint benefits not only the environment but also the soul.
The problem was amplified by the fact I was in charge of my mother’s bags as well as my own. And it was raining – the only rainy day of the whole trip. There is always a time when travelling when you have to manage your bags yourself – not just over cobblestones, but lifting onto trains or buses, boats, or struggling to the second floor of a hotel with no elevator. The boot of a hired car is rarely spacious, and I don’t like tripping over bags in a hotel room.
So now I have some basic rules:
i) if I can’t lift my bags myself, I’m taking too much.
ii) if I can’t lift my bag over my head (to put on a rack in a train, for example) I am taking too much. Taking a bag down from a height can be just as difficult as lifting one.
iii) if I have to put down my carry bag and rest after 10 minutes of walking, I am carrying too much. Airports and railways involve a lot of walking.
Everyone should fly into Venice – with a window seat – at least once in their life. First come the outlying islands, so many of them dotted amongst the blue of the Adriatic. Suddenly the history of Venice makes sense, from when the swampy, malarial marshes offered shelter from the invading Goths, to her days of seafaring glory.
Then comes the city herself. Even from the heavens Venice is breathtakingly beautiful, especially when bathed by an autumn sun as storm clouds swell on the horizon. Every part of the city is on view, from the Camponile to the ridiculously enormous ocean-liner terminal. Even the wooden posts in the lagoon are clearly visible, marking channels, moorings, and all important routes through the swirl of shallows and sandbars and wrecks and lobster pots.
The next essential is catching a boat from the airport to the city. There is no better way to approach Venice, whether on the public vaporetto, or by a much faster private boat. Our vessel was all streamlined wood, the skipper as sleek and polished as his vessel. (I have yet to spot a female skipper in Venice.) Despite a complete lack of Italian, as soon as my husband began admiring the boat (being a long-time sailor himself) the skipper happily displayed the boat’s paces. As the rain finally poured down and visabilty vanished, the skipper raced along the narrow channel to the city, overtaking vaporettos and all other speedboats in a shower of spray. Continue Reading →
I crossed the Grand Canal on the No. 1 vaporetto, alighting at Santa Maria del Giglio. Despite the long name it was little more than a wooden jetty in a quite culdesac. It is a small, relatively overlooked stop, overshadowed by the more flamboyant San Marco. It seemed a place where only locals went.
In true Venetian style, Musica a Palazzo is separated from the stop by a canal. With the Grand Canal behind me to act as a bearing, I passed along the Calle Gritti and into the Piazza Santa Maria del Giglio. At this time of day the piazza was empty, and I followed a network of twisting stairs and streets bearing no resemblance to my map. An arrow on a tiny handwritten sign led me down a dark alley, away from the blazing midday sun and into those days of Venetian glory and intrigue. I could hear water lapping at the buildings, and anything – or anyone – could be hiding in those damp shadows.
I passed an impeccably dressed Venetian. Sporting designer stubble and with his hair elegantly oiled, he sat smoking on a wall beside the canal. “Opera?” he asked, tossing his cigarette nonchalantly into the water.