venice, city break

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

we are back from our mini-break (‘city break’) in venice, Italy.  SO brace yourself this is going to be the LONGEST blog post i have EVER added onto my blog.  but hope you enjoy!

11.05 venice from above{venice from the air}

this is what we’ve been up to over the 4 day trip:

we took a flight from london to venice (we had to be at the airport at 5am on saturday morning).  since we had to be there that early and there is no tubes THAT time in the morning in london, we took the bus at 3.30am to london victoria – where we got the gatwick express (this goes straight through to gatwick, with no stops) and arrived at gatwick around 4.45am.  after checking in we had a lovely breakfast (wayne eggs & bacon & toast & i had pancakes and maple syrup). 

when arriving at venice airport (marco polo) you can either take a bus, coach or boat to venice (Piazzale Roma).  we took a boat (vaporetto – their public transport boats), since there is now bikes or cars on the island to our stop Rialto Mercato.  this is where Rossella (from our hotel) met us and took us to our apartment.

{wayne @ rialto mercato waiting for rossella}

our apartment is located in a quiet alley but still very close to rialto bridge.  11.05 Rialto Bridgethis is the oldest bridge over the grand canal (this is the widest canal in venice and divides the city into 2 parts) and one of the only 3 bridges to cross the grand canal.

11.05 Our apartmentbuilding{our apartment building}

after dropping of our luggage, the first thing we did was to go for a walk to get to know the area a little better.  we soon realised that our map really SUCKED!  we got lost of course and i got so frustrated while wayne just walked on and said that we would get somewhere eventually.  after buying a different (and we thought a better) map, we realised that it’s not the map that is the problem.  so we just had to except that no matter how adept you are at reading maps or even ‘remembering your way around’ you will get lost in venice (and that’s a FACT).

11.05 Signs

some people say that venice is sinking (a billboard near san marco stated that this is not true) but i think that they should be more concerned about venice falling apart and all the abandoned buildings.  when we walked around in the alleys we would see houses that were in desperate need of some maintenance.  on some wall you could see that they had put in reinforcement to prevent bricks from falling out.  11.05 Falling apart buildingsmany doors were rotten probably due to flooding and moisture.  but even if the doors were about to fall apart there would still be a shining bronze sign with the name on it and a spotless door handle.  we LOVED all the old doors and the different door handles.  {FUN FACT:  the population in venice has halved over the last 50 years and is currently estimated to be in the region of 60,000 – most workers in venice live on the mainland and travel by water to work each day.  this relocation of residents is due to the high cost of living. also many of the grand buildings are vacant or run down – they are simply too expensive to maintain.  there are also strict laws as to what redecoration and restoration can be carried out to the buildings especially those fronting the grand canal.}

close to our apartment we had the rialto market where you can buy fresh fruit (strawberries, cherries & grapes), bread, different cold meats & even fish.  we went there every morning to buy a few things for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  we LOVED the fruit especially the grapes – they were huge. 

most tourists when they go to venice they want to see certain things like, the piazza san marco, basilica san marco, doges palace, bridge of sighs, go for a gondola ride and rialto bridge.  we did go to see all those places and it is certainly worth it to see this but we felt rather unfulfilled after it.  so we decided that rather than going to murano island (where all the glass making factories are – this got moved for safety reasons to it’s own island) we would prefer to go to the city’s cemetery island – San Michele {FUN FACT: this was a former prison and in Napoleonic times – early 19th century this island was appointed the new cemetery for the city.  this cemetery is not only for venetians but also for foreigners.  there is a greek section and an evangelical section.  walking through these the cemetery changes character and it is easy to imagine yourself being in a small forgotten cemetery}. and we didn’t regret that decision at all.  it was better to mingle with the dead on a peaceful island than be with loads of tourists and glass souvenir salesmen.

11.05 San Michele cemetery island the island has it’s own church – the chiesa di san michele in isola and is even one of the earliest renaissance buildings in venice.  unfortunately, it was closed for restoration when we visited but the convent beside it was open.  there were more tombs around the convent (these are aside from the endless rows of tombs in the very well organised formal cemetery).  although the cemetery looked completely full, it is not.  some of the areas are being cleared and prepared for new inhabitants, as the space of this cemetery is so limited, bodies are buried in tight rows of graves and are allowed to ‘stay’ for around 12 years before being dug up and the remains either moved into an urn and added to one of the wall crypts or put with countless others in a nearby bone yard. there is a lot of family crypts and a few have fallen into disrepair, but a lot of them are kept meticulously tidy.   it was so amazing walking around this massive cemetery and look and all the old and new graves and sit under the trees and have lunch.  trees are rather scarce in venice – i don’t remember seeing any or even a park.11.05 San Michele_ii{angel statue at a grave; san michele church; mosaic decoration at a wall crypt; view to venice from san michele} 11.05 San Michele_i{graves of nuns; very old photo on a wall crypt of a child; wall crypts; graves, graves and more graves}

like i said before most people go to venice to see the basilica san marco. 

11.05 San Marcothis is a roman catholic church and probably one of the most famous attractions in venice.  the doge palace is right next to the basilica and the basilica was originally the chapel for the palace but became the city’s cathedral in 1807.  one thing i can say is that if you are planning to go into the church you need to get there early otherwise you will stand in a long queue for ages.  the church itself was very impressive and once inside you are not allowed to take any photos so we just walked around looking at the magnificent mosaics, statues and paintings on the ceilings.  11.05 San Marco Squarethe san marco square (just infront of the church) is the one area in venice that gets flooded easily and it seems like they are trying to do something about this now, since there is currently construction work to make the drainage better.  {FUN FACT: flooding regularly occurs between november and march with the worst floods recorded on 4th november 1966 when tides rose more than 1.94m in 24 hours flooding low lying areas.}  it even looks like the church has quite a few water damage inside – some of the mosaic floors were damaged and you can also see that the wooden chairs and other wooden furniture got wet. the san marco square is buzzing with life – tourists walk in line to look at the shops and cafes that are located along the edges of the square and there are plenty of pigeons flying around.  {FUN FACT: a “calle” is a street; a “compo” is a square and there is only one compo (square) large enough to be call a “piazza” and that is San Marco Piazza.}

it was pretty hot and humid when we went to venice.  in fact it was around 27 degrees celsius the days we were there.  i was told by a lot of people that venice stinks in the summer time when it gets hot.  we didn’t really experience this that badly.  the only canals that did smell were the ones that were closed in both ends.  we were told that the smell comes from the lower water level, during the summer months, that expose the lagoon and also because venice has no sewer system and household waste flows into the canals and is washed out into the ocean twice a day with the tides.

i’ve touched lightly on the transportation in venice above but since there are no cars and motorcycles around venice this means that ALL the transportation is done via the river and canals.  i was wondering before we went what venice do if they need to get rid of trash, if you need to go to an ambulance or even if you need to move.

 11.05 Ambulance{ambulance harbour or stop; a boat ambulance}

well boats are used for ALL transportation and traveling needs.  as mentioned above the most popular means of transportation is their public transport boats – vaporetto.  this only runs on the grand canal and in a few of the larger canals.  this can be a good way to see the city but the problem with that is that it can get really crowded.  and when you need to get of at your stop – you need to PUSH your way to the exit to get off – otherwise the boat will leave before you are of it.  (a lovely american woman told us that on the way from the airport).  we realised this when they almost left for the next stop and we wanted to get of at San Michele cemetery.  (by the way there was SHIT loads of americans and canadians over there).

11.05 Transport{1:all the different transport option on the grand canal:  left: vaporetto stop, middle: gondola; front right: motorboat 2:wayne on the vaporetto; 3:wedding boat; 4:us with a boat in background}

since there is only 3 bridge that cross the grand canal you can also cross it by boat.  these are called traghetti boats.  they look exactly the same as a gondola but they only go straight over the grand canal – there is only 7 of these stops on the grand canal.  (but they are extremely cheap way of crossing over).

then that brings us to the gondolas…

 11.05 Gondolasthey are VERY expensive (80 euros for 45min).  you can negotiate for a cheaper price but then your trip will be shorter.  the gondola has to be painted black; the gondolier (person who steers the gondola) must be licensed and must wear black pants, a striped shirt and closed dark shoes.  tips i have is that you should discuss with the gondolier before you get on for what route you want to take (preferably not on the grand canal but rather on the smaller side or back canals – the grand canal is way too busy).

we did quite a lot of walking around venice and since this is not a big place you could walk from one side of island to other side in around 40min (that is if you don’t walk in circles because you got lost). we crossed over the rialto bridge more than once to go and see the basilica for example and to catch the vaporetto to island san michele.  rialto bridge is one of 3 bridges that crosses the grand canal and it dates back to 1590 (and was for a very long time the only bridge crossing the grand canal).  it is a beautiful and quite big bridge and it is one of the main attractions of venice.  there is always a lot of tourists on the bridge because it has market stalls on there and you can see up and down the grand canal from here.  right next to the bridge you will find the oldest church in venice (build in 421) san giacoma di rialto and this church is also notable for the large 15th century clock above the entrance.  this clock is known for VERY poor timekeeping, and it didn’t let us down… it was about 1 1/2 hour wrong when we were there.  11.05 Clock

on our walks around the city we walked past several churches and monasteries and convents.  i am still amazed that its been possible to build big towers and buildings like this on these small islands.  saying that most of the towers are leaning more to one side than other because the soil is getting soft with all the flooding that they got over the last couple of years. 11.05 Towersall the monasteries and convents are also closed – they are now being used for restoring art works in venice.  another thing i found out is that the reason for all the churches on the islands is that each island has its own church (149 churches in total); so each island has a bridge (to connect to the next island); has it’s own water well (these are closed now because water kept flooding through them) and a church so that each island could be maintained on their own. 

on tuesday we started our journey back home to london.  we bought tickets for the boat to piazzale roma (6.50 euro each) at rialto boat station.  when we got to piazzale roma (p.roma) we took the bus to marco polo (only 3 euro each) and after a 25min bus trip we arrived at marco polo to catch our british airways flight to london gatwick.  we arrived around 1pm here in a cooler and very windy london.

so did venice meet all our expectations?  i’m not so sure how to answer that.  i was amazed that venice is really build on water and that the lagoon (made of salt marshland at the mouth of the adriatic sea) is all man-made.  that venice has around 150 canals connected by 409 bridges, and over 3,000 alleyways on the 117 islands.  basically every time you see a bridge it is connecting 2 islands.  but between all that – i don’t thing venice has that much to offer.  i know people will disagree with me and say that venice is beautiful, romantic and unique.  yes it is beautiful.  yes it is unique.  but i don’t think it is very romantic though.  it was amazing to see it with my own eyes but in many ways i feel that it’s a bit ‘over sold’ and way too touristy.  it is pretty amazing that all the streets are replaced by canals and it is quite unique in that way.  and it is so amazing to read and think of the very long history that venice has.  but i’m just wondering how much of the ‘real’ venice is left when only 60,000 venetians are left in the city and there is around 14 million visitors every year?

 11.05 Flooding{flooding & outside a shop the water levels of the aqua alta}

because of tourism and flooding most of the city has changed.  for example the doors of the houses and palazzos (the big houses on the grand canal) are a lot higher now and windows are boarding up to stop water from coming in.  mainly it seems that everything revolves around the tourist business.  But all in all, i have to say that we had a GREAT time in venice and still think you should go and see this unique and old city for yourself.

11.05 Venice canal

{because of the length of this post and the fact that i still have LOADS of photos that i want to share; i’ve decided to add more images in later posts}

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  1. wow the pictures came out so nice

    Its funny to see how many people stand around baffeled as to were they are, the council there seriously needs to improve there maps.

    overall a wonderful place.definately recogmended

  2. i absolutely love the last photo!! wow!! so beautiful!! actually, I love all the photos!! well, i don't think I'll that impressed with Venice overall but, the History must be amazing!! I would love to visit just for the history, and it's true what you said about, how you wonder how much of the old Venice, Venice still is because theres only 60 000 venetians living there ... but I loved your post and loved all the history and background you told with it...

    you're still the only person in the world who can make any boring History sound intriguing and wonderful... (but I'm a History Geek so not everyone might agree on that one!!)

    I love you loads my lovely and wonderful big Sis! I'm so glad you and Wayne enjoyed it!! :) Wish I could've been there with you guys!


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