Part Five – Wednesday 28th August 2013
We awoke to find that the rain had gone and another glorious sunny day beckoned. All the walking yesterday though had left us in need of a lie in so it was after nine before we went down for breakfast.
I love the location of this hotel on this bustling promenade and I know I mentioned it yesterday but I can’t stress enough how much fun it makes breakfast, as there is just so much to see as the world streams past on its way to discover the delights of Venice after docking from the ferry boats further along the quay.
We did not have much of a plan for today as in truth we do not make great tourists, having little patience for queues. We decided though that we would go up the campanile in St Mark’s Square, so we left the hotel and joined the throngs of people charging along the promenade, past the Hotel Danieli, past the Bridge Of Sighs and on into the Square. The queue though was already huge so we abandoned that and would try later. We had read though that the best part of Venice was just being there, soaking up its atmosphere and that it was a place you could enjoy without ever setting foot inside a building and we completely agreed with this.
Last year we went to Florence, which we loved too but we already felt that Venice just edged it and I had a think about what it was that made Venice special.
Well first, there are no cars. Piazzale Roma is the only place and that is just a roundabout at the end of the bridge which allows you to turn around and go back to the mainland. You can leave your car at a multi storey there, but there are absolutely no cars anywhere else. Also bicycles, rollerblades and skateboards are banned too. This absence of cars makes for a city with a different soundtrack. The noise is people, music, bells and it makes for a very unique experience. My biggest dislike in Rome for example, was the traffic and the way it dominated everywhere. I said at the time I was there that Rome is a city full of beautiful things but it did not strike me as a beautiful city. Venice though is simply a beautiful city.
Secondly, Venice is a clean city. It’s an odd one this, so let me explain. On one level, most of it can look a bit run down, plaster is falling off all the walls, old brick is exposed everywhere, where the stucco finish has fallen off, old hinges rust away and iron window guards seem to be falling apart. It sounds like I am describing a deprived inner city slum area. However, its not like that because this is contained by a framework of order and tidiness. All the brickwork, plasterwork and stonework, is tidy and very clean, it is as if my Auntie Vera has took her stiff wire brush from out of her cupboard and used it to give the whole city the once over. The effect is to make the old brickwork and worn plaster work look intentional. That is how it is meant to be. The finest example in the world then of the concept of “faded grandeur”.
Thirdly, the layout and architecture is unique. Instead of roads you get canals, or narrow passage ways, and it’s never long before it twists and turns. Paris by contrast is built around a grid of huge boulevards, courtesy of Haussmann, with long great buildings all in the same style – it’s impressive and beautiful but a model you can find in many cities. Venice though is very different. Search for a boulevard and the closest thing is the Grand Canal, which first is a canal and secondly it curves through Venice like a serpent! The architecture is so different too, Gothic can be found next door to Classical, Renaissance, or Byzantine styles and time and time again, you can soak up all these different styles in one vista.
Finally, Venice is an island in a lagoon, which means it is contained. In other cities you can wander off the beaten track, you can end up in the wrong part of town, you can find yourself out of the old part and into the new sprawl. This happened to us in Florence, or even in Bruges, you can find that you have escaped the old town beauty. But not Venice. In Venice you always get lost, it is a part of the experience, but no matter how lost you get, each turn and twist brings a new view, a new scene begging to be photographed and always, always it looks neat and tidy. I became fascinated watching the way refuse was dealt with. At home, we have the revolting wheelie bins blighting every chocolate box scene in the country. They are a blight on the whole of the British landscape both urban and rural. Some bins are permanent fixtures at the front door of terraced houses, like daleks in some terrifying Dr Who story. A British local council could ruin the beauty of Venice, and clear the city of its tourists in days just by the way they managed refuse collection. In Venice, there are no vehicles, so the dustbin truck is a canal boat, which empties bins into its hold. But bins are never seen in the narrow streets, reinforcing the orderliness of the decaying beauty. “Falling down” has charm and beauty when all around is clean and litter free!
There are probably a thousand things that come together to make Venice both unique and beautiful, but for me, it was this combination of a traffic free environment and the tidy, clean, orderliness of its faded grandeur, married to its wonderful array of architecture built on a unique platform of canals.
Right then, so you get the picture, Venice is beautiful, we didn’t feel like queuing to go up the campanile so we went for a wander. Five minutes later, we bought Mrs P a beautiful red leather handbag, in a shop which also had a gorgeous dress that was begging for her to try on and which also had a dazzling collection of mens shoes to tempt me with! In hindsight we did well to get out of that shop with enough petrol money left to drive home with. More on this in the next day’s diary update!
From there we stumbled upon not one but two Luisa Spagnoli shops, which Mrs P dived into. In truth she is not normally quite such a keen shopper, but as she said later and often, she has never seen such a collection of lovely shops with lovely things in to tempt her with. Methinks, we will return to Venice but more for a shopping trip than a sightseeing trip! Our intention was to meander towards the Rialto bridge and then keeping on the same bank veer towards the Castello area and look around there. However, it is not always easy to keep to a plan in Venice!
I remembered a camera shop, I had seen yesterday on the other side of the Rialto bridge, so we retraced our walk from yesterday so I could look again, as I had seen a Fuji X-M1 which I wanted to get my hands on and see how it felt in the hand so to speak. However, either we did not retrace our steps enough, or we made different steps – either way we could not find this shop. Still we found the perfect carnival mask as a souvenir to adorn the wall of our den at home. Yes it was a pussy cat mask!
Then we discovered the fish market and the fruit and veg market, again on the San Polo side of the Grande Canal and wandered around there taking photos and soaking up the atmosphere.
Back over the Rialto Bridge then and back on track we veered left after the Rialto but in truth ended up skirting the Grande Canal more than we intended, heading towards the Cannaregio quarter, rather than mixing it up baby in the Castello quarter. We came across a large square – Campo dei SS Apostelli, which was just before Strada Nova, which ironically perhaps, after my musings on the beauty of Venice, was what looked like a long wide boulevard! We walked along it after lunch and noticed it was very different to anywhere else in Venice as it was so wide that there was no shade in the street!
Before that though we stopped for lunch in the square, sharing a pizza. There was a man impersonating Charlie Chaplin, cane and all, who was amusing teasing the passers by and of course lasciviously eyeing up all the ladies! We found him highly amusing not least because to us, as he was a bit bonny, he was Stan Laurel, doing an impersonation of Charlie Chaplin! This in many ways epitomised Venice. Sit down, have lunch, watch the world go by and there was always something going on.
After lunch we headed up the “boulevard” and then back down again as I had left my cap and the map at the cafe! Best check the map, I said and realised that Stada Nova was Strada NoNo – completely the wrong way.
More mooching, more beautiful sights to soak up. We did not get as far as the Arsenale but just as well really, as George Clooney was kicking around there for the Venice film festival and we would not have wanted to cramp his style or rain on his parade! Instead we headed for Riva Degli Schiavoni, which is the same embankment as our hotel but further away from St Mark’s Square. Here we enjoyed an ice cream as we sat down on the canal edge, resting our legs.
My ice cream was Nocciola and just for the record it was the nicest ice cream in the whole wide world and the bestest I have ever tasted! Invigorated by ice cream, we attempted another assault on the Campanile in St Mark’s Square and this time the queue was much shorter.
The views from the top were superb and we spent about forty minutes up there taking photos and soaking up the scenery. Back down we headed for our hotel going past the Doge’s Palace, where I realised the queue was never too bad. Damn, I wanted to go in there. Too tired now, guess we’ll have to come back here won’t we?
Exhausted we retired to our room, and Lady Peanut got room service to fetch us “a nice cup of tea”. Exploring Venice is hard work and this was now our third day of it and the old legs were beginning to feel it, so we decided to dine in the hotel restaurant as in truth it had good reviews. I ended up having what for me was my best meal in Venice. Not a food revolution by any means just a big juicy rare beef steak, smothered in a delicious peppered sauce and accompanied by roast potatoes. It was well tasty. Peanut meanwhile, had tagliatelle with zucchini and prawns, which also went down well. Breakfast here is a quiet affair, watching the world promenade by, but dinner was a much louder affair as all the tables were full, a lot of wine was accompanying the food and with every sip of wine people got louder. It was hard to hear each other sometimes. Not a complaint mind, as it made for a good atmosphere.
This was our last evening, so we took a final stroll to Piazza San Marco to listen to the bands. One had a very animated violinist, which psychologically made his music sound better so we listened to them for a while. Their final song was “Time To Say Goodbye.” Mrs P had a tear in her eye, as it was also our time to say goodbye to Venice.