Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The Italian Job: Venice

Venice was not far away from Verona, Garmin our sat nav had cheerfully told us that it would take 1hr 50mins to get there, but of course we hadn’t banked on it being a Sunday…  In the queue on the main route into Venice I saw cars from the Netherlands, Germany, France, Spain, Denmark, Sweden and Italy.  But only one other with UK plates.  I had done a bit of research into parking, as we were arriving in peak season, and it seemed that a man made parking island called Tronchetto fitted our purpose best, being secure, near a water bus station and not astronomically priced.

It was also beautifully signposted, and I think we were lulled into a false sense of security about Venice- because certainly from that point onwards we had no idea what we were doing or where we were going!  Waterbuses veered from station to station avoiding water taxis, private boats and even a water ambulance.  By the time we got to the part where we were staying, it had taken 2 water buses to get there – and as they weaved in and out of the lanes and down the Grand Canal, we had had several instances of déjà vu, and no idea where we actually were on the island when we and our bags were deposited.  Luckily, the lady from Ca’Riccio, the apartments at which we were staying, had anticipated this and provided us with a photographic route to the hotel, which I have to confess we kept with us at all times just in case we got a bit lost!

Apartment Rachele was big and had everything in it that we needed.  The woman who met us explained that everyone had taken part in a Festa (Italian equivalent of a fiesta) the night before and was feeling a bit jaded.  We thought we would fit right in…

Wandering through such well known sights such as San Marcos square, past the Realto Bridge and through the cobbled streets on which hundreds of shops showed masks which ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime, or brightly coloured artefacts and jewellry in Murano glass, or artisans at work, carving, painting, gondola part making – we even saw a gravestone maker – we were struck by how despite the incessant procession of tourists snapping up shots greedily, the Venetians managed to retain their own sense of identity.

Animal masks
Stunning masks with Swarvoski crystals
And as for the place – it was stunning in its setting with little water lanes snaking round big buildings with hidden steps and decaying brickwork.  Black gondolas with stripy gondoliers pointing out places of interest to the tourists who sat taking selfies and chattering excitedly.  Bridges, lots of them, made of brick or iron.  Hundreds of cafes and restaurants in piazzas, or in streets.  Bustling markets selling fruit and veg, or brightly coloured handbags and clothing.  The pigeon feeding Senegalese were replaced by Indians, who just as effectively stripped the tourists of their Euros once anyone got out a camera.
National drink of Venice - Prosecco, which we were happy to imbibe!

Believe it or not, we had been travelling for 6 days, and there comes a point at which you hit the travel ‘wall’ which is similar to any other ‘wall’ be it  running, working or eating flat out – i.e. you feel tired, emotional, and that you can’t go on.

Thunderstorm in Venice
This happened for Little Man the next day.  He had had a disturbed and hot sleep – broken by an enormous thunderstorm and heavy rainfall… In a bid to not mess everyone’s day up, he got changed and came out with us, but he looked listless and tired, and so we set some objectives for the day - things that we knew that he would look forward to. We knew from inside information that the best time to book a gondola without queuing would be at about 1.00pm which was lunchtime and generally coincided with the hottest part of the day.  We also wanted to cover several other sights – notably the big fish market, Venecchia glass blowers and a Facebook friend had recommended the Ferrari store if we had time. 

Murano glass in all different shapes and forms
It was hot, sticky despite the occasional drizzle of rain, and terribly crowded.  You couldn’t stop to look in shop windows even if you wanted to, as the river of tourists caught you up in the current.  We lost Little Man and Middle Son a couple of times when our hand holds were broken.  It was uncomfortable, and slow.  We broke free of the crowd to get to the fish market only to find that it was closed.  We sat on the steps of a grand building in San Marcos square only to get chased off by an official. We got turned away from a glass blowing place we had found on the street before Venecchia, because we weren’t on a booked tour.  And then we got to Venecchia glass blowers and the man said we couldn’t go in.  In peak season it was tours only, and no that fact wasn’t publicized in the brochures and no, we couldn’t pay to go in and join a group. Little Man burst into great racking sobs of disappointment.  It had all been too much.

And so we cheated, we found a window, through which we had a perfect view of the glassblowing demonstration, and we all watched, fascinated, as the artisan blew a perfect bubble, twisting and turning the molten glass, tapping it at the relevant time and producing a perfect vase.  And the boys all gave a sharp intake of breath as at the end of the demonstration he threw that perfect vase back into the molten glass, ready to do it all over again.  And they watched it twice, and we didn’t pay a cent. And we didn’t buy our glass souvenirs from their shop. More fool them I say.

And from then on the day went perfectly – a gondola ride in which our quiet gondolier and Eldest Son found that they had something in common with rowing.  Our gondolier had been a singles and doubles sculls man in his day, and Eldest Son has just progressed from 8’s and quads to doubles.  And although we hadn’t booked a singing gondolier, he hummed and occasionally broke into song.  It was fascinating to see how the gondolas are not symmetrical, being wider on the right than on the left, and causing it to list, so that the gondolier can control it with one oar.  Each gondola is customized, and very treasured by its owner. And the sights that you could see from the water, and not accessible on foot were truly magnificent.

The next day we packed up and made the long confusing journey out of Venice to Rome.  I settled down to read my first book of the holiday, as I knew that it was a good 5 hour drive.  It was a thriller, and I was hooked.  The writing was brilliant, and I could feel and smell the fire that the hero was trapped in.  Except it wasn’t the book, there really was a small puff of smoke from the in car adapter plugged into the car charger right by me.  All the in car lights had gone out and the boys awoke from their electronic reverie and started to moan that their electronics had died. The circuits had been overloaded and the fuse had blown. I yanked out the charger and it had totally melted.

We stopped as soon as we could in a layby, cooled the car down and changed the fuse so that we could set up Garmin whilst the kids set up Uno on a nearby picnic table.  They looked happy enough.  Amazing what a weeks’ travel has done to them already, and the changes that we have seen in them.

Next stop, as Gregory Peck would say, our Roman Holiday. Watch this space…