04 Mar European Vacation: Venice
The journey from Milan to Venice was uneventful. I travelled 2nd class this time because it the journey time was much shorter than from Paris to Milan, a little under three hours this time. It was very overcast and rained most of the way, but the scenery didn’t look much to write home about anyway.
When I disembarked at San Lucia station, Venice was experiencing much the same weather, cold, gray and raining. Not the most auspicious first impression, but early days and all that. The vaporetta (water bus) pick-up point was at the foot of the steps from the train station. I could have taken the vaporetta to Rialto, then walked the rest of the way, but since I was still very early for check-in I made the decision to walk the whole way.
There was a big queue at both ticket booths, which helped make up my mind, and the one-way, five minute trip costs €6.50. I don’t think it should be legal to use the term public transport for something that costs over €1.30 per minute.
When I’d checked Google Maps the night before it estimated sixteen minutes of walking would be required to reach my destination. That passed, and doubled, and then some more maths happened, until it was one hundred minutes later.
You might say that was a great introduction to Venice, even if lost, to spend that much time getting to see so much of it … because in an hour and forty minutes I must have covered great swathes of territory, surely? Au contraire, mon frére. I saw exactly the same parts of Venice over and over again. Would it have killed the founding fathers to put a continuous footpath on both sides/banks of the Grand Canal? Instead, if you try to use the Grand Canal as a navigational aid, you keep having to backtrack because some bastarding house is in the way.
Anyway, I finally found the Ponte Rialto (Bridge), and eventually the hotel too, which isn’t far from the bridge, assuming you have a jet-pack that is. The iPhone maps are much less use than they have been elsewhere, mainly because the alleys are so narrow and the buildings so tall, the iPhone can’t find enough satellites to locate me.
My room was quite small, pretty much the same size as my room in Paris. As far as I’m aware, I have the only single room in the building, with the rest being much posher suites. That said, my room only cost €65 per night, and that at the height of Carnevale. The bathroom was very nice, and there was even a heated towel rack, which came in very handy when I washed my clothes in the bathroom sink 🙂 I got the code for the front door to the hotel, and the key to my room, from the receptionist dude, who worked extremely long hours. So long in fact that he lived in a room just behind reception. Some of Europe doesn’t seem to have cottoned on to magnetic door cards, so what they tend to do is put massive lumps of metal on to the physical door key, to remind you to drop it into reception when you head out for the day. This hotel also does that, but makes you take the blasted thing with you.
Anyway, I strapped the key and it’s gigantic comedy metal anchor on to my back and ventured back out in to the maze. I found the Rialto Bridge fairly easily this time, and crossed over to the other side, ready for the winding alleyways to take me where they might. Every once in a while, just to tease you, there are scrawled arrows at intersecting alleys, pointing to the Rialto or San Marco square, that’s the big one with the basilica. They only appear often enough to give the vaguest hint of where you might be headed, and you can guarantee when you reach a pivotal junction, they will be completely absent. Following the people in front of you is no help, as they don’t know where the hell they are going either.
I actually lucked upon St. Mark’s square without even realising I was as close as I was, the big give-away is suddenly you’re passing Prada and Louis Vitton, rather than pizza parlours and Mask shops.Then you’re upon it, and it is pretty big, with a view across the lagoon to some buildings that I can’t find the name of, though they’re very pretty. In front of the Basilica there was a big stage set up for Carnevale, with today’s special performance by the “We are Beijiing” touring troupe . I kid you not, it was like a scaled down version of the opening ceremony, but you know, not fake.
There were beautiful chinese ladies doing the “my sleeves are too long for my arms” dance, as seen in House of Daggers, followed by a fashion show where the models wore outfits that represented the treasures of China. One of those treasures obviously being … china, which meant several of the girls resembled a matching set of Royal Dalton. Kudos to them though, especially the models, as it was bloody freezing and they were barely dressed. At least the dancers got to keep warm with their routine, which was very good actually. The models were very popular with the mini Chinese Politburo that was occupying the VIP viewing platform. They all stood to attention when a model came down the runway towards them, getting in each others way with their various phones and cameras, fighting for the best view.
They weren’t the only ones fighting for clear space to their target either. I’ve never seen so many cameras in one place in my life, the Eiffel tower didn’t even come close. And not just little baby digital compacts, there were high-end Canons and Nikons, with huge top of the range zoom lenses being pointed in every direction.
The focus of most of the madness were the locals dressed in full Venetian Carnevale regalia, masked of course, wandering around Piazza San Marco posing for the hordes of people wanting to photograph them. And I mean hordes, mobs even. I’m not talking only about those guys (and they were nearly all guys) with the big expensive cameras too, there were grannies pushing each other out of the way to get close to the action such was the fervour.
Fair play to the little blighters (not the grannies), there were also kids done up in the full kit, getting lots of oohs and ahhs, and aren’t they little darlings, etc. At least I assume that’s what was being said, since mostly it was in other languages than english. I am out foreign, you know.
Eventually I got so cold I started to make my way back towards the hotel. (It’s flippin’ freezing in Venice, colder than the open-roof bus in Paris even). I won’t detail the three loops around the houses it took to find my way back the Rialto bridge, been there already. When I did reunite my weary self with my hotel, I used my iPhone to light up the keypad so I could see the buttons.
Woke up to much better weather, clear and sunny. Made my way back to Piazza San Marco, to stalk more costumed revellers, and see what else was on offer on the stage in the center of the square.
Mayhem again, with knots of immobile photographers crowded around the costumed folk, while the rest of the crowd tried to flow around. I’d love to aerial flow footage of the crowd in the square, it would be fascinating to watch the currents and the focii of turbulence that develop over the day.
After a couple of hours, I had made my way back to the Carnival stage, and the flamboyant Maurice Agosti was in the middle of his set, part torch singer, part DJ, he gave a great performance, and played some fairly banging tunes too 🙂 There was free entry in to the enclosed area so I was able to get close to the stage, on either side of the ramp leading up to it at least.
Got some video and pics, then when his set was over, he made his way to the refreshments area, so I nipped over to gave him my business card so he could peruse the images later if he so wished. He asked where I was from, and when I said Ireland, he said he hadn’t been there in a long time, but he was very good friends with Paul Hueston. He had to tell me he meant Bono when my lack of recognition became obvious.
I felt like I’d failed some sort of Irish citizenship test: “When did Ireland gain independence from Britain? 1921. Correctomundo, you’re really flying Mr. Daly, we’ll have you an Irish passport before you can say top o’ the morning to ya! Next question, and this is an easy one; By what other name is Paul Heuston also known? … Come on now, you know this … I’m going to have to press you for an answer I’m afraid … still nothing? Hmm, on this occasion, Mr Daly, I’m sorry to say you have failed to achieve the required grade of Oirshness. Please come back and try again next year.”
Next up was Mime guy. I’m sure he had a name, but the important facts about this guy are a) mime and b) french. He was actually quite funny, especially when he got a few members of the audience up on stage to participate.
There were couple of qualifying heats for the Lovely Girl competition (Father Ted ref.), aka best costume of the carnevale, though I’m not sure whether any judging was taking place, more like giving the contestants the chance to show off their style, and in some cases, ingenious contrivances and constructions. There were people who had come from all over the world to compete, I think they outnumbered the locals by a very considerable margin. Luckily the comperes were multi-lingual, the afore-mentioned Maurice and a lady whose name I didn’t catch (looked it up, it’s Chiarastella Seravalle) .
Clown dude was up next, and he was very good, he didn’t speak either, but didn’t make such a song and dance about it as the mime 🙂 The kids in the audience loved him, and I thought he was a fun chap also. He did some sweet juggling with metal cups too.
After the fun had come to a close, at least for a while, I walked down to the water, then went in both directions across the hugely packed bridges, not helped by idiots stopping to take pictures. There was nothing you could see from the bridges that you couldn’t see from the ground 30 feet further on.
Sat down on a stone bench beside the entrance to the Doge’s palace, and ate the sandwich I’d purchased earlier. Only discovered later on that this isn’t allowed. There can even be a €25 fine if you are caught and the lady is in a bad mood.
There were lots of gondolas along this waterfront, as well as several vaporetta stations, vowed I would ride it tomorrow, just not right now. Headed back to the hotel, and found it easily (this time). On the way shot some long exposures on the Rialto.
Sunny again, went to San Marco as per usual, way too crowded to waste any time there, so bought a 12 hour vaporetta pass for €13 and started island hopping.
Murano first, where they make glass, apparently. I had a vague interest in videoing some glass blowing in progress, and was quite willing to be pressure -sold some molten sandm but I couldn’t find anywhere that satisfied my laziness criteria: it must be in front of my face, i.e. within 6 feet of the door. I did pass one nice place, but it wasn’t really dark enough in the glass-blowing area for the effect I wanted to capture, so though I carried out a fly-by, I aborted my approach at the last moment. I can always call in to the Waterford Glass Experience in Ireland when I get home, they have demonstrations for gullible tourists too. By the way, If you are tempted to buy Waterford Crystal in the future, it’s not made in Ireland anymore, and hasn’t been for a while. Production is out in Poland now, which would be fine if they were to change the name to Warsaw Crystal, but obviously they won’t. They discovered the commercial truth that Prada, Louis Vitton, etc. have known for years; you can’t commodity sell a luxury item. Prada bags don’t cost €1,500 becuase that’s what they cost to make, they are that expensive because they are a luxury, not a commodity, and that is their cachet and their marketing logic. It isn’t hard to do the math, you can sell 100 bags at €15 each, or just one for €1,500.
The island is quite pretty, and was relatively quiet, and good for an aimless wander. Unlike the main island, or Venice proper, or whatever it’s called, Murano and Burano have more traditional houses, and joy of joys, actual pavement most of the canals. Therefore no zig-zagging down endless alleyways trying to find a way to get to your ultimate destination. Bliss. I literally did a loop, and found a different vaporetta station to the one I’d disembarked from earlier. The routes and route numbers are marked on the station, so I knew this one was served by a vaporetta travelling to Burano, another island and my next stop.
Burano is know for it’s lace, pretty colored houses and … well, not much else, but it did live up to the description, it was very lovely, and had it’s own mini leaning tower of Pisa. The Clock tower was about 5 degrees off plumb and was possibly a bit concerning to the locals. However, for all I know, it had been stuck that way for a hundred years and was going nowhere. If the rest of Venice is anything to go by though, I doubt it. Even here, there were costumed lovelies posing in 18th century garb, blocking every intersection and bridge they stood upon. Still, fair play, it was bloody hot, and they had endless patience. And a massive need for attention obviously 🙂
To return to the San Marco station required the same journey in reverse. I couldn’t see a ruote that went all the way from Burano back, so it was another two vaporetta journeys back, choc-a-bloc with travellers as had been the journeys out. The sailing time is quite long, about an hour all the way not including waiting time, and the boats are really crowded, so quite uncomfortable journeys, but the quiet islands were a blessed relief.
When I finally got the vaporetta back to San Marco, it was every bit as packed as when I’d left four hours before. It was 6 o’clock or so, and there were already a lot of drunken revellers on the streets.By the time I got back to the hotel at 7 (explored a bit looking for somewhere to buy some food, and got lost a bit) and by then there were a few parties in full swing in the various small squares I passed through. Campo San Polo had a combination of open air disco, farmer’s market, and fairground attractions going on.
I relaxed in the hotel room for a while, then headed out again to try again and get some food and water. OMG it was busy and insane. I found somewhere to buy some take-away calzone, then began the return journey. Which ended up taking 90 minutes, cos even though the food place was about 100 yards from the hotel, I took a wrong turn at some point on the way back, and wandered forlorn through the blathered revellers.
Pushing through the crowd in Campo Rialto was painfully slow and difficult, I’ve never had that nightclub crush/crowd experience outdoors … awesome … not. And I was headed in the wrong direction anyway. Eventually made it back after going through every (really) narrow, dark and foreboding looking alley in Venice, and ate my cold calzone, still quite nice though.
As always on this stay, San Marco is my premiere destination, as it’s the easiest place to make any further decisions. It was last day of Carnevale and a Sunday, so it was still absolutely stuffed with people. There are some pictures to prove how busy it was, but it’s hard to explain without being there.
I mentioned the night-club crush experience in a previous blog entry, and to be honest that covers the San Marco experience too. Indoor squeeze in an outdoor space. I don’t mind crowds, but lots of people had their wee kids with them, or tiny poodles (not saying they are the same thing) and I can’t imagine what it was like down at that height, in that crush. The fact that I could see where I was going was at least some help.
Since I was effectively drifting, I dropped anchor and placed myself at what I guessed must be the end of the queue to go up the Companile (bell tower) that’s about 40 yards away from the Basilica San Marco. Had to wait about 20 minutes to gain access to the lift, which cost €8. There were great views of Venice and across the lagoon, and you could stay up there for as long as you wanted, though about 10 minutes saw me right.
There were still lots, if not more, costumed folks posing for pictures around the square. Even those who were just getting in to the spirit of things and making their way somewhere were generally happy to stop and pose whenever asked. Sometimes there wasn’t asking, though, just grabbing and high-pitched whining, which I thought was rude.
I had to come back to the stage area eventually, as it was ever so marginally quieter than the water-side. After watching some very skillfully executed waltzes on stage, I finally mentally succumbed and went to the egress to pay the €5 for entrance to the fenced off-area I’d been in a few days before (for free that time). I felt it was worth it for the 5% extra personal space it would have bought me. Alas, it was not to be, as those cheap tickets stopped being sold when I was a mere 20 people away. The area was full, and only more expensive tickets were available for the stage-front area. At €25 a pop I gave it a miss, and moved on, heading back to the Rialto bridge to get some more pics and video.
On the way I bought a ham & mushroom Calzone from the same shop where I’d purchased a tasty sandwich a couple of days before. As is the norm, the shop-keep gave it a blast in the oven, so it was piping hot and delicious as I ate it on the walk back. Damn, they taste so much better hot (see yesterday’s post re: cold calzone)
There’s a kind of informal rotation system in operation on the bridge, where you get your 5 minutes, then make way for the people waiting behind you. I was bit of a bollox, and stayed for 15 minutes, but hey, fuck ’em 🙂 I shot some video, and some HDR sequences, as the sun was low and almost in shot, causing very high contrast in the pictures. HDR lets you combine several shots, each with different exposures, such that you get the perfect exposure in one image for the bright bits and the dark bits. I again used the tripod on top of the wall on the bridge, not on the ground of the bridge itself, which I saw someone do. He was getting some fairly serious un-love from the people trying to actually cross the bridge, not sight-see.
In one of the small squares on the way back to the hotel, there was some guys setting up to do some Boi (spinning rods on fire at either end) and juggling, and something with two sticks connected by string and a spinning wooden thing (it was impressive, but you look it up). Got some footage, then waited until it got a bit darker and they moved to the other side of the square, and took some more. There was a guy sitting on the other side of the water fountain where I was that was done up totally like a green plastic toy soldier. Everything was green, his clothes, his skin, his gun, even the binoculars he had in his green rucksack. He even had the stand for his feet to go on. And he was just out on the tear with his mates (including a rather lazy choice of spiderman)
Grabbed some water in a small shop I went to the night before, and beat the shopkeeper to the “Thanks Bye” (no pause) response that he had given me previously. I said it in Itialian (Grazie Ciao) and he responded the same way, put a smile on hos face that he had educated me I think 🙂 (It was in English the night before). It doesn’t sound as rude in Italian as it does in English.
Chilled for a while in the hotel room until hunger drove me out on to the streets. My feet are evil, that must be it, because they started to retread the route to Burgerking, and there was nothing I could do to stop them. It’s not that I have anything against Italian food, but I do object to the restaraunt trying to screw me when it’s time to pay. And they didn’t even buy me dinner before they tried to reach my wallet through my a-noose, I had to buy myself the dinner. That shit is whack! Anyways, I have no problem buying take-away snacks from shops and vendors, but my only sit-down experience was a hint of what others were experiencing, but on a small scale. €19.50 for an omelette with fries, and a bottle of water, does not seem good value. It was not unpleasant tasting, it was fine, for cafeteria food in a hospital, maybe costing €6.
A reasonable day, and I didn’t get lost, so bonus points! Tomorrow is my last full day before travelling to Edinburgh to stay with my sis.
Crowd walking tips: find the stream going in the direction you want, and jump in to it. If there absolutely isn’t one, then make one. Be the leader. It sucks though, so do try and take advantage of someone elses hard work. If you don’t really have a set destination and want to just wander around until something interesting catches your eye, then use a stream, but only use it to get you to the next oasis. An oasis is a blessed break in the maelstrom, a miracuously empty space where you can stop and take stock. Be aware though that you will effectively signal the death knell for that sanctuary as soon as you stop there. Whatever magic kept that space clear within that unthinking beast that is Crowd, you will dispel it by your presence. Others will sense your stillness and be attracted to it, and within moment, the oasis will be despoiled. Always try and move on to the next oasis before this happens.
When walking down alleyways, if there is a woman (yeah, yeah, I’m working with statistics here folks) in front of you, be prepared for sudden and unexpected stops whenever an interesting shop is in front of you. This is of course true all the world over, and depending on the shopping available, is equally true of both sexes. However, the combination of an alleyway that is 4 feet wide and lovely, pretty shiny things in windows is a recipe for disaster. You can’t really zone out and just let your feet do the walking. Always be prepared for disaster! 🙂 And oh yes, even though I have done it on occasion, people who stop on bridges to take pictures are bastards!
The Rialto is fine, there is an expectation that if you take the outside (uncovered) route on the pretty side (there is a less interesting side) then you are going to stop and look. Hopefully at the actual edge near the water of course. Stopping in the middle or away from the water-side excludes you from the Rialto exclusion, and again makes you a self-centred, selfish bastard. Those who stop in groups across the width of the small bridges that cross the little canals are just utter bastards, there is a circle in hell reserved for them, or at least a below-par performance from the celebrant on their “going away” day event (funeral).
A nice easy day to finish off my stay in Venice. I went down to Rialto to and bought a 12 hour pass for the Vaporetta (€16 not €13 like I said in a previous post, oops) I had nowhere in particular in mind, I was going to let the Vaporetti gods decide. Wherever the next boat was going, so was I.
I hopped on and off for the afternoon, strolling between Vaporetta stations, visiting Saluté, with its Church and the Peggy Guggenheim gallery (she was the benefactor, not the artist), and a few other steps between Rialto and San Marco. I walked home from San Marco, picking up a hot ciabbata sandwich on the way. I sat in a pool of sunshine at the base of the Ponte Rialto, then went back to the hotel for the afternoon.
I ventured out again in the evening to take a few more night shots from and around the Rialto bridge, long exposures on the tripod. The crowds had thinned out considerably since earlier, and there was no crush on the bridge. Tomorrow I’m travelling on to Edinburgh to visit my sister, which I am very much looking forward to.