Our journey to Venice began last year at Port Eliot Festival in Cornwall. London Chef, Russell Norman of Polpo restaurant gave a demonstration in the kitchen on Venetian Tapas and Killer Cocktails!. I feel in love with Aperol, the orange aperatif added to prosecco to make a Spritz. I was completely sold on the idea of going to Venice to celebrate our 30th wedding Anniversary.
The story didn’t end there though. Where to stay? There were hundreds of hotels, and thousands of reviews. I contacted Russell Norman via Twitter, and we booked La Calcina on his recommendation. Known as Ruskins house, it is a small venetian guesthouse on the Zattere in Dorsoduro and turned out to be the perfect location.
At this point I have to tell you why it has taken me two months to write this blog post. My camera SD card was corrupt when I got home and despite all efforts with ‘aggressive’ data recovery by a local I. T guy, half of my photos were gone! I am just getting over the disappointment and have vowed I will be going back to take more. So,I have trawled images on google to fill in the gaps where I can but of course it’s never the same
We arrived in Venice by a shared watertaxi. We sped across the lagoon with a Mexican, three Americans, another English couple and an Australian, driven by Franco at what can only be described as breakneck speed. When we got into the canals and were dropped off one by one at our hotels, we slowed right down and pushed the roof back so we could take it all in. It was a great way to arrive.
Water Taxi heading to Venice
First impressions were that it was dark, busy and tired looking. Certainly not what I had in mind. The Grand Canal felt like a bit of theme park in parts; touristy, busy, spoilt. But scratch beneath the surface and go off the beaten track, it has its own unique beauty. Someone told me the best thing to do was get lost, don’t rely on your camera, look with your eyes!, and appreciate the non existence of traffic noise.
Gondolas in a Quieter Area.
Down the Grand Canal
The Dorsoduro area is quiet, elegant, more open in parts and breathes. We met a Scotsman who rented an apartment and had lived there for a year. We shared his enthusiam for the venetian bacari, bars where you stand, eat chicheti, bite size explosions of flavour served on rounds of bread. washed down with prosecco, wine or a spritz. And the coffee!
The island of San Gorgio Maggiore was just across the Guidecca Canal and from its Campanile, there are breathtaking views over all of Venice. I looked to find photos similar to those I have lost, but couldn’t quite recreate the sun setting over Venice with a silhouette of the statue on the dome of the church beneath me. You will have to imagine it until I go again.
If you go to Venice, a must see for me is the Peggy Guggenheim Art Gallery. It still feels like her home, with references everywhere to her life and family with pieces of furniture and photographs. Her daughter, Pegeen’s artwork was fascinating. I had never seen Jackson Pollacks up close and now love them. They are definately not just all squiggles and drips!. And its not all painting. Lovely sculptures fill the garden, quirky mobiles hang from the ceilings and I loved the blue glass figurines which shimmer in the iron fretworked windows with the green light of the Grand Canal behind.
Peggy Guggenheim in Venice
I came home wishing I had lived the life of Peggy Guggenheim. How exciting to have lived in this modern palazzo right on the Grand Canal, surrounded by new art, interesting people, eating and drinking the venetian way. swishing around the peaceful waters of Venice in your own private gondola.
Oh to have been Peggy Guggenheim!
She lived in Venice for 30 years, collecting and socialising in the Art world when the world was at war. Venice must have been a haven then and not the tourist hotspot it is today.
The weather wasn’t always good. We had a day when it poured all day. Watching water pouring out off the roofs it had nowhere to go but the canals and we experienced Aqua Alta for the first time. But by contrast the next day was wall to wall sunshine. This is when Venice glitters literally like a giant glitter ball, the sea pale green blue, the mosiacs catching the light and light bouncing off the canals even in the narrowest of alleyways.
We walked everywhere for the first two days and then bought vaparetto passes to go further out of the main areas, see the Grand Canal properly and skirt around the outside. We didn’t do the Doges Palace, Murano Glass or the Accademia. I wasn’t that enamoured with St Marks Square, but the Basilica was stunning.
It’s free to go in and people file in, go around and out again. But when you arrive at the entrance go directly to the right and the museum. Up the steep steps, you can go out around the domes and get a stunning view from outside, whilst inside the gold mosiacs are within touching distance and the original copper horses are there along with all sorts of artefacts and tapestries. Hardly anyone was there, and it is easily missed.
View from Basilica Dome
Behind St Marks Square and north is full of very narrow beautiful canals and shops. We found the most “beautiful bookshop in the world”. Maybe not that beautiful, but definately quirky, saw saltcod soaking in barrels, ate cuttlefish in its ink, had grappa and expresso coffee and the odd limoncello.
Other places we visited were C’a Rezzonica, a restored venetian palazzo with amazing art and frescos; C’a Pesaro; the modern art museum with a Bonnard painting I fell in love with; Frari church with great stories to tell; the Rialto market and countless small bacari.
My top tips are: If flying in, get a seat on the right for a view of Venice from the air. Take a watertaxi to your hotel (shared is good value and fun). Walk on the right side ( not natural for the english) and don’t worry if you get lost; bizarrely you naturally seem to go round in circles. Find places away from the Grand Canal and St Marks Square if you want value for money. Prego is used all the time to say thankyou, you are welcome, what would you like? It rolls off the tongue after a while. Visit churches to see art.Listen to some classical music. Wear comfy shoes. Venetians are direct and have grace, not rude or slow. Many places are closed on Sunday or Monday. Dorsoduro area not touristy, but lively and great places to eat as well as having the Gondola workshop the only wooden building in Venice and the Zattere, a wide walkway lined with trees. Three or four days is long enough, but be prepared to feel the need to return.
Don and I on the Rialto Bridge
I hope this gives you a taste of our trip to Venice. We will be returning to see the Accademia, the Giardini gardens and to get lost again! . I can recommend Russell Norman’s book ‘Polpo‘. Great venetian cooking with plenty of cichetti .
A friend had some wise words…some people go on holiday and follow the guidebook to a ‘T. Some go away with no idea and don’t find anything new, but some go away and make their own journey of discovery seeing a place in a new way. This must be why travel blogs are so popular; that unique perspective and hope that I have managed that too.