Friday, 4 March 2011

Venice - a weekend around water world

Venice - a city of water, history, architecture and romance. Taking to the airways on board a very national British Airways flight departing early on a Saturday morning; following a 40 minute drive from home - and a challenging navigation to the parking point - we arrived in the city of love by midday.

A sharp exit from Venice airport we stood overlooking a Azure blue lagoon begging to be crossed. A 25euro ticket return, in 3 stops it dropped us at the southern island of Lido. We marched our suitcases to the hotel - like any weekend tourist needing to purchase an exceptionally high priced map to navigate to the hotel. Bags dropped we hurried to the dock to begin our exploration.

Seeming as Venice is a group of water-logged islands; cars or 'land vehicles' are impossible to accommodate. The islands like Lido had cars but owners had very little use for them, seeming as the key mode of transport are boats. Priced at 23Euros for 48 hours - we hoped this would last the duration of our stay.

While we waited for our friends to secure their car North of Venice; we grabbed a bite of lunch - an obligatory pizza - then jumped to the main isle for a bout of tourist sightseeing. Coincidentally on landing at San Marco we received a call from our friends advising they had reached the hotel. So with just 45 minutes we scooted around the main square - witnessed one of the masked costume parades for the annual February carnival before heading back to the hotel.

Our friends had been to Venice just the year before during carnival - by all accounts the city thrived during this celebration with the world famous Venetian masks and historical costumes. Therefore it was of course essential we came highly prepared.

Once back at our abode we glamourised our bodies  - fit to parade the ramantic historical city with masks in hand. As a group of six (3 couples) we enjoyed a meal at our earlier luncheon venue before heading across the lagoon for the carnival party in San Marco Polo square.

While the city is full of vibrancy during carnival a draw back is the sheer volume of visitors - with near nowhere to move you go with the crowd. Be prepared to jostle your way to your intended destination. Though as a pure alien here - who really knows their intent?

The main square played host to entertainment and music, while the back streets were that of dark deep murder mysteries familiar to feverent readers. You can see across multiple small alleys as you maneouvre the turns and witness slight sightings of people - cloaked - hidden - beneath masks - disappearing and reappearing along parallel streets - like ghosts in the night.

Venice is certainly a tourist city, and a very expensive one at that. Don't bother with bottled beer or a glass of fine wine if you'd rather save for your budget. Instead indulge in house wine provided in half litre bottles for just 5 euros. It may not taste great - but if you're British - like me - Wine - is wine!

Due to the limitations in public transport it was essential we left for the boat in good time to return to our island for a beauty sleep. Not only was the city bitterly cold with a damp humidity; but also we had all been traveling since 5am - a long enough day for anyone.

Sunday - breakfast with fresh croissant, bread and coffee - at the dock for 12pm and on a boat for our island hopping adventure. First Moreno - an isle famed for its glass blowing. We stopped at Venice cemetry along the way - discovering how the locals disposed of bodies. An eerie silence filled the island that was imprisoned by a brick wall - any grave robber would struggle for a successful theft here.

Beautifully adorned with plastic flowers; the graves bore names of the dead across a century from the old to new born. Familes etched their names in walls for immortality and had purchsed their own burial rooms that are now crumbling to pieces.

The next stop - glass blowing island of Moreno. On arrival it looked promising; yet on closer inspection there was little to experience except a 5-minute demonstration of the ancient art. Although spectacularly performed by an enthusiastic 'fit' glass blower - his lop-sided bottle didn't win my custom - especially for small items prices 30euro+ and the cheaper items clearly rejects from the manufacturing process. I suppose every small production needs a home!

We left to find sanctuary from the now increasingly grey and wet skies for the main isle. We meandered the streets observing superb costumes among spectacular craft stores. The architecture of the city is phenomenal - clearly considered and not just knocked together.

The biting cold and demanding stomachs requested a rest-stop in a small Italian cafe; food, drink, coffee and we were back braving the streets.

The drizzle continued yet we persevered dazzled by the wandering streets no wider than arms stretched and shops the size of cubicles. Thousands of bridges made Venice the playground of elders who should know better and side alleys met the desires of young men and women seeking to act out a romantic gesture. The Gondola's owned the canals - and at their price - it's of no surprise.

Late evening back in Lido we found a welcoming bar to entertain my need for wine.

The final day our friends departed first thing for their long drive - while we explored the Doge Palace - mesmerised by more architecture, fine art and history through official government chambers - across the Bridge of Sigh; downto the prison quarters and back to San Marco Polo. 12Euro entry each - definitely worth it. Watch the snobby people telling men they can't take bags but happily allowing women to lug their sacs around.

Venice is a tourist city - if we expect anything else; be prepared to be disappointed - otherwise, escape into a world of the world famous masquerade.