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Report 2084: Beautiful Italy

By lesleymay from South Africa, Fall 2013

Trip Description: From 11 September 2013 to 1 October 2013 my sister and I spent time in Venice, the Dolomites, the Veneto (Verona, Bassano del Grappa and Asolo), and Lake Como, seeing the sites and doing some walking and hiking.

Destinations: Countries - Italy; Regions/Cities - Lombardy, Other Italy Region, Veneto, Venice

Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Vacation Rentals; Garden Visits; Sightseeing; Walking/Hiking; Independent Travel; 2 People

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Page 1 of 6: Venice

photo by Lesley

Canal Reflections

Early one morning in January of this year my phone rang. It was my sister and her announcement lifted my heart. She said: I have decided - I am coming with you. So my Italy trip, which had been hanging in the balance, was on. I put the phone down and as I walked past my study I noticed that there was a book lying in the middle of the carpet. I went to pick it up and found that it was a book in Italian that I had bought in the vain hope that I would be able to understand the story. Now I am not a superstitious person but there was absolutely no explanation as to how that book had got from the top shelf of the book case into the middle of the room. I decided to just go with it and take it as a good omen for my trip.

Wednesday, 11 September

And now, after four years of thinking and planning and researching and looking forward, the time had at last come for my sister and I to go on our Italian adventure.

People have been full of doom and gloom and said things like: Why are you going to Italy again? and Venice is dirty and smelly; and why on earth are you flying on September 11? Well, I LOVE Italy, Venice is going to be beautiful and in this year of 2013, 11 September is going to be a great day.

Thank you so much to Slow Travel for all the information, advice and tips which I have collected over the years and which contributed significantly to the success of our trip. We left Johannesburg full of high hopes, anticipation and a great sense of adventure.

Thursday, 12 September

Our first challenge was to navigate Zurich Airport as we had 1 hour and 20 minutes to catch our connecting flight to Venice and I was worried about it. Needless to say, it all worked like Swiss clockwork and we just followed the signs, reaching the departure gate with plenty of time to spare and arriving in Venice an hour later.

I had to take a deep breath and say to myself: I am in Venice! I couldn't believe that I was there at last. Everywhere you look it is breathtakingly beautiful. It was like stepping into a fairytale or a painting.

I had thoroughly studied maps of Venice and thought I had a good idea of where to go: across a bridge, through the Papadopoli Gardens, across another bridge, take the right street - oh no it does not have the right name! I decided to just take the right street anyway and very soon found Frari on our left and knew we were on the right track. We came to Campo San Tomá, took a right into Calle Campaniel, and we were there. We stayed at Hotel Al Campaniel in San Polo which was comfortable, quiet and very central.

Our first venture was to explore San Polo towards the Rialto Bridge, keeping an eye open for places to eat. We followed the signs to Rialto and it was easy. Picked up some lunch along the way and sat on the edge of the Grand Canal to eat it. I was actually sitting next the Grand Canal looking at the Rialto Bridge! We admired the bright colors of the fruit and vegetable market and then kept wandering and into Santa Croce. When my sister had had enough and wanted to go back to the hotel, I found our way back quite easily and was quite pleased with myself.

We had spotted a good place around the corner from us and tried that for supper. We ordered our first Bellini and sat on the Campo having our supper and watching the world go by. It was perfect.

Friday, 13 September

On our first day we headed for San Marco. My sister and I had been there together in 1968 - 45 years ago! Unfortunately this time San Marco Basilica was shrouded in scaffolding. We had a booked entry time at 09:45 which was a wonderful advantage and saved us so much time waiting in queues. San Marco is really glorious but I didn't like the carpeted route and having to shuffle along with so many people (admittedly we were part of the crowd) who were talking and pointing and taking photographs. I lit a candle though for my son, Mark.

We then went on a Secret Itineraries Tour of the Doges Palace and thoroughly enjoyed seeing the old prisons and record rooms. Our lady guide was interesting and informative, but very stern and kept saying: Mind all around, meaning we were not to touch anything. After the tour we were able to look at the grand parts of the Palace, which is stunningly beautiful inside and out.

We spent the afternoon wandering through Castello in the general direction of the Arsenale. We bought rolls for lunch and found a place to eat in a shady spot on the steps of San Zacceria. I had read that by walking a few blocks away from the crowds we would find ourselves almost completely on our own, and was amazed to find that this was indeed so. We were doing one of the walks from 24 Great Walks in Venice but found it quite difficult to keep to the plan of the walk, as one had to keep referring to the map every few steps, and it was easier to just wander. I did want to find the Questura from Donna Leon's books and so we did a little detour to find that.

One of the highlights of my trip was my little Italian conversations with the people we met. I realized that I have come a long way with Italian since my first trip and, as bad and stumbling as it is, it brings the most amazing responses from people. One of our landlords said it is 'non normale' for tourists to speak Italian. Where I had heard that the staff in a ticket office were rude and uncooperative and would not speak English, I got smiles and friends for life and two tickets. And one shopkeeper presented me with a bookmark as a gift for my valiant Italian conversation. Before we left home, I had actually decided that I would give up learning Italian, now I am thinking I should carry on ... and ... there is still Rome, Sorrento and Pompeii and so many other places to explore!

Saturday, 14 September

We spent the morning exploring Dorsoduro and we really liked this area, very quiet. We walked all the way to Santa Maria della Salute which is beautiful. Entrance is free and one is allowed to take photographs and yet it was quiet and peaceful. I was fascinated by some of the floor tiles which were 3D. We walked all the way around the point and then along the Zattere, enjoying all the activity on the water and browsing through a little market on the edge of the water. Our little mission that day was to find the Last Gondola Maker. Unfortunately they were closed but it was interesting to see.

We had booked a boat tour of the canals with Vivi Venezia and so at the appointed time we were at the meeting place: "on the left of Calle Campaniel, to the canal..." I thought I knew where Gian Luca meant but when he was late, I started wondering if I was right. But then he arrived so all was well. We thoroughly enjoyed the trip and it gave us a wonderful view of Venice from the water and some different experiences: heard a beautiful tenor voice floating out of an open window in the Jewish Quarter, got stuck in a boat jam in a narrow canal and watched to see how they sorted it out. We went underneath the church of San Stefano, the only place in Venice where a canal goes under a building. It gave us some marvelous opportunities to take some lovely photographs.

Before our trip I had read John Berendt's book, The City of Falling Angels, and had enjoyed reading about the Curtis family from America who had bought the Palazzo Barbaro in the 1890s. John Singer Sargent, the artist, painted a portrait of the Curtis family and offered it to them as a gift. Mrs Curtis thought that it did not flatter her and she refused it. Sargent them submitted the painting, called An Interior in Venice, to the Royal Academy in London as his diploma work. It is said that the painting is now worth more than the Palazzo. So, I was particularly interested to see the Palazzo Barbaro but I don't think Gian Luca believed the story about the palazzo and the painting.

We then walked to the train station where I managed to collect our booked train tickets from Milan to Zurich. We also bought our tickets for the train to Bassano del Grappa in a couple of days time. Thirdly we bought our 24 Hour Vaporetto pass for €20. We promptly started using it by getting on the No 1 slow boat down the Grand Canal to San Marco and it was lovely. Venice is just beautiful and there is something grand and fascinating wherever you look.

We reached Piazza San Marco as it was getting dark and we enjoyed the atmosphere, watching the world go by, looking at the shops and listening to the orchestras playing, especially a lady listening to the music, tapping her foot and singing along with a huge smile on her face. She was so swept up in the moment that she was completely oblivious to everything else.

I hadn't thought much further than the Grand Canal and the Islands with our 24 Hour Pass. But now we were tired and I suddenly realized we could hop on a vaporetto and easily get to our stop, San Tomá.

Sunday, 15 September

We caught the vaporetto across the canal to Rialto, and then went on foot to Fondamente Nuove to catch the vaporetto to the islands. Today we had a little mission to find Santa Maria dei Miracoli, "a little gem hidden away amongst the canals." And it was.

We spent the day visiting San Michele, Murano and Burano and loved the different experiences on each island. We visited the glass museum and I was fascinated by the items from the first century AD. It is amazing that they have survived all this time.

Then, thoroughly weary, it had been a long, hot day, we headed back to Venice and were lucky enough to get seats for the long ride back on a very crowded boat. At Fondamente Nuove we caught another vaporetto to the railway station, and from there took the No 1 down the Grand Canal and got off at our stop, San Tomá. Really getting the hang of this. We took the vaporetto 9 times, so got our money's worth and enjoyed the freedom of hopping on and off when it suited us.

I went to Mass at the Frari Cathedral, a few steps from where we were staying. I love the sound of the bells in Italy and it was a good feeling to be walking along to Mass with the bells calling and feeling for one moment in time that I belonged in this fairytale city. The Frari was beautiful and peaceful, and awe-inspiringly huge. Mass was the same as at home, yet different and I managed to follow it quite well and thought that the Gospel was about the Prodigal Son. My son confirmed later that indeed it was.

Monday, 16th September

Oh no, last day in Venice. We took a traghetto across the canal from San Tomá to San Marco. The gondolier was a young woman who rowed with one hand and chatted on her telefonino with the other. How times have changed. It is a great way of getting across the Grand Canal.

We had two little missions today: to find the Bovolo staircase and La Fenice. On our travels we saw a shop with lovely panini and bottles of Bellini. We resolved to pass on our way back and make some purchases. A tourist overheard us and said we should get them now as we would never find the shop again. But I have had a lovely time navigating around Venice and I knew exactly where I was and that I would be able to find the shop again.

We found La Fenice and also found the Bovolo staircase, which is as beautiful and fascinating as its pictures.

Then we went to San Marco where we had another booked entry at 11:30 when the lights are turned on. We first went up to the museum from where there are gorgeous views of Piazza San Marco and across to San Giorgio Maggiore although I didn't much like the giant pink lady seated in front of it. We were looking down into San Marco when the lights were turned on and the mosaics lit up in a golden glow which brought the whole cathedral to glittering life.

I had also wanted to see the original Four Horses of St Marks, said to be from the 4th century, and they are really beautiful.

On our travels back towards the Grand Canal, I found that shop again and we bought our panini for lunch and Bellini to take home with us then caught the traghetto back across the canal to San Tomá.

We spent the afternoon in Dorsoduro, Campo S Barnaba and Campo di Santa Margherita.

Tuesday, 17th September

Our train to Bassano del Grappa was at 11:30 so we had a bit of time to take a last walk. We headed back to Rialto to go and look at the fish market which is absolutely fascinating. Every kind of fish you could imagine.

Then we collected our luggage and started our last walk to the station.

I absolutely loved Venice - after five days my sister said she was "all Veniced out" but I could have stayed for another year. It is such a magical place. I know they are there, but I didn't see any decay or graffiti, problems or cruise ships, just saw everything that was beautiful. We explored almost every corner and discovered all sorts of hidden gems away from the madding crowd and I think we made great use of our time. But there was so much we hadn't seen and I was SO sad to be leaving.

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