La Serenissima

I’ve already written about the way I feel about Venice from our last trip to La Serenissima (the most serene Venezia) in 2013. I’ve always trained in from Treviso in the past, but this time with New Year’s Eve and Cam’s 40th birthday set to fall across our Venice days, it seemed like a great excuse to drop the considerable amount of cash it takes to stay for 3 nights in Venice itself.

The electricity I feel for Venice is still there. My family comes from The Veneto, and I have no doubt memories of travelling here have somehow seeped into my DNA. We parked in Mestre and trained it into Santa Lucia station on the Grand Canal. I was fidgety and excited like a little kid on Christmas morning. This city has a strange hold over me. A few days later when I was talking to a friend of my cousin, who lives just 20 minutes away in Treviso,  and she said “You have to be there to feel it…Venice is magic in sunshine or rain, in the fog and especially at night” I realised that many have been captivated by her charms.

Frederico, the suave Italian gent who owns our Venetian rental, met us at the train station steps. It felt amazing to bring out my Italian again after not having a decent conversation to anyone in my second language for 7 years. I felt myself easily chatting to him about his city, his back ground, his kids (both work in fashion, one was the head of Valentino USA, the other works for Prada in Asia). The girls were actually looking at me, mouths agape because while I say a word or phrase here and there at home, they haven’t heard me just casually converse with someone for a long time.

When we got to the apartment, I wish for all of us that Frederico’s sons were actually plumbers and/or electricians and/or safety inspectors. Questionable wiring, wobbly steps, dysfunctional heating, and no WiFi all part of the >AUS$200 per night price tag. Oh, and the 5 stories of vertical stairs to get to it.

But…the views. AGGHGHGHGHGHGH. Every window opened up to terracotta rooftops and faded stucco buildings. People yelling at each other from the cobbled streets below. Bell towers, church spires, laundry strung up in narrow alley ways. Every single thing I love. The beautiful mess of it all.

Then, at street level, away from the tourist zombie conga-line between the Ferrovia and Piazza San Marco, every corner holds a new postcard-perfect portrait of the city. A gondolier pushing off from his mooring, cigarette in mouth with his red festooned gondola. Green shuttered windows or ornate 14th century gothic windows. Bridges zig zagging over water, and tunnels hidden under palaces. Silent boats on canals in back streets in the frosty dead of night.

Our supermarket was set up in an old theatre!

The Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari holds some of Venice’s most spectacular works of art. There are two glorious Titians (The Assumption at the alter was undergoing restoration, and the “fake” which was up couldn’t replicate the intensity of the original), and Bellini’s Frari tryptic, with that intense stare from St.Mark. There are enormous monuments to Tiziano (Titian) and perhaps The Veneto’s most renowned sculptor Antonio Canova. His monument was actually designed by himself for Titian, but they pulled the design out of the shredder and used it for the man himself instead. Another special feature of the church is the elaborate reliquary cabinet which is said to house a drop of Jesus’ blood. It’s said that you can feel the holy vibes just being in the same room as it. I was just feeling hungry at the time, so I’m not the best judge.

We found a mask maker near the Frari church who was quietly hand painting all of his masks, surrounded by paper mache, moulds and brushes. It’s difficult to find true artisans in Venice, with Indian and Chinese market stalls and shops selling cheap plastic knock offs at every turn. Check out Venezia Authentica to find true Venetian artists. The girls picked up one of his masks each as a memento of the trip.

We visited the island of Murano, famous for its glass blowers, on New Year’s Day. It took an eternity of waiting for vaporetti, catching vaporetti, and being squished on vaporetti to get there. Now I’m not sure if a bunch of shops were closed for the holiday, but we didn’t have a great time on Murano. If you like glass dogs, glass ducks, glass balloons, glass jewellery, glass faces, glass clowns, glass fish, glass clownfish, or glass giraffes, you’d go nuts for it. I only like glass vases, glass bowls and glass glasses, all of which I can purchase for around $2 from Vinnies. I didn’t go nuts for it.

The Doge’s Palace is up there with the Rialto Bridge and St.Mark’s Square on the “must do” list of Venice. Yes, we’ve been before, but every room is spectacular, and even more so at night (we went two hours before closing time), when many tourists have gone home. We had many rooms all to ourselves. Man, back in the day, Venice was loaded!

My favourite part of the palace are the prisons. The opulence of the palace, through the fancy multi-tiered court rooms, over the Bridge of Sighs, and into the heavy-celled dungeons. There is something eerily allegorical about wrapping up a walk-through of the palace here. 

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