SATURDAY 23rd July 2005 Back to index

Something made me stir. I could hear the tolling of distant bells and my nostrils twitched to a sulphurous smell. Fortunately it was not fire and brimstone. The world had not ended and I had not been hauled over the coals for my sins. It was just a fart ringing in my ears!

With my lungs filled with my own farticles I coughed and in reflex my eyes opened. To my surprise I noticed that we had fallen asleep last night leaving the window wide open. How drunk were we? As I was just thinking whether or not I could be bothered to get out of bed to shut the window Julie rolled over and said "If you're going out to take your photos then you're on your own!"

Until that moment I had completely forgotten that in my state of inebria I had planned to wake up early this morning in the hope of experiencing an eerily empty St. Marc's Square.

It was now only 5:50am!

The ungodly hour didn't dissuade me however as I bounded out of bed, shut the window, and closed the curtains (so that Julie could get back to sleep), threw on some clothes, picked up my camera, and headed out, striding with purpose towards Piazza San Marco. I was a man on a mission!

With the exception of a couple of mad joggers I marched quite alone down the waterfront.

It all became worthwhile when I turned into the vast square to be greeted only by the resident pigeons, and even some of them were still asleep!

To stand in a place which is normally chaotic and bursting with activity made this tranquillity even more pronounced. Even the pigeons seemed unruffled and calm. It was perfect.

I walked to the far end, sat on the steps and simply absorbed the serenity of this enormous open space.

I was the only person here and I truly felt privileged.

I had finally found Venice to be "the Most Serene" or "la Serenissima" as the Venetian Republic was once called during its heyday.

To be on my own in Piazza San Marco was a special moment. I only wish I could have shared it with Julie, (but then I wouldn't have been on my own!)

I sat there for over ten minutes before signs of life began to surface.

They were probably there all along but I hadn't noticed until now the brushers sweeping outside Cafe Quadri with their medieval twig brooms.

More people were entering the square by now, all too busy to sit down and appreciate this peacefulness, all probably on their way to work.

So I left the square behind , returning to Riva degli Schiavoni which was also gradually getting busier.

In the distance I could see a Tall Ship coming into port so I decided to walk further down the waterfont to meet it. When it eventually sailed past it was actually a very modern ship and not an old creaky wooden galleon that I was expecting!

Even more impressive were the yatchs docked further along the quayside as I continued to walk towards the trees of the Giardini. We're seriously talking €100 million price tags! I wonder which billionaire was in town? Richard Branson, Roman Abramovich, Diddy Trump?

The sun had now risen and another beautiful day had begun.

The further away from the square I walked the more peaceful it became, and "La Serenissima" returned.

I decided to sit on a huge mooring thing (on which boats are tied up?) and as if by osmosis, I drew in the peacefulness.

I felt lifted and so relaxed.

I eventually moved on, mostly because of a numb bum from sitting on the cold iron "mooring thing"; but also because my mother's voice was beginning to enter my head. "You'll get piles if you sit there for too long!"

Before long I had reached the pleasant green space of the Giardini. There aren't many parks in Venice and it was good to see some trees.

I continued to walk a little further towards an odd artistic instalation which featured a tent with a peculiar likeness to a klu klux klan hood and a tall tower with a digital waterfall gushing virtually down. We could see this blue effect from our hotel last night.

I'm not too sure what to make of it? It just seemed so removed from the beauty of this city. At least it wasn't plonked in the middle of Piazza San Marco I suppose?

I returned back up they quayside until I reached the canal that led up towards the Arsenale. This was the historical naval base of the mighty Venetian fleet.

To this day it is still an active naval base, and as such visitors are not allowed to enter the compound without special permission.

There is however a museum at the quayside that you could visit, Museo Storico Navale, which I would imagine to be fascinating. Afterall, Venice owes everything to its Naval supremacy.

Instead of returning to the quayside I went for a wander through a maze of extremely narrow streets. At one point I was concerned that I would regret being so adventurous and end up hopelessly lost. I could feel myself getting a little anxious before I fortunately stumbled back out onto Riva degli Schiavoni by sheer luck!

After reaching the church of Santa Maria della Pieta, famous for Vivaldi's premiers, like a fool who never learns I allowed myself to be sucked back into the maze of backstreets by the over zealous adventurer inside of me. This time however I had better bearings and knew that once I found Ponte dei Greci, and saw the leaning tower of San Giorgio dei Greci, then I would know my way back to the Londra Palace with my eyes shut!

I returned to our hotel room, pulled back the curtains and opened the window; letting the brilliant sunshine and the noisy hussle of the waterfront flood in. I'd already been up a whole two hours, and I sat watching the world go by for a further two hours waiting for Sleeping Beauty to open her eyes. This "waking up" can be such a slow process!

We only just made breakfast as they were clearing it up at 10:30am!

They didn't hinder us though from filling our boots and much more besides. Sufficently stuffed we ventured out towards the Laguna Nord ferry terminal.

This line was operated by ACTV and so our three day ticket was also valid for this morning's trip over to Burano.

Right on time, 11:15am, we tooted three times, and set off into the green lagoon, heading first to the Lido.

We sat at the back on the open deck, trying to catch some shine. It was a gloriously sunny day and in the sheltered basin it was getting very warm. Out came the mini fans.

We docked at the Lido and we saw cars hurtling along the road. Oddly, it felt like our first contact with the "outside world" having spent three days in what is essentially one big pedestrianised zone!

Without a doubt the absence of vehicles adds to Venice's charm. You don't have to worry about traffic conjestion, about the noise or exhaust pollution and you certainly won't get run over by a bus! Indeed the only peril is the danger of falling into the canals and you'd need to be pretty drunk to do that!

Anyway, once we left the Lido a cooling sea breeze came to our rescue. Our mini propellors were put away. We sat back and relaxed; in fact I almost fell asleep as we chugged our way alongside the spit of land that creates the lagoon and protects Venice from the Adriatic.

We'd been sailing for well over half an hour since leaving San Zacaria, and as we looked back towards the Lido we could see the beaches on the opposite side. "Oh my God!" we both said. They looked soul destroyingly busy! No serenity there then!

We reached another scheduled stop at Punta Sabbioni and then perhaps some twenty minutes later we began to see the colourful houses and badly listing spire of Burano gradually getting closer.

The story behind the bright wacky colours apparently lies with the men folk of Burano who were all fishermen and that one day they decided to brightly paint their houses so that when they returned in the dark of the night they would easily recognise which house was their home!? Did they have a spate of men getting into the wrong beds or something!?

Whatever the reason, they certainly looked fantastic and created such an unique sight.

We docked at 12:25pm so it took seventy minutes to get here. It's only a 9km distance so it wasn't exactly speeding!

We followed the crowd off the boat, heading towards the stalls selling Burano's most renowned export, their Lace.

Whilst the men are out all day fishing, the women weave their delicate doilies and intircate patterns, that in its heyday had the reputation as the world's finest.

We strolled around the canalsides of this surreal island. It almost felt like we had walked onto a cartoon film set and we were expecting little animated figures bouncing along the canalside to the theme of the Loony Tunes.

The island was exceptionally tidy and each house had been immaculately painted in the boldest of primary colours. Each neighbour chose a different tone, from Sky Blue to Tangerine and all the colours in between. The entire spectrum of possible shades were proudly displayed.

I wonder who decides? Can the owners pick any colour they want or is there a scheme behind it all? What a cool job that would be if you didn't like someone.

"Mmm, I believe the colour of your house should be that of horse manure! Yes, that's right, shitty brown for you, pal"!

We hadn't seen any proper shops other than the lace stalls, most of the houses appeared to be exclusively homes. By chance we eventually came across the central piazza where the church was located and found where all the restaurants and shops were hiding!

It was now time to turn our thoughts towards lunch.

We walked up and down the cluster of restaurants browsing all the menus and chose the most unpretentious of them all. It was simply decorated, and furnished with white plastic tables and chairs.

Whilst all the other restaurants were all reasonably popular i.e. busy, this one had nobody eating outside. But at least the menu was cheap!

I think after last night's fleecing by Harry we were trying to reset the balance a little!

To be fair I was quite happy with the quality of my Pizza Sicilian, which was just simply tomato, mozzarella and black olives. It wasn't the best but it was OK.

Julie went for a Lasagne and was confused when she started to eat it. The taste was fine, if a little "school dinners", but the surprise were the slices of wafer thin ham inside instead of the usual meaty ragu sauce. We renamed the dish "Las-ham-gne"!

I ordered a half litre of their Vino Rosso and at €4.50 it was an obvious guideline to the poor quality but by the end of the carafe my taste buds must have developed a resistance to the sharp tannines and I was knocking back the plonk like a classic Valpollicella.

The total cost for lunch was the same as we paid for a plate of Zabaglione last night!

After browsing the lace shops we made our way back towards the ferry terminal. We wished we could have spent longer here; Burano is definitely a place to gently savour.

As Julie and I were walking down Fondamenta Pontinello she said, "I wonder if you could rent a house for a week here?"

"Or even buy a house here? I've not seen any for sale." I added. "Hey, we might even be Euro millionaires, we've not checked last night's numbers yet"

Well, at that very moment, just on the corner to our left, we saw a house for sale! What an incredible coincindence! The house, the lotto win, as if it were meant to be!

We became excitable little bunnies as we couldn't believe the chance of that happening! Then the day dreaming kicked into overdrive.

"Now what would we do with €100 million? "

We certainly wouldn't buy one yatch, nor would we eat at Harry's Bar, but we'd buy this house!

It was in a prime location, a short walk from the piazza, not far from a Spar grocery store, and had space to moor your boat right outside its front door.

Absolutely perfect!

Ah ....... if only!

Back at the ferry terminal we caught the little boat that shuttled backwards and forwards to Torcello to visit the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta.

Torcello was historically where the original Venetians inhabited as they fled the onslaught of barbarians from Germany. They escaped over the water to this lagoon island and formed a thriving community. The cathedral dates back to this time during the 7th century.

Over time the lagoon silted up and became a swampy marshland where malarial mosquitoes thrived, so gradually the population declined as they left Torcello to the better located collection of muddy islets called Venice.

The only inhabitants of Torcello nowadays are the innkeepers and farmers who work the land, reputedly quoted at about sixty people.

From where the boat dropped us off we walked for five minutes along a canalside footpath that led us past a couple of restaurants, coming to an end at the Locanda Cipriani. The owner of Harry's Bar more exclusive restaurant!

Well, we won't be dining there then!

This is where Hemmingway stayed and wrote most of his book 'Across the River and Into the Trees'.

In addition to the Basilica the area also had the Church of Santa Fosca and an archaelogical museum.

They sold various combinations of tickets, one for the bell tower, one for the basilica, one for the museum, then any two combined, or an Access All Areas ticket.

Of course we opted for the bell tower (a day is not complete unless we've climbed a tower!) and the basilica ticket combo at €5.50 each.

The inside of the tower was very well lit and there weren't any steps as such but more of a gradual incline. Julie didn't appear to be at all concerened about the climb, but all that went out the window when she stepped outside and felt the tower swaying like a blade of grass.

With her eyes tightly shut she clung for dear life onto a wooden post in the middle whilst I took my photos.

"You take your time" she said.

So I did!

It was a great view from up here, across to Burano, and beyond into the lagoon. Even the distant skyline of Venice could be seen.

The second part of our ticket allowed us to go inside the Basillica. We were just about to step inside the cathedral when a young girl popped up from behind her booth and stopped.

She asked if Julie had something to cover her shoulders.

Wearing only a vest top she was baring far too much flesh and considered too indecent to be allowed in!

All was not lost however as they had a stock of paper capes to cover even the most naked of visitors. It was the most unflattering of costumes and made Julie look like a Jolly Friar! She looked absolutely ridiculous! We couldn't stop tittering as we walked into the beautiful interior of the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta.

Sadly we were far too concerned about wetting ourselves with laughter to notice the intricate mosaic floor or the stunning detail and skilled work that had gone into the mosaics of the Virgin Mary above the altar and of The Last Judgement on the wall behind us. We sat down at a pew and tried to think holy and sombre thoughts but we couldn't hold it together.

"Who's cape was it ?" I asked, "Pavarotti's ?!!"

Well by now we were nearly rolling in the aisle, desperately trying to stifle our laughter. We just had to leave, before we were asked to leave! We had hardly been inside for 30 seconds but we simply couldn't compose ourselves. The tears streamed down our burgundy faces as we returned the paper cape. "Who was the designer?" we asked. The young girl just smiled politely.

As soon as we got outside we allowed our laughter its freedom and we ended up bent double in complete hysterical behaviour. Totally unable to control ourselves I pulled a stomach muscle and Julie had a tension headache. (That's a cruel genetic malfunction of Julie. If she laughs too hard she suffers from a terrible headache!)

Sitting on Attila the Hun's throne didn't help as somehow we even found that funny!!

We sat on the alleged throne of the most tyrannical evil barbarian of all time and Julie said "Ooh, it's actually quite comfortable"!!

It took us over ten minutes to regain our composure. As soon as we could walk in a straight line we left the churches behind and walked back along the canal side, stopping for a delicious Melon sorbet at a little restaurant near Ponte di Diavolo.

Here we sat down and phoned Steve & Liz back home to check how they were getting along. We were only able to have this summer break because they kindly offered to clean our holiday cottage for us whilst we were away. Monsieur Blanc and his family were due from France today and Steve assured me that everything was fine and dandy for their arrival.

We arrived back in Burano just in time to catch a ferry leaving the magical rainbow island for the return trip to Venice.

We followed the same route back and eventually stepped onto Riva degli Schiavoni at 4:30pm.

It was customary for us at this time of the day to have a well deserved siesta but we were both absolutely ravenous. We both knew that we had a dinner reservation at 8:30pm yet we still decided to hunt down some food!

It must have been the sea air!

We remembered the lunch we enjoyed so much on Wednesday and agreed to return there. As soon as we stepped inside Rosticceria a huge 1ft by 2ft bake caught my attention. I was already drooling as I walked nearer and was besides myself with glee when it turned out to be meat free! They cut out a hearty slab of the Melanzane di Parmigiana and 'pinged' it in the microwave for 20 seconds. Oooh, it tasted really good.

Julie wanted the Chicken with Roast Potatoes that was on display but they were only available as part of a set menu. One also had to pay for a 1/4 carafe of wine, a bread roll, and a desert. So I gallantly offered to force down some more red wine and eat the pudding so that she could have here roast chicken!

By the time we shopped for some pesto and grappa for Liz & Steve and returned to the hotel we didn't have much time to shower and get changed for our evening meal. We rushed oursleves out and onto a vaporetto that slowly chugged its way up the Grand Canal stopping at every single stop. It was made into an even more laborious journey because there was no room to sit! It was full to sinking point!

We loitered outside at the back, hovering, waiting for someone to vacate their seat. There was hardly any standing room let alone anywhere to sit, yet despite this a family of oafs barged their way in. Then; at the very next stop, three seats became available right next to where the lumbering dim-wits had pushed themsleves into. They squeezed their fat arses onto the chairs, and sat there with the smug face of someone who just one the musical chairs contest. The bastards!

The next stop was San Silvestro and some seats became available inside so we gave up on the fresh air. It was hotter, smellier and noisier inside but at least we were sitting down and we didn't have to look at Gunther's smug podgy face!

Three stops later we got off at San Stae and walked down to Osteria La Zucca, which was on the corner of Calle Tentor near the little Ponte Megio bridge.

Despite the tedious boat ride we had actually made good time and were half an hour early. So we walked down towards the festivities in Campo San Giacomo dell'Orio.

"Benvenuti alla Festa di S.G. Benfica" said the banner.

We sat down at some tables outside whilst a bitter spritzer, a Prosecco, and a bowl of nuts were carried out to us from a nearby bar. It was a pleasantly warm evening, the band were trying their best to get San Giaccomo rocking in his tomb, and it was fab location to people watch. We were seriously toying with the idea of cancelling our reservation and staying here all night!

We decided that we couldn't be so rude and arrived at La Zucca on time.

We were shown to our table in the back room where a serious stash of wine covered an entire wall. The rest of the room was less impressively cladded in dark wooden slats and the fact that the tables were made from the same wood made it a little oppressive.

The staff were quite cheerful and offered us a quick translation of their Italian only menu.

We were thankfull for it as Julie ordered the 'Maiale' which we originally hadn't a clue that it was Italian for a particular style of Roast Pork.

I'd already spotted a Spaghetti with Pesto and an Orechiette al forno con Melanzane on the menu. I've recently used these "little ears" pasta at home and find them perfect for a more substantial meal. I however adore fresh pesto above most other dishes so I decided in favour of the basil flavour! I was a little bit lost as to what to have for a main course because pasta is usually served as a first course and whilst I was spoilt for choice with almost a dozen non-meat dishes on the menu, they were all in the style of tapas.

Each dish was set at a reasonable €4 in price and I was going to have three but I just couldn't choose a combination. Then the waiter suggested that I try the "Sampler Platter". It contained a selection of six dishes, ideal for those who just couldn't decide! I took his advice.

"Any wine?" he asked.

I scoured the wine list and chose a bottle of Dolcelta D'Alba which he quite literally produced, magician-like, from behind my ear! It was all just an illusion as I was sat with my back to the wine racks but it was still an amazing coincidence to have chosen that particular red wine amongst a wide selection of others!

My starter soon arrived which was huge mound of green. It smelt divine and tasted even better. I was purring like a 50 c.c. engine!

Julie hadn't ordered a first course and tried some of my spaghetti.

"Oh my God, that's delicious!" she said in quite some shock! She usually doesn't like pesto but the quality of this pesto was superb. It was just so fresh it could only have been made minutes earlier with a pestle and mortar!

This became my favourite dish in Venice.

The main courses failed to live up to the opening act as Julie's 'maiale' turned out to be thinly sliced pieces of roast pork and whilst tasted OK in its mustard sauce it came as a big disappointment. She was hoping for a thickly cut pork chop reminiscent of that she ate at Mario's in Florence.

My platter selection also failed to hit the mark because it basically didn't work. On my plate I had a tasty portion of Spinach & Ricotta but it lay next to chinese stir fry veg, and the delicious Pepperonata was cross-conaminated by Curried Carrots!?!? Now I've heard of fusion but this was just confusion. All the flavours were conflicting. Like I said, for me, it just didn't work. Although the best dish on the plate, sliced potatoes baked with Scamorza cheese, certainly hit the right spot. That was gorgeous.

We ended the evening sharing a lovely Semifredo with Mint and Chocolate sauce; so the meal finished on a high note.

We left in good spirits and decided to walk back to the hotel, unaided by a map! We walked from La Zucca in a vaguely easterly direction down seriously damp and dark alleyways.

We were just starting to regret our stupidity when like a shining beacon we saw a yellow sign pointing the way to the Rialto bridge.

Hallelujah!

Once we crossed over the Grand Canal the way back to our hotel was fortunately quite familiar.

After sitting in the lobby bar for a glass of Pinot Grigio the early morning start finally caught up with me as my eyes rolled about my head, in different rotations. I simply couldn't stay awake any longer. I could here Julie's voice fading away as my eyes closed.

Before I found myself dribbling with my head on the table we made for our room.

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