Waters of Venice

“The quality of Venice that accomplishes what religion so often cannot is that Venice has made peace with the waters. It is not merely pleasant that the sea flows through, grasping the city like tendrils of vine, and, depending upon the light, making alleys and avenues of emerald and sapphire, Citi s a brave acceptance of dissolution and an unflinching settlement with death. Though in Venice you may sit in courtyards of stone, and your heels may click up marble stairs, you cannot move without riding upon or crossing the waters that someday will carry you in dissolution to the sea.”
Mark Helprin, The Pacific and Other Stories

Venice. Oh how I love thee

Gondola cruise on the canal
Gondola cruise on the canal

You’ve heard me rave about Venice before so it will come as no surprise that after my third visit to the serene city I still feel the desire to return. We stayed in a small hotel called the Locanda La Corte not far from Rialto Bridge and close to the Ospedale vaporetto stop, perfect for walking to the city’s main attractions. The window of our hotel room opened onto a canal, it was ideal for us and there were many moments when all I wanted to do was look out that window, listen to the seagulls and watch the world float by. Of an afternoon, when the sun was shining, the reflection of the waves could be seen on the wall and ceiling of our room creating a feeling of calm.

Being Autumn the number of tourists seemed lower than on my previous visits in Spring and Summer, but still the streets and main squares were crowded. Away from the main attractions such as St Mark’s Basilica and the Rialto Bridge we could stroll freely and without interference from people armed with selfie sticks and those trying to sell them. It was the quieter alleys and squares that I love, although feeling like an intruder armed with a camera and invading a local’s personal space. One morning I left hubby at the hotel while I went out for a walk, camera in hand I decided to venture into a part of Venice that I had not seen, Cannaregio. I didn’t make it very far and found myself standing on the edge of the island and looking towards the Island of San Michele and in the background, snow covered mountains. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day, ideal for hopping on a boat and heading to the islands of Burano and Torcello which is exactly what we did.

Venice is often described as a theme park, attracting millions of visitors all year round and it is easy to get caught up in the hype and complain about how expensive everything is and how it is difficult to find a good, affordable meal. On Burano there are a dozen or more places to eat on the main street where all the tourists go, a couple of locals recommended two restaurants but they were packed so we sat down to a meal of fried calamari and chips (fries or frites) by the water. The food was cheap and fresh and not far from the vaporetto stop. Our favourite cheap eat find was a little place not far from the Rialto Bridge, I had read about it in a couple of guide books and expected it to be full of budget conscious tourists like us. Rosticceria Gislon is not what you would expect in a seemingly tourist area, it looks like a cafeteria and offers pre-prepared food at a good price, it was also crammed with locals (or Italian speaking tourists). We had three great meals at Rosticceria Gislon, one of the most memorable (and cheap) being the deep fried mozzarella and ham sandwiches…delicious!

I cannot imagine what it must be like to live in a centuries old city such as Venice, one that is never free of the hoardes of tourists whilst also having to manage the impact of high tides and rising sea levels.  The eery beauty of this city appeals greatly to me, I have always wanted to spend a few months living in Venice however I wonder if the enchantment would wear off during an extended stay. In the meantime, editing all my photos and remembering our time in Venice will have to suffice.

Sunshine, colour and light…Venice in April

Early morning at the Doges Palace
Early morning at the Doges Palace
Another great view of the Grand Canal
Another great view of the Grand Canal

Venice was our introduction to Italy, the first Italian destination on our European holiday and to say we were excited is a bit of an understatement. We had four nights booked at the Locanda Ca’ Valeri not far from the Doges Palace and the Arsenale and the only thing we had planned for our stay was to visit the port city of Trieste and to ‘get lost’ in the maze of streets that make up the city of Venice.

Upon arrival at the train station the realisation that we were in Italy hit us, it is a beautiful sunny Sunday and the number of tourists and day trippers at the station was overwhelming. We were excited and nervous at the same time, I’m sure that our mouths were wide open in awe but we were also attempting to keep our wits about us and not let our bags out of our sight. 13 euros bought us two tickets on the vaporetto and although it is jam-packed we have managed to claim a great spot for taking in the views along the Grand Canal without blocking anybody’s path on and off the vaporetto.

Once we had found and settled into our hotel room we set off to explore the city and find a Tourist Information office and find out about getting to and from Trieste. Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square) was the natural first stop, it was also were we picked up a couple of panini for lunch but we weren’t allowed to sit and picnic on or near the square so we found a quiet little spot near a canal and some luxury shops where we could eat in peace.

Our hotel buzzer
Our hotel buzzer
The Arsenale
The Arsenale
Luxury boat
Parking, Venice style

During our stay in Venice we did manage to visit some of the recommended sights such as the Frari Church and Rialto Bridge however we spent most of our time wandering through the streets, stopping to eat at a small snack bar or taste a new flavour of gelato. We got lost gawking at window displays featuring masks, costumes and Venetian glass, turning left or right depending on what appealed to us at the time or what photo opportunity lay ahead. One day we found ourselves on the point of Dorsoduro, looking at a sculpture of a boy holding a frog with the water and St Mark’s as the backdrop, another day we walked to Fondamente Nuovo via the San Giovanni Church and the Hospital, there are less people here and we stand on a bridge watching a funeral procession on the canal below us. We did not see inside St Mark’s Basilica or the Doges Palace because the crowds were offputting and although it was on my to-do list I did not venture into the Peggy Guggenheim museum, the joy of walking through the streets of Venice and watching the colours change as the sun rose and then set was enough for me. We were probably very lucky during our stay, the days were warm and the skies were clear with not a rain cloud in sight, walking around of a night was also beautiful (and safe), glass lamps of all shapes, sizes and colour lit the way and in St Mark’s we could stand and listen to the bands playing outside the cafes.

Venetian glass lamps
Venetian glass lamps
Piazza San Marco at night
Piazza San Marco at night
Doges Palace at night
Doges Palace at night
Waterside restaurant at night
Waterside restaurant at night

My expectations for Venice were high, 12 years ago I had visited the city on a tour and fallen in love with it and I was worried that it would not meet my expectations during this trip. There was no need to worry, although many consider Venice a ‘theme park’ for tourists and too expensive to stay for longer than a day or two, I fell in love all over again and still consider it to be one of my favourite Italian cities.

Chiesa di San Zaccaria
Chiesa di San Zaccaria (St Zaccaria Church)
A boy and the frog
A boy and the frog, Dorsoduro
Walking through Dorsoduro
Walking through Dorsoduro
Campo San Giovanni  e Paolo
Campo San Giovanni e Paolo
Gondolas of Venice
Gondolas of Venice

Chilled in Amsterdam

Our last day in Amsterdam and our coldest, the temperature is a chilly 10 degrees and it is raining. There is nothing on our itinerary for the day, we walk to the flower market keeping close to the walls to stay out of the wind and rain. The Keukenhof Gardens would have been our choice had the weather been nicer, the flower market was a compromise and still gave me a chance to see and photograph the beautiful tulips that you see all over Amsterdam, Germany and Switzerland. There is a rainbow of colours, some tulips are in bloom and some are still buds, the market stalls sell bulbs, bouquets and pot plants, it is a shame we cannot take any home with us. Near the markets is a Christmas shop called the Christmas Palace, no photos are allowed to be taken and the shop is filled with trees, fairy lights and decorations. The bells over the door ring constantly, it is cute at first but then gets a little annoying. I buy a few decorations, not too many, we will be going to the famous Christmas shops in Rothenburg ob de Tauber when we are then and plan to buy more to ship home.

In the process of trying to find a post office we find lots of shoes and scarves and Marty pays 1 euro to use the toilet in a toilet shop call ‘2 the loo’, they offer a clean place to pee and a selection of amusing gifts to purchase. Finally we find a post office and can send the postcards we have written on, they may be of Paris but I’m sure our friends and family will understand.

Amsterdam frites with mayonnaise is a well known snack, not sure if they got the idea from Belgium or if they share it with them, we get our huge servings from a frites shop called Mannekin Pis, the serving has half a jar of mayo on it much to our surprise. We get out of the way of all the pedestrians and lean on a bridge while sucking down this tasty treat, near us is the Grasshopper coffeeshop and jetty for the canal cruises, it is a very Amsterdam location to have lunch. In comparison to lunch we eat Thai food in our room that night, for 9 euro we get spring rolls and a meal of noodles with vegetables, stir fry vegetables and a beef with broccoli dish. The ladies in the takeaway shop were happy to chat to us in English, they have family in Australia but have never been themselves, the rest of the customers spoke Dutch so we assume that they were locals popping in for an easy, cheap meal.

From Paris to Amsterdam

We get up before the sun rises, today we go to Amsterdam for a few days of laid back travel in one of the most liberal cities in the world. It is dark outside, the weather is still gloomy and it is pouring down rain, the weather matches our mood. Paris has been an absolute joy for us to experience, I knew that there was something special about this city but I wasn’t expecting Marty to love it as well, we didn’t want to leave and during our time in the city we were looking at the price of real estate and discussing the types of work or lives we could lead here.

Rather than struggle with luggage, trains and buses on a wet day we caught a cab to Gare du Nord, it was only 15 euro and made our morning easy and painless. Today was our first day to try out our Eurail passes, we had to activate them at Gare du Nord, then write a date on them and start filling out the travel report. Paris is extremely dog friendly, everywhere we’ve gone there have been people with their dogs, it is another reason to love this city although the amount of dog poo is a little worrying. A girl sits down opposite us, she has a small dog, he is very excited and when she eats he sits in front and gives her the big eyes that dogs are famous for, she eventually shares her food and when it is time for her to catch the train she puts him in a little bag and carries him under her arm.

Our train trip to Amsterdam last for three and half hours, there is free wireless for 1st class passengers, however we’re not eligible, our reservation is for 2nd class and I spend most of the trip downloading images to my laptop and converting them to jpegs. The scenery is picture postcard perfect, the countryside cold and misty with bare trees and ploughed paddocks – sounds depressing I know yet it was actually quite beautiful.

Amsterdam Central Station is confusing, we are not sure which exit to take, only that tram 17 will get us to the hotel. We ask for help and find out that the trams are directly opposite the station, it is about a 5 minute ride to a street near our hotel and then we drag our bags across the cobblestones for 10 minutes, the noise is horrible. Trams are clean and comfortable, more expensive than Paris, it costs us 2,60 euro each to ride the tram, bikes are the most popular form of transport, they are chained to bridges, posts, trees and railings and range for shiny, near new bikes to ones with damaged wheels.

Our hotel is nice, the rooms remind me of a converted school or hospital and the gentleman at reception seems less than impressed that we’ve dropped by, our room is on the first floor and we have to hand the key into reception each time we leave the building. The room is stark and clean, the floors are noisy and creak with each step, we can hear the guests above us moving around, at times it sounds as though they are moving furniture. It is only a 10 minute walk to Dam Square, thousands of people mill around, Sunday is a good day for buskers and street performers, the smell of coffee shops permeates the air and our jaws drop when we see the clothes and shoes shops, they are fantastic! There is nothing you cannot get in Amsterdam.

My last time in Amsterdam was short and sweet, a visit to Anne Frank’s house and Dam Square and that was it, this time I got to see the red light district (in daylight) and what a seedy, grubby, smelly place it is. The girls in the windows are all shapes and sizes, they tap on the window to get attention from men passing by, the outdoor urinal stink up the street and if you’re not careful you’ll end up with someone’s urine splashing your shoes and pants. We call into the Baba shop, not a coffeeshop but obviously associated with one, they sell all types of products and the staff are friendly, one of them giving us the run down on the area, what to look out for and what to see.

I relax once the crowds have thinned out and it gets close to dinner time, the temperature has dropped and I consider buying gloves because the weather forecast is not going to get better. Dinner is a kebab in a turkish pizza shop, they’re not like our kebabs and the taste is divine, so different to pastries and baguettes and with full bellies we make our way back to our hotel. The walk between the tourist centre and our hotel is pleasant, we cross several bridges over the canals including Singel Canal and at night the bridges light up and the area looks pretty and interesting. We spot a cat sitting in a bakery window, he is munching on a croissant that is part of the window display, I have to take a photo, the cat is camera shy and bolts after the flash goes off.

That night we watch an English crime show, it makes a good change from only having access to CNN and BBC and within minutes I am asleep.