Venice 2017

So Boys and Girls, Today we’ll learn about cheap flights to Venice, how bad things can sometimes happen in more than threes, how beautiful this city really is and how to set off the security alarms in an airport.

The Pilgrim has been busy on T’internet and has a proposal.

“Fancy a run to Venice?”, she asks.
“Do dickie birds fly and fish swim?”, was my reply.

It’s fifty quid apiece for the airfares and a little over that per-night for an AirBnB apartment in the heart of the town about five minutes from Rialto Bridge.

In the intervening time there has been a flurry of activity around the Passport Office in Durham which turned into an away-day holiday on the train and included a wonderful walk around the city followed by a gentle meander around the Cathedral. All very pleasant and I have to say the people at the Passport Office were charm and efficiency itself. My high tech passport had got a poorly chip and forgotten the colour of my eyes or shape of my retina or some such thing. You might say no big deal but it did result in me getting ‘special treatment’ on each trip away this year whilst the Pilgrim and the other travellers, presumably including terrorists, got to be fast tracked through the automatic barriers. I never got the thrill of the rubber gloves but the threat was always there!

Anyway, it’s three thirty in the morning and I’m having a coffee, the Pilgrim joins me at about quarter to four and by four o’clock we’re carefully removing the nearside mirror from the car by virtue of a stone gatepost; no matter, we’re going on holiday.

We’re not out of town yet and I realise I’ve left three hundred euros but decide not to return as I can use them when I’m in Nice in another month.

We’re on our way to Leeds/Bradford where it is chaotic. Staff are, as alway, cheerful and respectful but the airport itself seems to have outgrown its capacity. I know that in another two or three hours we’ll be in the sunshine but the morning hasn’t started well.

We eventually board the ‘plane and then begin counts and re-counts followed by threats to remove the luggage of some unpronounceable individual who, it would seem, has dematerialised during the short trip between check-in and the flight. After several more re-counts and a walk down the aisle with a clip board the threat is carried out. It’s really is stacking up to be ‘one of those days’!

So, we’re a little late but at least we’re off, short of the aeroplane falling out of the sky we’ll be there in two hours; it doesn’t and we are.

Carefree now, we board a bus that takes us about 50 metres to the door to the terminal whilst those that haven’t boarded the bus arrive just a little before us having walked – but it’s Italy and that’s OK.

We’re just about to go through passport control and I’m looking forward to testing my new chip but this is all manual so It’ll remain untested until our return. Then there’s an ‘oh shit’ moment as the Pilgrim realises she’s left her bag in the care of Ryanair on the ‘plane. “Well, pluck me with a feather”, says she (Well it was something like that) and makes a return to said ‘plane with considerable haste. I’m thinking that the morning started poor and has gone steadily gone down hill when the Pilgrim’s good intentions turn to bad as she sets off the airport security alarms whilst making her illegal exit to the tarmac. After a brief explanation and a thorough check of her passport by the officials who clearly believe her to be a threat to national security we’re reunited at the bag drop where both my hold baggage and her cabin back have made a miraculous appearance.

We exit the secure area into the arrivals hall and start the process of hunt the email that proves we have a ticket for the transfer from Treviso Airport to Venice itself and it seems to have done a runner. After several searches of the ‘phone and some sage advice from the help desk where the mere mention of Ryanair and a transfer into town brings a rye smile and a toss of the head in a John Mcenroe “You cannot be serious” kind of way. She points us to the ticket office at the other end of the hall where I’d already had some advice and thankfully they are well on the ball and hand a list of names to the Pilgrim to identify herself. That done and tickets exchanged we’re on the bus. All’s well that ends well; however, we still haven’t connected with Sandra who owns the apartment that we ‘might’ be staying in for the next four days. I’ve seen the trail of texts and emails on the Pilgrim’s ‘phone where she’s made every effort to respond both timely and in appropriate detail; however, Sandra’s replies have been inconsistent and efforts to ring her ‘phone have been unsuccessful. It’s quite important that we meet as she’ll be showing us where it is, letting us in and handing over the key, well that’s the plan.

Hopes are raised as the Pilgrim receives a call from Sandra, a lovely Welsh lady from Swansea and our contact for the apartment; no, this is a huge coincidence, the name is correct, we are wanting to talk to Sandra but not about solar panels, I think I’d have told her to piss off but the Pilgrim is made of sterner stuff and is rather more polite.

Back to the challenge in hand, we’d really, really like to be able to pick up those keys today. There’s some light hearted conversation about the scenery and a comment about what nice weather we’re having, then, about half an hour in and some WhatsApp activity there are smiles as contact is made. Sandra prefers the use of WhatsApp but had clearly forgotten to mention it.

So, we exit the coach at the bus stop, buy a hat, nice paper straw one made in China, buy a couple of three day tickets for all public transport a snip at 40 euros each, we activate them ready for our first canal excursion with the intention of meeting Sandra near the Travalex, she’ll be sporting a red rose and wearing a green scarf (OK the last part may include embellishment but the Travelex bit is true).

The journey along the canal is spectacular and the sky is unbroken sunshine, what’s not to like.

We disembark at Rialto and, whilst there’s no soft focus shot or slow motion approach we’re still quite glad that Sandra is really real and not a digital assistant living in a virtual world. We do the continental kissing bit, elaborate and on both cheeks and then she welcomes us to Venice.

The apartment is situated no more than 10 minutes from anything but only 5 minutes from Rialto Bridge so it’s central with a big ‘C’. It can be found, with a bit of patience, along a labyrinth of very narrow streets and if you have Google Maps on your ‘phone is dead easy to find, without it you need a Geographer!

Sandra is very patient and spends over an hour advising us of restaurants, cafes, sights to see and towers to climb to see magnificent views – and magnificent views there are aplenty!

After Sandra’s exhaustive and exhausting introduction we make our way back to Rialto Bridge and board the vaporetto to… well it could have been anywhere because you just can’t make a bad choice. We end up at Piazza San Marco where the Campanile di San Marco dominates the square and you can pay 8 euros for a coffee then be chased along the street for another 15 euros for the entertainment that just happens to be playing adjacent to where you’re sitting. We’d been warned (thanks Anne) so we make every effort to enjoy the square then make our way to a cafe with rather less eye watering intent but equally good coffee.

The return involves snaking our way along some of the narrowest and cleanest passageways that oozed safety. In fact I’ve never been to a city that’s felt this safe and hope that it’s not built on a false premise.

At ten to nine the sun goes down and at nine it’s dark and we pass a kind of courtyard that’s lit by coloured lights and there is one table ideally placed at the outer edge of the clutter that’s been recently vacated. It whispers an invitation that we accept with gratitude and the waiter immediately responds with a cloth to wipe it down and take our drinks order.

This is such a good place, there is no thoroughfare of people wandering past and knocking the chairs and tables. The lights are subdued but not dingy. The waiter is attentive and knowledgeable and the food is divine. An hour and half later we’re well fed, a little mellow and ready for bed and here’s the bonus, we’re only five minutes from our temporary Home.

How to describe Venice? Well. The Pilgrim summed it up where quoting someone else’s quote; ‘Venice cannot be compared with anywhere else but Venice. I couldn’t know that now but I will do when I leave.

We walked and floated on our second day around the City taking in vaporettos, bridges, churches and more canals. During the day there are crowds, and these are challenging on the vaporettos but it’s no real issue as we’re only on them for one or two stops and the staff are super efficient shouting commands first in Italian then in English. Everywhere we go we’re looked after by smiling locals who live either here on the main island or make a short commute from one of the islands.

There is evidence of the greatness of Venice everywhere. It was founded in the 5th century and became a dominant region for trade linking Europe, Africa and because of the sea links the far east and Asia. It’s had a number of titles but all of them include the word Venice. My favourite that is still appropriate today is Serenìsima Repùblica Vèneta which means the Serene Republic Of Venice. There is little traffic noise because there are no roads. There is some minor engine noise from the various boats but not intrusive. The noise of people talking to each other is clear and occasionally there’ll be locals shouting to each other in Italian as they toss merchandise, sometimes in huge and unfeasibly heavy packs off working boats from canal to shore and always with a twinkle in the eye and a captivating smile often accompanied with a baritone laugh.

The streets, paths and passageways are narrow and always have a bridge as they criss cross the canals. The labyrinth is intimidating to start with then, as I begin to appreciate how small the city is, it becomes irrelevant. I’m also accompanied by own Geographer/Map Reader with an unerring sense of direction in the form of the Pilgrim who seems to have memorised areas of the city and the means of getting between them.

Going back to the Serenìsima Repùblica Vèneta, there was an unofficial referendum in 2014. It was claimed there were 2.34 million votes cast and the result was that the Serene Republic of Venice should be re-established and it would accede to the EU, adopt the Euro and join NATO. It was all non-binding of course but it is an indicator of the pride of the people in their region. Their sole purpose in life is to show us their city and make it an amazing experience into the bargain, well that’s my take on it anyway!

It did enjoy a period of about a thousand years as a sovereign state from the ninth century during which time the focus was almost exclusively trade although they did indulge in a bit of fighting along the coast with a navy that was not to be ‘messed with’.

There is evidence of great men in the form of statues to saints and sinner alike. Vivaldi is prominent together with Marco Polo and there are exhibitions and more statues in fabulous open piazzas usually dominated by a church. Sadly, there is very little in terms of great women and the only female statues that I saw were saints or references to Giocometti’s exhibition of his Women of Venice statuettes which, apparently, travelled the world including the Tate in Britain.

It is a city of contradictions with occasional signs that politely ask you not to picnic on the steps of a bridge; however, there are no public seats in any of the piazzas so they’re ignored anyway.

The bars and restaurant/cafes have seating areas which are not particularly jealously guarded and I do sit at one or two of them whilst checking the map with no intrusion by waiter or owner such is the welcome.

On the third day we go by vaporetto to Lido which is a long island to the south east of the main conurbation of Venice. The beach is busy but not crushed like some of the popular Spanish ones and the Adriatic is warm so we take the opportunity to swim and follow that with drying off under the warm sun.

It reminds me of childhood days in Redcar when we’d be taken there once per year usually as a church outing in a ‘luxury’ coach with seats that were rough on the skin of boys and girls in short trousers and equally short dresses. As I doze I can remember the first shout of “I can see the sea” as we reach the top of the bank at Yearby and the excitement of nearly being there as the coach pulled into a parking area. These ‘coach parks’ were really an area of waste ground and there were so many coaches that they were parked extremely close to each other so that it was necessary to agree a time for our return which was not negotiable.

There then followed a day of sandcastles carefully built with small, brightly painted, tin buckets and matching spades. Then we’d attempt to fill the moats with sea water that disappeared at the same rate as you poured it from the bucket. The bucket, of course, was now rendered useless as a receptacle for building more sandcastles because the wet inside would make the sand stick so you couldn’t get the smooth sides necessary for the turrets. We found a way around that though by wetting the sand first, not too wet though or they would collapse; the mix had to be just right.

There’d be ice-cream as a treat and a break in the middle of the day to consume the pre-prepared sandwiches wrapped in grease proof paper and usually with the added thrill of additional sand that grated in your teeth and this, sometimes, was supplemented by chip show chips and I still enjoy a sandwich of any sort with a few chips on the side of the plate as a treat.

All of this was interspersed with occasional dips in the icy North Sea followed by violent shivering as the water evaporated from our skin and ‘me Mam’ would vigorously rub us down with a towel that removed the water droplets and warmed us up but left a residue of sand so that whatever tan we’d acquired through the day would be sandblasted off by the afternoon rub.

Twenty minutes before the pre-determined time we’d all return to the ‘coach park’ along with half the mother & child population of Yorkshire to choke on the exhaust fumes of the now started coaches and be transported back home with tales to tell in the playground the following week. Oh, and, I don’t remember a day that wasn’t sunny but I do remember my sisters listening and singing Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue”.

I drift back to the sand here at the Venice Lido and enjoy the same sandy sandwiches only this time it’s a baguette and some very pleasant cherry tomatoes. The Pilgrim has prepared one with some olive oil, bay leaves and tomatoes so that it infuses into a bit of soft mass but the result is a very acceptable sandwich on the beach. I have separate components as I’m not keen on the thought of the soggy infusion but on the day, it does smell very nice.

We hire a four wheeled bike and I’m put in charge of the steering wheel but, in less than a mile, we’re returning to the owner with a request for a couple of two wheel bikes. There are no gears on the four wheeler and we both agree it is too slow.

Now equipped with a two rather more appropriate machines we tackle a circular route that more or less follows the coast. If you do come to Venice, I’d urge you to do this and just take your time. Whilst the Lido is not as picturesque as Venice proper, our afternoon is a delight and coupled with the spell on the beach, is a great way to soak up some sun.

We make a return to Fondemente Nove on the main Venice island passing the Hospital on route then make our way adjacent to the Ospedale Ss Giovani e Paolo (they don’t make it easy) and into the wonderful Basilica piazza of the same name. Time for coffee and a rest then off to gently walk the relatively short distance back to the apartment.

We’re lucky with evening meals. All are exceptional and by utilising the “Venezia Typicale” part of the menu we get beautiful local treats. Our first evening meal was in a small square, our next involved two, or it could have been three cicchetti (we did have a drink at each one – OK maybe it was four) which is the Venetian equivalent of tapas and they are wonderful.

The other two nights are spent with best bib and tucker on the banks of the Grande Canal. The prices are somewhat challenging but the ambience can not be bought and the Pilgrim is looking stunning so it has to be done. We eat as the sun goes down and the tide comes in. The canal laps on to the piazza as the vaparettos and other boats go by but the tiny waves only encroach by a couple of yards and we’re another twenty yards away. There are youngsters all dressed up and some of them wearing wreathes around their necks to celebrate graduation. They’ve had a few drinks but are not intrusive and they seem to want to do is sing. A police boat goes by with blue lights flashing but the picture is surreal as it doesn’t seem to be in any hurry.

Sobriety is abandoned in my case when I indulge in a bit of wine tasting that results in an empty bottle, I’m guessing the two or three Moretti as warm up may have contributed too. It did result in some significant snoring; however, why anyone would want to stay up and listen to me snore is a mystery to me.

Our final morning involves a 6am start and a bit of a walk which is pleasant in the sunshine. We do underestimate the time to reach the coach park where the airport shuttle bus operates and we arrive two minutes after seven. The bus is timetabled to leave at seven so things get a little tense as I wave my hat at the driver whilst the Pilgrim lies on the road in front of his wheels. Needless to say, we get on and although the rest of the occupants are not best pleased, we are – albeit, in my case, somewhat sweaty.

If you use the Treviso Venice airport there is a nice cafe just over the road that the Pilgrim points out. She’s used it before and it is far more ‘local’ and less frenetic than the ones in the departure lounge.

This is a glorious city every bit as wonderful as it’s been described, I’d go back in a heart beat and have already begun the planning.

Enjoy the snaps…G..x

With the Pilgrim Cecilia Kennedy

PS: if you can, view the snaps at full size and try not to get “Veniced out” as there are rather a lot of them.

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