A Rough Guide to Venice : Queen of the Adriatic
A View Over the Grand Canal
A Rough Guide to Venice : The Queen of the Adriatic
A Day in Venice
What can I say about Venice? The 'Queen of the Adriatic' and perhaps the finest city in Italy, although Florence may give it a run for it's money.
It's without a doubt everything you'd expect. Some famous places you visit might turn out to be an anti-climax, overhyped and not matching your expectations.
But not Venice. It's a magical city, it exudes a beautiful and romantic aura as soon as you arrive. When I exited the train station with my group of happy day-trippers I felt immediately transported to a different place with the Grand Canal directly in front of me and surrounded on every side by colourful and historic buildings.
The place oozes with history and character. It's alive, a living, breathing entity that embraces its visitors and cajoles you into rejoicing in the beauty of life and living just for the sake of it.
I always subscribe to the notion that architecture should be organic and natural, reflecting our traditional surroundings as much as possible.
Surely we've evolved to feel in congruence with our environment in its natural state, with grass, trees, rocks, mountains or whatever, according to the part of the world you live in.
So does it not make sense that the buildings that we walk among should be similar to reflect our natural habitat? In Scotland we have the classic red Locharbriggs sandstone, in yesteryear houses were built of wood and rough-hewn stone, and also green vines and creepers were popular.
I once saw a building in Dublin in Ireland completely covered in vegetation and which I was told changed colour according to the season. Sparse and grey in the winter unfortunately, but then vibrant green in summer, red and brown in the autumn. Today urban dwellers may tend a window box or even a roof garden to stay connected to nature. Eskimos made igloos out of ice, mountain people built log cabins, people lived in caves, mud-huts, clay houses, stone round-houses, thatched cottages, anything appropriate for the milieu in which they inhabitated.
See Venice and die?
That's why I felt Venice so welcoming, not 'See Venice and die' as the old saying goes, much more like 'See Venice and come alive!'. It's an amazing place and a truly spiritual experience wandering along it's streets and alleys. You see, the thing I love about Venice is its comfortable lived-in appearance with no artifice, no pretence, just an honest facade of crumbling plaster, exposed brickwork and peeling paint.
I'll always prefer to live among the ageing imperfections of nature than the detatched and sterile precision of the modern metropolis. To quote the famous Glasgow architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh; "There is hope in honest error; none in the icy perfections of the mere stylist".
Well, that just about sums up the city for me. It's certainly beautiful and exquisite but it's also flawed in a charming and endearing way. It's friendly and completely relaxing, a little worn out but as luxurious as that old pair of frayed and faded denims jeans or that scuffed and scraped leather jacket that always feels good when you wear it.
Venice invites you in and dares you to leave without regrets or a longing to return. Walking along the streets it assures you that it's non-threatening, non-intimidating, it's not cold and hard like the artificial steel and glass horrors of the modern urban metropolis. In the concrete jungle it's dog eat dog, a fast moving, unforgiving machine relentlessly pushing, shoving and pressurising while the monolithic monstronsities of the tower block and the skyscraper glower down from above.
How many times have you went to a strange building for an important meeting or perhaps worse, a job interview and been confronted with an overbearing, heartless block of concrete, devoid of any soul or feeling.
The famous Ponte Rialto over the Grand Canal
Ventian masks and Murano glassware
I was walking along thinking about how it would spoil the look of the streets if they actually spruced up the buildings, if you painted one you'd have to paint them all. I also noticed the metal supports inserted in the buildings presumably to prevent them sinking into the lagoon. Modern engineering preserving an historical treasure.
We were heading for St Marks Square but I'd no idea when we would reach it as the city doesn't seem to conform to any town planners manual. It's all winding streets and alleys surrounded by the ever-present canals with the Gondoliers plying their trade navigating their way through the city with awe-struck tourists aboard. Gondolas were €100 a trip, a motor-boat taxi €80 a fare, so needless to say we walked everywhere, even the local riverbus was a bit pricey.
But treading the cobbles had it's own attractions. The city was very busy with tourists, lots of American accents could be heard among the footsteps and clicking of cameras as people thronged on the Ponte Rialto for that classic Venetian holiday snap. We kept on walking past many shops selling exotic Venetian masks and Murano glassware and miscellaneous souvenirs.
Lots of pretty girls too, I noticed, to complement the surroundings, plenty of style and relaxed, easy going people strolling along, apart from the nervous-looking African guys selling fake designer handbags constantly on alert for the local Police. They even had lookouts keeping a watchful eye for any uniforms coming down the street.
There were great smells too captured in the narrow streets and lanes containing sweet shops, perfumed soap, hot pizza from local takeaways, fresh baking, cafes, restaurants.
And when you turned a corner a breeze would waft in that salty smell of the water below, which I can only describe as resembling a tasty sea-food dish, a trademark aroma redolent of Venice.
I also saw a 4-foot figure of Donald Duck in a first-floor window which was built entirely out of lego. I didn't consider this significant.
St Mark's Basilica
St Mark's Square
We eventually reached St Mark's Square and it was definitely worth the long walk. A tremendous place with wonderful attractions all around us.
St Mark's Basillica itself was a marvel in light grey stone with gold decoration, portraits depicting biblical scenes and with various sculptures and elaborate designs.
And over to our right was the impressive Doge's Palace. I'm told that there are replica buildings in Las Vegas, so if Venice does sink into the lagoon at least it's memory will linger on in Nevada's gambling capital.
There was a lot going on in the square, many tourists climbed the large red coloured Campanile Tower to enjoy the view over the city.
In the square people fed bread crumbs to the many pigeons who had flown in for a light lunch. To the side much more sophisticated haut cuisine was taking place as smartly dressed waiters in white tuxedos and bow ties attended to afternoon diners in restaurants with 6-piece musicians providing classical tunes on a small stage.
So typically Italian was the scene with women casually drinking coffee, perhaps languidly smoking a cigarette and many wearing huge dark sunglasses that added an air of mystique to their stylish cool.
We then went over to the lagoon to have a closer look at the Doge's Palace before the spectacular vista of the shoreline promenade and buildings came into view with the Gondoliers busy plying their trade. It certainly was an amazing experience to be there. It was a beautiful day and the lagoon sparkled accordingly in a sight I'd only seen in pictures or in paintings hanging in an art gallery.
The Doge's Palace in St Mark's Square
The Peggy Guggenheim Museum
Speaking of which my next port of call was the Peggy Guggenheim Modern Art Musuem in the city. Along with one of of my friends I took a short ride back along the Grand Canal by boat.
These are just riverbuses but of course it seemed like a pleasure cruise to me, despite the sight of passing boats ferrying plastic-sealed crates of bottled water to hotels or piled high with cardboard boxes filled with mundane cargo like office stationery or paper cups. I even saw one boat carrying an upturned cement-mixer. It's certainly an unusual and surreal experience being in Venice.
Now, I must say that I've never been a huge fan of most Modern Art so I wasn't expecting to be all that impressed. But Wow! How wrong can you be, the collection was an absolute revelation for my cynical eyes. Not so much the sculptures admittedly but the paintings were many and varied covering all sorts of styles and subjects.
To be honest there were very few I didn't like and it was a rare treat to see, up close and personal, paintings by Picasso, Dali, Magritte, Kandinsky and even Jackson Pollock. Some folk were discussing a painting called 'The Antipope' by Max Ernst. One guy was describing the painting in detail but after five minutes of this I started to think "Well! I can see that! But what does it all mean!" Thankfully some American women asked a couple of questions and they started to get more into an analysis of the whole thing.
Although I'm still none the wiser why the human figures have skeletal horses heads. Not the most beautiful picture in the world but certainly dramatic.
I never thought I would get knocked out by Jackson Pollok as I always thought his work just looked like splashes of paint on a floor after the decorators have been in.
But I was enthralled by the painting 'Alchemy' and I'm not sure why. Maybe something to do with the colour and dynamism that exuded from it. Maybe Pollok put so much energy into the work that it's still giving out his vibes even today.
Or maybe I'm getting too pseudo-intellectual about this whole art experience. I'll leave it up to you to decide.
Old Peggy really had great taste in art I must admit and it was a wonderful hour and a half. Really worth the exorbitant €12.00 entrance fee but even a small booklet at reception was €6.00 so my friend Christine decided to go the whole hog and spend €24 on the exhibition book.
However as I said, this is Venice, the 'Queen of the Adriatic' and everything is more expensive. But then the whole day and the whole unique experience was absolutely priceless.
A riverbus on the lagoon
Further tours around Northern Italy by Shinkicker
- A Rough Guide to Italy : Things to do in Lake Garda
Having spent 6 months working in the Lake Garda area of Northern Italy I think I may be well qualified to recommend its attractions as a holiday destination. It is situated in the North West of the country with excellent road and rails links.
- A Rough Guide to Verona : A Stroll Through Ancient Italy
For lovers of Italy and all things Italian I would highly recommend a trip to the ancient city of Verona in the north of the country. A marvellous spectacle of architecture and history imbued with beauty and culture.
- A Rough Guide to Milan : The Long Road to the San Siro
After a couple months into my work contract over on Lake Garda in Italy I thought it was time I was paying a visit to Milan. I knew of its reputation as arguably the fashion capital of Europe with its famous designer shops and stores.
- A Rough Guide to Mantova : The Heritage of Lombardy
Mantova is situated in the North-West of Italy not far from Verona and the tourist area of Lake Garda. Therefore if you are on holiday on the Lake or sampling the historical delights of Verona then a visit to Mantova is recommended.