This article first appeared in City Press newspaper, 13 August edition
Float into Venezia
Why fly into a city when you can float into it? There’s simply no better way to arrive in Venice, the world’s most unique city that lures 25 million tourists to its fragile shores every year.
With an endless network of waterways in Europe, recreational boating is an increasingly popular way to holiday and skippering yourself down the River Sile into Venice is a classic experience. Being able to self-drive means you own your time, stopping spontaneously to explore small towns along the way, whenever and wherever the mood dictates. With only 120 kilometres to cover in 48 hours, the pace is perfectly slow and the long summer days are spent feasting on local fare and sipping chilled prosecco on the sundeck as the boat cuts its way quietly through the olive green waters on its way to the floating city.
Once in the Venetian lagoon though, the calm atmosphere disappears and suddenly there is traffic, lots of it, and with it a choppier swell. From water buses (vaporetto) and taxis (motoscafi), to ferries and gondolas, it’s initially a little intimidating negotiating the aqua lanes but with a focused captain at the wheel and the boat base manager only a phone call away, getting safely through is a given.
There are three main island attractions to see before you get into Venice proper – Torcello, a nature reserve and the most deserted and peaceful of the three; Murano, famous for its glassware, and, in the middle of the two, pretty Burano, what I call the Bokaap of the Adriatic. Famous not only for its kaleidoscopic facades, Leaning Bell Tower and lacemaking industry, it has the reputation of being the happiest island in Italy. Venice itself is an archipelago more than 100 tinier islands, all interconnected via 150 canals that are in turn spanned by 400 bridges, only four of which cross the Grand Canal.
Nothing quite prepares you for the grandeur, romance and antiquated glory of Venice. One minute you’re enjoying an Aperol Spritz with the well-heeled at Caffé Florian on the Byzantine Piazza San Marco, and the next you’re dodging low-flying pigeons down dingy narrow lanes and stopping for an espresso and cicchetti (snacks) at an authentic hole-in-the-wall osteria (deli type bar) and rubbing shoulders with locals. The contradictions are wonderful.
The must-see list in Venice includes the Grand Canal, Rialto Bridge and Market, Aman Hotel, the Basilica San Marco, Galleria Dell Academia complete with da Vinci’s drawings, the Ponte Dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs), and the Riva degli Schiavoni (Waterfront), among others. Grab a gelato and walk the city flat and even when a Venetian gives you directions, be prepared to get lost –it’s inevitable and part of the fun and you’ll likely discover secret squares (campi) and other hidden gems along the way.
If you feel like doing something unusual, book a cooking class with Enrica Rocca – she makes a day of it as she walks you through the Rialto Market and does a meander through the back streets of the city before arriving in her kitchen to make Italian foodie magic. Oh, and eat all the burrata you can get your greedy little hands on..it’s at its creamiest dreamiest best in Italia!
The 57th Biennale, now on and running to November, is heaven for art lovers, with artists like Carole Feuerman, Claudia Fontes‘ and Peju Alatise (all pictured) exhibiting at several indoor and outdoor pavilions – the installations are breath taking in their creativity and innovation. If you can sync a visit to Venice with a Biennale year, you’ll have scored an optimum experience that will satisfy on every level. Being able to experience the Biennale was a major highlight of my trip.
As you sail away and head back towards Casale sul Sile and the Basilica San Marco fades away in the soft evening light, you’re left pinching yourself, amazed that you were really there. As the poet Joseph Brodsky once said, “Venice is”part damp oxygen, part coffee and prayers.” It is exactly that and so much more, and it’s always a good idea.
Getting there: Le Boat Venice: www.leboat.co.za
57th Biennale programme: http://www.labiennale.org/en
Getting to and from Casale by train: Rail Europe SA via www.worldtravel.co.za / 0116282319