Valentine’s in Venice

Gill and I in Venice

On a bridge. Somewhere.

Today there would be boats. The travel tickets sold by the hotel could be used on the buses or the vaporetti – the water-borne transport service that circles the islands of Venice. We wanted to head for Murano and see the glass museum, and hopefully some glasswork being made.

According to the map, we needed to catch the number 42 boat from near where our bus would drop us off. A slight confusion due to the piers being rebuilt meant that it took us a while to figure out where the 42 ran from but we got there a couple of minutes before the next one was due.

It didn’t show up. Today we discovered that there are lies, damned lies and Venetian Water Bus timetables.

The number 41 (same service, running in the opposite direction) went past. As did the next 41 when the following 42 failed to make an appearance.

Giving up, we walked 150m round to the stop for the 41. The next one was indicated on the digital board as being due in 9 minutes, and would take 56 more minutes of our time to get to Murano. The 42 would have taken nearer 20.


A balcony in Venice. One of many!

Quarter of an hour later, the 42 we’d decided not to wait for drifted past as we stood tapping our feet wondering where the delayed 41 had got to.

I suppose in a way it’s comforting to know that regardless of where you are in Europe, whether you’re waiting for something on wheels or with a propellor, that public transport sucks and should never be trusted. Unfortunately in Venice, it’s not like you have the option of walking or driving to Murano due to it being somewhat wet.

At least the hour-long journey meant we got value for our ticket money and a chance to see a huge amount of the region from the coastline. A shame the weather was a little grey (and chillier than the previous day), but had it been blue skies I think we would have sweltered in the boat.

We finally arrived at Murano and had a quick look round the glass museum. It was a little bit of a let-down as Gill was really hoping to see a lot more on the history of how the material is made and crafted. It was more a display of the end products. Still, there’s some interesting stuff about the manugfacturing process and some incredibly delicate work dating back almost 2000 years which did impress. The museum’s entry fee is a fairly steep €8.30 per person, too.

Crowds in Venice

Crowds in St Marc's Square

Finding somewhere to watch glass being blown wasn’t very easy, surprisingly. Most of the places advertising “furnace” kept it away from prying eyes, but we did find one eventually. The two chaps working there were making what looked like decorations for chandeliers, or perhaps candle holders. Interesting to see, but obviously we couldn’t get too close.

The showroom there was also too tempting for Gill and she found several pieces that appealed. One was finally haggled over, purchased, engraved with our names and the date, and packed away to be lugged all the way home.

We headed back to the city centre area for a lunch that turned into dinner when we realised what time it was. Again, the food was good (though Gill has decided pasta is too salty for her in Venice), the service excellent, but in this case the price somewhat higher. While our previous place had been service and cover charge-free, this one had mark-ups (fairly advertised) and higher base prices.

Still, it was a pleasant meal and we walked off in the directon of the Rialto Bridge that we had so far failed to locate.

Leonardo da Vinci exhibition

Leo da Vinci's hang glider

The rest of the day into the early evening consisted of wandering randomly again. I was pleasantly surprised to find the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition that I’d thought had closed in December. It turns out it has been extended an extra year and, despite the €8 entry fee, was excellent. Great descriptions of the exhibits and very “hands on” with a lot of working examples based on his diagrams. The place could have done with a heater or two, though.

We then managed to “take the scenic route” back to the bus station via Dorsodura which we’d intended to visit earlier, but never got round to it. Well, we’ve now seen most of it.

Despite the huge meal earlier, we decided to have a snack in the hotel. The set Valentine’s menu appealed to Gill a little too much, though, and we ended up having a full meal instead. Bizarrely, the entire set menu – every option with the exception of the dessert – was seafood-based so I had the roast beef instead. Advertised as “English”, it came cold and very rare… and was delicious.

We demolished another bottle of wine, well we were in Italy – it would have been rude not to – and headed to bed to watch Bandslam. Which apparently was better than Bad Taste. I am dating a wonderful philistine.

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Venice – day 1

Venice pics

Water, boats & buildings? Venice.

Today I broke my shoes. Well, kind of. The insole decided it didn’t like being anchored to the sole and thought it might be entertaining to make a break for freedom via the ankle. I’ll re-secure it when I get home.

The reason for the shoe destriction was a huge amount of walking. After the short bus journey from the hotel, over the bridge and into Venice City, we nominated “east” as the direction of travel and started off.

Venice isn’t really that big. It’s possible to walk from end to end of the majority of it in a couple of hours, if that, with the exception of a couple of outlying islands it takes a short boat trip to reach. We didn’t have any kind of plan, just wander around and soak the place up.

The first thing I noticed with Venice is that there are approximately six different shops which are replicated infinitely like some kind of 16th century kaleidoscope. As a result, it does get a little wearing walking past yet another papier-mache mask retailer, or someone else selling “genuine” Murano glasswork. Most of the stuff’s not bad, though obviously overpriced. If you do want to shop here – and most will – then compare merchandise and prices from area to area. Certain regions are far more expensive than others for the exact same goods. And don’t be afraid to haggle a little, either. Especially in the off-season you can find marked prices being dramatically chipped away with very little effort indeed.

Canal view

View from a bridge

Once away from the opening area near the Piazzale Roma, the streets start to converge, more bridges appear and little alleyways delight, confound, point at your sense of direction and burst into fits of giggling. This is the Venice I was looking for. Much like the tight, meandering streets of Jerusalem or Varanasi, but with a more modern architecture, they were fun to walk around and generally filled with flats rather than shops. Very occasionally a little bar would surprise us and be far more interesting than the expensive street corner ones near the major churches.

Up in the Cannaregio area we hopped into a little nondescript cafe for a cuppa and paid an incredibly reasonable €1 each. Not too long later we picked up lunch at a little café in the Armoury area for a handful of Euros. Staying away from the built up and hectic areas by no means reduces the quality of the food, but it does lighten the load on the purse-strings!

Albergo Malibran

Recommended for dinner!

As the day wore on and it got chillier, the sun went down and we picked a random restaurant (“Albergo Malibran”) for dinner. Despite its close proximity to one of the main shopping thoroughfares, the prices were incredibly reasonable. Pizza and pasta were consumed and we ambled home via a supermarket. 2 litres of local rosé wine for €4 was a chance we couldn’t pass up. Likewise, a bottle of Jagermeister for €10.79. Come on – that’s pushing it for half the price in the UK.

Venice closes fairly early. It’s no party city, but it’s bustling during the day. With bellies and shopping bags laden down, we caught the bus back to the hotel. That bottle of wine was demolished over a couple of classic Peter Jackson films on the netbook. It wasn’t bad, either. Mind you, alcohol always helps when you’re watching Bad Taste and Brain Dead.

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Glasgow to Venice (via Amsterdam)

Wetherspoons "cutlery"

Dear Wetherspoons - this is NOT a knife

We got to Glasgow airport at 10-ish, with breakfast at the Wetherspoons which was fine aside from being provided with something akin to a spatula with which to cut my sausages and bacon. Our flight to Amsterdam was on time, and in fact we anded early which gave us over 4 hours to run into the city for some food and drinks. Transport tickets are available in the baggage collection area – as we were heading through to Venice we didn’t have to worry about our one piece of luggage as it would be transferred directly onto the next flight.

Amsterdam’s a bit of a maze (with some incredibly artistic graffiti in places), and we wandered for almost the full four hours after getting there on the train. The weather wasn’t great, but it was better to plod around that spend ages at the airport getting bored. We had a couple of beers and found some shops with some very strange battery-operated toys in them. I guess you put them on the table

Dutch graffiti

Pretty pictures

top and the vibrations make them move around. Maybe you’re supposed to get several and have fights with them. Just in case the security at the airport thought they were weapons (some did look very scary), we decided not to buy any for the kids.

Our next flight to Venice Marco Polo Airport was also on time, comfy and well tended with drinks and snacks and we landed a few minutes ahead of schedule. It was still late in the evening, but the public transport runs to the flights so we had no trouble getting one of the shuttle buses to our hotel. Don’t bother queueing for the ticket machine in the arrival hall – there are loads of others outside, which we discovered later. €3 will get you a bus to various destinations. We were heading for Mestre railway station, a short walk from the Hotel Dolfino, to which our nice bus driver gave us directions.

Marco Polo Airport

Big glowing balls

The hotel itself was pretty nice, although the room was way too hot when we got in. Also, the wi-fi, despite having a good signal, seemed to be connected to a dial-up modem which dropped out every 30 seconds making the free internet rather pointless. A shame, as otherwise we really enjoyed staying there. Friendly staff, excellent buffet breakfast and a lovely meal on the Monday night. It’s also ridiculously convenient for buses to Venice City and they sell tickets at reception for buses and boats.

After a quick drink from the bar, we unpacked, settled in, watched Roadhouse in Italian (why? WHY?!) and zonked out for the night.

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Venice, here we come!

Mestre (Venice) Clock Tower

Mestre (Venice) Clock Tower - Image via Wikipedia

OK, getting ahead of myself by a day or so. Gill and I will be on a plane to Venice via Schipol on Saturday, coming back Tuesday night. I’ve been to Italy twice before (a couple of days in Rome, and hiking up the north west as part of the 1000 Mile Walk) – oh and a brief visit to a health spa through the Mont Blanc Tunnel when I was working in Chamonix.

However, this will be a first trip to the – I am told – gorgeous city/region of Venice. We’re staying on the mainland in an area called Mestre, right by the bus stop to get over the 5km bridge (Ponte della Libertà). I gather this is a little better than staying on the islands as there will be more chance of nightlife!

Anyway, reports as usual once we get there and so forth. The hotel has free wi-fi which I’ll be making full use of. It’ll be good to be somewhere new again, especially with such good company.

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New plans!

Due to my change in circumstance (i.e. having a job and finding someone stupid enough to go out with me), backpacking is a little bit of a no-goer at the moment. Travelling, though, is still very much on the cards.

First up, the amazing Gillian is treating me to a long weekend in Venice for Valentine’s. I’ve been to Italy twice (once a quick visit to Rome, and again during The Walk when I covered the north west of the country by foot), but never seen this particular place. I’m very much looking forward to it and we’ll be there from February 12th to 15th.

Next, we’ll be taking the kids to Egypt at the start of July right after I finish work for summer. It’s only for a week and it’s a package tour but we will be aiming to fit in some diving and a trip to Luxor from our base in Sharm El Sheikh.

Plans are already afoot for a fortnight in Thailand in 2012. Assuming the Aztecs weren’t right and we’re all dead by then.

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