It was hard not to fall somewhat in love with Venice from the get-go. We arrived at the water taxi depot just as the sun was setting, with the wooden ‘vaparetto’ private water taxis zipping around to collect numerous groups of people heading to events on the island. The stereotypes we’d heard of the city were largely filled straight away.
We took a regular taxi with the masses and headed to our Rialto Bridge stop, where we were met by smooth Italian dude Stefano. Stefano ran a hotel which had a ‘special’ room advertised at a discount, which turned out to be a small apartment 10 minutes away from the hotel, but right by Rialto Bridge. He and his girlfriend showed us the way through the busy streets as we dragged our suitcases and tried to commit some of the location references to memory for use in the morning. His ‘included breakfast’ were the hideously dry preservative filled croissants most Europeans seem to love, but the apartment was really nicely refurbished (no windows) and the location was perfect (and on top of the best gelato shop we have found).
Having seen it in numerous movies (including The Italian Job on the iPad the night prior), St Marks Square was impressive in real life. The buildings that run the sides of it really make it, with their repetitive architecture and scale. Not to mention the Basilica at the end, which was a very worthwhile visit. Thankfully we read the tip somewhere to book a visiting time online at a cost of €2. When we saw the size of the queue out in the hot sun we decided it was the best use for €2 in Venice.
After being awed by the immense mosaic interior, we spent quite a while sitting on the terrace of the Basilica overlooking the square on one side and the water on the other soaking it all in. It cost an extra €10 to access the terrace, and the upstairs museum areas, but it was worth it, and it wasn’t too crowded.
On our travels to the Square, I had spotted a restaurant called ‘Da Mamo’ down a small street by our apartment. A bit of research showed it to have some great reviews, so we turned up at opening and were lucky enough to get the last table. The food was great and our waiter was a real character, who thought it hilarious when Alex explained that his surname was Mamo. He told us that Mamo had been the nickname of Massimo senior, who had passed away, and now Massimo junior – also nicknamed Little Mamo – was running it. Turned out that the Italian Mamo was also called Alex, and he came over to take pictures with the Kiwi Alex, much to the cheeky waiter’s delight. We ate the best tiramisu either of us had ever tried, and before we left Italian Alex presented Alex with the restaurant t-shirt. It would have to go down as one of our best dinners on the trip, and we would have happily gone back there.
We did a day trip on the ferry to Murano to explore what the different islands were like and to check out some dudes blowing glass. After some wandering we found a fornace/factory which was operating and had a free demonstration. The whole concept of how the pieces come together and the skill involved was pretty impressive. We watched them make parts for a chandelier and then a ‘dancing horse’, before watching with fascination in the large shop as tourists chose their knick knacks to transport home (hopefully in one piece). Unfortunately there was far less shade from buildings on Murano, and we kind of cooked ourselves in the heat (no sunburn mind you – we’ve avoided the tourist trademark burn all trip).
We spent a bit of time getting lost in the other suburbs, canvassing a fair bit of Venice on foot. We had toyed with the idea of taking a gondola ride, but by the last evening we decided that just being on the water was the cool, and we could do that just as happily on the water buses. We got on one that traveled the length of the Grand Canal and got off at one of the last stops. The bustle on the water is always entertaining, with a constant small margin between miss and collision. We saw all sorts of items being transported, from a casket to a load of photocopiers. The nature of living water-bound I suppose.
We subsequently found out that the gondola rides are so expensive in order to pay off the cost of a gondola license – apparently €500,000 – though not sure on that statistic as I can’t see how that would *ever* be profitable. It’s a shame the costs and nature of living in Venice is driving the locals away. We were told by an Italian that they feel like they are losing their identity, as Chinese have taken over so many local businesses.
Before our cheap version of seeing more of the water, we ran into a couple from our Dolomites tour in a little side-street. A bit surprising, having thought that it was too chaotic a place to actually see them again. The man mentioned seeing a huge superyacht with a helicopter on the back and some of the other spots they’d found during their days. After our water bus excursion we came across said boat (from the front, which ensued debate as to whether or not it included helicopter – it did). We sat on a bench in the sun and watched the entertainment of the Venice waterways go by – including the superyacht (belonging to Mr Westfield of Sydney) doing a 180 and departing in front of us.
Of course everyone has their own opinions, but this was the sort of place which could be totally overwhelming under certain circumstances, yet if you take it for what it is, soak it up, and give yourself over to its mess of streets and people, it’s so easily to forgive it its vices. Graffiti seemed to become art, chaos on the water was charming, the odd whiff of curious smell was something expected, and even the rat scurrying by the water alluded to what made Venice, Venice. The word that kept coming to mind was ‘surreal’ – it is completely surreal. It shouldn’t exist, but it does, though who knows how it will fare into the future. It all looks somewhat precarious, and the wear of the water has to take its toll no doubt. So pleased we were fortunate enough to cross it off our list.