A long weekend in Venice – day 2
In my previous post I wrote about how we went to Venice in mid December for a three night getaway to celebrate our wedding anniversary. There was so much to write about that I decided to break it up into several posts. Now I continue with our adventure on…
The next morning we discovered where all the people in our hotel were, they were all in the dining room having breakfast. If I had been concerned that the hotel was empty because everyone knew something ominous about the place that we didn’t, I needn’t have worried.
It was noticable that Venice is full of tourists even in the winter. It didn’t ever feel overcrowded though but I should imagine that the warmer months would be a totally different scenario. (Handy tip: I have heard that in the summer it can be uncomfortably muggy and hot and the smell from the canals is unpleasant. Prices can also be elevated in high season so I would recommend the winter as an ideal time to visit Venice).
Evidently everyone had been gadding about enjoying the sights yesterday and were in the diningroom this morning refueling with piles of cereals, yogurts, fruits, pastries, biscuits, cheeses, cold meats, eggs, sausages, toast, rolls, steamed carrots in parsley (!) donuts (!!!) hot chocolate, juice and coffee just as much as we were.
We over did it a bit and it felt like we ate breakfast and lunch all in one sitting, which was necessary as we had a whole day outing planned ahead of us! (Handy tip: when you book accommodation, check whether breakfast is included in the rate).
Normally I am the one who does most of the reading and itinerary planning before we travel, but this time I did absoutely nothing, I just went along for the ride (lol, leave your dirty comments at the door). So I didn’t really know what to expect when Athol had booked a guided boat trip to Murano, Burano and Torcello, three of the 118 islands that inhabit the Ventian lagoon. I had heard of the first two and knew they were renowned for their glass making and lace making respectively but I didn’t get out to them when I travelled here by myself in 1991 so I looked forward to finally visiting them.
Once again, he’d booked these tickets on booking.com with Alilaguna tours for €18 per head before the time, although we didn’t need to pay until we took the tour. We walked across to the ticket booth at the train station and then a guide brought us to the boat which was waiting for us on the other side of the station. (Handy tip: it was cheaper to have booked online beforehand as there was a more expensive rate advertised at the ticket booth, as well as at our hotel reception, so always check online for comparative prices, don’t assume the vendor has the cheapest rate).
When we boarded at 11 am, there were only about 8 of us on a gigantic boat and I felt a bit sorry for the tour operators thinking that the winter season must be really tough for them.
We headed around to the entrance to Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square) where we picked up the rest of the tour group – another 92 passengers – now the the boat was packed to absolute capacity. Boy was I glad we hadn’t opted to walk all the way down there from our hotel, only to have to stand in a long queue! (Handy tip: if you do this trip and are staying anywhere near the train station, I would recommend you board the boat there as you have the pick of where you’d like to sit).
Our first stop was the island of Murano but we had to travel in a big loop around the bottom of Venice first. On the way there we passed the Lido which is the longest island in Venice, measuring 12km in length but only 1km wide at its widest point, this island is home to all the beaches of Venice and acts as the buffer for the city from the Adriatic sea.
Murano is best known for its glass making and the boat docked at a jetty which brought us directly into a glass factory. Here we were given a vase making demonstration followed by a demonstration of how a multicoloured glass horse is fashioned from a molten orb. It is remarkable how fast the craftsman has to work with the 1300°C glass as it’s such a liquid as well as fragile medium and yet he made the process appear effortless even though it’s extremely dangerous.
Once the demonstrations were over we left the factory to explore the rest of the island.
We were given about 45 minutes to wander about and so after browsing the factory shop we went over to the Basilica dei Santi Maria e Donatoas as our guide had mentioned that there were notable mosaics on the floor. I loved this church, it was calm and smelled of incence which took me back to my school chapel days and Sundays in the Anglican church. The marble floor mosaics were intricate and beautiful, I would have loved more time to explore them in detail.
Murano is like Venice in that it consists of a number of small islands connected by bridges, in order to explore it properly and go browsing for glass purchases you would need a couple of hours. Although we were given a deadline to return to our boat, we could have stayed longer and caught a water taxi onwards. However, we made it back in good time, in fact even more surprisingly, one of our our fellow passengers who was glamourously decked in stilleto heels also made it back even with the additional challenge of dragging a toddler behind her!
Our next stop was on the colourful island of Burano. This island is famous for its lace making and brightly painted houses. It really is post-card pretty and on the day we visited, the sky was clear blue so the reflections increased the wow-ness to such an extent that I couldn’t get enough of taking photos. Apparently you are not allowed to change the colour of the houses, if you live in a green house and it needs repainting, you have to paint it green again!
We wandered along some of the main routes and, as it was now around lunch time, we popped into a pastry shop. Although we were still chock full from breakfast we couldn’t resist sampling a few little local sweet tasty bites. We chose four different types by pointing at the ones that looked the prettiest. The little horns (I think they are called sfogliatella, I’ve subsequently looked it up) were filled with pistachio, lemon or vanilla flavoured custardy frosting and were a bit too sickly sweet for us but we loved the almond crumbly mini-tart thingie.
We passed a number of shops selling needle lace and I stopped to admire their handiwork but we didn’t have enough time to visit the lace museum. I’m a bit spoilt with lace though because my mum makes bobbin lace and has given me loads of her exquisite handiwork through the years on various garments. It is made using a different technique to the type of lace we saw in Venice and I prefer the look of it. Call me a lace snob!
Afterwards we were gasping for a coffee and I also needed to find a loo. We were in a piazza which had a large church ahead of us, a public toilet on corner and a café on the other. We opted to go to the café for a takeaway espresso and also use their loo. (Handy tip: We could have spent 20c to get into the public toilet facilities but we paid €1.20 for the espresso and had access to a clean toilet.)
Our final island destination for the day was Torcello island. This island has a totally different atmosphere to the others in that it felt as though we had stepped out into a village in rural Tuscany somewhere. This was my favourite island, I loved the tranquility here and and although we were a big crowd on a tiny island, we somehow managed to loose everybody else as we meandered past the museum, through the church and along the fields.
The central piazza contains interesting sculptures and architectual relics from bygone eras. This was the first island to have been inhabited in the Venetian lagoon and is older than Venice. Now it is sparsley populated and is popular as an artist and writer’s retreat, Hemingway and Daphne du Maurier both spent some time here. I wondered whether some of their writeriness would rub off on me if I checked in at the inn for a little writing retreat, just not in the summer though as they say the malaria and flies are what drove people away.
Torcello has a couple of museum buildings, two churches, two shops and two restaurants apart from the inn. There are also a few houses and small holdings. The population at one stage was at 20,000 inhabitants but now there are twenty people living here and there is an unmistakeable air of melancholy about the place.
We made it back to the boat by 3:15 and after dropping the crowd back opposite the Palazzo Ducale in Venice we finally returned to the stop near the train station at 4pm.
We sat down in a bar across the Grand Canal for a couple of sundowners. I wanted to taste the orange coloured drink I’d noticed people drinking the previous night in various bars throughout the city and discovered it’s called a Spritz, a Spritz Veneziano or just a Veneziano. This is a drink made with prosecco, Aperol and a dash of soda over ice with a slice of citrus and is normally served as an apéritif.
I loved it as a totally delicious ideal alternative to wine. Aperol is made from gentian, rhubarb, and cinchona, it is lightly alcoholic, slightly bitter/sweet and very refreshing. It would be perfect in the summer but went down equally well in December too!
That evening we decided to have a picnic dinner in our hotel room. There was a Spar shop next door to the hotel so on the way home we stocked up on Italian cheeses, bread, a few hot items and salads from the deli, a bottle of crazily cheap wine and a slab of dark chocolate.
It was the perfect lazy end to a busy and very informative day!
If you’re only in Venice for a few days this island tour is good as an overview to the three islands. If you have longer I’d recommend you take individual tours or a vaparetto ferry boat to the islands. This was advertised as a guided tour and we had commentary on board while we travelled from one island to the next in English, Italian, Spanish and French but we were left to ramble and explore the islands on our own.
This was our last full day in Venice and we decided we would like to get lost. We had a vague notion we might try a gondola ride, we wanted to buy some gifts for the kids and the friends who’d cared for them and also look for a restaurant for our last supper – I was keen to have a good risotto, one of my all time favourite dishes – but apart from that we had no specific agenda.
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