The city of Venice represents one of the most unique cities in the world and perhaps one of the greatest cities in Italy, writes Terry Willey.
I had planned a five day visit with friends and it became quickly apparent to me that this short stay would not be sufficient for us to explore and appreciate Venice to the fullest.
However, we were determined to see and do as much as was possible. We
decided to fly directly to the small airport of Marco Polo and were greeted by a cloudless sky and a brisk breeze as we made our way to the water taxi to take us across the Venetian Lagoon to the city. This indeed was an experience in itself. Several beautifully maintained launches were awaiting the arrival of tourists accompanied by young Italians, mostly all sporting fashionable sunglasses and ready to assist us and our luggage on to their boat for a fast and comfortable transfer from the airport. The emphasis was indeed on the word ‘fast’ and it seemed that each of the taxi drivers were on some mission to beat the other to the city, which made it quite an exhilarating ride. I learnt later that this taxi service is operated by one of the cities leading taxi firms formed through a Union known as Consorzio Motoscafi who have more than 100 water taxis at their disposal and these days are operated from a central operation room within the city which enables direct wireless communication to each of the taxis to ensure that there are no tourists waiting. My friends who had researched and planned our stay in Venice, spoke a little Italian and were far more conversant with the city and its’ highlights.
We arrived at a very small, clean and welcoming Guest House where we had booked bed and breakfast so that we could take in a variety of the wealth of eating places that exists within the city centre. The house was very old and with low ceilings but it had a lovely family atmosphere about it with our hosts keen to please and give us an insight into the city of Venice. I was amazed to discover that Venice was connected by more than 400 bridges and over some 150 canals. The Grand Canal itself is like a main street cutting through the centre of the city and the main transport is by boat known as the Vaporetti. Our first destination was to make our way to St. Marks Square. I am bound to say that I could not help just standing in the square for some while just taking in the surroundings and almost pinching myself at this unique destination. In addition to the most wonderful architecture and history of the square itself, San Marco represents one of the most beautiful churches with fascinating architecture of both Eastern and Western culture. We were advised that the church was consecrated in 832 AD. We had been warned that to wine and dine within St. Marks Square would be an expensive experience which was evidenced by the fact that during the afternoon of our visit I purchased four ice creams costing £10 each!
I was determined to visit the famous Rialto Bridge which crosses the Grand Canal into the heart of Venice and over 40
0 years old. We also visited the Rialto Market; an interesting and lively place with many other surrounding local shops and speciality glass, pottery and a variety of colourful handcrafted masks. Some of the masks were paper mâché and I couldn’t resist purchasing one as a memento. My friends had decided to book tickets for a local concert taking place in one of the local churches. We booked a local side street restaurant that had been recommended by the local police, to enjoy an evening dinner after the performance was due to finish just after 9pm. An audience of over 100 people watched a fascinating string quartet from China and the encores extended to nearly 10pm. As the restaurant advertised closure at this time we had more or less resigned ourselves to abandon any idea of food that evening.
However, we made our way to the restaurant and as we looked down the long narrow street we saw this hearty Italian chef standing in the middle of the street looking towards us. We waved to him which was returned with a huge hearty smile and a gesture to follow him into his restaurant. What an evening that turned out to be; we were given a complementary bottle of wine and several courses of the most wonderful Italian food as he and his family enjoyed entertaining us until nearly 1am behind closed doors.
The following day we had decided to go our own ways to explore the city and report to each other over dinner in the evening. Whilst we had considered a gondola experience we decided to make our way to the Vaporetto Water Bus ticket office and explained our desire to see as much of the city as possible and were encouraged to purchase a one day Waterbus Travel Card, which enabled us to hop on and off over the day travelling over many of the water ways and official routes and at the same time taking in the wonderful scenery, with many people on board wishing to give us their own personal tourist guide. The main Rialto Bridge Restaurant is perhaps one of the finest located within the city but at the same time one of the most expensive specialising in exquisite foods with a wonderful evening atmosphere. Whilst walking over the bridge back to our guest house I witnessed the waiters preparing the tables delicately for evening dinner and ventured down to speak to them and was informed that the restaurant was fully booked many weeks in advance, but so that we could experience the setting a receptive young Italian waiter allowed us to purchase a coffee and sit at a table for a short while as a special treat.
We decided to conclude our stay with a visit to two of the most popular islands, Murano, which is famous for its glass making and Burano, which boasts a host of wonderful coloured houses and is very famous for its lace making. The boat trip to these islands was so worthwhile, let alone the experience of quite different lifestyles.
As we returned once again across the Venetian lagoon to the airport for our flight home I looked back from the boat reflecting on what had been a wonderful experience on one of the most unique and romantic destinations in the world.