18 June 2014

Across the Lagoon

When in Venice a visit to the glass showrooms on the island
 of Murano is almost a must whether you are in the market for glassware, or not!

Besides any excuse to catch a speedboat 
across the lagoon again...

It's pleasant enough to watch the short demonstration 
of different ways to make a glass ornament

Of course I wasn't planning to buy a thing, but as is often the case a charming salesman named Danielo convinced me in the nicest way possible that I would never regret purchasing some genuine 
Murano glasses and I could even pass them on to my grandchildren.
I am sure they would be thrilled !

So this is how it transpired ...

Joanna - "I am really just looking, thank you"
Danielo - "I did notice you seemed to admire this hand crafted set".

Joanna - "Well, it is fun and if the "master" could possibly replace the red glass with a turquoise glass and then remove 
the red band on the jug and replace it with the same turquoise?"

Danielo - " Why, of course we can and we will ship them for 
free and even sign the bottom of the jug with your name".

Signed, sealed and to be delivered ...

It is the only special thing I bought all trip 
and we actually do need some casual glasses ...

They even arranged their speed boat, "Scout", to whisk me over to the fisherman's island of Burano just in time for lunch at a charming little restaurant that judging by all the glassware,
 I think may have been owned by one of their relations.
 Surprise, surprise! 

These folk were enjoying a slow boat to Burano

Burano in the distance with the leaning clock tower

I did not complain about the choice of restaurant,
 as I was served the classic dish 
of home made pasta with a delicious white wine sauce 
and freshly caught vongole. 

A perfect finish to a busy morning.

 Now to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring
 and photographing the colourful streets 
and pretty squares of the delightful island of Burano.

Something I have really looked forward to ...

16 June 2014

Could this be the World's Most Unique Bookshop!

On my recent photography walk in Venice my guide steered 
me to a very unusual bookshop called 
Libreria Acqua Alta 

This means something like "bookseller high water".

High water is the well known phenomenon that occurs in Venice 
in the winter when the tides and wind cause a large inflow 
of water into the Venetian lagoon. 

The eccentric, but most affable owner, Luigi Rizzo 
and his friendly cat Tiger

When the shops floods as it regularly does,
this gondola full of books, simply floats!

As do the scattered bath tubs ... 

 Love the humour in this fire exit sign

This charming Venetian gentleman happily chatted 
about his thoughts and feelings on the future of Venice

 I reflected on how intrigued my father, Jack Atkinson
 and my favourite uncle, Basil Atkinson,
 both journalists and keen readers, would have been with this quirky place.

 I guess this is one way to deal with all 
those obsolete encyclopedias in the world ...

Even the stairs are made of old and somewhat soggy books!

An unexpected and fascinating visit indeed.

Go Gondola

If you close your eyes and think of Venice
 one of the first iconic images that is likely to float
 through your mind is the gondola and its trusty gondolier.

In the 1490's gondolas appeared in paintings 
by Bellini and Carpaccio,
 looking much the same as they do today.

In the 17th and 18th centuries there were between 
8,000 - 10,000 gondolas. 
Today there are just 400.

Being a gondolier is considered a noble profession
 and is controlled by a thousand year old guild
 called the Institution for the Protection and Conservation
 of Gondolas and Gondoliers.

There are only a limited number 
of 425 licenses issued and apprenticeships
 offered involving over 400 hours of training in
extensive navigational knowledge of the 150 canals
  as well as the history and sights of Venice 
and foreign language skills.

It is incredibly demanding physically, but is still
 one of the most sought after jobs in Venice.

Some more musically talented gondoliers 
will even sing for their passengers
 - for a fee of course!

Gondoliers must be Venetian by birth 
and were always male until 2010 when the 
first woman was accepted into the guild.
When a gondolier dies the license passes to his widow
 who then decides who shall continue on. 

These flat bottomed rowing boats are ideal for the conditions
 of the Venetian canals.
Contrary to what many think,the gondolas are propelled with
 a punting motion, but with an oar, as the waters
 are too deep for a pole.
They travel at 3 miles an hour, same as a walking pace.

These sleek vessels are ten metres in length and  
one and half metres wide. They weigh half a tonne.

They take two months to build and 
cost between 35,000-50,000 euros.
They last about fifteen years.

Gondolas are built at the three remaining boatyards 
in the same manner by highly skilled tradesmen.  

Gondolas have two hundred and eighty separate pieces
  and are constructed using eight different types of wood
(fir, oak, cherry, elm, walnut, mahogany, larch and lime).
The wood is seasoned for a year.
The oar is made of beech wood.

It is a law that all are painted with six coats
 of shiny black paint. 

The metal fitting on the prow is called 
the Ferro da Prora meaning iron. 
 Located under the main blade it is a comb with 
six teeth representing the six sestieri(districts)of Venice.
The Ferro is both decorative and acts as a counter weight. 

The gondolas have individual and unique styles of upholstery, detailing and trims, some more elaborate than others.

One of the many gondola "stations"

Parking chaos in the lunchtime break

A less appealing side of owning a gondola,
 is the baling out when flooded!

As you can read I am rather fascinated  
with Venice and its gorgeous gondolas!

12 June 2014

An Afternoon of Art

On this visit to Venice my must see list included the 
Peggy Guggenheim Museum.

The collection of over 300 pieces is housed in her former home,
 the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni,
 located on the Grande Canal in the interesting Dorsoduro district. 

This was a pleasant walk from my hotel.

Peggy Guggenheim was born in New York in 1898,
 the daughter of Benjamin and Florette. 
Tragically, her father died on the Titanic when she was just 13.
It was then discovered he had squandered the family fortune 
and they were forced to rely on charity from their
 uncle Solomon who later opened 
the stunning Guggenheim Museum in New York.

At 21 she came into an inheritance and embarked 
on a madly bohemian life involving
 a number of husbands, two children and many, many lovers!

Once when asked how many husbands she had, 
she supposedly replied,
 "Do you mean mine, or other people's?" 

 She lived in Venice from 1949 to her death at 81 in 1979.

In this 30 years she dedicated her life to protecting the art
 of her own time and so established what some call the most
 important collection of European and American art 
representing the 20th century.
At one stage her resolve was to "buy a picture a day".

A room in which to ponder the work of Jackson Pollock,
 whom she is credited with "discovering"
 and financially assisting,
 although later in life he was dismissive and rude about her.

I liked this silver bed head created especially 
for Peggy by Alexander Calder
who is known as the originator of the mobile,
 a type of kinetic sculpture.

His original version hangs in the entrance to her home

I also liked her bedroom window with its
 Blue Glass sculptures by Constantini 
modelled after Picasso sketches

If you happen to visit, be sure to enjoy coffee or lunch in the attractive cafe and then wander through the splendid 
Nasher Sculpture garden.

Henry Moore sculpture 

An honorary dispensation was granted by the City of Venice 
to allow her ashes to be buried in the garden

... alongside the remains of her beloved Lhaso Apso dogs

Her life story is quite fascinating, although rather tortured and sad in many ways, but she certainly lived it!

Peggy Guggenheim was the last person to own a private gondola 
and in the evenings of her later years she would delight
in cruising the canals of her cherished Venice with her dogs.

What a sight she must have been!

11 June 2014

More tips for Venice

Some more food for thought on the beautiful city of Venice ...

Travel tip #3
Find a hotel that includes a good breakfast in its nightly rate.
It helps provide the energy required to walk all day and 
the clear head needed to navigate 
the maze of back lanes and bridges that make exploring Venice fun.

This was the spread provided each morning at my Venice lodgings 
- just "pour moi"- or "per me" as they would say in Italian! 

I even became used to the cheese and ham for breakfast this time 
in Italy - "when in Rome" and all that ...

On the subject of shoes!

Travel tip #4
All the best travel articles constantly warn us about 
the cobbled streets 
and hundreds of stairs and the necessity to 
walk and walk 
and how you simply MUST wear comfortable shoes.

This really is important information 
and although most western Europeans would not 
be seen dead in a white sneaker, 
there are plenty of attractive alternatives these days.

Just do it!

Travel tip #5 
Avoiding the crowds 
To admire the architecture without the throngs, get out early 
and at least admire the exteriors of all 
the beautiful buildings, 
charming bridges and the splendid Piazza San Marco
without the hundreds of flag following groups 
and the hawkers of rubbish souvenirs.

Even I set off at 6.30am one morning 
to meet my photography guide and enjoyed 
seeing a more "empty" Venice! 

Taken at 6.45am with hardly a soul in sight

 Taken the same day at 4pm 

The Bridge of Sighs must be sighing very deeply
with all those thousands of daily visitors!!

All so stunning, especially with no one around!

The Rialto Bridge was completed in 1591 
and has defied its critics by still standing! 

Travel tip #6
Forget the "value for your dollar" ratio every so often!

Opened in 1720,"Florian" is the oldest cafe in Italy 
and the first to allow female customers.
Early visitors included Casanova, Charles Dickens, Lord Byron 
and Ernest Hemingway,
 plus almost every other celebrity 
of their particular era.

 Almost 400 years later it is still packed 
and yes, it is touristy 
and a cup of coffee does cost a bomb, 
but you have to sit here at least once in your life 
and listen to the cheesy music and watch the passing show. 
Nicer in the evening I think.

The same rule applies to the Hotel Gritti Palace.

I paid 20 euros(with tip) for one cocktail, but I was served by
 a handsome waiter in a smart white jacket on the terrace at dusk on 
balmy evening overlooking the Grand Canal surrounded by
interesting looking people from all over the world.

 plus there were some hors'oeuvres thrown in 
which I was thoroughly enjoying 

... until a big fat Venetian pigeon swooped down and almost choked on my nuts 
which made the French man at the next table laugh
(I think he was a film director who was entertaining 
two starlets at the time!)

Now I ask you, isn't that all worth 20 euros?