Malcolm and Tracy in

Verona and Venice, November 1999

Saturday 30/10/99. To Italy.

Flight BA0588 touched down in Marco Polo airport, Venice after a short but comfortable flight including a champagne brunch.

Accommodation in Venice over the 'All Saints Day' weekend was non-existent so we hopped on the train to Verona. This turned out to be marvellous value at 10,400L (about £3.30) each for a one way ride of 1.5 hours and 65 miles.

The map we picked up at Verona train station showed our hotel not too far away so we decided to walk. Once we passed through the city walls, Verona turned out to have the same rustic appearance of many Italian towns with plastered brickwork painted in warm pastel colours and crumbling slightly at the edges.

The city seemed to be centred around a brown brick built castle situated by the river looking much like the one in the centre of Milan. Our hotel was right by this but difficult to get to because they were re-cobbling the street outside. They also made it more difficult to find by giving the only indication that it was a hotel by its name on the mat outside. No wonder they had a vacancy where no other hotel did. Still, inside it was nice.

The river was fast flowing as if swelled by recent rain. As we walked along the embankment, bats darted past the trees in autumn leaf.

In one of many piazzas we met some spooks that turned out to be young children under bed sheets (Halloween stems from All Saints Day!).

We ate pizza and pasta with a distinct smoked salmon theme washed down with Valpolacella of the table variety.

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Over the Alps

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Coming in to land at Marco Polo airport.

Sunday 31/10/99. Verona.

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Corso Porta Borsari, leading from the Porta (town gate) Borsari.

The local marble 'Rosa Verona', that attracted us to the city, features everywhere. Shop-fronts, columns, pavements and even the amphitheatre are made of the pink/red/brown stone.
Cars are thankfully scarce but the streets throng with people especially around the market. Some of the buildings around the market (piazza delle Erbe) were elaborately painted with frescoes and decoration to make the buildings look more impressive than they really are. Since painted, they have been carefully neglected to create that rustic appearance.

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Piazza delle Erbe (market square).

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Juliet's balcony.

There are many impressive public buildings of stone featuring pillars and statues. One limestone faced building had what looked like square based pyramids stuck all over the outside giving it a spiky appearance.

Juliet's house proved to be a popular attraction with frequent camera flashes lighting up the world famous balcony. It is curios to think that the English playwright Shakespeare provided that balcony with its fame.

The amphitheatre (arena) is styled much like the Coliseum in Rome except smaller, oval and more complete.

The castle is also in a good state if repair with drawbridge and portcullis intact. It includes a grand fortified bridge over the river 'Fiume Adige'.

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Amphitheatre "Arena".

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View of the castle and bridge at night

A gentle stroll along the banks of the river concluded our first day in Verona.

At night the centre came alive with couples promenading over the bridge by the castle and along the main streets.

Monday 1/11/99. Verona in the sun.

The sun came out at midday and the temperature quickly rose to 21C. It is a bank holiday here and many other people walked with us along the banks of the river.

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The cathedral

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Ponte Pietra, The Roman stone bridge.

We stopped off to visit the cathedral, Roman stone bridge and theatre in-between coffee breaks.
The view from above the theatre across the city was impressive if a little hazy.

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View north over the Fiume (River) Adige to the  St. Giorgio in Braida (right)

GiustiGardens-Verona.jpg (16692 bytes) To the south and east of the river is Giusti Gardens (8000L) which turned out to be a classic Italian garden with low privet hedges laid out in the style of a maze with flower beds,
statues and fountains in between. Being November there were no flower blossoms but we enjoyed walking round in the warm sunshine.

In the evening we went out to eat but got only as far as the hotel restaurant, which looked rather inviting. This proved to be a good choice because not only was the food excellent but we were the only customers at that time and the waiter helped us immensely with the menu. Later on a family birthday party arrived and we were amazed at how much food they all put away.

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Tuesday 2/11/99. Tracy’s birthday.

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Via Roma at night.

We stopped for breakfast of croissant and coffee at our favourite cafe in Via Roma before walking to the train station. It was a cloudy day, which made it easier to leave this beautiful, gentle, and relaxing city. The absence of cars that made the place so favourable to us has changed as the residents return to work.

The ticket machine in the station speaks 6 languages but we have trouble believing that we have almost a two-hour wait till the next train to Venice. Having purchased our tickets for 17,000L each we trek back into town to find a nice coffee shop.

The train is 25 minutes late, much like home really. Finally we ride out of Verona through a sea of vineyards towards our next destination.

The causeway now links Venice to the mainland so the train pulls right into Saint Lucia station on the 'island'. The station leads out to the Canal Grande but instead of busses waiting to take us too our hotel there are boats. Being hiking types we elect to walk to our hotel to drop off our bags. The map we picked up from the tourist information gives a layout of paths but precious few names. it takes a while to work out just how large the scale actually is. The whole place seems to be a labyrinth of shops interconnected by narrow alleyways. It is a bit like playing a game of snakes and ladders trying to get from A to B with the bridges acting like ladders to assist you and the canals as snakes impeding your progress.

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Canal Grande (Grand Canal)

BoatsOutsideCasaVerardo.jpg (9043 bytes) After numerous detours and 2 hours we make it to our hotel only 1.5Km from the train station.

The hotel (Casa Verardo. 180,000L prpn) room and staff turn out to be very nice and we anticipate a good stay.

So far, Venice appears to be a shopping mall island with a focus not just in cloths but party masks! They are everywhere, little shops, big shops, market stalls, everywhere you look, papier mâché painted masks are peering at you.

As our guide suggests, the quality of the food is inversely proportional to the number of tourists and our first meal turns out to be of the highest price but lowest value. This is not what we have come to expect from Italy!

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A shop display of Carnival masks.

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Riva Ca di Dio. The banks of the Canal di St. Marco

An evening stroll along the southern shoreline eastwards from Piazza Saint Marco proves to be most pleasing.
There is even a square-rigged barque sailing ship moored by the quay to complete the scene.

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The 'Gork Foch' barque sailing ship moored in the Canale de St. Marco.

Wednesday 3/11/99. The quiet side of Venice.

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Pigeons in a drinking fountain in Via Garibaldi.

Away from the hustle bustle in the tourist centre today and back out eastward along the southern shoreline. From here we can see the other islands of La Giudecca across the Canale Della Giudecca. This canal is more like a sea channel with large ferries and huge sailing ships. Up this end of the island there are few tourists and even some parks. Greenery is scarce in the packed real estate of the central city.
Eventually we find ourselves at the most eastern tip of the island in amongst the military establishment and the sports stadium. This end of the island seems to be more residential.

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A residential street.

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Boat moored by a residence in Fonoamenta si anna.

Despite the throngs of people in the tiny warren like alleyways of the city centre the place seems to have a sereneness about it, perhaps afforded by the absence of roads and cars. There are hardly any boats traversing the little canals as most people travel on foot.

The temperature in November is cool but comfortable. Occasionally we notice a waft of, shall we say 'stagnant water' from the canals but it is not overpowering.

Not wishing for a repeat of last nights substandard supper, we pick up a bottles of wine and Grappa from a grocery store and a couple of tasty pies from a bakery. These make an excellent meal and costs less than a quarter of the price of last nights meal.

The evening is rounded off perfectly by an outing to hear a concert of Vivaldi, Bach, Albinoni, Mozart and other composers played by the 'Orchestra di Venezia' at the 'Scoula Grande, Saint Giovanni Evangelista'.

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Vivaldi concert at St. Giovanni Evangelista.

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Outside St. Giovanni Evangelista.

Fortunately the concert hall is only a half-hour walk from our accommodation if either you know where you are going or you walk fast. We finish the evening of nicely with the Grappa.

Thursday 4/11/99. Glass island.

We took a little ferryboat round to the nearby island of Murano where the glass manufacturing industry of Venice was banished due to the fire risks from the furnaces. It is thought that the glass industry started in Venice in about the 8 or 9th century after the fall of the Roman empire. Many of the Roman glass blowing techniques were retained and improved upon until Murano glass was one of the best in the world. Changing government taxes put paid to that by forcing the glass blowers to take their skills and secrets overseas where taxes were lower.

Today the techniques are common all over the world and the fancy glassworks of Murano seem nothing special. That does not stop the locals from trying to fog the stuff and 90% of the shops we passed were crammed full of colourful glass trinkets. Many of them looked pretty under the display lights but you would not want to take them home. We managed to see the museum, which was interesting apart from looking rather like the shops just without the price tags. We would have liked to see the glass blowers at work but they all seemed to have stopped for the day by the time we got there. Still, the boat trip was nice.

Murano appeared much like Venice with canals, bridges and crumbling houses. Some weathered looking bricks outside the museum crumbled to dust under our touch so we moved on quickly. The atmosphere is different with more working folk and a more rural feeling.

Friday 5/11/99. Lace land.

We tried to visit a glass blowing furnace in Venice but again it was closed so we set off for Burano, another little island where traditionally the men folk go fishing and the women folk make lace.

This island is pleasantly unpopulated and less frequented by tourists. The first thing you notice is the brightly coloured houses. Apparently there used to be a meaning to the colour of a house but the meaning has been forgotten and now everyone paints their house whatever colour they choose. Also noticeable is how uncharacteristically well kept all the houses are. Most all are neatly plastered and painted. The streets are wide and clean and the canals all parked up with boats.

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The main street in Burano.

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The 'Leaning tower of Burano'

The museum showed how the women used to produce the lace in production line fashion with each doing a different stitch. Exhibits showed how the pattern was drawn onto paper then the cotton stitched on with a needle. Nowadays most all of it is made by machine and imported to the island.

A tasty lunch followed with dishes of lasagne and squid all washed down by a couple of glasses of rose wine and followed by ice creams.

Wooden posts, some with lights, mark deep-water channels through the shallow waters between the islands and our water-bus wove its way through the picturesque scene in the fading light back to Venice.

Our time in Venice is up but we have enjoyed our stay immensely. The combination of tiny passages interwove with canals and between historic buildings opening into tiny piazzas crammed with stalls packed with glitzy things must be unique in the world. All this has been preserved as a tourist resort for shopping, eating and all things leisurely.

Travelogues by Malcolm Weller

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