It’s an action packed day today for us in Venice. Firstly a free morning tour then an evening classical concert featuring Vivaldi and Paganini at San Vidal Church near the Accademia Bridge.
Unfortunately, the weather is looking a little grim for the next couple of days. It’s forecast to rain fairly heavily with cold temperatures ( 10C max ) in the afternoon for both today and tomorrow. Fortunately, we have all the right clothing. Really warm waterproof snow boots and our Goretex ski jackets.
We met our lovely English speaking guide, Aida at Campo San Stefano. It was a large group of about 30, however Aida had a super strong voice and we were immediately impressed with her lovely easy manner, good organisational skills and fun personality. There is simply too many different aspects to Venice to try and cover them all and this tour focused primarily on the architecture and construction techniques used to create Venice. As well as explaining how the city was created, Aida also covered how to use the vaporetta system, choose a good gondolier and where to eat cheaply and well. Bravo Aida.
Neither of us had any idea that all the buildings in Venice are basically floating on petrified timber poles that had been driven into the deep clay of the lagoon islands. Each canal that you cross is a border between the original tiny islands in the lagoon. The mind boggles to think how this was all achieved in the 16th and 17th centuries without mechanisation? She also explained that these very foundations which have stood the test of time for centuries are now under attack from motorboats and cruise ships which create a constant wash. As a result the man-made islands are currently sinking at a rate of 2 – 4 mm per year. This combined with increased rainfall and rising sea-levels will mean that Venice will continue to flood more regularly.
Aida also explained that the EEC as part of a UNESCO heritage program provided €5.5 billion to develop and install a “gate system” at the entrance to the lagoon to help regulate water flow. However – there are two problems. Firstly, a majority of Venice does not have a sewerage system! Hard to imagine isn’t it? In this day and age? Most private homes rely on the tidal movement twice a day to wash their raw sewerage straight out to sea. Aaaagh!! Without a change to this system, preventing the regular flow of water in & out of the lagoon will create its own horrific odoriferous pollution problem. And secondly….the Mayor of Venice is currently in jail for siphoning off about € 20 million of the project money. Oh dear!! “Che è l’Italia per voi!”
We loved our tour. It was a great way to get orientated with the city and learn new things. Aida also solved a mystery for us. Venice does have hundreds of street names that are the same. No wonder Google Maps was struggling. She has lived in the city for 10 years and still regularly gets lost. She has figured out that the best way to navigate is to use the churches which are all uniquely named.
The rain set in at lunch time and after grabbing a quick bite to eat we picked up a sturdy umbrella from our hotel and continued our exploration of the city. This time we headed into the Jewish Ghetto in the Cannaregio area. Aida had recommended doing our gondolier tour from here. But as we explored the streets, we were a little less convinced, the canals here are wide and set out in an almost grid like pattern. We had in mind a trip where there were lots of bridges and tight twists and turns. By this time the rain really started to pelt down and while we were still dry, we thought it best to head back……but we had forgotten again to get a map. Seriously how dumb can we be? Finally we found signs to San Marco and just religiously followed them only to get lost about 50 times on the way back to the hotel!!
A quick shower and tidy up and then we were back out again to see a performance of Vivaldi & Paganini by a local string ensemble. We did now have a map and an umbrella. The venue was incredible. A 17th century church which is now used for various concerts. The performance was excellent and the church was packed with tourists and locals alike. I think that even if you stayed a month in Venice you would still not see every church, museum and artistic performance there is to be had in this city.
The concert finished at 10pm and we headed out for a late dinner. Or at least that was the initial plan. Alas, much to our surprise…especially for a Saturday night, all the restaurants nearby had closed their kitchens. Finally we ended up in the lounge bar of an extremely swanky five star hotel called Hotel Palazzo Gritti and paid an exorbitant price for a glass of wine and dinner ended up being a small bowl of cashews and another of hazelnuts that Italians always serve with alcohol. Rookie mistake, but we truly thought that restaurants would still be serving food at 10pm. Come to think of it, Aida our wise guide did mention that Venice is quite boring for young people as everything closes down at 10pm. We thought she was joking!?
Looking again at the weather before bed, we see that the only time not predicted to rain is between 9 and 10am tomorrow. Early start for our gondola ride tomorrow morning!