I am being slightly elusive at the moment, sorry about that! Hours of German lessons (plus homework), lesson plans for the English classes I am about to embark on teaching, and swimming lessons are all unmercifully eating away at my time currently, but hopefully things will calm down again very soon! Not swimming lessons for me I hasten to add, although I could perhaps do with some. I am only really capable of swimming on my back, or doing (a slightly wooden but effective) breaststroke. I never fancied learning front crawl, because as a child I always thought you had to wear a swimming hat to do that. Something I have always had a slight phobia about. I had never realised that we English were known for our limited swimming abilities. Recently an Australian friend almost killed herself laughing when she said you could always spot an English person in a pool!!
Verona is surrounded by pretty incredible places. Vicenza, Valpolicella and Soave to name but a few. And then of course there’s Venice, which is so special it doesn’t even need to have a wine named after it to be one of those cities we all “know” before we’ve even visited. It’s one of those rare places that turns out exactly how you imagined it to be in your mind’s eye. Of course I had expected it to be humming with even more tourists than Verona, but I had also hoped for a certain ethereal quality that you see in the films, and you don’t have to look hard to find that.
Our first glimpse of the city was from the train station. Across the road from here is where you will also find the Vaporetti (water buses). Don’t make the mistake of buying a full day ticket (like we might have done!!), because if you don’t fancy it, you don’t need to get on a boat at all (no, really!). In fact I would say you see much more on foot, but it was worth the ticket price anyway for that incredible first real view of one of the most famous cities on Earth.
It’s good to get off at San Zaccaria and get Saint Mark’s Square out of the way early-on in your visit. It’s choked with people as you might expect, but don’t let this put you off, to miss a closer inspection of the Basilica would be sad (be warned - if you want to “take it all in” at one of the numerous cafes in the square, you might end up paying more than the debt of a small country for a coffee, even if it may well be the nicest coffee you have ever had in your life – Italy puts the “coffee” of the big chains we know to shame!)! But once you have fought your way through, (and it’s not a horrible fight, everyone’s in a good mood to be there!) pick a passageway! The main thoroughfares of which are filled with brightly coloured shops and restaurants (make sure you wander some of the less salubrious looking passageways as well, because it’s here you will find the quiet stretches off the beaten track), and of course surrounding these lies the vast network of canals, complete with gondalas and the beautiful red and white mooring poles. This is what everybody thinks of when you mention Venice isn’t it?
And yes, you should actually consider blowing some of your budget on a gondola trip! Having been worried about how naff this experience might be, it was actually one of the highlights, and went down well with everyone. Price are regulated by the local authorities so they all cost the same (about the same as a family trip to the cinema or bowling alley, and I know what will stay in my memory for longer!)! Plus you don’t need to do it if you visit again, but I believe one gondala trip a life time should be mandatory.
“O Sole Mio” is optional by the way, and for around 40 minutes we were chauffered around quiet back-waters (at times without another soul in sight). There’s something special about gliding under quiet bridges straight out of Daphne du Maurier storylines. Then on past elderly buildings dip-dyed by shadows, and interspered with kaleidoscopes of washing on lines (These in particular reminded us that despite it’s mecca status on the travel map, it’s also a “real place” and “real people” do actually live here. And how amazing that must be!)!
Importantly, I certainly didn’t sense that “visitor-resentment” here either, Venizians are genuinely friendly, and not just in the instances when they are about to help you part with your money either!
The food here is more fish orientated than Verona as you might expect, and one of the big specialities is a hearty seafood risotto. Panicking slightly about how busy everywhere would get for lunch, we chose the nearest decent looking restaurant with a couple of empty tables left, and here we sampled a huge pan of the stuff, which left me wondering if I would ever bother making risotto at home again. There are plenty of cafes and patisseries to satisfy any sweet teeth you may have as well, and next time we go back I will be on the hunt for ciccetti.
The children were completely under Venice’s spell too. There’s so much for them to see, from the colourful Carneval Masks at every turn, to the cheery stripy gondoleers. There are street entertainers a plenty, bridges to run over, and of course that old favourite – gelato! The 7 year old said Venice kind of reminded her of The Labyrinth (I love subjecting my children to my favourite childhood films!) and I can see why, but unfortunately we didn’t see David Bowie in tights.
We did however see plenty of Winged Lions, the symbol of Venice (and of Saint Mark himself), which are scattered throughout the city. Hunting for them kept the smaller members of the party occupied for ages (first person to get to 20 got an icecream, which meant of course we all did, I am not that stupid!). There’s also a good little playground just before the main bridge back to the train station, which is worth bearing in mind for when you need to put your feet up, but smaller people still have lots of energy to burn.
And yes, I may well have had help with the title of this post, as although I hope to expand it before our next visit, my Italian currently only stretches as far as icecream flavours! Fragola Per Favore!