By Antonio Malara
Venice (from now on I’ll use the English name of the city) is part of that series of travels that I call "old news". More precisely, those places that I have visited several times but as a kid, therefore places of which my mind has vague memories, of which perhaps secondary things have remained impressed on me rather than the true beauty of those places. Several times with my sister we have promised to visit again the big cities like Florence, Bologna and Venice that we visited many times as kids with our parents. The opportunity to return to the lagoon city as adults came thanks to an event, namely the opera show "La Traviata" that my sister loves very much. I immediately accepted the proposal and as has happened so many times in the past, every visit to northern Italy was also an opportunity to spend a few days in Milan, where almost all of our respective friends now live and work. The trip inspired me a lot, I would have visited a unique city that I had not seen for a long time and spent a couple of days having fun with my friends in Milan.
Venice is a city of unique beauty and singularity, its urban planning, created by necessity, is the best example of where the vision of the human being can go. Built over time on a lagoon, it is crossed by countless canals from which an unprecedented and inimitable urban planning ensues. The narrow streets, the various bridges and the colorful buildings characterize the entire lagoon, Venice seems to have been consecrated by a divine touch, in fact the various attempts to imitate it have never led to anything so beautiful, except an artificial effect. Thanks to its uniqueness, Venice is one of the most visited cities in the world and I must say that I was able to perceive it during my last visit. As I said before, my vision of Venice was mainly influenced by the photos my father had taken of me as a child, to this, over the years, the images of the TV have been added, I’m referring above all to three events that are documented every year. The Venice carnival has an ancient tradition and over time has seen the introduction of the "flight of the angel" which later became the "flight of the dove" and for about twenty years again the "flight of the angel". It is the crossing by a man (later by a dove) through a hanging rope that goes from the Bell Tower to “Palazzo Ducale”. This detail is shown every year on TV and has characterized my adult vision of Venice. The other important event that takes place in the city is the film festival of the same name. Here, too, the image of movie stars arriving in the city aboard the “vaporetti”, greeting the crowds and journalists, is now iconic. The last image of Venice of my adult age is unfortunately the negative one of the high water phenomenon, in fact the heavy rains lead to raise the water level up to flood the squares and unfortunately also the lower floors of the houses and stores. This is what I remembered as a child and what I had learned in adulthood about Venice, so I was ready and in the mood to add new discoveries and new memories thanks to the new journey.
We landed at Treviso airport at about 5 PM, the Ryanair with which we had flown also had a bus service that went to the city center. We waited for a while and boarded a bus that left before 6 PM. The journey lasted about an hour which passed quickly, I don't remember any particular views until we crossed the beautiful "Ponte della Libertà". This road and railway bridge is about 4 km long and is the only access point for cars and trains between the historic center of Venice and the mainland. From the height of the bus, I was able to appreciate this long strip that seemed to float on the water, personally I didn’t remember the bridge at all, probably because I had crossed it by car as a child. The bus left us at "Piazzale Roma", from there to get to our b&b we crossed "Ponte della Costituzione" a work designed by Santiago Calatrava. I love Calatrava works so I was interested in seeing this bridge above all because everyone talked badly about it. The fact that the bridge became famous because people slipped easily as they crossed it bothered me a little because I didn't admit mistakes on the part of a visionary like Calatrava. My curiosity, in addition to appreciating the work in general, was to see how actually the bridge was dangerous. At the end I could see that the steps of the bridge were made of marble, very low and quite deep. The pitfall arose when the steps were wet by water, in that case the grip failed, however a minimum of attention was sufficient to avoid slipping. Probably people, taken by the euphoria of visiting the city and not helped by their reflexes, did not pay enough attention and were deceived precisely by the type of large ones with little slope. Beyond this I must say that it was the design of the bridge that I didn't particularly like, a simple marble ramp with glass railings, a red colored background and a white side. There I realized that Calatrava's style was out of place in a city like Venice, this made me appreciate even more the authenticity of the city I was going to visit.
Our destination was the “Canareggio” area, I had already memorized the way to go thanks to Google Maps and basically we had to travel two long roads that were divided by “Ponte delle Guglie”. After passing the train station, Venice immediately manifested itself with its singularity, it was like entering a playground, where the outside has nothing to do with the inside of the park. Suddenly everything around us had taken on that peculiarity typical of the city, the narrow streets, the colorful houses and the canals that together with the people of various nationalities walking through the streets, gave a different tone to the city. We easily found our b&b or how far, I was able to get to the building but I couldn't find the entrance. Turning around the building, just in front of a canal there was a very narrow small entrance, with my sister we slipped through and suddenly we found ourselves in a large courtyard with a fountain in the center. This was the magic that I liked, like in children's films when you look into the big crack of a tree and find yourself in another world. Venice seemed to have been built by a child or at least by a man who had not lost his childish spirit.
To optimize the time, my sister and I had brought some sandwiches and after eating them at the b&b, at around 8:30 PM we immediately went out to visit the city taking advantage of the remaining hours of the day. Our place was located right next to the “Rio della Misericordia” and after crossing a small bridge we walked along “Fondamenta dei Ormesini” road. This street was not very wide but it was still pleasant to walk, we immediately noticed the colors of the houses and especially those with exposed bricks without plaster fallen due to external humidity. It is singular how an unsightly element can become something that identifies the buildings of a city. Those irregularly designed exposed bricks seemed to be a sophisticated design rather than the result of the elements of nature. Along the way there was a bridge every about 40 meters, then shops and several restaurants with small outdoor tables, it was pleasant to walk and then there was a detail that I really liked. The fact that I could get to the edge of the canal that was unprotected gave me a sense of freedom like the one I have already described in previous posts. Surely the bottom of the canal was not deep, but even in that case the childish soul of Venice came out, the one designed by a child. Probably I was the one who remained childish in fact the first thing I did was sit on the edge to take pictures. I must say that it takes very little to end up inside the canal, a little distraction and you find yourself in the water but I liked that minimum risk. We walked noticing the style of the houses and the many colorful plants hanging from the balconies, what intrigued me the most, however, were the narrow and long streets, instinctively I wanted to enter one of being and see how far they took me. It was a bit like when I was a child and I went to the cemetery and ran behind the narrow and tall tombstones where only a child could enter. Along the way we had no difficulty in taking photos that represented the cliché of Venice, any point identified the city, moreover we were lucky to have also seen a beautiful sunset that was the background to the houses and bridges. At a certain point the road widened and we arrived at “Ca'lezze” where there was the "Misericordia di Venezia", a beautiful building with a huge central door. At that point I picked up Google Maps to trace a new itinerary, more than anything else I looked at it and memorized it without following the directions. As we moved towards another larger road we spotted the first gondola, at least the one closest to us, after which we arrived on "Strada Nuova". This road which later became our starting point towards the central part of Venice, was very beautiful and full of shops, here my sister pointed out to me why as we walked I appreciated those places so much. "Maybe you haven't noticed that there are no cars here" she told me smugly and actually I hadn't realized this very important detail. Any city we visit, even the most advanced of the smart cities, has road routes for cars that we have to cross in one way or another. In Venice this did not exist, the big city was totally in the hands of pedestrians, a dream I have always had. With this in mind I was ready to explore those places with an extra motivation feeling like a supreme who watched the local means of transport (small boats, gondolas and vaporetti) always from a dominant position.
"Strada Nuova" ended at "Campo Santi Apostoli", a square where the "Chiesa Cattolica Parrocchiale dei Santi Apostoli" was located with a beautiful pointed bell tower similar in style to that of "Piazza San Marco". Right in front of the church there was a building that housed the "Antico Doge" hotel, a structure that I immediately fell in love with. The palace was reached via a large bridge, it had arcades and in addition to the aesthetic beauty itself, it was embedded in an irregular foreshortening, the canal next to it was very narrow and the other buildings around it were very tall. What I liked most was a recess in the edge of the canal in front of the building which created a unique ambiance. Those arcades were the access point to another road which in turn was another access to different places. Our next destination was the “Ponte di Rialto”, where we arrived after crossing a series of narrow streets and a few bridges. We got there via a small bottleneck which then opened onto the very close view of the bridge, hence a strange perspective that was not beautiful to see and impossible to photograph. Unfortunately, to our regret, we discovered that the opposite side of the bridge, the one that overlooked “Riva del Ferro”, was being renovated and had been covered by a giant sheet that depicted the bridge itself. This bridge is not like the others, the Rialto bridge as well as being one of the 4 bridges that crosses the Grand Canal is a large stone bridge that has three different stairways, two on the sides of the canal and one in the center of the bridge. The two large arches that divide the stairways now house shops, it is a truly beautiful piece of design that we have not been able to fully appreciate. The only accessible part was the central staircase which in the late hour we crossed it was a bit desolate because the shops were all closed. Even I know I've never seen it with the aesthetics of open boutiques, it certainly wasn't the gray spectacle of the lowered shutters that we saw. After a few photos on the bridge we headed to the "Riva del Carbon", the southern part of the bridge. There were the various piers for vaporetti and boats and it is certainly one of the most beautiful views also given the presence not only of boats but also of gondolas that make up a beautiful panorama with the buildings and the canal in the background. Although we could not appreciate the whole beauty of the bridge, we still spent the evening there taking pictures with the brilliant lights that came on immediately after sunset.
On the morning of the second day we didn't wake up early, after breakfast we started walking around around 10 AM. That day our destination was “Piazza San Marco” and starting from Strada Nuova, we made almost the same journey as the previous day that brought us to the Rialto Bridge. Along the way we tried to find new glimpses along other roads, in this way we were more motivated and the road less repetitive. Near Rialto bridge I traced another route to get to “Piazza San Marco” and immediately after our restart we passed in front of the "Chiesa di San Zulian". Beyond the beauty of the church itself, what was striking in Venice was that these works suddenly appeared turning a street, for example the street on the left side of the church was really narrow that those who came from there suddenly had the church on the side without even realizing it. As we’re walking to reach “Piazza San Marco”, I saw all those tourists of all nationalities, in those narrow alleys surrounded by the bright colors of the houses and I thought about how surreal that scene was. It was precisely the proximity to people that gave a special touch to the city, I don't think in other places you are ever so close to each other, it was as if we were all guests of the same house.
After an hour of walking through alleys, we arrived at “Piazza San Marco” which obviously suddenly opened wide to our eyes. I was amazed by the size and the arcades that ran around the perimeter of the square. My memory of that place was limited to a few photos and the many doves to which tourists and we too fed. I don't know how but the municipality of Venice managed to make the doves and the old cliché disappear, but the strange thing for me was to remember the square much smaller. Normally it is the exact opposite, when we are young, things seem bigger to us because in fact we look at them from a lower position, this time it was the opposite. Except for the bell tower, everything seemed different to me. With my sister we started taking dozens of photos with the bell tower and the cathedral as a background, despite being full of people, there was so much space that it was as if everyone had their privacy to take pictures undisturbed. Today we find ourselves standing in line in tourist places and wait our turn for the photo when we are in front of a very popular background. Fortunately, this was not the case in Venice. After the photos we walked under the arcades to reach the bell tower and the Basilica. We passed in front of the Florian Café, this place was one of Ernest Hemingway's favorites, he often mentions it in his books and being there for me was a great emotion. I love Hemingway so much and thinking that he had spent a lot of time in that place made me shiver and inspire me at the same time. Moreover, I noticed that the coffee was preserved in the same way as in the last century. Not only were the tables and furniture antique, but also the external facade had not been restored, I think it was all done on purpose. After the usual photos with Florian as a background we continued.
"Basilica di Marco" was one of those things that I didn't remember at all, so it was like seeing it for the first time. Obviously in this case my memories connected to it were related to the images seen on TV or in some magazine. At this point we continued with the photos and above all I enjoyed taking the technically difficult selfie with my DSLR, this time it was the bell tower's turn, after several shots I had managed the usual feat of perfectly framing the bell tower with me next to it. We had to discard the idea of visiting the Basilica inside immediately, the line of tourists that was there was incredible, they formed a line so long that it reached “Palazzo Ducale”. This famous gothic style building was beautiful and I was fascinated by the design. Its characteristic of being different in style for each floor intrigued me a lot. On the ground floor the arcades were covered by wide arches while on the first floor the narrower arches with the rose windows above. Then the second floor with arched windows on two different levels and the characteristic facade with pink squares. I particularly liked that area, from there in my opinion there was a more beautiful view of the bell tower and then I began to be obsessed with the columns of San Marco, especially the one with the lion on top of one of them. For some strange reason I started taking a lot of photos of that detail, zooming in as if I were trying to photograph the lion on a safari. This area overlooked the "Bacino di San Marco", there was the famous view of the “Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore” which was located on the other side of the canal. The characteristic view is given by the dozens of gondolas moored there along with the canal and the church as a background. There I started to play with the zoom in order to have the background much larger behind me, it is something I always do even if a panorama comes out with unnatural look.
After the time spent there we decided to move to see where the La Fenice theater was, where that evening we would see "La Traviata". After tracing a new route on the maps, we set off crossing Piazza San Marco again. Walking I realized that in Venice there were countless young guys, both teenagers with their parents and young people on vacation alone. Although I had traveled a lot, I don't remember ever seeing so many young tourists in other places, I thought that the city also fascinated this kind of people.
After having crossed again Piazza San Marco we discovered the “Chiesa di San Moisè” as we had become accustomed to in Venice, from a small street and then immersed in a very large square. Without anticipating anything to my sister, I had put another visit on the list, a place that was on our path. It was the Gritti Palace and even this case, I knew it thanks to Hemingway. I had read "Across the River and Into the Trees" and in that beautiful novel there are many scenes set in this hotel-restaurant, this time I tried to recall and imagine the encounters that the characters had had right there.The position of the Gritti was also beautiful, in fact it was at the corner between the canal and a beautiful rectangular square. From the side facing the canal it was possible to see Palazzo Dario (Ca 'Dario) on the opposite side. This building has a reputation for being "cursed" as many of its owners died in tragic circumstances after purchasing the building. I don't know if fortunately or unfortunately the building was undergoing restoration so its facade was completely covered and in fact we saw it through the scaffolding. Also in the square there were several restaurants and after explaining to my sister why I had wanted to see the Gritti, she thought we could have lunch there, but as it was too early we put off the idea and continued with the journey.
Leaving the Gritti we headed to the La Fenice theater and reached it after some time. Both the theater and the square where it stands were not impressive and this, together with the fact that all the access roads to the square were small, made it an intimate place. After having walked around the area a bit, we returned to the front of the theater because there were several restaurants there. We found a nice one in a small street and stopped for lunch. We were really happy with the service and we decided together with my sister to book a table also for dinner but after the end of the show. After lunch we wandered around the shops and around 4PM we decided to return to the b&b to get ready for the evening.
At 6PM we were ready, elegantly dressed to go back to the center and go and watch “La Traviata”. Even though I didn't have a camera with me, we stopped to take pictures with my phone along the way. It was a question of having the same views but with clothes that otherwise we would never have worn, I had a jacket and shirt but my sister had an evening dress. Just before arriving at the theater an American lady looked at us exclaiming "you both look great" probably thought we were a couple and I teased my sister saying that actually the compliment was for me, she said "both" for not make her jealous. Around 6:30 PM we were in front of the theater and there too we continued the series of photos. Probably the American lady had seen well because another older lady, seeing us, proposed to take a picture of us together, precisely because we were well dressed.
La Fenice theater was inaugurated at the end of the 18th century and has a long history of restoration, unfortunately in 1996 it was destroyed due to an arson and then rebuilt. Obviously I was curious to see it, both from an aesthetic point of view and symbolically after all that had happened. Our box was high and to the right of the stage, from there we had a beautiful view of the whole theater but we saw the stage slightly sideways. In general, the style was classic with velvet everywhere even on the walls, what I didn't like were the candelabra-shaped lights. We had one right next to it that overlooked the stage and in my opinion it was made of plaster, a classic design but with a poor material. The show started around 8:30 PM and I must say that even though I knew the story in general, I couldn't follow it in a "sung" way because lyric is not something I particularly like. But as I have been a stage actor in the past, I concentrated on actors performances from an acting point of view while it is known that they focus mostly on singing. At the end, the actors disappointed me from both points of view, except for one in his fifties who I don't remember what role he played. He had been really good and at the end of the show I sincerely applauded him (to be honest, the whole audience did the same thing). We left the theater around 12:30 AM and headed to our restaurant for a delicious dinner. It was a very nice evening, unusual for me but it's nice to deal with everything in life even with things that we are not experts in or that are out of our tastes.
On the morning of our third day in Venice we woke up late as usual, after breakfast we went out just before 10 AM. Our main destination that day was “Ponte Dell’Accademia” but we had decided to take a few different routes and then I wanted to go and see Ca 'Dario more closely. On the way to Rialto we took an alley to reach the canal and enjoy a new perspective. Just after having crossed a small tunnel, we found ourselves in a square which I later discovered was called “Campiello de Remer”. This place was really nice, a small rectangular square that overlooked the canal where there was also a small pier for boats. Looking at the place with our backs to the canal, we discovered the real beauty of the place which was represented by an external staircase to the buildings that ended on a balcony whose structure had a shape of large arches. Arriving on the canal then we had a new view of it with a nice surprise. On the left side of the canal we could see the "good" side of the Rialto Bridge, the one without scaffolding and almost in its entirety. Unfortunately in this case it was the building next to it that was being restored, so it ruined the landscape but only from a photographic point of view.
We left that pretty square and set off again, after about half an hour we entered a long, narrow street that was parallel to the square of the Gritti Palace, at the end of the walk we were back on the canal. From there, “Ponte dell’Accademia” was on our right but I had chosen that place to have a closer view of Ca 'Dario. In addition to the “cursed” palace from that point we also had a close view over the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a museum of contemporary art, but this was a pleasant discovery I made there. After a few photos we set out again towards the bridge but Venice was one discovery after another, it was impossible to reach one point without discovering others that are very interesting from different points of view. Just crossing “Campo San Maurizio” there was the Music Museum of Venice, a building that looked so much like a church and behind it the “Campanile di Santo Stefano”. As soon as I saw the Campanile, I did not notice anything strange but looking at it in the photos it seemed inclined. I told the discovery to my sister and moved along the square to see it from another perspective. In fact the Campanile was slightly inclined, however neither my sister nor I knew anything about it. At one point I had the bizarre idea that it was the result of an event that happened a few hours earlier. Sure it wasn't an optical effect, we moved from there even though I couldn't explain why that bell tower had never been famous by virtue of its slope, as was the Tower of Pisa, for example.
After a few minutes we arrived in “Campo Santo Stefano”, this square which was very large and rectangular in shape was in a certain way the access road to “Ponte dell’Accademia”. I noticed that its width made the typical houses seem slightly lower where many of the ground floors of them were used as restaurants. In the center of the square there was a statue dedicated to Niccolò Tommaseo and I also liked the overall view of the place because despite the size it was not a crowded place. From the center of the square there was also an original view of “Chiesa di San Vidal”, which was positioned more or less than three quarters of it. However, even approaching the church, we could not admire it from the front because it had a small park and many trees in front of it. The Accademia bridge began right after the church and its access ramp was in the middle of the trees. The bridge was characterized by being built of wood, but it was simple from an architectural point of view. It was not as imposing nor as gorgeous as the Rialto one, it was probably more popular for the famous view from which it could be enjoyed while crossing it. When we got to the center of the bridge we started taking photos from both sides of the canal. Unfortunately, the most popular side, the one that had the “Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute” as a background, was a bit backlit at that time of day. A little annoyed by this fact, I tried my best to take decent pictures, thinking about the fact that surely if I went back one day, I would make sure to be there in a more ideal light.
On the other side of the bridge we entered the “Dorsoduro” district, there we spent some time given the presence of so many shops and slowly we left the area heading towards the new destination. After about half an hour crossing “Campo Santa Margherita” we arrived in “Campo San Pantalon” via a bridge that gave access to the square. From there, there was the view of a very old house with an abandoned appearance that immediately caught my attention. I took a lot of photos of the house, I don't know why but for me it told a story. Surely there was a time when the house was new, who knows how many events had happened in there and who knows why the house was then reduced to those conditions. I then discovered that on the facade of the house, an artist painted a mural called "Migrant Child", a work that was not present when I saw it.
The destination we had to reach was the “Basilica Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari” that my sister wanted to visit. There, moreover, we had an appointment with a friend of my sister who was joining us from Verona to spend the afternoon and evening together. We arrived at the Basilica around 1 PM and just at that moment a wedding ceremony was over for which we saw the bride and groom leave the church and the subsequent celebrations. I liked both the Basilica and the surrounding area, the Basilica was built with exposed bricks and three rose windows in the front. Right in front of it there was a small canal which, however, was crossed by a very large and disproportionate bridge but for me it had a very beautiful effect. When Titty, my sister's friend arrived, we all had lunch together in one of the restaurants in front of the Basilica. Before 2 PM we went in to visit the church and I think it was the shortest visit ever. Inside was the tomb of the famous sculptor Antonio Canova, a modern-looking work entirely in marble. In addition to the tomb there were frescoes and statues but what fascinated me most was the council room. I have always found this type of structure interesting, both symbolically and from an aesthetic point of view.
After this visit we went back to our b& b to rest a bit, obviously also in this case I traced a slightly different path in order to see new views. We went out all together again around 4 PM with destination Piazza San Marco. This time the journey lasted over an hour because along the way we stopped in the shops to go shopping and then we didn’t had to worry about time because we had practically already seen all the places we had planned. Back in “Piazza San Marco” we have more or less redone the things of the previous day including photos. We spent a lot of time near the columns of San Marco and then we went to see the famous “Ponte dei Sospiri”, initially from the perspective we had looking at it from “Ponte della Paglia”. “Ponte dei Sospiri” is one of the most famous in Venice, very particular for the fact that it connects two buildings, “Palazzo Ducale” and “Prigioni Nuove”, which are separated by the Rio del Palazzo canal. Personally I love this type of visionary architecture, when two distinct buildings that are separated by a street or other, are connected by a bridge creating a unique effect. Today it is possible to see this type of architecture in the USA or in certain Asian cities but in general it is not very common. On “Ponte della Paglia” there were many people but still we managed to take some decent photos. For some strange reason, the atmosphere there was quiet, I saw people happy and smiling, I myself was happy to take many photos of all the tourists who asked me. Just before leaving we also saw one of the most criticized shows in Venice, I’m referring to the passage of a cruise ship through the San Marco Basin. I state that I don’t like cruises because for me they do not represent a real way to travel, but after seeing that disproportionate giant crossing a place that is unsuitable from an infrastructural and aesthetic point of view, I have consecrated my negative idea about it.
Leaving “Ponte della Paglia” we walked around “Palazzo Ducale” to go and see “Ponte dei Sospiri” from the perspective of “Ponte della Canonica”. From there the bridge could be seen much smaller but the curious and fun thing was to see the mass of people on “Ponte della Paglia”, certainly an original view more than that of the bridge itself (I mean Sospiri one). Traced the umpteenth new itinerary, we went back to Canareggio, arrived there I went back to the b&b to get ready for dinner and my sister and her friend went to have an aperitif. As I reached them around dinner time, incredible thunder announced an imminent storm. Just when I reached them, it started to rain and seeing the bad weather my sister was trying to convince her friend to stay with us for the night. Between indecision, time passed and Titty risked missing the last useful train to go home, then suddenly in the heavy rain she greeted us and ran away.
Shortly after, while we were sitting in a restaurant near our b&b, my sister received a message from Titty saying she had managed to catch the train so we had dinner with more peace of mind. Our last night in Venice ended in a cinematic way with the image of Titty crossing the bridge in the rain.
The next day we woke up very early and at 6:30 AM we were already at the station, one adventure had just ended but another equally beautiful one would begin after a couple of hours in Milan, but that's another story.
Pictures: Antonio Malara
Camera: Nikon D800