Sunday, 9 September 2012


Without doubt, Venice is one of the most spectacular cities at which to arrive by ship. Just after lunch, all the passengers gather on the upper decks to watch as we sail along the Giudecca Canal and pass by St Mark’s square, the Doge’s Palace and all the iconic landmarks. There’s a bit of competition for rail space, so I run down two floors to our cabin where the view from the balcony is just as good and I don’t have to defend my space. We will be overnight here and our flight leaves late tomorrow evening, so we have pretty much a full day and half to explore. But first we have some specifics to research as we’ll be leaving Norwegian Spirit tomorrow morning at 8.45 and have to make our own arrangements from there.

It turns out to be remarkably easy to reach Piazzale Roma on the people mover – a monorail that carries us above the streets and canals for 1 Euro. Once we get there, we easily find the Deposito Bagagli where we can leave our luggage and the ticket office for the airport shuttle is a few doors down from there. We buy the shuttle tickets – one thing less to think about tomorrow – and move on to the vaporetto kiosk. The vaporetto is Venice’s river bus service, and we find we can buy a ticket for 20 Euros that gives us as many trips as we like within 24 hours from the start of the first one.

Suitably prepared for tomorrow, we set off to explore Venice on foot. We’re heading roughly in the direction of St Mark’s Square, via Rialto Bridge but we don’t bother with the map, just let our instinct take us until we are close enough for the signs to lead us. When we were in Piazzale de Roma, Alex had declared himself disappointed with Venice which had more cars and less water than he had been expecting. Not surprising, as it is where the bus terminus and car parks are located. But within minutes of leaving it behind and entering the labyrinth of canals he was totally captivated. By the time we stopped for a drink at a canal-side bar, he’d decided he was moving there.

I know how he feels – I know I’m supposed to be jaded about Venice: everyone says it’s smelly, it’s too crowded and the locals rip you off, etc. But I can’t help but love it. I take far too many photos and before we reach St Mark’s square I’ve exhausted my camera battery. We meander round the streets and over the bridges, darting off to explore interesting-looking alleys or to climb bridges purely to appreciate the view from the top. On the way Alex gets a gelato and I find a lovely Murano glass jewellery shop that will need a return visit tomorrow.
It’s dusk when we board the vaporetto and set off back to the ship. It crosses to the island of Giudecca before following the route the Spirit took earlier in the day. Alex assures us that he knows which stop to get off but he overshoots and we end up back at Piazzale Roma and have to take the people carrier again.

Alex has arranged to have dinner with his friends in Raffles so it’s just Simon and me again for dinner. My fish arrives on what looks like rice pudding with a heap of whole olives beside it; once I taste it I find the risotto is perfectly cooked but the idiosyncratic presentation lets it down. Simon and I are reminded of the couple we watched dancing last night – step-perfect but with no emotion. My dessert tastes so uninteresting that I only eat one forkful; the waiter offers to bring me a fruit plate instead. It feels as if the food has deteriorated during the cruise – maybe they’re running out of ingredients! – or perhaps it’s that we have become more jaded as the Spirit’s shortcomings have slowly revealed themselves. It’s not that we haven’t enjoyed ourselves – we have had a fantastic time - but it seems to be despite the ship, not because of her.
We return to the cabin to finish packing and our cases disappear within minutes of being placed outside our door. Alex goes out, first to swim with his friends and then to meet them again in Galaxy of the Stars (yes, its real name!) to say final goodbyes. It’s around midnight when we get to bed and it seems odd to be sleeping on a stationary ship.

We’re up at 7, at breakfast by 8 and in the queue before they call our colour (purple) to disembark. Yesterday’s research pays dividends as we make straight for the people mover, then to the Depositivo Bagigli and onto the vaporetto. It takes us almost the whole length of the Grand Canal and again I take far too many photos. It’s still before 10 when we reach St Mark’s Square but it’s already mobbed and there’s a large queue waiting to go into the cathedral. We’ve decided to give interiors a miss and just soak up the scenery. Simon navigates us around a walking tour from Rialto Bridge and we stop in the middle to have a drink at a cafĂ© I noticed from the vaporetto close to the bridge. After we’ve completed Simon’s itinerary we hop back on a vaporetto back to the St Mark’s stop and walk along to see the Bridge of Sighs.
Alex has found a restaurant for lunch, recommended in a Tripadvisor guide, but before that he is determined to have a pigeon eat out of his hand. We tempt them with cereal bar and get the shot Alex wants but then we spot a blue and green pigeon and now there’s a new mission to entice that one. He’s not convinced so we have to give up. And, anyway, we just got told off by the pigeon police. It’s amazing how quickly the streets become less busy once you leave the tourist hot-spots. We find the restaurant – the Rosa Rosso – easily despite a diversion due to building work and it is just gone 1 when we reach it. We take their last outside tab le and enjoy pizza while watching the workmen operate a complicated human chain to get wheelbarrows full of cement from one place to another.

There’s a great deal of renovation work going on here; building seems to be a stable profession in Venice. I had seen some interesting-looking shops on the walk here so I leave the boys to finish their drinks and go back to check them out. The silver shop is just too intimidating: it has lovely pieces but they are all behind glass and the prices aren’t visible. The mask shop turns out to be a theatrical mask maker, manufacturing on the premises despite having his arm in a sling. As I look around a journalist comes in and asks if she can write a piece about it. The masks and costume shops are an essential part of Venice’s appeal; it’s easy to imagine the glamour and decadence of its masked balls.
After collecting the boys, we work our way back to the jewellery shop I found yesterday – this time crossing the Grand Canal by gondola taxi. Simon has a beer in a nearby bar while Alex and I shop. It’s been difficult to buy things on this trip, as we haven’t wanted to waste time shopping in a tightly packed itinerary and most of the shops and stalls we do find sell only “tourist tat”. I spend more than I should on an original handmade necklace containing all three kinds of Murano glass and the proprietor makes me a bracelet and earrings to match and then gives Alex all he needs to make me another pair of earrings.

Back on the vaporetto, we head towards the north, to visit the Jewish ghetto. The jews inhabited their own island, gated and with a curfew and there is still a jewish community there although of course they are now free to come and go as they please. It has quite a different feel to the parts of the city we have seen so far and the jewish influence is still very apparent including a kosher wine bar and restaurants. A rabbi obligingly emerges from the gate and into my photo as we approach.
It’s towards the end of the afternoon so we begin to work our way back to Piazzale Roma. The sun is setting and the light is quite different to the middle of the day. We’ve been fortunate to be able to see the city at all times of the day and to appreciate the difference in its atmosphere. I especially enjoy the way the light plays on the water of the canals at dusk.

We have a couple of hours before we need to take the airport shuttle, so we sit in outside a bar between two canals and have a drink, then stroll along another undiscovered stretch of canal into what is clearly a less prosperous part of the city. Unlike many of the canals in the centre of Venice, these have wide pavements and create a much more spacious feel. I watch a woman drag her heavy shopping trolley up the steps onto a bridge and acknowledge that this must often be a challenging place to live. But for all that, I agree with Alex – I’d jump at the chance to live here for a while, too.

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