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2010-07 Venice

a column for the Sligo Weekender

 
Its been said that you should never meet your heroes, as you will only be disappointed, or let down.

I have on occasion been more than impressed with some of my heroes. It would, on the other hand, be very negative of me to share with you here the long list of those celebrities I have felt let down by up close and personal: my inoffensive little column would simply spiral downwards to the gutter. As my late mother used to say...If you havent got something good to say about someone, dont say it!.  I try to adhere to your golden rule Mum - I do - but sometimes its exceedingly tough.

So in order to avoid an all-out-bitch-fest, I thought Id take you on a brief excursion to a place I had until recently left undiscovered. Situated in a lagoon, criss-crossed by more than two hundred canals and twice that amount of bridges, Venice (Veneto) resembles a titanic slanting theme-park, resting rather precariously on water. As I wandered around the sinewy Venetian side-streets, my Lonely Planet in hand, it was like being part of a colossal film or opera set.

Having heard about the considerable queues, as well as unsavoury smells from the Venetian drainage system, I made the decision to go off-season. The famed Fenice Opera House was open but resting, several restaurants were closed, but aside from that my decision proved an excellent one.

My flight to Venice Marco Polo was ¬80 return. As I spend most of my life in hotels, I chose to stay in a B&B (ten-minutes walk from St Marks) - ¬40 per night, including a basic breakfast. At the airport I invested in a Travelcard to include buses and waterbuses, as well as ferries to the Lido and some of the islands. Gondolas command extortionate rates. I resisted the temptation  after all, I can sing my own O Sole Mio, and in the correct Neapolitan dialect& but I did take a Public Gondola which cost about two euros to cross the Grand Canal. Some will be unable to resist the temptation of being taken up the canals in your own personal gondola, but it may set you back anything from ¬150 - ¬200 (approx).

Venices historic centre spreads out from the magnificent Basilica di San Marco - the perfect place to start. If you decide to treat yourself to a coffee in the Piazza di San Marco, and witness flocks of pigeons terrorising tourists, then make sure you have your Credit Card with you, or a lot of cash! St Marks itself is breathtaking, perhaps in particular the Altar, and as I went off-season I swanned straight in. The Palazzo Ducale (Doges Palace) nearby is arguably Venices architectural highlight, with its artistic wealth and riches, and trademark Bridge of Sighs.

However, many of the hundreds of Churches seem to boast more art treasures (perhaps notably Titian and Canaletto) than some of the museums. As I crossed the Rialto, I felt I was brushing across a Canaletto canvas.

The Jewish Ghetto tour once again highlights the Jews as victims of history, but all the hidden synagogues (literally) are steeped with interesting, and at times heartbreaking, stories.

A short ferry ride away rests the colourful fishing village of Burano. A little further on again lies Torcello, which was eerily empty of people, but brimming with history and spirits. Once a large medieval city, Torcello now has a population of seventeen, and was the mesmerizing surprise of my Venetian stay.

The location and architecture of the Peggy Guggenheim Modern-Art Museum is unquestionably stunning.  Her life was intriguing, but, well&to adapt my mothers phrase&if you havent something good to say about most modern art, dont say it.

I attended the obligatory touristy Four Seasons performance in the Old Prison, sampled a daily gelato, and a glass of Prosecco every evening with my meal. Bistrot de Venise appealed to me in particular, with its very friendly staff and excellent food.

On three of my days, glorious sunshine lit up Canalettos canals. One day was misty, but incredibly atmospheric.  For decades I had listened as friends raved about this Jewel of the Adriatic, and though Italy remains my Number One holiday destination, Venice had somehow continually evaded me. Venice had elevated itself enchantingly to the status of one of my hero destinations. When I finally got to savour all things Venetian, I was certainly not disappointed, or indeed let down.