Venice from on High, Venice from the Water

Venice from on High, Venice from the Water

Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Venice, Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  Join us on a summer tour on the Amalfi Coast, in Provence, or in Amsterdam/Belgium

Our tour days begin with breakfast in the lovely courtyard of Al Ponte Mocenigo. There is so much to appreciate about this property – walls covered with exquisite silk in the spacious bedrooms, an abundant buffet breakfast with homemade pastries and jams, smiling and helpful staff, an excellent location- no wonder everyone raves about it!

Whenever possible, we appreciate getting “above it all” to see our surroundings – it’s a great way to get a perspective on a city or area. The best spot to do so in Venice is from the belltower of San Giorgio Maggiore, across the basin from Piazza San Marco. So we’re on our way, chugging down the Grand Canal on the morning bus. The gondolas are already booked, cruising and singing on their way.

We walk back onto an island at the San Zaccaria stop, and before boarding another vaporetto (the buses of Venice, so named because they were originally powered by  steam – vapore) walk through a passage under buildings lining the broad Fondamenta. We’ve got time to go through centuries of history in one little church, San Zaccaria. On the left, as we enter, is one of Bellini’s best, a jewel-toned Conversazione Sacra (Sacred Conversation), Mary and chosen saints chatting, with musical accompaniment by the sweetest angels and their stringed instruments. This masterpiece was completed in 1505, when Bellini was 75 – a super long life at that time!

Tucked away in chapels behind the main church are centuries of treasures…traces of mosaic floors from the original structure, begun in the 7th century, a Tiepolo or two, and the first trace of the Renaissance in Venice in the vaults above a fabulously ornate Gothic altarpiece. The Tuscan artist Andrea del Castagno painted the lifelike figures in 1442, actually BEFORE the gilded structure, a prime example of spiky Gothic below, was built.

Down a few rickety steps is yet more of the ancient church, with several tombs of Doges and a simple altar posed on the shimmery floor, as usual, covered with a few inches of water…we walk on a raised brick path across the room.

Then we’re on our way to San Giorgio Maggiore, a tiny island with a majestic Palladian church, and the perch we’ve anticipated. From the belltower (we advise descending before the bells strike on the hour!) the view’s the best – Saint Marks across the water,

the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal spilling out into the Basino (when on the water, you can always tell when you hit the Basino  – it’s rougher than the canals), with the exclamation point of the Dogana in between.

Next stop, the Zattere, the broad waterside path where the Dorsoduro Sestiere (one of Venice’s six neighborhoods) meets the Giudeca Canal.

A waterside lunch awaits us at La Piscina, where the view is as delicious as the food.

We stroll through the Dorsoduro neighborhood on our way back to the hotel, pointing out galleries, intriguing shops, and one of the few Squeros, Gondola workshops, left on the islands.

Interpreti Veneziani completes our day, with melodies of hometown boy Vivaldi high on the program.

In the elegant church of San Vidal, we’re surrounded with the beauty of this talented ensemble along with graceful sculptures and an impressive Carpaccio of San Vidal himself.

Buona Notte, Venezia…


On & In the Water – Venice

On & In the Water – Venice

Thursday, May 23, 2013 
Burano &Venice, Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  Join us on a summer tour in Provence, or in Amsterdam/Belgium

From the Fondamenta Nuove, rimming the northern edge of Venice, we catch the Vaporetto for a 45 minute ride to Burano, beginning our day ON the water.

It’s so clear today that we can see the snow- capped Dolomites in the distance – lovely!
Those playfully colorful houses of Burano will wait… we’re catching the little ferry for a five-minute ride to Torcello, the now almost deserted island where this lagoon republic began millenia ago after the sack of Rome. The barbarian hordes were spreading across the mainland, and refugees escaped to the lagoon, first settling in Torcello.

Walking down the canal to what is left of the settlement, it’s hard to imagine this desolate and quiet place as a busy trading center, alive with towers, docks, grand houses.
Beside a pretty little vineyard splashed with poppies is a grassy area sprinkled with old carvings, wellheads, and the so-called Attila’s throne, a stone chair.
Today all that is left of the glory days is a truly amazing church, begun in 639 – amazing on the inside, that is.

One of those places that you walk inside and are just astounded at what has endured for over a thousand years.
One one end of the church is a vast glittering mosaic of the Last Judgment, and at the other, above intricate mosaic floors is the high altar, with steep steps leading to the throne of the Patriarch of the church. A design we’ve never seen elsewhere – a meeting of eastern and western orthodoxy.

From the quiet of Torcello, we return to the bustle of Burano, snapping photos of the impossibly picturesque homes all the way to lunch at one of the island’s best, Gatto Nero.
It seems that it’s always laundry day when we’re in Burano… perhaps just because we’ve been fortunate enough to arrive on sunny days!

We fill up a canal- side table

and begin a feast of sea -and- lagoon- fresh tastes: scallops, tiny octopus, creamy cod, chunks of squid, several sizes and types of shrimp.

Are moeche in season?  Yes? Oh please bring a platter! And we each get our own unique soft-shell crab of the lagoon – yum!

And then there’s the main course… a roasted branzino to share, expertly prepared, then deboned and plated for us.

Chef Ruggero comes out to make sure we’re enjoying our lunch – teasing us about all we’ve eaten!

Sated, we continue to take in the colors, meandering along to the dock for the ride home, on which we all fall asleep.

Before this evening’s concert we’re packing up, preparing for our transfer to Padova, just inland from Venice, tomorrow. As I pack I hear a beautiful aria broadcasting across the Campo San Zaccaria and look out the window…. a massive cruise ship is exiting Venice, bidding the city arrivederci with glorious music. You can’t hear the music – but take a look at that city- size ship beyond the buildings!
At 5 pm a long siren blasts through the city – the warning for Acqua Alta (high water), a more- and- more frequent problem in Venice. We stop for a light dinner on the way to the concert, and ask our server for details, watching the adjacent shop- keeper slip a metal barrier into his front door.
Knowing that Piazza San Marco, on which our guest’s hotel, the lovely Concordia, is located, is the lowest part of the city, we discuss our evening plans as we dine. High tide, when the water will be deepest on the Piazza, is at 10:15. Do we still want to go to the 9 pm concert, knowing that it may be impossible to avoid the high water on the way home? Of course no one wants to miss Vivaldi, Venice’s pride and joy, so we opt to go for the first half of the concert, hoping to find a dry patch to get home before 10. As we approach we watch the water trickling relentlessly up between the stones and overflowing the canal beside the church of San Vidal, where the Interpreti Veneziani prepares to play.
This Venice – based group never disappoints, and as the shuddering strings of Vivaldi fill the historic church (with a gorgeous Carpaccio of St. Vidal himself above the altar), the water rises outside.
I offer to stay with one guest who really wants to hear the remainder of the concert, but the others convince him to return to the hotel.
It may not be quite high tide yet, but as we descend a bridge to a knee-deep pond where a clearing used to be, we laugh and do like the rest of the walkers (those who don’t have knee or hip boots on over their suits) and roll up pants legs, take off shoes, and splash through to the dry sidewalk beyond.
There are certainly high and low patches, and it’s warm enough that we’re not chilled as we walk through the knee-deep water,

pausing once and again for photos.

Sure enough Piazza San Marco’s the deepest… and some people are just sitting at the flooded tables, watching the show!

We make it without a mishap, up the gangplank into Hotel Concordia. Yes, we started the day ON the water, and ended it IN the water due to this very unusual springtime Acqua Alta (which more normally occurs in the winter). The combination of a full moon, high tide, and a strong scirocco wind from Africa brought this just for us – what a memory!