Sunday, 3 March 2013

Venetian Blind

The only Venetian blind we saw all weekend
A weekend in Venice is not to be contemplated by those who have trouble walking, and sadly, I am starting to fall in to that category. It was, however, interesting, and a nice present from my wife.

Venice is an interesting place, with lots of history. It is unusual in that it has no roads (and not in a Back to the Future way). The main island has a large, wide, canal snaking through it, which originally had a single bridge (the Rialto) in the middle. There are then small canals carving up the island. Then there are small alleys, some very small, some wider, all walkways only, and lots of small bridges over the canals (at which a gondolier will be offering his trade). A holiday in Venice means a lot of walking.

We explored most of the region between the Rialto bridge and San Marco, which is the biggest square and at the entrance of the Grand Canal to the south. This appears to be the main tourist area. Everywhere we went the tiny walkways are lined with buildings at least 3 stories high with shops on the ground floor. There are smaller squares of various shapes, usually where there is a church. You can't walk more than a few hundred metres without encountering a bridge over one of the small canals.

We did go for a pre-booked serenaded gondola ride which turned out to be 6 gondolas each of 6 people in convoy with one chap between us singing and someone with an accordion. It was a brief trip round the canals. I suspect we would have done better buying a ride for two across town from one of the gondoliers by any of the bridges.

Oh, and oddly, there seem to be a few dachshund dogs on the island!

The shops have much the same everywhere, apart from some places where you have Prada, Gucci, and so on, they are all small shops selling:-
  • Glass - Venice is famous for glass, and there is a selection of local glass in every small shop (plus some Chinese imports). Usually animals, some interesting art, and oddly: clowns!
  • Masks - everywhere and every shape and size and style. Some simple, some whole shop window impressive and grand. There are even glass masks!
  • Calligraphy - not something I expected, but many shops have various styles of calligraphy and wax seals, quite impressive, but the same in every shop.
  • Handbags - typically Italian Leather, and very nice too (if you are in to that sort of thing, which, sadly, Sandra is). We got a rather nice Mary Poppins style one, and a summer handbag, as you do!!!
  • Pasta - in a variety of shapes and colours in bags. You can tell the class of shop by whether they stock all of the shapes, or not. I'll say no more for now.
Being English, we did not do well for food :-) We did try some of the local restaurants, but eventually managed to find the only McDonald's on the island. A useful tip is to find this (there are signs), not just because it is more predictable (and hence boring) food, but because it is in a more normal High Street with more sensible shops including a proper supermarket. Though to find marmite involved searching some of the smaller shops and sadly was only found on the last day. Oh, and to Sandra's horror, there is no Starbuck's on the island! We found a nice little cafe behind to the hotel (Bar XiXi) which did nice snacks and cafe latte, recommended.

I was rather intrigued by the clocks on the old buildings, which appeared to be 24 hour, but different styles. One was marked with Roman numerals I to XXIIII (not XXIV, I noted) starting on the right. Another was marked J to J2 (1 to 12) twice, starting at the top. A 24 hour clock makes a lot of sense to me, but odd that there were two totally different styles in the same city.

We even managed to find some less touristy places like the fish market! I don't like fish, so it was a tad gross, but interesting non the less.

So, overall I would say that this is an interesting place if you can get past the tourist shops and look at some of the architecture and history and culture, and if you can walk all day (which I cannot).

There is, however, one serious tip I have to give, and that is to avoid the Hotel Rialto. It is a 4 star hotel, supposedly. It has no bar or restaurant. It has no room service. We ended up with the third room after only two days - the first being a dark and tiny broom cupboard (as Sandra called it), the second was OK I guess, but next to an alley with road works which go on all night and are very noisy (and tell you to F off if you ask them to be quiet). The third was better, still small, on 4th floor (lift went to 2nd) and there was some noise but we managed to sleep mostly. No way to make, or get, tea/coffee. Breakfast did not even include toast! The staff were pleasant enough, but the real issue was managing expectation. The description and pictures shown by travel agent (Thomas Cook) were nothing like the rooms in the hotel. This meant that the holiday, which Sandra had gone to great lengths to make in to a special and romantic long weekend away as a present for me/us, did not live up to expectations. This had her in tears, which upset me somewhat, so left us unhappy. When you go to that level of detail with a travel agent you expect that to happen, at least mostly. It seems many of the lower star'd hotels out of the centre are better (after discussions with people we met), so either avoid Hotel Rialto, or have more realistic expectations.

We did take Ignis (The FireBrick dragon) - he even had his own seat on the BA flight (seeing as some were empty next to us). We managed a few pictures of him until he was kidnapped by a small boy on which we took pity and has now liked FireBrick on FaceBook. They said they would send pictures of his travels :-)
[update: We're pleased to see Ignis had a gondola ride]

Needless to say I took rather a lot of pictures, including quite a few of the Alps as we flew back.

Overall it was a worthwhile trip - thank you Sandra.
Rialto bridge


  1. "Being English, we did not do well for food. We did try some of the local restaurants, but eventually managed to find the only McDonald's on the island."

    What? This has nothing to do with being English at all. You don't like pasta? You don't like Pizza? McDonalds? Really?

    The fact that there's no Starbucks is a blessing. Their coffee is atrocious.

    1. I thought that would get a reaction :-)
      The main issue is in fact that Sandra can only easy some very specific things, not that we are English :-)