Life in a city of canals: Venetian infrastructure

One of the things I found most fascinating about Venice was how the day-to-day tasks of those living in the centre of town were changed by the replacement of roads with canals.

Seeing DHL courier boats, police boats, delivery boats the incredibly stylish water taxis (think Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp in that awful movie they made in Venice), the Gondola owners sitting back in the shade, eyeing all the young men working for them to ensure they were doing their jobs…

I found the changes to life, as those of us on dry land know it, a constant source of marvel and entertainment, collecting quite a few photos along my way.

Cantina do Spade: My favourite Venetian restaurant

IMG_6793I’m by no means qualified to say it’s the best restaurant in Venice (you’d have to be there a pretty long time to make that call), but I’d definitely put money on this one coming close.

IMG_6788I ate a lot of really shit food in Venice. I’d been told to avoid eating any where near anything touristy, and that advice certainly did hold. I had also learned that it is, in fact, possible for italians to screw up pizza. After so many dismal meals I tried my utmost to find the most quaint, authentic looking little spot, well off the beaten track. Cantina do Spade was it, catching my eye mostly because of the plate of seafood risotto and wine for €9 advertised outside.IMG_6789

It was a truly delicious meal, a great price, fantastic wine and everything else coming out of the kitchen looked fabulous. The sole downside of the experience was the old man knocking back grappa at the counter hassling me for being there alone, as though I hadn’t noticed I was in a city almost entirely crammed with couples! Or perhaps it was the drinking alone in the middle of the day part… Hypocrite.

Chisea di San Vidal

IMG_6707Venice was full of stumbled-upon moments, and the Chisea de San Vidal was certainly one of them. The former church is now a concert venue, home to the Interpreti Veneziani chamber music group. As I wondered in off the street I was able to overhear a rehearsal whilst taking in the beautiful art, and appreciating the amazing architecture of such an ancient building, erected in 1084.

Getting Lost in Venice

IMG_6827Unlike many big european cities, Venice not only met expectations but completely blew them out of the water. No pun intended.

Despite being a somewhat awkward place to be a solo traveller – being surrounded by couples and families in a town with zero nightlife makes for a trip with very little social interaction – nothing was more glorious than walking the confusing alleyways, stumbling across beautiful buildings, hidden restaurants, dead ends and quiet waterways. Whilst there were a few nice tourist spots, my favourite activity was walking around with no set destination and discovering all the little squares, churches, and the most luxurious form of taxi I’ve ever seen. And, of course, taking a billion photos. Hopefully some of them capture the magic of wandering the streets of Venice.

Venice By Night

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There’s really no other way to get to central Venice without taking a water taxi. So on arrival at some horrendously late hour (hoorah for budget flights) I had the totally surreal pleasure of my first impression including all the twinkling lights as I cruised through the canals.

There was something particularly magical about this arrival method – allowing me to forget I was on the Venice equivalent of a public bus, but instead feeling like I was on one of the gondolas. If there was one thing I would change about my entrance, it would be having venetian waltzes queued up on my ipod ready to go! But of course if I’d known the entrance would be like this it wouldn’t have been half as magical.

 

Good thing I was in such good spirits after my water taxi ride that the nightmare that is navigating venetian street maps to find your accommodation (especially laden with all my bags) didn’t seem so bad.

Rome

IMG_6141 (640x480)Whilst there were loads of truly fascinating things to see (especially for a history nerd like me), I was really quite glad to only have a few days in Rome. Not just because of the temperature hovering between 40 and 45 degrees, but because I was getting quite sick of enormous cities that you already know a tonne about. By that stage I’d learned that it is the small, unknown places with plenty to discover that I really enjoyed. Nonetheless, the feeling that you have to see all the famous things (almost like you have to tick off the to do list) was not totally unjustified. I was still glad too see the Colosseum  the Trevi Fountain, The Vatican, eat really average, overrated pasta and pizza by the Spanish Steps

One of the parts I most enjoyed was being able to see what (to me, being a kiwi from young little New Zealand) were ludicrously old buildings and structures, in amongst the new and modern. From the weird and unexpected sensation of realising the Colosseum is in fact smack bang in the middle of the city, surrounded by traffic, to being surprised to turn a corner and be confronted by an aquaduct. I only wish I had the archaeological architectural knowledge to be able to look at neighboring buildings and be able to determine just how far apart they were constructed.IMG_5936

The Pantheon

IMG_6602Not only is the Pantheon a fabulous attraction to see, but hunting it down is a glorious adventure in and of itself. To find it, I made my way through winding alleyways, through the Piazza Novana and past the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. All of which a beautiful destinations on their own.IMG_6599

After my visit, walking alongside the building I looked down and noticed how far below the current ground level the actual foundations were, which really added to my sense of awe over the age of many of the buildings in the surrounding areas.IMG_6648

The Vatican

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The thing I most enjoyed about the Vatican was the mind boggling array of amazing art, let alone its ludicrously ornate surroundings. One of my favourite pieces, odly enough was Arnaldo Pomodoro’s “Sfera con Sfera” (Sphere within a sphere). Normally I’m much more a fan of classical art, but I thought it provided a really striking and thought provoking contrast. When I asked the tour guide what it was meant to represent, it became apparent she only knew the script she’d learnt – “it means what you want it to mean” being her cop out answer.” A sly bit of google research suggests the fractured surface of the outer sphere reveals a very complex inner sphere that represents the harsh difficulties that the modern world finds itself in at the end of the second millennium (it was created in 1990).

365. “St Harriet”

IMG_6556 (480x640)My first attempt at the Vatican was a definite failure. As it turns out, one does not simply visit the Vatican on a whim in the middle of summer whilst wearing a summer dress. I got myself a modesty scarf and decided to chance it (the lines weren’t too long by then). But alas, I was still deemed too slutty and denied entrance.

Round two was much more successful, this time I managed to be appropriately covered, but in some kind of divine revenge for even thinking I could enter with my knees bared, it was a 40 degree day. I don’t think I’ve ever been in anything more than 38, and even then I was feeling faint. Conveniently, there were enormous crowds on my arrival too. Standing in a gigantic line that went all the way around the courtyard (the line kind of wiggled around so as many people were in the shade as possible) it was going to be at least a few hours of incredibly slow movement. I was not fortunate enough to be one of the ones in the shade either.

About the stage where my vision was getting blurry and I had long since run out of water (tourism in that heat is just exhausting), a nice old woman came along to pitch the “skip the line tour.” I’d already been haggled multiple times for those tours and had written them all off as totally unnecessary expenditure. But by that stage I was already thinking about quitting on the Vatican and finding the nearest establishment that could put ice and water in a glass and give it to me. This woman told me that for €25 I could skip the line, go straight in and have a guided tour and I thought bugger it, I didn’t come on holiday to spend two hours in what felt like an inescapable sauna. I got her down to €20 and off we went. Sadly my feeling of relief was very short lived. First we had to go in to a nearby shop and sign up (they have to register names as a group apparently). Waiting around happened. Then we went back outside (at least we were in the shade) where the tour started with an incredibly long winded explanation of the history of the Vatican and the square out front. More waiting around happened. We did get to sneak round the back and get photos with the Swiss guard in their hilarious Uniforms, which was possibly one of the only perks. Then we were back out front again, more waiting, in to another shop to pay (you guessed it, more waiting), more “history” and explanations and finally we went around to the museum entrance. I would say it was probably almost an hour and a half before we were actually looking at anything inside the Vatican, and it was an enormous ruse so the tour guide could keep adding more and more people. Worst of all, when we got to the Museum entrance there were no lines whatsoever, and by then I was really annoyed at myself for not doing a bit of research.IMG_6553 (480x640)

Like the thousands of people queuing out front, I had no idea that if you just go via the museums there’s almost no line, it spits you out at St Peter’s Basilica, and the museums/Sistine Chapel are where all the good stuff is anyway. The guide was also fairly useless, rushing us through when there were loads of things to see, and she only really knew about the few key things that she stopped to explain, and couldn’t answer basic questions about other things. For instance, when I asked what the enormous and rather out of place modern sculpture smack-bang in the middle of the courtyard above the Sistine Chapel was, she didn’t even have the decency to make something up! It’s quite the noticeable eyesore, looking like a giant, gold poké-ball. You’d think someone going past it twice a day would have some idea. Especially when they are meant to be an expert in the subject.IMG_6431 (480x640) IMG_6430 (640x480)

So I wound up paying some serious 40-degree-heat-induced foreigner/idiot tax. I will never again do one of the “skip the line” tours or turn up at something ridiculously famous in the peak of the tourist season without doing my research!

On the bright side though, whilst waiting for far too long out the front, the guide pointed out the names of the saints around the Colonades that matched those in the group. Apparently the one pictured above is Saint Harriet. Sounds fairly dubious and I haven’t been able to verify if that is actually true (the closest I’ve found is that it could be St Hilarion or St Hyacinth) but I don’t really care, I’m just going to assume that it’s true as it was probably the only interesting thing I learned on the tour. Ignorance is bliss.IMG_6557 (640x480)

364. Basilica de Santa Maria Maggiore

IMG_6381 (640x480)Of the 26 Churches dedicated to Mary in Rome, apparently the Basilica de Santa Maria Maggiore is the largest. Makes you wonder how many churches there are for everyone else if there are already 26 for Mary! I guess they don’t call it Roman Catholic for nothing.

The Basilica de Santa Maria Maggiore is apparently so special it enjoys extraterritorial status (like an embassy) and is patrolled by guards of the Vatican. It was fairly majestic and marvelous, as far as churches go, with loads of excellent frescoes. And a good thing I came prepared with my modesty scarf. The Crypt of the Nativity was quite a site also, (practically all covered in gold). It is a huge tourist draw card as it is said to contain wood from Jesus Christ’s Crib. I’d be well imressed to find out exactly how they verified that one, given Jesus didn’t become Jesus Christ Superstar until he just about carked it. Nonetheless, I was right up in there getting my touristy photos too!

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Jesus’ Crib has been on Extreme Makeover: Religion Edition