It is Valentine's Day and we have spent most of the day travelling, we arrive in Venice Marco Polo Airport [VCE] aboard Swiss International Air Lines flight 1664, roughly on time, at around 19:30. Getting through the airport is quick and painless and we collect our pre-booked Venice Cards which should cover all our local transport needs and includes a return trip from the airport on a Waterbus.

Alilaguna operate the Waterbus from the Airport dock to the San Marco boat dock, at Piazza San Marco in the San Marco district (sestiere). We chose to travel this way so that we could get a look at Venice from the lagoon but, since it was dark, we did not see much during our 90minute boat ride.

It was only a short walk from the boat dock to our Hotel, Al Leon in the Castello district. Or rather, once we found it turned out to only be a short walk. Hotel Al Leon is situated in a narrow street, which most streets are, named "CALLE DEGLI ALBANESI", unfortunately the start of it was completely obscured by building work. However, it wasn't much of a problem since we simply turned up the parallel street.

A very short walk from Hotel Al Leon is Campo SS. Filippo e Giacomo, a small square or perhaps more accurately a small triangle, with several restaurants and bars. We'd had a long day and settled for a light snack and a Prosecco before retiring for the night.


We are up early and have a breakfast in the hotel, the breakfast room is tiny but the lady who served us did a nice job of it. As is normally the case, Lynn had a plan, today we would have a brief look around Piazza San Marco and then make our way slowly towards the Ghetto which is in the Cannaregio district.

It is only a short walk from our hotel to Piazza San Marco and we decided to go back down to the lagoon. There was a crush of people on Ponte Della Paglia bridge, and we realised why as we crossed it, it crosses the Rio Del Palazzo canal a few meters from the Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri) and people were taking photos. We entered the Piazza from the South along the Piazzetta with the Doge's Palace and Basilica San Marco on the right and the Campanile on the left. This entrance is quite spectacular and the reason we had wanted to arrive by water. In contrast, I found that the three sides of Piazza San Marco itself, Procuratie Nuove, Procuratie Vecchie and the Ala Napoleonica were rather uninspiring.

The Plan for today did not include the Doge's Palace but did allow for a look around St Mark's Basilica (Basilica di San Marco a Venezia). I think it would be fair to say that for me the best part of the look around St Mark's Basilica was that there was not a queue to get in! Perhaps it was simply that it was a fairly cold, overcast day and the light didn't do the building justice. While the architecture was quite interesting, I found much of the detail looked rather run down, shabby and drab! Lynn didn't agree with me, she planned to come back on Monday while I was at work!

You may have come to the conclusion that I tend towards being a Philistine, which would not be unfair as I tend to view myself in that way. I do not mind a little history but only so far as it gives context to how life is lived to day. I travel to see how people live their lives today.

We left the environs of Piazza San Marco and meandered through the alleys in the general direction of Cannaregio stopping along the way for some lunch at a nice little cafe. We entered Cannaregio and walked on the North side of the canals, ending on the Fondamenta degli Ormensini, to be in the sun that had appeared. We crossed the wrought iron into the Campo Ghetto Nuovo. We learned that this place is where the term Ghetto originated but at that time it didn't have the negative overtones that we associate with it today. There were surprisingly few people in the Ghetto but I found it a really interesting place and full of atmosphere. The history of the place is inescapably about the people that lived and worked here, their isolation, Perhaps it is because we did not visit any of the synagogues, but I was left with a feeling of oppression though without a Jewish flavour. There was a man walking through the square with his two small daughters, that were wearing the traditional skull cap (Kippah) that we had only ever seen before on a male. There were a number of sculpted murals on the walls (designed by sculptor Arbit Blatas) commemorating the Holocaust.

When we left the Ghetto we walked back along the Strada Nova and headed towards the Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto). Tourist central again! There were a lot of people. So it was once the only bridge over the Grand Canal, but now it is simply a series of tourist shops. Explored both sides of the bridge but did not linger. We meandered our way back towards our hotel and stopped for a snack at a cafe near our hotel.

Where to eat? Before we came we had received some recommendations from friends who had been here and we decided to try one of them. We decided to try Ristorante Al Conte Pescaor (S. Marco, 544/A) since it specialised in fish and it was a reasonably short walk from our hotel. It proved to be a good recommendation. The food was good but the ambiance was the best part. It was interesting to watch the skill of the waiters as they served the food. It was not simply a matter of delivering a plate of food. We watched them in their white gloved hands slicing raw fish, filleting fish and other tasks I couldn't name in a theatrical display of skill with a knife. This was also the first time had seen fish carapacio. I have eaten beef Carapacio and lots of raw fish in Japanese restaurants, I will have to try fish carapacio at some time. When we were travelling through Northern Portugal we got into the habit of moving to a different restaurant for a dessert, so we left the restaurant and moved on to a cafe for a drink and dessert.

Although the weather was much colder than we had expected, close to freezing overnight and 5-10C in the day, this had been a rather nice day!


Saturday morning meant a leisurely breakfast, then consult the Plan. We started by booking tickets to a performance of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons (Le quattro stagioni).

The Plan was for a visit to the Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale di Venezia). Lynn's research identified a "Secret Itinerary" tour of the Palace. This was a guided tour that visited parts not accessible except with a guide. The were about a dozen of us in our group with an English speaking guide. The guide described the history of the building itself, parts of which were very interesting, particularly the visit to the roof structure above the Sala del Maggior Consiglio. The room is very large and elaborate but I found that seeing the actual structure of the roof from above was far more interesting. This part of the visit easily justified taking the "Secret Itinerary". Guide books wax lyrical about the room itself and its decoration and completely ignore the manner in which it is constructed! The guide also described the political system that included the role of the Doge, how they were selected, their responsibilities and some stories of intrigue. She probably also described the artwork, but that didn't sink in. She described the "post boxes" and how citizens could report one another for some infraction of the law -- this was not anonymous, and should the accused be found innocent the accuser would be charged.

The guided part of the tour included the prisons. We spent a while in the old prisons in the upper part of the Palace. We were told how Casanova was imprisoned here and had escaped. We then crossed the Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri) to the new(er) prison. At the end of the formal tour we were free to explore the public areas we had not already seen. We decided that we had seen the most interesting aspects and had a quiet cup of coffee in the cafe before leaving.

The Dorsoduro district was where we were to spend the afternoon. We crossed the Grand Cala at the Ponte dell'Accademia and continued straight on until we reached the Canale della Giudecca and then headed West along the waterfront until we reached Rio di San Trovaso when we headed back North. We spent the afternoon meandering in roughly Northerly direction. This was the time that we started to look in shops, particularly women's clothes and accessories though nothing was purchased. The other kind of shop that caught our attention was those selling masks. There were a lot of shops selling masks in Dorsoduro, their quality and price varied enormously. There were some truly spectacular masks available but at a price commensurate with the time, skill and materials that had gone into their construction. There were a number of traditional roles that are used for masks and I would have like one in the form of the Plague Doctor with its prominent beak but the challenge of getting it home in one piece meant that we chose to buy a Harlequin mask, the shape of which made transport much simpler. We eventually arrived at the Rialto Bridge which we crossed and returned to our hotel.

Vivaldi performance venue

The concert was to take place in a grand building in Campo Santo Stefano and was due to start at 19:30 and we decided to eat before the performance. We went back to a nice little restaurant in Dorsoduro that we had seen earlier in the day. It filled up quickly and as an afterthought decided it would have been a good idea to make a booking when we originally saw the place. We had a very pleasant meal then returned to Campo Santo Stefano for the concert. The venue was very nice and there must have been between 250 and 300 people there. I enjoyed the performance, it was a good way to spend our Saturday evening. When we left we were glad that we had already eaten, there were very few restaurants that appeared to be open. This seemed very strange and unlike any other city I have visited in Italy. We did manage a small dessert and drink in a cafe near our hotel.


photo of San Michele

Sunday was to be our last day together in Venice and The Plan had something different in store for us. Luckily, The Plan allowed time for a leisurely breakfast but then it was off to catch the Vaporetto from the San Marco dock. Our first objective was to visit another of the lagoon islands, Murano.

There were a number of stops before got off at the Colonna stop. Murano actually consists of several small islands linked by bridges. Colonna is at the southern tip and we walked beside the Rio del Vetrai and crossed onto the main island at Ponte Vivarini. We explored most of the main island but it was very quiet, perhaps because it was a Sunday, perhaps because it was winter. The weather was bright and sunny and it was nice to get out of the narrow alleys of the main island a walk in the sunshine. There were also very few tourists so it was a very relaxing place to explore. We stopped for lunch at a small cafe on the north side of the Ponte Vivarini. The prices were significantly cheaper than what we were paying on the main island for comparable food and drink.

Murano was, and still is, renowned for its glass. Most of the establishments that were open sold glass. There were some beautiful pieces for sale but we resisted the temptation to buy any. We wended our way back to Colonna with a view to catching the Vaporetto to leave Murano.

San Michele via Vaporetto stop: Cimitero is our next point of call. Almost the whole of the island is a cemetery. It became a cemetery for health reasons during the brief period in the early 19th Century when Venice was part of Napoleon's Kingdom of Italy. We have visited some interesting cemeteries around the world and this one justified the visit. The vast majority of the grave sites were well maintained and the number of flowers made the site colourful even in February.

We then return to the main island but decide to get off at Vaporetto stop: Fondamente Nuove rather than take it all the way back to San Marco. As we left the Vaporetto we stopped at a nearby cafe where once again the price was more in line with what we experienced in Murano. It would seem that prices rise the nearer one gets to San Marco!

We slowly worked our way back to our hotel and decided to eat at Trattoria Alla Rivetta Da Lino, a restaurant that was no more that 100M from our hotel. It was busy and they gave us a complimentary drink while we waited for a table. The food and drink were good value for money, particularly considering how close it is to San Marco.

2008-02-18, Lynn

It is Monday and today we go our separate ways.

Lynn decides to follow the recommendation of a friend and attended early morning Mass at St Mark's Basilica.

Even though I did not understand the language, the ceremony spoke for itself. The atmosphere of the place without the crush of tourist traffic that would appear later in the day was amazing.

Following mass there was a little time for some shopping followed by a daylight trip aboard the Alilaguna Waterbus back to the Airport. The return flight with Swiss International Air Lines via Zurich was uneventful.

2008-02-18 - 21, Roland

I am here for a meeting of the W3C XHTML2 WG. The meeting venue is Palazzo Ca' Papafava in the Cannaregio district. I am not going to describe my working day but I did experience a little more of Venice during the rest of my stay.


The Good

No traffic, not having to share the space with vehicles for a week was great. The narrow alleys between tall buildings, steep sided bridges, many with steps, made it a joy to explore on foot. The change of pace compared with most cities was welcome. When away from the immediate environs of the major tourist attractions it was a relaxing place to be. It is Italy after all so it was not hard to find good food and a pleasant cafe culture. Half of our group, i.e. Lynn, really enjoyed the cultural aspects, for the other half they only provided a backdrop for living in today's world.

The Bad

When travelling I take the opportunity to carry, and hopefully read, a backlog of magazines that I subscribe to. Strangely enough there was an article in the Spectator magazine that really resonated with my impressions of Venice entitled Venice is the only city on earth going backwards. For all Venice is a nice place to visit I have no desire to return. It seems to be turning itself into a medieval theme park and in the process is selling it's soul to tourism. Very few people now live on the "big" island, they cannot afford to. Building after building is being turned into a hotel or an establishment to serve the tourists. Roberto, who kindly hosted my working trip was born and educated here but has now moved to Lido. Shortly after our return home I recall seeing television coverage of Venetians complaining about this very issue.

logo for GEO microformat