I have always yearned to visit Venice, the city that is sinking and often stinking, but which is unique – a sanctuary on a lagoon that is virtually unchanged for six hundred years and a monument to the glory days of the Renaissance. On a trip to Slovenia last year (2012) my husband and I were near enough to go there on a day trip – a long drive, but easier by a coach tour than trying to do it by public transport. We arrived at the coach and car park by 11 am and caught a public vaporetta across to Riva degli Schiavoni, just a few bridges away from Piazza San Marco where we were left to ‘do our own thing’.
Six hours to wander around this city was better than the 45 minutes we were given at the Taj Mahal, but it was not enough to try to see everything that Venice has to offer. It was also extremely hot and the queues in the square for the Basilica and the Doge’s Palace were long and we didn’t feel like wasting a couple of those hours baking in the sun. We also knew that we didn’t have time to pop over to the colourful island of Burano or the glassworks on Murano, so we decided to do our usual thing and wander aimlessly around the city, although we began by finding the Rialto Bridge.
The absence of cars makes this a pleasant experience, though all the walking and standing around can be quite tiring. It was also very crowded in the middle of summer, and difficult to negotiate the narrow streets and bridges. Randomly walking around the city can be fun and you can get away from the crowds if you move away from the main tourist attractions, though be warned, it is very easy to get lost! Some major attractions are sign-posted such as “Rialto” and “San Marco” and even the railway and bus stations, so you should eventually find yourself somewhere you can get your bearings from. By walking and getting lost you see some lovely and interesting architecture and urban landscapes and may even catch a glimpse into the lives of modern Venetians.
We followed signs to the Rialto bridge and crossed over to wander around the market area ‘Campo de la Pescaria’ – once the fish market but now the site of an open-air fruit and veg market open mornings only Monday to Saturday. The peppers here are amongst the largest I have ever seen! Nearby is the Church of San Giacomo di Rialto with a large 15th century clock dating from 1401. Famous for not keeping accurate time it apparently hasn’t worked at all for years. The church is said to be the oldest in Venice.
Often finding ourselves in a dead-end we discovered little hidden courtyards, large squares, narrow canals and even narrower streets. Fascinated by the architecture, crumbling rendered facades, the gondoliers, the churches around every corner and the little stores packed in every nook and crevice, we eventually found ourselves at the Arsenal of Venice (Arsenale di Venezia) a public shipyard that employed shipwrights and designers in a separate community. The Arsenal’s main gate, the Porta Magna, was built in about 1460 and was the first Classical revival structure to be built in Venice. Two lions from Greece situated beside it were added in 1687.
From there we found a delightful tree-lined road starting from the statue of Garibaldi in the Castello area and leading to a pleasant public park, Viale Trento, where we were able to take the weight off our hot and tired feet for a while. Heading back up and over several bridges along the Riva degli Schiavoni to the meeting place, we nipped down a back street to try to find some shade and discovered a tiny bar where we sat outside sipping an expensive, but well-deserved, ice-cold beer whilst watching the locals and tourists passing by.