We went to visit Scicli because of its fame as the location of Montalabano’s Vigata. But even if you’re not a Montalbano fan, it’s a town worth spending time in. Read more

It took me forever to remember to pronounce Scicli as Sheekly and it’s not like I was short of teachers or correctors. Vigata was much more manageable. But while the Vigata in Andrea Camilleri’s books is based on his hometown Porto Empedocle, the Vigata of the TV series is an amalgam of various towns and villages in the Sicilian province of Ragusa, which includes Scicli. Read more

Montalbano likes the water. He likes to swim. And he likes to walk the beach. But looking at his place in Punta Secca and the beach he has outside his door, it looked a little short for some of the beach scenes in the TV show. Read more

In July 2019, one of my favourite men in the whole wide world died. Italian Andrea Camilleri created the character Salvo Montalbano and when Camilleri died, so did Montalbano. A lot like Colin Dexter and Inspector Morse, except that the actor who plays the TV Montalbano – Luca Zingaretti – is still very much alive.

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I read this morning that on this day, back in 1386 , St John of Capistrano, leader of the 1456 Battle of Belgrade, was born. I was immediately transported to Belgrade, one of my favourite European cities. Read more

Monkfish in Venice

If you only had one day in X, what would you do? I put this question to people who have been places I’ve not been to before or don’t know very well. It tends to focus their thoughts and get them thinking of what’s memorable about their city. Of course, I only ask those of a similar mindset who enjoy doing the things I like to do. Spending my one day in Minneapolis at the Mall of America, for example, wouldn’t be my idea of a good time. Before going to Venice, we asked himself to give us an itinerary – to tell us what he would do with one day in Venice. This is what he came up with. First off, we were to take a waterbus from Lido to the San Toma stop on the Grand Canal and then walk to find the following:

  1. Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. Huge church with paintings by Titian.

  2. Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Via S. Polo, 3052, 30125  – Amazing guild hall completely painted by Tintoretto.

  3. After Scuola Grande di San Rocco, walk towards Campo Santa Margherita, 30100. On the way you will pass interesting tourist shops. At Campo San Pantalon, see if the church is open. If it is, on the ceiling is what is supposed to be the worlds’ largest oil on canvas painting. It covers most of the ceiling. Campo Santa Margherita has quite a number of relatively inexpensive places to eat and drink, especially along the right-hand side, if things haven’t changed. Try the Aperol or Campari spritz. (Campari is the more bitter one.) I felt most like a Venetian sitting on this square, sipping a spritz and watching the world go by. In the early part of the day there is also a market. Later on, there are decent enough restaurants with tourist menus, mostly on the left-hand side. There is also a very good gelato on the right.

  4. Continue walking toward Campo San Barnaba. There are more cafés and bars that are pretty good along this route. There is a popular floating fruit and veg market near the bridge across to Campo San Barnaba. And the square itself is another nice place to relax and watch people. [Note: The outside of this church featured in an Indiana Jones movie.]

  5. Ca’ Rezzonico, Dorsoduro, 3136, 30123  is one of the finest Palazzo’s and is open to visitors. [Note: I had the best monkfish ever, served in a white wine sauce with buttered spinach, in a tiny restaurant by a canal in Dorsoduro – Osteria da Toni.]

  6. Walk back toward the main campus building of the University of Venice, Università Ca’ Foscari, Dorsoduro, 3246, 30123. This route takes you through some quiet little streets and tiny pretty little squares.

  7. After leaving  Ca’ Foscari, continue on back towards S. Toma waterbus and go wherever you want. You can also take one of the gondolas that ferry people across the Grand Canal, and get yourself lost in the streets leading back to San Marco.

So, with only one day in Venice, that’s it pretty  much taken care of. And while you’re walking, keep an eye out for unusual doorbells. Delight in the ordinary.

Venetian doorbell

Venetian doorbells

How many Venetian islands are there? I asked myself that question and managed to name 6. Just 94 or so short of the actual total. Yes, there are more than 100 islands within the 340 square km that make up Venice. And one of them is Lido.

Last time I was here, we visited Burano, Murano, and San Michele. Those are the three I can remember. What time we had was spent in the six sestieri: Cannaregio, Castello, Dorsoduro, San Marco, San Polo, and Santa Croce. This time, though, we stayed on Lido, probably best known these days for hosting the Venice Film Festival. 

What to do on Lido

We spent most of our time wandering around, looking at the fabulous old houses and villas that line the back streets of the island. Many were once single-family residences and have been split into separate apartments or turned into small hotels. Some, though, seemed to have still retained their former glory. When I win the Lotto, I’ll be back with cash in hand.

Hotel Hungaria Lido

Hotel Hungaria Lido Villa on Lido

Villa on Lido

Canal in Lido

Where to stay on Lido

If your hotel doesn’t have a pool (ours did – Marea Le Ville del Lido) you could check out the beach. But it’s a tad strange. If you’re in the back row of cabins, your view is not of the sea but of the next row of cabins. I’ve heard tell that the front-row cabins go for as much as €1000 a month in the summer season. Madness. And there didn’t seem to be anyone laying around on towels, so cabin use may well be compulsory. I was happy enough with the pool, though. A lovely way to relax after a hard day at the Biennale or sightseeing.

Lido beach

Lido Beach

Where to eat on Lido

We ate out every night – easier than cooking in the villa, but that is an option. At first, we stayed on the main drag where the restaurants have a certain sameness about them. That said, I had the best liver and onions ever (Venetian style) at Ristorante Pizzeria Ai Do Mati (49, Granviale Santa Maria Elisabetta). Would go back again in a heartbeat. Of our two posh nights out, the first, at the Villa Mabapa, was excellent. Lovely setting by the sea. Beautiful view of the sunset. Excellent food. Unobtrusive service. And reasonably priced. The second, at the Hotel Villa Laguna, again on the waterfront but closer to the waterbus terminal, was almost as lovely, but twice the price.  Still, the cocktails were to die for, so that lessened the pain a little. If it’s pizza you’re after, I’d recommend Ristorante La Sfera and for those after-dinner tipples, you’d be hard pushed to beat the craic at Bar Lepanto.

 

Dinner at Villa Mabapa Lido

Dinner at Villa Mabapa Lido

Lido is a grand spot to visit and a nice place to stay in the summer as the heat is less oppressive than in the city itself. Were I going back off season – I’d be more tempted by a flat in Cannaregio, but given the weather, the pool was worth the money. 

Sunset on Lido

Biennale Venice

People travel to Venice every other year specifically to see the Biennale. Me? I just happened to be there when it was on. If it’s your first time (planned or spontaneous), here are a few tips. In a previous post, I mentioned the Giardini exhibition. Today, let’s visit the Arsenale. It’s possible to walk between the two, and while you’re walking, check out the free exhibits from a couple of other countries along the way.

The Arsenale itself has a long and interesting history. Begun in the tenth century, it grew to be the largest industrial complex in the world prior to the Industrial Revolution. Each building and area produced a prefabricated part of a Venetian ship or the armor, rope, and rigging that went into them. At its peak, a ship could be assembled in as little as a day. The buildings themselves have withstood the tests of time and are hauntingly beautiful. Not ornate, more evocative. It doesn’t take much imagination to conjure up a picture of bustling docks with navvies and uniformed officers wandering about, readying themselves to visit foreign shores.

 

Arsenale Venice

Arsenale Venice

Aresnale Venice

Perhaps even more intriguing though, are the myriad alleyways that lead off the walk between Giardini and Arsenale through the Castello Sestiere. Take the time to wander through the archways and discover the communities living on the other side. This is neighbourhood Venice. This is the real Venice. The place where people get on with their daily lives, for the most part uninterrupted by tourists. Signs remind us that we’re not in Disneyland or Temple Bar, we’re in a residential neighbourhood that deserves our respect.

Arsenale Venice

Arsenale Venice

Arsenale Venice

Arsenale Venice

Arsenale Venice

Today, the Arsenale complex is primarily used as exhibition space for the Bienniale. The main exhibition hall has lots of installations to see. Walking in through the curtain of hanging ropes, you can’t but wonder what awaits you inside. At this stage though, I was on sensory overload, so I’ll let this video do the talking for me.

The last of the installations in the main exhibit hall was quite something. I think what I was hearing was the sound of an avalanche. Not that I’ve ever heard an avalanche or would know what it sounds like, but I think this was it. I’ve seen the aftermath, I’ve no problem imagining what it could be like, but this was quite something. I’ve noticed shades of black before but never quite experienced so many shades of white. The light changes with the sound and the single sculpture seemed to move of its own volition. All quite amazing.

Biennale Arsenale

The Albanian Pavilion was very interesting. I was particularly taken by the doors, as doors intrigue me wherever I go and often feature in my posts.

Tirana’s Zero Space, where cosmos and chaos are fused with no predetermined contact point, is exposed in this installation through a sensorial experience created by composing elements that aim to include all the senses and guide the visitor in a journey perceiving the free space and true essence of the city. The public is therefore engaged with its sounds, shadows, lack of perception of the verge, but at the same time free to create the space and modify the physical configuration of the pavilion. Intentionally or not, the public becomes not only a spectator but also the protagonist creating a spatial form, growing cognitively into a tourist, or even more a citizen of Tirana.

Albanian Pavilion Biennale

 

But what I’d really come to see was the Irish Pavilion. I was curious to see what we’d installed, what angle we’d taken.  And while visually, I was a little disappointed, the substance was there. The recorded voice of a rural Irish architect recounting the importance of people and communities was quite sobering.

The exhibition charts historic data, documents contemporary life with photography and gets out onto the streets recording sounds and talking to people to build unique portraits of each town.

The accompanying newspaper was the icing on the cake. Nicely done, lads. Nicely done.

Biennale Irish Pavilion

By the time we got to the end, we were exhausted. We’d walked the bones of 8 km. And it was hot. Rather than walk the whole way back, we decided to take the boat shuttle to Arsenale Nord and then catch a waterbus. But he didn’t take us to where we expected to go. Instead, we found ourselves wandering through the entrance of the Arsenale, through the café, out the back through what perhaps was once Navy housing. We headed for the water and spotted a bus stop – Biacini. But this wasn’t a stop that is on the regular route; it’s one where you have to request a stop. Don’t waste the time we did trying to find the button – it’s on the pole immediately inside the ticket barrier to your left. For a few minutes there, we felt a little like castaways.

If you’re in Venice in the next few months, be sure to take the time to visit the Biennale. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Biennele

People travel to Venice every other year specifically to see the Biennale. Me? I just happened to be there when it was on. If it’s your first time (planned or spontaneous), here are a few tips.

Take the time to do the Biennale justice

We just happened to be in Venice and noticed it was on. I was living in a flat in London eons ago when I first heard of the Biennale. My then flatmate arrived home from work, all excited that she was going. She was appalled that I hadn’t a clue what she was talking about. I’ve been carrying a vague notion with me since that it has something to with architecture and sculpture and it was the sculptures I expected but didn’t see. More than 70 counties have individual exhibits tied to an overarching theme – this year it is Freespace.

With the theme of FREESPACE, the Biennale Architettura 2018 (architecture exhibition) presents for public scrutiny examples, proposals, elements – built or unbuilt – of work that exemplifies essential qualities of architecture which include the modulation, richness and materiality of surface; the orchestration and sequencing of movement, revealing  the embodied power and beauty of architecture.

The map is pretty self-explanatory but even sticking your head into each pavilion is going to take time. Engaging with the interactive installations will take more. Reading the bumf will take more again. Think at least one whole day for Giardini and a good half-day for Arsenale.

Don’t overdose

Tickets for both main exhibition areas (Giardini and Arsenale) are valid for consecutive or non-consecutive days – if you overdose on Tuesday, you can take Wednesday off and come back on Thursday. Tickets are €25 with an extra €7 for a guided tour in English.

Dress appropriately

Wear comfortable shoes because you’ll have no problem getting in your daily 10 000 steps at one site alone. Don’t carry any additional weight – it gets tiring lugging bags and backpacks around – some exhibits (UK and Hungary) include climbing steps – lots of steps. Bring water, though. And there’s plenty of space to sit and enjoy, so if you fancy bring lunch, too. But there are cafés and such on site.

Remember to breathe at the Biennale

It can all be rather overwhelming. There’s so much to see and not everything will resonate or make sense. Don’t try too hard though – let it all wash over you and you’ll remember the bits that make an impression.

Swiss Pavilion at the Biennale

Swiss Pavilion at the Biennale

The Swiss played with perspective. Walking through this designed space with its small doors and massive doors, low countertops, and high countertops gave those of average height a good sense of what it might be like to be really tall or really short. At least, that’s what I left with. What they had in mind was to draw attention to the bland interiors of rental properties. Sometimes the obvious needs to be pointed out to me.

Biennale

Russian Pavilion at the Biennale

The Russian exhibit was more of my style. It included a basement room of open luggage lockers, each with something significant inside, be it a photo of a famous person or a book or a hat. Each had a story. The piles of suitcases reminded me of something Maya Angelou said when I saw her speak in London all those years ago – about getting on the next train with as little luggage as possible. Of all the pavilions I visited, this is one I’d like to have spent more time in.

German Pavilion at the Biennale

German Pavilion at the Biennale – Wall of Opinions documents the voices of people who live with walls, in Cyprus, Northern Ireland, Israel and Palestine, America and Mexico, North and South Korea and the EU’s external border at Ceuta.

The German Pavilion explores the concept of walls, with an interesting series of opinions from real people. It also focuses on various plans by architects for replacing the Berlin Wall space… Another one I’d like to have spent more time at.

French Pavilion at the Biennale

French Pavilion at the Biennale

Many of the exhibitions invited audience participation, the French Pavilion being a case in point. I quite like the idea of rebirthing disused buildings and spaces.

Hungarian pavilion at the Biennale

Hungarian pavilion at the Biennale

As we wandered around, I tried to spot which pavilions have been built by the exhibiting country and which had been adapted from previous years. It was hard to tell. Except for Hungary. From the roof tiles to the mosaics, it was obvious that this had a Hungarian imprint. Inside, the exhibit focused on the public occupation of Szabadság híd (Liberty Bridge) in 2016 when it was traffic-free.

The bridge instantly turned into a restorative place, altering the understanding of liberty and autocracy, formal and informal, public and private in a city context. The placemakers were mainly Millennials, growing up after the political changes of the late 1980s, giving the historical place a dierent function. The event draws attention to a transforming post-social mentality into a new, entitled and free enjoyment of urban public space by recent generations. What happened on the bridge? The exhibition examines fundamental urbanistic issues based on the ideology-free occupation of the bridge. What makes a public space free? How does a city bridge become a symbol of freedom? How can we change our own identity by transforming our city? How an image of a tram route covered by yoga mats can challenge our view of public spaces? The exhibition aims to create an innovative viewpoint within the Hungarian pavilion, allowing for a liberating experience of new perspectives.

Australian pavilion at the Biennale

Australian pavilion at the Biennale

The Australians brought the outside inside in their exploration of the relationship between architecture and endangered plant species, a marked changed from the focus on the built environment.

Nordic pavilion at the Biennale

Nordic Pavilion at the Biennale

The Nordic exhibition was otherworldly and one of those that needed a little more imagination than I was bringing to the table.

Biennele

Main exhibition hall Biennale 2018

The main exhibition hall in Giardini hosts with individual projects and exhibitions and is quite something.

Biennale

Biennale main exhibition hall Giardini

The Biennale runs until 25 November this year. If you’re in Venice, with a day to spare, put it on your list. And if you’re going and know an architect who isn’t, pick up the leaflets and brochures available in most of the pavilions. There’s hours of reading in them.

Life on the water in Venice. So different yet so much the same. Watch teenagers pilot their boats through the Venetian canals, music blaring from the radio, and you think – all that’s changed is the mode of transport. See buildings rise out of the water, their concrete facades crumbling slowly, damp marks rising, and you wonder if they’ll last another generation. Get inordinately excited when you see the DHL guys make a delivery in their boat festooned in the ubiquitous company colours and you think – duh – of course, but how else would they do business. Spot the garbage boats pulling alongside the yachts and the crew toss their rubbish overboard and you think everything adapts. What topped it for me though was the cops and their radar gun checking boat speeds. And, when I stop to think about it, why wouldn’t they?

And yet life on the water is no different from life on the land except that it’s a little less steady. I don’t think I could ever tire of watching the hustle and bustle and what occasionally amounts to a traffic jam. I keep meaning to check if there’s an equivalent of rush hour. Is there chaos on Sunday when all those boats pull up for mass at the church in Salute? Is there an Audi equivalent in the boat world? What would I trade my 12-year-old Toyota for?  Would I cope with life on the water in Venice?

Viewing the city from the water is quite something. Seeing the hoards of tourists concentrating more on their selfie sticks that on what’s around them is comical. Hearing the chatter cast between the Gondoliers leaves me wondering what they think of it all. Were I living in Venice would I be happy with the daily onslaught? Or would I want everyone to stay home?

Life on the water in Venice

Life on the water in Venice

Life on the water in Venice

Life on the water in Venice

Life on the water in Venice

Life on the water in Venice

Life on the water in Venice

Life on the water in Venice

Life on the water in Venice speed trap