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Venice, Italy

Himself has a huge grá for Venice. Last time I went without him, he pointed me in the direction of Tintoretto, a man I’d love to have to dinner if dinner guests could include dead people. This time he was with me, which meant that I could turn off what little directional faculties I have and enjoy being led.

I couldn’t find my way out of a paper bag on the best of days so you can imagine how easily I get turned around when navigating the narrow streets and canals of the city. I don’t have room in my head to carry a mental map of the place. I read somewhere that the only way to see Venice is to ditch the maps and the guidebooks and simply wander. He’d done a lot of wandering on a previous visit and knew where he was going and what he was doing.

Gondolier in blue and white stripped tshirt and sunglasses standing in his gondola oar to the right. Heads of a couple of passengers can just be seen. A motorboat passes down on the left driven by a chap in a pink tshirt. Rows of three story buildings with arched windows and wooden moorings line the left of the canal

narrow canal with five-storey buildings on either side. A godolier rows his gondola up the canal while on his phone - sign at the front says 5 mph speed limit and no vaporettos

I’ve never taken a Gondola unless you count the GondoIas that ferry you across the canal from one side to another. The public is safer for it. I know I’d have to restrain myself from belting out the 1970s ad from Walls Icecream or better still as this chap has done, a few bars of the original O Sole Mio and then the ad!

I could ride the Vaporetto all day, every day. Had we had time, I’d have gotten on and off as I pleased. It’s a fantastic way to see the city. And the architecture. And the colours. I’ve never been to the Doges Palace or the Duomo. I’m not a huge fan of queues and anyway, Venice has so much more to offer than the big sights everyone heads for. And the views from the water are jaw-dropping.

Half a wooden bridge over the Grand Canal in Venice with sun shining on three-storey yellow buildings on the far side

The Rialto bridge in Venice - an inverted V bridge with six arches on either side and a large arch in the centre. A yellow vaporetta passes underneath

Three goldolas tied up in an old boatyard - blue water with rows of arches on both sides and a tall bell tower in the background

St Marks square Venice as seen from the later - blue/green water in the foreground. Mid picture, to the left three storey buildings and to the right the arched windows of the Doges Palace with the church bell tower in the centre set against a blue sky

I had one thing on my list this time – Chiesa di San Pantaleone. St Pantaleone was one of the saints anargiri (a new one on me; it comes from the Greek meaning ‘without money’) – he worked as a doctor and never asked to be paid for treatment.  The Cathedral of Ravello has an ampoule of his blood, other cities also have relics but in this church, they have one of his arms. I was so taken looking at the ceiling that I didn’t notice his arm. How did I miss it?

Every year in July, or on the occasion of miracles obtained by the saint, the phenomenon of the liquefaction of the blood of San Pantaleone takes place. The ampoule containing the blood is kept in the Cathedral [Ravello], in a small room in the center of the chapel dedicated to the saint […] The ampoule is visible through the railings that close it. Liquefaction occurs spontaneously, without the ampoule being moved or shaken. On March 17, 2020, right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic , an extraordinary liquefaction of the blood occurred at the end of the prayer addressed to the Saint by the parish priest of the Duomo in live streaming. The same phenomenon also occurs in the ampoules kept in Martignano , Limbadi , Montauro , Vallo della Lucania and in the monasterio de la Encarnación in Madrid .

You know that a visit to Ravello is now on my list.

But back to Venice. I was there to see what is said to be the largest oil painting in the world – not a fresco – but over 440 square metres of canvas. Painted.

What may appear as a successful fresco is in reality a mammoth painting executed in oil on canvas (40 canvases joined together), a stunning a work of surprising skill which, with its 443 square meters, is considered the largest in the world. The painting presents the Martyrdom and Glory of San Pantaleone, the work of the Venetian master Giovanni Antonio Fumiani, a painter specialized in the creation of theatrical scenographies, who created it between 1680 and 1704.

a mammoth painting executed in oil on canvas (40 canvases joined together), a stunning a work of surprising skill which, with its 443 square meters, is considered the largest in the world. The painting presents the Martyrdom and Glory of San Pantaleone, the work of the Venetian master Giovanni Antonio Fumiani,

a mammoth painting executed in oil on canvas (40 canvases joined together), a stunning a work of surprising skill which, with its 443 square meters, is considered the largest in the world. The painting presents the Martyrdom and Glory of San Pantaleone, the work of the Venetian master Giovanni Antonio Fumiani,

It is truly stunning. I was tempted to lie down on a pew and simply gaze up at it. Venice is not the place to go if you have neck problems. Next time I’m bringing a flat mirror.

Did I mention the architecture? I found myself willing a lotto win so that I could find a house on a canal to live on the top floor hoping that I would live long enough to enjoy it but not long enough for it to erode into the water. The city is built on more than 100 small islands, something you really don’t think about as you’re navigating the bridges. They’re just there.

From 16 January 2023, daytrippers will have to book and pay to visit any of the islands, Burano and Murano included. Statistics as to the number of visitors per year vary wildly – I’ve seen 36 million touted but the Venice Book of Tourism reckons closer to 5 million but this doesn’t count those coming in from neighbouring cities apparently. I read with some alarm that

…the city has taken a cue from China’s surveillance state by tracking the cell phones of residents and visitors to determine their places of origin.

About 50k people live in the historical centre. I wonder if they’d have room for a couple more? While it’s a grand daydream, I’m not sure I’m ready for so many tourists. That said, there are residential neighbourhoods off the beaten track (and we found a few) where, if you sit and listen, you’ll notice every else is speaking Italian. They’re the places himself made a beeline for.

 

Where to eat

Beware the fake cannoli. They’re everywhere. And the filling is some sort of synthetic dyed mush that is binnable not edible. There are restaurants everywhere. What we wanted was a local place noted for its fish. By a canal. Not the grand canal, a smaller canal. And he found it. Ristorante Casa Bonita. Highly recommended. And the black ink risotto was as good as the one we had in Zadar, and that was delicious.

A brown paper cone from which spills fried calamari and shrimp set on a blue plate on a bed of purple shredded cabbage

Where to stay

Venice ain’t cheap. We opted to stay in nearby Padova (Padua) for half the price and get the train (~30 min) into St Lucia station each day (€4.50). Last time I stayed on Lido. Next time, it might be Murano. And yes, God willing, there will be a next time.

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