When visiting Venice, it's hard, if not impossible, to not come into contact with the Canalasso. Well when I say come into contact, most people don't actually do that - they'd end up a trifle wet if they did. More accurately, it's nigh impossible to not see, or travel upon the said waterway.
The Grand Canal (to give it it's English name), is one of the first things most visitors see when they arrive in the city, leading as it does, from the lagoon at Santa Lucia Railway station and the huge, and hugely expensive, car parks.
It snakes through the city in a giant back-to-front S shape from here to the St Mark Basin at the opposite end of town. At 3800m long and varying widths of between 30-90m, it's said to be one of the few man-made structure visible from space...although I'm not sure it was so much man-made as 'enhanced', and I think you'd have to be in a pretty low orbit to catch a glimpse of it from the space shuttle.So just ignore that last piece of nonsense.
Now, where was I? Ah yes, Venice. Straight out of the car park (25 euros lighter) and across the Piazzale Roma to the water bus stop. No, I don't mean the bus stop was made of water, that would just be silly. I mean a stop for a water bus where you can part with another 16 euros for a 12 hour bus pass (it's 5 for a single trip so it should be cost effective to buy a longer term pass).
Well, we didn't have to wait long for a bus to arrive - services are frequent but you have to be aware that there are several routes so make sure you get the right bus. Our plan (wholly devised by mice and men) was to jump on and off the water bus as and when it suited. Chance would be a fine thing.
There's no other way to encounter the magnificent palaces and buildings which line the Canal than by water. I would imagine wandering along a dim and dirty back street to turn a corner and behold this special view just wouldn't be the same. In this respect, I'm glad we jumped on the bus. However, after a journey that seemed to last about as long as a wet Tuesday afternoon in Airdrie, and being thoroughly depressed by the shoogliest 'cruise' I've ever experienced...not to mention the almost deafening roar from the engines, we couldn't wait to get off the bliddy thing.
Sheesh, it was so slow and uncomfortable, I think I'd sooner have swam the length of the Canal Byronesque-style.
So, instead of travelling all the way to St Mark's, we jumped ship at the Rialto...Bridge, that is.
The Rialto Bridge is one of the most familiar views on the Grand Canal and dates from 1588 (just a year before the water bus set out). The Rialto is pretty impressive and even the masses of tourists don't quite manage to spoil it (no matter how hard they try with litter and half-eaten foodstuffs). There has been a bridge here for centuries linking the two commercial districts of the city and I think it's been centuries since the streets around it were cleaned!
Still fantastically impressive though.
What else is ther to see on the Grand Canal? Apart from the water, there are oodles of fancy buildings. This was, and probably still is, the high rent area of Venice so it follows that most of the residents were not short of a ducat or two. Palaces literally rise from the water. Most have no pedestrian access (not on the canal side at least) but a simple, or not so simple, mooring point.
As far as I'm aware, there's only one area where you can actually walk along the banks of the canal and that is next to the Rialto. Naturally, this is lined with restaurants which are invariably overcrowded and overpriced.
Quick tip: If you simply must have a trip on a gondola, and are either too financially stretched (or too smart) to fork out upwards of £60 to sit in a dirty, stinking, stretch of stagnant canal in a gondola jam, you can take a ferry across the Grand Canal in a Traghetto (a slightly larger version of a gondola) for around one euro.
The Grand Canal is a busy thoroughfare as there's no road transport in Venice so everything is transported by boat. With the constant buzz of of the sleek water taxis (very expensive) the chundering thundering water busses and gliding swish of the gondolas (very expensive), it's not exactly quiet. In fact I couldn't make out one chorus of O Sole Mio from the gondoliers.
We had lunch in a small restaurant just off the canal which was very good, very friendly and not touristically priced but still afforded a partial view of the canal and its hustle and bustle. So much so that mid-meal, we were treated to the spectactle of a police chase with sirens blaring. A police boat whizzing down the canal chasing the bad guys was certainly a different way to liven up lunch time chatter.
The Grand Canal is impressive. It's everything you imagine it would be and the pictures you've seen don't do it justice. It's a buzzing and vibrant artery in an otherwise sedate and relatively silent city. Having said that, I actually preferred some of the smaller canals and little back streets away from the touristy areas of Venice, but you can't go to Venice and not see the Grand Canal...literally.
We never did go back on the water bus. Venice isn't huge and it's surprisingly easy to walk around in but I'm afraid that if you want to see the glories of the Grand Canal, you have to board some sort of water transport at some point and even if the water bus was, how can I put it, crap, it did let us sample a cruise of sorts on this serpentine wonder.
If you anyone gets the chance to visit Venice they should take it as it is such a unique and beautiful place to visit, and there is no where like it!
I have been to Venice around 3 times now and would go back again and again. Of course nothing can compare to the first time you see Venice, as it is just so different. There are no cars on Venice Island (apart from near to the station after you cross the bridge from the Italian mainline) as it is totally surrounded by water and interspersed with canals of all sizes, so cars are just not an option there. The architecture is gorgeous and the buildings are so unique emerging from the water. There are 400 bridges in Venice crossing all the different waterways and trust me it is VERY easy to get yourself lost in Venice as I have done many times! It is almost like a maze!
Although Venice has a reputation of being expensive (and it generally is) - there are some cheaper hotels around and centrally located. We stayed in one just off St Marks Square for pretty good rates.
The main thing to do when in Venice is go up the Campanile di San Marco, which is a belltower located in St Mark's Square that you can go inside of and look out at a stunning view of Venice. This is definitely a must-see. Also there are the famous bridges to see - the Rialto and the Bridge of Sighs, and also the beautiful Basilica St Marco. Plus - you really have to have a ride in a Gondola when in Venice at least once - but it will set you back quite a bit of cash - these things are not cheap and as I recall you were looking at about 80 Euros for 30-40 minutes on one of these. There are also tonnes of museums if you are into these, but I just loved walking round and round the little streets and looking at all the buildings that looked like they might crumble away!
Being in Italy the food is amazing and there are some great little cafes and restaurants offering some great home cooked pastas and traditional Italian dishes, but like anywhere these days there is also a McDonalds on Venice island!
I would definitely recommend Venice and keep pushing my parents to go there. You can fly to Marco Polo International airport for some reasonable prices with the low cost carriers, and from here it is just a short taxi ride (or better still a Vaporetto water taxi ride) to the island.
Venice is one of my favourite places to visit. You can get to Venice by sea,car, train or by air. A very colourful citiy with its painted palaces and serene churches against the backdrop of canals which take the place of roads and River Buses, Taxis in the place of Cars The Heart of the city is San Marco which is by the great bend of the Grand Canal. This gets very busy particularly in High Season. If you are looking for quieter places you can head of into the backwaters and boatyards to the east you will find Castello to the South South Dorsoduro where there are various artistic treasures to see. Also to the north Cannaregio's off the beaten track churches to see which are always very rewarding to see.
The main place to visit is San Marco which is linked by three main thoroughfares which form a triangle from the Piazza San Marco to the Rialto Bridge to the Accademia Bridge and then back to the Piazza. It is Byzantine,Gothic Classical and late Renaissance style of archecture is amazing.The Piazza is graced with the magnificent Basilica di San Marco which stands in the square. This is so breathetaking and it is a must to see.Also there is the Doge's Palace to visit this is the Residence of the leader of Venice ,also it is the main centere of where political and adminitrations takes place. There are many grand staterooms to see.
There are many good deals around for trips to Venice and it is a place that you can visit anytime of the year.
I have been a couple of times and I find either Spring or Late Summer are the ideal times to visit and usually less crowded .
Nearly three years ago I took you on a guided tour through Venice and showed you the places I know and like (Venice On My Mind), today I want to invite you to visit the most famous cultural event with me, the Biennale of Contemporary Art.
It was first held in 1895 as the city's contribution to the celebrations for the silver wedding anniversary of King Umberto I and Margherita of Savoy. This year was the 50th Biennale, it was opened on 15th June and closed on 2nd November, I managed to get there the weekend before closing.
On Friday afternoon I went to the Arsenale, long, high decrepit buildings with raw brick walls from the 16th century where once the artillery stored weapons, wonderfully cool on a hot August day, not so wonderful on a damp end-of-October day! I bought a ticket for all locations (18 Euro, concession 15 /12.30 GBP, 10.20 GBP), the main exhibitions are always in the Arsenale, the Giardini (Gardens) and the Museo Correr on St Mark's Square, in addition, various venues throughout the town host fringe exhibitions, installations and performances.
The long halls of the Arsenale were divided into six sections with different themes, one was 'Fault Lines' displaying contemporary African art from Africa and the African diaspora. Two Egyptian artists impressed me, Sabah Naim and Wael Shawky, both dealing with city life, Naim had made a collage of photos and tightly rolled newspapers, Shawky had built menacing house-like structures up to 3m high of black concrete round a piazza with life-size TV screens on top showing videos of landscapes and industrial sites. One wouldn't want to live like that, on the other hand having been to Cairo I know many people would, for example those more than 100 000 living in an old cemetery.
In the section 'Individual Systems' several artists from different countries were shown who have developed a system of their own to express their ideas. Is it possible to exp
ress the concept of time through the means of visual art? Roman Opalka, an artist of Polish origin living in France decided in 1965 to represent time, his own and the world's, by painting numbers on canvas. Beginning with the number 1 and continuing through 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on, he has now reached the figures of six million. In 1972, he began to add 1% white pigment to the grey background of each new canvas, as the numbers themselves are white, he hopes one day to paint in white upon a white background. Every day he has been taking a photo of himself showing the passing of time very distinctly. I had seen some of Opalka's work before, it's fascinating, believe me.
The section 'Zone of Urgency' offers artefacts by about 40 Asian artists. They tell us that Asia is where the action is (or the other way round), there's a lot of noise and irritating light, a sense of urgency indeed. I remember a video installation by a South Korean artist with an English text moving over the screen so quickly that it was nearly impossible to follow it. But I stayed and figured it out, it was a trivial story about people and their relationship, mostly in imperatives, virtually breath-taking. Such a pace is not for me!
From the remaining sections I'd like to mention 'Contemporary Arab Representatives'; it's certainly not original any more to take photos of walls and graffiti, but the ones shown on a big screen of torn off posters of wanted people in the Gaza Strip were so aesthetic that I stayed and watched the whole series. I could go on, there were works of 30 artists, I stayed there for four hours, but we have to go to the Giardini as well!
The Biennale opens at 10 am (and closes at 6 pm), the water-bus No 1 takes about 30 minutes from the Station to the Giardini, when I arrived at 10.30 I found a lot of visitors there, it must have been the last weekend effect.
This year 63 nations presented 770 artists,
most of them in the Giardini where they have national pavilions, the oldest from the beginning of the last century, which they fill each year with their respective exhibitions. Some invite several artists, some let one artist use the whole building.
The first pavilion behind the entrance is the Spanish one, this year's exhibition 'Wall Enclosing Space' by conceptual artist Santiago Sierra was the most provocative of the Biennale. The word 'Spain' was covered with torn, black plastic, a brick wall was built from the floor to the ceiling and set parallel to the entrance wall leaving a 'foyer' only 65cm wide full of rubbish and an open dirty bathroom. A sign on the left of the 'entrance' said that only Spaniards were allowed to enter from the back on showing their passports. During the Vernissage two guards were posted there, proud Spaniards strutted round the corner waving their 'pasaportes'. The arty-farty jet set was offended, tried to get in with bribery, rumour had it that false Spanish passports could be got in the Rumanian pavilion . . . They all fell into Sierra's trap, what was to be seen was only the junk of the last exhibition. He succeeded in showing that the art world is not free of racism and gave the idea of how refugees are treated and may feel when they get to the borders of affluent countries.
I'm sure you want to hear about the British pavilion? According to Richard Dorment (Telegraph) it was "of baroque extravagance (and) . . . by far the most beautiful in the Biennale". Chris Ofili (the artist of elephant dung fame) was the only artist, he didn't only show pictures, but transformed the whole pavilion into a work of art. "A skylight made of massive shards of coloured glass floated over the central rotunda; walls throbbed with hot red-and-green powdered pigment rubbed directly on to the plaster; and brightly coloured gauze fabrics filtered light into side galle
Placed against walls throughout the pavillion, Ofili's large-scale paintings formed a narrative cycle of sorts, in which we follow a pair of young lovers whose paradise is threatened by envy, jealousy and sexual temptation. Ofili's serpentine lines flow over a picture surface covered in tiny dots of pigment, creating a kaleidoscopic effect in which flowers, figures and foliage merge and separate, so that now you see them and now you don't." Another critic found the pavilion kitschy.
I liked what I saw, but wasn't overwhelmed and I certainly don't share Dorment's damnation of the Pavilion of the USA which for him was the worst. I *have* to go on quoting him: "A black artist named Fred Wilson was outraged to discover that furniture, jewellery and glass shops in Venice sell figures of blackamoors in turbans, sometimes holding torches or candles. By exhibiting these harmless bibelots in the pavilion, he invites visitors to share his indignation. Among other targets of his disapproval are Shakespeare (for writing a play called Othello, the Moor of Venice), chocolate biscuits, Murano glass, and Venetian art and architecture in which black figures appear.
This man should get a life, grow up and stop whining. Were I a Venetian, I'd be annoyed that this dolt was clearly determined to drum up a sense of his own victim-hood in this most cosmopolitan of all Italian cities. Most disgusting of all, Wilson had the vulgarity to hire one of the African traders who sell handbags near St Mark's Square to set out his wares in front of the American pavilion. Someone should tell Wilson that people - and particularly those from the third world - should not be exhibited for the entertainment of the international art world."
Strong stuff. Walking back from the Giardini I passed a shop selling table linen which displayed the porcelain figure of a black boy in the shop window dressed up as a 'b
lackamoor' with a tray full of fruit on his head and thought that Wilson had a point.
I also saw the pavilions of Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Australia, France, Yugoslavia, South Korea, Russia, Venezuela, Denmark, Norway/Sweden/Finland, the Czech and Slovac Republic, Belgium, Austria, Brazil, Greece, Japan, Iceland. I could go on writing for hours, but I doubt that you'd like to go on reading!
I did not go to the exhibition in the Museo Correr on St Mark's Square, I didn't have enough time left on Sunday, but to be honest even if I had had the time, I'd have skipped it, enough is enough. What will fall through the sieve, what will remain in my memory and be added to my imaginary museum? Time will tell.
This was my fourth Biennale and I look forward to the next in 2005!