Buon Natale (Venezia 147)

For a posting on Christmas Day, it seemed appropriate to use one of the city’s greatest churches; Santa Maria della Salute.  The Church that was built in thanks for salvation from the plague.

Even a hater of Baroque like Ruskin was obliged to comment in her favour, describing the facade as “rich and beautiful”.  Just as well since the church and it’s position on the opposite side of the Grand Canal to St Mark’s make it such a prominent feature of the cityscape.

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You’re not fooling anybody (Venezia 137)

In the UK if you wish to describe something as never-ending, you might say “It’s like painting the Forth Bridge” (Not the road bridge or its pending replacement, but the magnificent steel network that is the rail bridge).

The point of the saying is that it takes so long to complete the job, that by the time you complete the final strokes at one end, the other end is in need of a new coat.  Maintenance and repair must be like that in Venice, with so many grand edifices stretched out along the Grand Canal, there will always be some that are in need of repair, though it seemed that this year it was some of the most important that were blighted by scaffolding and tarpaulin screening.  The Basilica of St Mark being a case in point.

Several others have taken to a camouflage approach, covering the building with what is effectively a picture of what lies underneath.  Nice idea, but we’re someway off the point where this actually resembles a building, so shots of the Rialto Bridge feature a building site in the background, and as you approach the Piazzetta it gets even worse.  A picture of the covered building, but with a huge advert for a luxury Italian fashion house.  I hope they are paying for the restoration behind it.

Perhaps I exaggerate.  Can you spot the fake?

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Misinformed (Venezia 121)

Somewhere in my life I’d come to believe that the wooden bridge at Accademia was constructed without nails and confidently shared this impressive fact with others.  When I looked more closely it’s certainly full of bolts, so I’m sure that the “fact” is anything but.

Now where did that mistake arise?  A quick google reveals I’ve never visited any of the bridges that this claim is normally associated with, so I can’t have cross wired my synapses there.  It doesn’t even look like them.

I’d also been under the impression that it had a long history, but the present version was built in 1985 as an exact replica of an earlier 20th Century version.  There are already signs of decay in the timbers so its days must be numbered, which is a shame as it’s both aesthetically interesting and easy to cross.  There’s a lesson for the Ponte della Costituzione.

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Traghetto (Venezia 71)

Without a season ticket, a single vaporetto journey will cost €7 whether just a stop or two, or all the way along the Grand Canal and across the lagoon to Lido.  Whether this is good value to you will be governed by how much you observe along the way but compared to the €80 cost of a gondola trip it’s a bargain.*

There is another option however, and it’s one that most tourists overlook; an option to be rowed upon the Grand Canal and see the sights from water level, albeit briefly.

Traghetto means ferry, and yes if you wish to take your car to Lido you can find vessels to do that which look exactly as you’d expect; functional, smoking, noisy craft that run the longer routes, but on the Canalazzo there is another meaning.  There are seven crossing points strung out along the sigmoid waterway where for a couple of euros you can board a larger gondola and be ferried to the other side by two rowers positioned front and back.

It’s the only way to travel.

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*Prices correct at the time of writing!

Canalazzo (Venezia 22)

Arguably the world’s most beautiful thoroughfare, it would be wrong of me not to say something about the Grand Canal.  An inverted “S” that snakes its way between the six districts (sestiere) of the city, it is easy to think of it as a river rather than a stretch of sea water, it is both showcase and urban motorway combined.  It is so important to the life of the city, both as a tourist attraction but also as a means of moving both tourists and residents about, whether in elegant gondolas, functional vaporetti, sleek water taxis, or barge-like topa that are the equivalent of the Ford Transit.

I read a piece by an American traveller recently whose entire plans had been thrown into disruption by the closure of the Canalazzo for the annual Vogalonga, a regatta for human-powered craft that has been run for 40 years in protest at the damage caused by the wakes of powerboats to the historic structures.  In typical Italian fashion there had been no prior warning of the cancellation of vaporetti and taxi services as to publicise it would have taken too much organisation!  The writer brought her travel plans forward to avoid the disruption.  I would have put mine back and recharged the camera batteries!

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Ponteless? (Venezia 19)

In 2007 the Grand Canal gained another crossing point.   The Rialto Bridge is the most famous, Accademia beloved by Venetians, Ponte degli Scalzi is a beautiful demonstration of how stonework can be both strong and slender.  And then there is the Ponte della Costituzione.  Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava the bridge has been controversial for a number of reasons; its proximity to Scalzi when there are much longer stretches of the canal with no crossing option but the traghetto ferries or the vaporetti; its modernist design seeming completely at odds with a medieval city, and finally because its numerous steps rendered it an impossible challenge for wheelchair users.

A few years later and that last issue has been addressed.  A small circular pod arises from the canal side, attaches itself to the bridge parapet, arcs across to the other side and gradually descends again.  Very sedate, but I wonder just how many trips it could accommodate in a day.  I can confirm that it’s not much fun to walk over either, the breadth and depth of the steps feel very unnatural.

I did like the look of it though.

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Uniformity (Venezia 12)

There is a certain look that we associate with the Venetian gondola and its oarsman.  The boat will be a glossy black, with ornate metal fittings, and have a royal blue cover when moored.  There must be some local by-law that governs this yet I have been unable to find reference to it, but if every vessel had a different coloured tarp to protect it, they wouldn’t have the same visual impact when moored along the quays of the Canalazzo.

Similarly the famous striped shirt of the gondolier, some red, some blue; is there a meaning attached.  Seemingly not, for up until the Second World War, the rowers wore black to match their boats.  It seems we have French sailors to thank for the introduction of the stripes, pre-empting Jean Paul Gaultier somewhat.

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