The Floating City: A Weekend in Venice (Part 4)
The last day in Venice was very, very windy. It was the type of windy where you felt you could run twice as fast, or fall back and have the air hold you up for a moment. Nevertheless, we vowed to make the most of the final day, and we began with an early lunch at a restaurant that came highly recommended. It used to be a jazz club, but after the residents complained about all that wild music and loosening moral standards, they converted it into a restaurant (with live music two days a week). There were several components which made this the best decision of the trip. The first was the lax policy on cats. There were three of them sleeping in the counter window when we first arrived, and over the course of the meal they wandered around the room, people giving them little nibbles of fish and pasta. The second was all about spectacle. A gigantic cheese wheel had been almost hollowed out to allow fresh pasta to be spun around inside. What resulted was a cheesy, melty, hot mess of a pasta dish, and it was as good to eat as it was to watch made. Thirdly, and quite-expectedly, the food itself. I’ve mentioned previously that I began eating more fish whilst I was there. Thus, we ordered several plates of the stuff, all delicious, and all undercut by the fact I’d eaten too much bread whilst waiting. This is not to mention the three-man band that started playing shortly before we left. The atmosphere was the most down-to-earth I had experienced since arriving, and it was a very honest locale.
We stayed for so long that it was pushing 1pm, so we had to rush to catch the ferry to Murano. Th wind battered us the entire way, strengthening or weakening depending on which alleyway we ran down, but ultimately, we made it with time to spare. Although the wind was punishing, once we were sheltered it was much easier to pretend it was a nice day for a boat ride. We floated past the cemetery, which is an a walled-in island. I suppose it makes sense to seclude it away from the main islands, but it seems a bit impractical if you intend on visiting a lot. Then again, if you’re having to visit the graveyard a lot, maybe it’s not transportation that’s the real issue. To manage the routes around the archipelago, the Venetians put individual stilts in lines around the lagoon so as to funnel the vessels. This stops them cutting each other up or upsetting fishermen when James Bond blows past in a speedboat chase, I assume. Trundling along the sea roads was fun in of itself, and it was refreshing to get away from the city for a while.
Unfortunately I would soon discover why people don’t talk about the surrounding islands too much, as there isn’t an awful lot to do, save for one or two key places. The first such place was Murano. World-famous for its glassware, my first impressions were hampered by the bitter cold. The short walk to the furnaces was awfully quiet, but this may have been because it was a Sunday. It felt like a farmyard, complete with a rusted tin roof and a slight dirtiness from all the smoke.
The interior, in complete contrast, was spotless. Huge glass chandeliers, some made of more than seven levels high and impossibly twisted around themselves with several colours, hung from the ceiling of the workshop. Examples of glassware were littered around the room, both big and small, and in a variety of styles and colours. My favourite was a composition of three large-scale flat glasses with concentric circles spiralling inwards. Watching the master glassmakers working was delightful. Everything was done so precisely, yet so quickly that if your eyes strayed for a second you would miss them creating the handle, or melting the different metals into the product to change its colours. He even made a little horse to show how fast their production could be.
Once they had finished, we were given a tour of the ware house and the various examples of their work. In one particularly mentionable case, some jellyfish chandeliers glowed in the dark, whereupon you could observe the patterned dots that ran down it. How they managed that with glass I have no idea, but it was brilliant to see. They had everything from table football, to kitchens, to beds made entirely of glass were on display. When confronted with this ostentation I suddenly thought back to my own house, and the clay pot I’d made in Year 9. I was never going to be a master tradesman, I concluded, but at least I had my winning personality…right?
Afterwards, we wandered around the rest of the town whilst we waited to catch a ferry to the similarly-named Burano. There wasn’t much to see, so there isn’t much to say, except we made the classic mistake of looking interested in a café and having to walk past the waiter several times again as we walked around. Luckily our boat arrived so we were able to flee the awkward situation.
The wind had dropped by the time we stepped off the boat. Even the sun was peeking through the clouds, which lent some slight warmth to the day. Burano is famous for its lacework, and whilst I wasn’t currently in the market for frilly knickers, the shop had a radiator inside, so I at least had to feign interest in their stock until I had warmed up. Burano is also known for the multicoloured houses, and it certainly delivered on this boast. It looked like a toy town. The brightness of the colours meant the slanted tower looming over the middle canal looked remarkably out of place, as if it had been left over from the construction of Venice and dropped off at Burano instead. We also saw grass for the first time on the trip, which was exciting. To finish the day trip off, we found a little coffee house just off the canal, Riva Rosa which turned out to be rather lovely. Lots of weathered wooden furniture and exposed brick made it feel very cosy, and the tea was a great accompaniment to the end of the trip. We even tried a few desserts, of which the chocolate brownie was hoovered up in no time at all. By this time however, it was getting quite late, and we still had one last dinner to attend. We decided to head back, but ended up going the wrong way initially, so we managed to see another unexpected part of the archipelago before heading home.
It was dark when we returned, and after a quick turnaround we were back out the door and on our way to the same restaurant as before. The place was packed; we were waiting for at least twenty minutes to sit down, an even ran into Melissa in the line behind us. She decided to leave however, and I was tempted to do the same before we were seated a few minutes later. For dinner, I was talked out of a fish platter I would have enjoyed more in favour of a tempura-style battered selection of whitebait and squid. It was oily, and not unpalatable, but certainly not as nice as what my friends ordered instead. One ordered a delicious-looking steak, but had to leave it as he felt unwell and went home. As soon as he’d left, I swapped my plate for his, and there was much rejoicing. Towards the end of our meal, we were joined by the owner’s son and a few other people who were seated next to us, and we all drank wine until after closing. We were rather toasted by the end of the evening, but after an aborted attempt to find another bar (it was late on a Sunday after all), we said goodbye, and went back to the flat for the final time.
Not much can be said about the day after. We packed up, became embittered by the gorgeous weather we were now leaving behind, stopped for a final coffee, and travelled back to the airport.
Venice was a surreal experience, all things considered. I felt like I could have stayed for another week or two, despite the fact I’d experienced a lot of it already. I’d certainly experienced the wine a lot more than I thought. Yet the feeling of Venice was enough to enjoy by itself. Just being in Venice was a nice change of pace from the everyday of London. No cars, no bicycles, just tiny boats and a lot of cobblestones. It is an utterly unique place that rightly deserves its place in our fantasies. But this was also its undoing. There were so many tourists on the better days that the calmness was shattered, replaced with the din of countless gawkers. So yes, I would of course recommend visiting, anyone would. Just bear in mind you might have to go searching for your own private slice of the Floating City, or else wait until very late to have the city all to yourself.