Archive for the ‘Venice’ Tag

Venice – Piazza San Marco and around   10 comments

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Piazza San Marco is the heart of Venice and contains three of its most treasured and well-known sites. The Basilica di San Marco, Palazzo Ducale and the Campanile Bell Tower.

Before I take you down there for a look around a few photos from our neighbourhood in Venice. A sunrise view from the waterfront a hundred yards from the front door

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The street where we lived

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The view from the balcony

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And over the rooftops to the massive Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo on the left

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Our first day in Venice was very much a Piazza San Marco day. We spent the morning on a tour of the Palazzo Ducale (on the left here). More on that in the next post

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And this is the magnificent Basilica di San Marco. It’s a stunningly ornate and beautiful work and one of Venice’s treasured buildings.

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It’s free to visit and we paid a couple of Euros each to skip the line. You aren’t supposed to take photos so we dutifully didn’t although everyone else was. Trust me when I say its astonishing inside. A picture or two from the Interweb to give you a feel

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The amazing golden look is created by using gold leaf on thousands of tiny mosaic tiles behind a layer of fired glass. This creates the shimmering effect. It’s absolutely extraordinary and even though it only takes 10-15 mins to walk around its worth a few Euros to beat the queue or just to wait in it

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In between our visit to the Palazzo Ducale and the Basilica we returned home for lunch. We took a circuitous route to take in some typical Venetian streets, canals and squares

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It’s the middle part of the day and this image proves that you don’t have to wander far or try to hard in Venice to lose the crowds. Alas I have no idea which lovely square this was

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A leisurely lunch on the patio was always welcome and enjoyable

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We went back for our Basilica visit and to climb the Campanile Bell Tower which again I’ll cover in a future post

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This is still peak time and you can tell that even though there are loads of people the square is big enough to cope without feeling too oppressive (it’s the streets leading to it from the Rialto that are really crowded). The square is surrounded by up-market coffee houses with orchestras playing music. I was tempted to sit down and enjoy a break till I saw how much they wanted for a beer.

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We decided to wait for our time slot to climb the tower by the waterfront near the gondolas. No beer or music but it was free

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We went back to the square many times such was its draw. Early evening was perfect as the crowds thinned and the sun bathed the buildings in golden light that seemed appropriate somehow

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On our first evening visit we arrived a bit late and the Basilica was half in shadow although it still looked inspiring

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Again we took in the view from the waterfront. I think this view across to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore and its church was my favourite in Venice

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Closely followed by the view from the same spot to the eye-catching Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

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I paid a visit early one morning on a very long walk and boat ride to pick up the breakfast pastries. It was quite startling to see it with no one there

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The Torre dell’Orologio with its mechanical men that chime the bell

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This photo shows really well just how quiet it was

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I enjoyed this shot, standing in the shadow of the bell tower

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With the inevitable pigeon in shot

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A morning view of the Basilica

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And the Palazzo Ducale

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We came back on our last night to try to catch the light better. Still not quite early enough to avoid a shadow on the Basilica alas.

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But the light was still amazing

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The Palazzo Ducale

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And a final close up of the church of San Giorgio Maggiore

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And the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

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I was expecting to find the Piazza overcrowded and spoilt. But even with the crowds you can really appreciate its splendour and charm and I fell in love with it and its surrounds and water front views (as you can tell from the many visits and photos). Make the effort to come late or early and its even better. Only occurs to me now that we never saw it at night. I shall have to go back then

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Venice – First Impressions   19 comments

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Another day and another train journey. Early start but with the station just across the road, no problem

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Our first experience of Italian high-speed trains – Frecciarossa – and very fine and very high speed they were

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So good are they that Nick Hewer of Apprentice fame uses them

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We stopped at Milan Centrale for a few minutes giving me a chance to hop off the train and take a couple of photos of this very grand station

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The day had started well but as we approached Venice everything was dark and gloomy. When we emerged into the chaos that is the outside of Venice station it was raining. Not that it mattered as the humidity was off the scale and I was soaked in sweat anyway. My only weather niggle in three weeks of sunshine was that we didn’t arrive in Venice on a sunny day. The city positively gleams in the sun so it would have been great to get the wow factor as you step out from the station

Time for our first experience of Venice’s public transport system, Vaporetto boats.

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They are wonderful way to get around and great fun, if a little crowded at times. The boats are mostly small so you are really close to the water. They are a bit pricey but each trip is like an excursion and its a wonderful way to experience the city.

We were escorted to our apartment in the Cannaregio district by the lovely Giorgio and his dog, dumped our bags and headed out for lunch and shopping while they finished cleaning

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We returned to unpack and settle in. It was the best apartment we stayed in. Beautifully appointed and spacious in a quiet neighbourhood, near the waterfront, restaurants and shops all close by and 15 minutes walk from St Marks. The crowing glory was a balcony overlooking the rooftops and we ate out there whenever we were there. Splendid choice

While we were sorting ourselves out the dark skies that had been looming finally went black and the heavens opened. It was one of the most violent thunderstorms I’ve seen for a few years. I took a bit of video but it doesn’t really capture just how loud the thunder was or any of the spits and crackles of the lightning.

 

After an hour it stopped and the skies began to clear. It was the last time it rained on the trip.

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Eager beavers, we headed out for our first taste of Venice

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It was the only city on our itinerary I’d been to before. I took a day trip from Croatia in my teenage years (it was Yugoslavia in those days – shows how old I am) on a family holiday with my parents (the last one as it happens). Despite the fact that we spent more time on the coach than we did in Venice, the day had a real wow factor. I’d never seen anything quite like Venice and had very fond memories. I was eager to see it again

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We headed straight to the main focus, Piazza San Marco, St Marks Square. The rain had forced people back to their hotels so it was relatively quiet. Even under grey skies it’s a sensational place. The square is huge, overlooked by the Campanile Bell Tower with the Basilica di San Marco at the far end. More on both of these in later posts

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The other main sight on the Square is the Palazzo Ducale (Doges Palace)

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With the Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) linking the palace to the Prisons. Again more on both in upcoming posts

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We sat on the steps by the waterfront where the Gondolas tout for business. Taking a Gondola ride is supposedly a quintessential part of a trip to Venice. However I consider not spending £80 on a 30 minute boat ride to be equally quintessential. I don’t feel we missed out in any way by not taking up their kind and less than generous offer

The clearing skies were starting to deliver the glorious views of Venice we’d hoped for

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TBF is still resentful of this photo, claiming we always try to make her look small in photos. We don’t have to try!

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We decided to take a wander across town heading in no particular direction. Even more so than Paris, Venice has wonderous views around every corner. Either a church as here, or a pretty bridge or silent canal. Its stunning and I loved the place all over again straight away

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Now you may be wondering what on earth this photo is. It’s a picture in a shop (expensive as I recall), one of many of cats and dogs dressed in a variety of outfits. We spent the whole trip looking for tourist tat of the worst kind. Even though this doesn’t class as tat it was the most bizarre thing we saw in a shop window and it amused us immensely. Incidentally the winner of the tacky gift award went to Paris and the Eiffel Tower shaped toothbrush

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We stumbled across the Ponte dell’Academia (the Macadamia Nut bridge as I christened it) over the Grand Canal, our first glimpse of the city’s main transport artery.

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I find it rather odd that the canal only has four bridges (two at the entrance to the city, the Rialto and this one. It makes getting from one side of the city to other an interesting challenge but a fun one

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Everyone gets lost in Venice and its part of the fun. The streets and canals follow no particular pattern you often end up going around in circles, ending up in a dead-end or just popping out to find yourself not entirely where you expected to be. The maze of streets is bewildering but you will almost certainly come across a square, church, canal, bridge or stunning vista you wouldn’t have otherwise seen if you’d been where you thought you were (if that make’s sense)

Like this square we stumbled across while trying to get to the Rialto. I can’t be 100% sure but I think it’s the Campo Sant’Anzolo withe the Santo Stefano Bell Tower behind (it does lean by the way)

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We wandered about back and forth for a bit until we turned a corner and suddenly we were on the banks of the Grand Canal with the a view to the Rialto, the most famous of Venice’s bridges

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Even though it was around 6pm you can see the crowds massed on the bridge

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Venice is renowned for being crowded and in places it can be oppressively so. There is a sort of main drag between the station and car parks, the Rialto and St Marks square and all three are crowded places and streets. However step away from there and the city is peaceful and quiet and there is a lot of city to explore. In addition first thing in the morning and in the evening the crowds dissipate and the city while still busy is pleasantly so with a wonderful atmosphere and fabulous restaurants. It was the best place we visited for just wandering about as of course there is no traffic, just boats on the canals.

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We scaled the bridge and jostled for position to see along the canal in the evening light. It was marvellous. Again more on the grand Canal to come

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Satisfied with our first explore we returned to the apartment for a meal on the balcony while the sun went down. I felt instantly at home

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We had four more days in Venice to explore further, ride on boats, swim in the sea, get lost and eat lots of pasta and ice cream

A Tale of Eight Cities   20 comments

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Kids and how to keep them happy on holidays. Both of mine have grown up with radically different interests especially when it comes to leisure time. TJS loves walking and backpacking through the mountains. TJF loves chilling and when encouraged some adventurous climbing and water based fun. Neither enjoys the others preferences. I was stuck for this years holiday, keen to keep the family trips going as long as possible as University years approach, without one or both of them looking bored.

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Several of my friends have been focusing more on cities than our traditional outdoor trips (Barcelona, Nice to name but two). I mentioned doing something similar more out of desperation than anything else, expecting a lukewarm response. I was taken aback when both of them (and TBF) were positively enthusiastic about the possibility of a summer trip to bag a few key European cities as it were. The idea was born and the holiday planner in me sprang into action.

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After much deliberation we centered the trip around Italy and Eastern Europe having never been to either. Train travel was our chosen transport method and we were all excited by the prospect of doing the whole thing by train (and bus) and being liberated from the cossetted world of the car and the endless tedium that is air travel. Thanks to the amazing website, The Man in Seat 61 (I lost hours trawling through its pages) that travel planning was easy and booking rail tickets was simple. It’s a mine of information, almost all of it helpful and unerringly accurate

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Rome and Venice were certainties as was a more modern city in Berlin. I wanted to see Budapest although that got a lukewarm reception (very misguided). As we had to travel through Paris it seemed prudent to spend a couple of days there. In addition long journeys from Paris to Venice and Berlin back home dictated a couple of stopovers in Turin and Cologne. That makes seven. City number eight came courtesy of one very delayed train and an unexpected chance of a couple of hours in Vienna.

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I wanted to spend at least a few days in each of our major stays so a 3.5 week trip was in order to take advantage of the Bank Holiday. We used Apartments for multi night stays and cheap quad room hotels for the single nights. Over the course of the planning, hotels were booked, rail tickets purchased (including several first class tickets – European rail travel is exceptionally cheap if you book ahead). A few key attractions and tours were reserved. We packed light, just one rucksack each.  We were ready.

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Never having done anything like this before I thought the trip could go two ways. It would be a disaster and we’d hate it, vowing to put it down to experience and never attempt such a thing again. Alternatively it would be an amazing, fantastic experience that we’d want to do again. I’m not giving too much away to say it was most definitely the latter! 🙂

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We saw and did a quite staggering amount of stuff. I took thousands – yes really – of photos so its going to take me a while to write all this up. I’m planning one general post about each city and the related journeys and some more specific posts about places or days that deserve them. It will take me a while

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I’ve dropped a photo from each city into this post as a taster to get you in the mood. There was plenty of sun, tons of great food, bucket loads of ice cream, amazing sights and experiences and a lot of laughter (much of it at TBF’s expense bless her!). First instalment tomorrow, hopefully.

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