The principal reason for travelling in the way that we did was, as readers of this blog already know, to retrace the steps of two English Ladies who travelled in 1906 to Venice, as part of a three week European tour.
During their time in Venice, the ladies stayed for two nights at the Grand Hotel Britannia, and then "the hotel being rather full", they moved "next door" to the Hotel Milan, "a dependence of the Britannia". The Grand Hotel Britannia still exists, but is now part of the five star Westin Hotel Europa & Regina, and it was to the manager of this hotel that I wrote, a few weeks before we travelled to Venice, not really expecting even a reply, to tell him of our visit and the fact that the Ladies had stayed there one hundred years ago.
Imagine my surprise, therefore, when not only did I receive a very charming reply but also an invitation to take tea with him, so that I could show him the journal and give him more details of the ladies stay there. The anticipation and excitement notched up even further if that was possible, so that our appointment, on Thursday afternoon, 19th October, was awaited with eager anticipation by both Liz and myself.
The weather had been kind to us for the five days since our arrival, but, as is the way of these things, had turned gloomy and damp on THE day - so instead of our selected finery, we arrived for tea wearing rather more practical garments - and at once walked into a magical realm of charm, courtesy and delight.
For the next hour, Hotel Manager Ciro Verrocchi and PR manager Francesca Forni gave us one hundred per cent of their attention, while the staff of the hotel conjured up for us the most perfect tea.
We were seated on luxurious banquettes, surrounded with sumptuous textiles, beautiful paintings of Venice, and other sculptural works of art, while an ever increasing tableau of delicacies arrived - tiny sandwiches, dainty cakes, feather light pastries, mouth-watering sweet morsels of the finest confectioner's art...hot toast and three different teas, all proffered with the most discrete charm as the finest practitioners of the art of waiting upon guests are able to do - a lost art which was a delight to see was still present here.
Sr Verrocchi was called away after a while, so we were left in the company of Sra Forni, who generously gave us even more of her time, to tell us of the complicated history of the hotels, which she has spent the last eight years piecing together. After giving me a most interesting folder of engravings and quotes about the hotels, she then took us on a guided tour, with permission to take photographs as we went about.
The hotel glittered with opulence - Murano glass chandeliers, polychrome marble floors - into the Grand Salon, where the portrait of Mr Walther, the Manager 100 years ago, still hangs, through the courtyard garden - (once upon a time a gondola builders yard) and out onto the terrace.
There, a very lucky wedding party were about to celebrate a magical wedding, and Liz & I could look across to the same view had by the Ladies, to the Dogana and the Salute, and even sideways, to the salmon pink Hotel Milan - now a private residence, I believe, that we would have known nothing about if Francesca had not shown us an old photograph of the building with the name of the "Hotel Milan" still upon it.
Tiny lights twinkled along the edge of the terrace, reflecting upon the waters of the Grand Canal, the gondoliers out on the water sang most beautifully, Liz & I were transported.
We were transported back 100 years during that hour, so that we, too, were able to enjoy the grace and courtesy of a bygone age. Seemingly effortless luxury and courtesy may be a matter of day to day routine for the staff of this hotel, but for us, it was truly the highlight of our visit, and a time for which both Liz and I are very, very grateful.
I hope that the gift of an enlargement of one of the few old photographs taken by May Merewether, of the now defunct Ascension Day "Bridge of Boats" across the Grand Canal to the Salute will be just a tiny addition to the archive which Francesca is collecting, and to which I hope to be able to add as time goes by.
The detective work continues - but the memories will never fade. For a magical hour, one autumn night in Venice, both Liz and I had our dreams come true through the kindness of others.
One of the most valuable journal techniques for travellers - taken from Kay Adam's "Journal to the Self" is the "List of 100". It's a great way of capturing the essence of a place, even if you are very pressed for time. Like many other journaling techniques, the very act of writing something down will help you to recall other facts that you thought you had forgotten. (And you don't have to make it 100!)
On the ever-interesting "Armchair Travelling" Yahoo list to which I belong, members have been sharing their lists of things they love about differnt places. Here's my "list of 100" about You-Know-Where....
Will you share your own lists - long or short - with me here, about your own favourite places?
100 Things I Love about Venice...
Adoration of music Ancient beads Balconies Beadwork Bell-pushes Billa supermarket Blinds Brickwork Bridges Campaniles Canalside lunches Carpaccio's story paintings Carved oar-hooks (rowlocks) on gondolas Chandeliers Coffered ceilings Conversations of bells in the evening hush Courtyards Crass remarks by the "cream" of tourists - rich and thick! Crowns-of-stars Dark and twisting alleyways Dolls Door knobs & knockers Embroideries Exquisite pastries Fanlights Fashionistas Flickering church interiors Fresh Fish Fresh fruit Fresh Vegetables Gay guys in a gondola - blissfully happy Gilding Gondola prows against glittering water Honey coloured evenings Jewellery Lace Leathers and feathers Leatherwork Lions Love of performance Love of Theatre Madonnas Marbling Martyred saints Mask makers Mosaics Mozarella Music in Piazza San Marco Musical cherubs No litter Ogee windows Oleander Olive oil Pampered cats Paper, paper, paper! Papier mache Pasticceria Pearlescent dawns Peeling paint Polychrome marble Pomegranates Pompous waiters at Quadri's Posing gondoliers Posing old men Posing young men Precious doggies Puppets Quirky chimneys Relics Respect for hand crafting Rough bread Saintly niches Seaweeed covered steps Snow white napery Sottoportegas Sparrows St Sebastian Stand-up coffee time Stripey poles Sweet red tomatoes Terracotta roof tiles The "other-ness" of the Ghetto The lap, lap, lap in the quiet dark, as a night-time boat passes by
The swirling of pigeons The tiniest glass treasures Tiny shops with jewel box interiors Titian's blues and reds and golds Travelling by Vaporetto Votive candles Walking in the rain Water fountains - bird baths! Waterfalls of pelargoniums Watergates Waxworks Well heads "What-now"-ing upon the Rialto Window catches Window dressing Window grilles Wooden shutters
I meant, today, to tell you all more of our own story - about our progress down the Grand Canal, and the beautiful palazzi we saw there. Instead, I want to share first with you the face of this woman. Sat, with her hand open, in the steps of the Church of SS Geremia & Lucia, she had a quiet dignity that deeply impressed me.
I agonise over beggars when I visit other cities - there were not many in Venice, those that I did see mostly women (only one man) and all of them from Eastern Europe - possibly Romania or Albania. Several of them knelt, with their foreheads touching the ground, and hands outstretched. I so longed to go up to them and raise their faces - nobody should grovel like that. All should have the dignity to feel able to show their face to the world.
This woman did not grovel, whine or pester, but sat simply, and waited. And there was something about her - I looked into her eyes and felt as if I was looking into the deep pools of the collective human psyche. I think she is beautiful. She mesmerised me.
I could not forget her - after giving her my small change, I returned the following day, asked her permission to take her photograph, and gave a little more. She was beseechingly grateful - and I was humbly embarrassed that a small gesture could make so much difference. She had given me far more than I had given her - her face is still unforgettable.
And inside the church outside which she sat, the "incorruptible" (not true!) body of the martyred St Lucia - dressed in martyrs red dress, and for all the world presented to the world like Snow White, in a crystal casket. Her portrait within the church shows her proffering her eyes on a plate - her martyrdom entailing gouging out of same. The portrait does, however, thankfully have a full compliment of eyes - presumably mystically restored. How like a fairy tale some of these church interiors are - and like fairy tale, they too struggle to deal with and make manageable to us some of the great mysteries and terrors of life to the fearful little humans that we are.
Having bought a three day pass, we took the Vaporetto from the station, (ten minutes from where we were staying), down the length of the Grand Canal - surely one of the most beautiful "bus" rides in the world! Here are just a few of the palazzi that we passed on the way....
The Palazzo Labia on the left - whose owners were one so rich that, after banquets, they blithely discarded their gold tableware out of the windows into the canal below, rather than washing up like mere mortals. (There were, however, judiciously placed nets below the water line, hidden from view, from which the plate could later be recovered!). The entrance to the Cannaregio canal and "our" Guglie bridge homewards are also visible.
Next - the Palazzo Grassi - which you can read more about here. I am entirely in sympathy with the sentiments of this article!
The Ca D'Oro - which we discovered on an earlier walk by walking obliviously down the side alley and thus coming accidentally up close and personal to the sumptuous carvings and window tracery on the face of the building. Still fronted with beautiful marble panels, imagine how it must have glittered in the sun when it still possessed its own extensive gilding.
And much further on, the Palazzo Contarini-Fasan - otherwise known as "Desdemona's House". Very small, as Palazzi go - but I think one of the prettiest, with the most delightful wheel-pierced-tracery balconies and perfectly proportioned windows.
Finally, past the Westin Europa and Regina Hotel - home to the 1906 ladies for two days, (when it was called the Suisse-Roman (SR) and the Britannia - (B) after which they moved in to the Hotel Milan - now a private house, but marked on the photograph (M). The green striped canvas of the courtyard garden terrace, which you can just see, (behind the striped water poles), covers an area which at one time was a gondola building yard.
The following day we were treated to the most charming of high teas by the most charming host and hostess at the Europa & Regina - but that is a story for another page of this blog!
...and you think of glass. So today, I invite you to accompany me as I revisit the island of Murano, just twenty minutes over the water from Venice, where vitreous and other delights await!
Passing the island of San Michele on the way out, our arrival on Murano was greeted by touts "directing" us to the main glass blowing furnaces that line the route to the main part of town. Murano is about glass, certainly - but it can be about the "hard sell" as well - and we were instantly aware that we were being rounded up in order for our pockets to be fairly efficiently emptied.
(When Liz's daughter married last year, she and her new husband stayed at the luxurious Cipriani Hotel in Venice, and found it "interesting" that she was separated on arrival on Murano from all the other people who had gone on the same tour, with the surreptitious words to the factory guide "these are from the Cip". They were obviously assumed to have bottomless pockets and worthy of special cosseting!)
Liz and I did indeed enjoy the glass blowing demonstration (all ten minutes of it!) - but were not convinced that the abundance of five and ten Euro notes in the "thank-you tray" were actually left by grateful guests - so did as everyone else did, and left small change that was cluttering our pockets. We did NOT then empty our pockets further in their overpriced showroom!
Murano is about glass - these little animals were typical of what we saw in many dozens of shop windows - but there was so much more, if, as always, you take the time to step just a little off the "beaten track". It is inbuilt into both our brains to do this - and we were rewarded with sights of great beauty and interest in hidden and quieter corners.
Churches enticed us here on Murano as much as in Venice itself (Liz is as much of a "church crawler" as I am) - and these are the beautiful items which we discovered in the church of San Pietro Martire.
Exquisite chandeliers abounded on the island in many of the shops - this is just one of more than a dozen lighting the interior of the church. Look also at the roundels surrounding the altar painting - each of which is a scene from the life of the Madonna.
Take a closer look at the front of the altar - superb, fine carving of the marble (alabaster?) figures, surrounded by polychrome decorative marble work and look....
The floors in so many of the churches were great works of art in themselves - this is just a simple example.
Walking through an inconsequential door in the corner of the church, I was overwhelmed to enter a room panelled entirely in these magnificent, almost "in the round" wood carvings of mythical and historical figures......this is just one such figure - another occasion on which one can show and describe, but really needs to be up close to actually experience the fineness of carving on each figure.
In the vestibule at the bottom of a stairway, this palanquin looked as if it was "in storage" ready to be used to process a Madonna or saint around on Feast days. It is decorated in tiny seed beads, which must sparkle and glitter in the sunlight when in use.
And here is a "Madonna in Waiting" - also ready for use, I imagine, on festival days - but even at "rest", a fine example of 19th century doll modelling - the faces made, I think, of painted "composition" plaster.
Up the stairs, to a little museum containing more religious items, but also a small cabinet which intrigued me - containing a number of miniature items made of glass. I imagine that many of these sorts of things found their way home as gifts and souvenirs in the luggage of the 1906 Ladies - and not a few similar modern items found their way back to my dolls houses in my own laden bags!
We lunched - still in warm, balmy sunshine, surrounded by exotic pomegranate trees covered in fruit. We shopped, discovering exquisite little bottles and animals (I'll show you some in a later post) and we discovered an even more ancient, seventh century church, in which we sat and were again renewed by the silence.
Then we left Murano - to return past the walled cemetery island of San Michele, that Francesco Da Mosto declared wistfully, in "Francesco's Venice", would be his "last home", honey coloured and mournful in the glow of the setting sun. Too late to hop off the boat to visit, it will be an exploration for another time.
What abundant experiences in one day - enough to last a lifetime of memories and remembrances, already being stirred as I share them with you all. Oh, how very fortunate I have been to experience this journey, and now I am tasting one of the sweetest delights of keeping a journal, for as Anais Nin said, "We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospection". This delight is there for us all, just at the end of a pen. Why not savour it for yourself, next time you travel anywhere at all?
Still struggling to gather my thoughts and images of Venice into something more than a dream-like cloud of images and experiences. I remember the week in Venice not just as a series of days on which we "went here and did this", but as a collection of themes - of exposure of the senses to all manner of evocative stimuli, some of which have left multiple images in my mind.
Fortunately, those which had most impact also left images on the data card of my camera, so in the next few days, I'd like to share with you some of the experiences, spread over nine days, which meant most to me.
Since we arrived in Venice by overnight train, we had a full day in front of us, which we enjoyed by strolling around and getting to know the area. The apartment in which we stayed is just off the Cannaregio canal, the second of Venice's main waterways, an offshoot of the Grand Canal, and with a neighbourhood feel about it that is totally different in character to that of the busier routes through the city.
Crossing over the bridge from the main tourist thoroughfare from the station to St Marks, a diversion left took us into the residential part of Venice - the part that was to become "our" Venice, where we shopped in little grocers (who would also fill an empty litre water bottle with wine for us, from the barrel behind the counter, for 1.80 Euros - about the same in dollars!), bought gloriously fat, red, sweet, juicy tomatoes to be eaten with mozzarella cheese, rough bread and golden olive oil, and our own wet fish stalls, where we could purchase shellfish from the Laguna and swordfish steaks if we so chose.
And all around, all the time, the architectural delights of Venice - EVERY building a picture - to my eyes anyway. I love peeling paint, crumbling plaster, weathered wood - here combined with carved corbels, faces, masks, mythical characters, sinuous ogee windows, earth and ice- cream colours - a surprise for the eyes on every building. Experience a little of what it was like to get to know this city on our first day - enjoy this walk along the Cannaregio canal with me.
We left for the great Adventure to Venice on the Morning of Friday 13th October. In true Friday 13th style, due to a 13 mile tailback on the M4 motorway, Alec diverted and took a different route, which got us toWaterloo International Rail Terminus in very good time for the 1.45 train to Paris.
(I only knew about the road blockage because I was listening from the early hours to the local radio interview that I had pre-recorded - we made the hourly news until we were out of range and I could not follow the updates any longer).
It was the first time that I had travelled through the Channel Tunnel, and I was amazed at just how smooth and speedy a journey it was - 2 hrs 45 minutes, London to Paris, with only 20 minutes in the tunnel.
The fun started when we arrived in Paris. We needed to get from Paris Gare du Nord, to Paris Bercy - which should have been just a ten minute journey - BUT this was 5 pm on a FRIDAY - and our taxi was pretty soon embroiled in the gridlock which seemed to afflict most of our route across the city.
Fortunately, we had three hours to make the journey, and arrived at Bercy with a good hour still left. (We spent it having a wine and baguette picnic from the top of my case, in front of the Paris-Venice Orient Express terminal!)
Our own carriage on the overnight train to Venice was slightly less gracious than those on the Orient Express - not only could you not swing a cat in it, one would have had problems with a very small mouse! It was OK, as long as we stayed put on the fold down beds - which were extremely comfortable.
I take Phenergan for motion sickness, but it also does a wonderful job of acting as a mild sedative, so it was not long before I was in the Land of Nod - awaking to see the station sign for Verona passing the window - at last I knew we were in Italy!
We sped over the causeway from the mainland and into Venice Santa Lucia station at 9.30 am - and this was the scene that greeted us as we left the station. Yes, that *IS* the Grand Canal in front of me, and as one reader of this blog (Peter) commented, it *was* like walking out into Fairyland!
It was, as the apartment owner had stated, only ten minutes walk from the station until we reached our final destination.....and like the 1906 Ladies, our first act was to consume "a nice cup of tea".
This is our first view of the place in which we would spend the week (X marks our balcony, and R my bedroom window)- With the sun shining and very warm, such beautiful, quiet accommodation, and the rest of the afternoon left for exploration, no wonder I was smiling!
At last, Liz and I are coming slowly back to "real life" after the amazing and wonderful time that we spent in Venice. Superlatives are often abused, but I truly feel that "amazing" and "wonderful" are, far from being hyperbolic, almost inadequate to describe some of the people, places and things that we have experienced.
Liz has just called in so that we can have a Venice "fix" for the day - and we both agreed that this visit will be the first of many for me, and a continuation of many for her. I feel that I have at last found my spiritual home - a place where communities are still small and functional, a place where craftsmanship and attention to detail is still appreciated and cultivated, a place where the word "declutter" is not heard but is replaced with interest and intrigue for the unusual and the beautiful - why, of COURSE I felt completely and utterly at home there!
In the coming days, I will share some of my own journal entries with you, but for today, I would first like to pay tribute to my travelling companion, Liz Searby, who made the journey such an enjoyable experience for me. Not all went well, there were ups and downs, (Literally in my case, having sustained a bad fall in the middle of the week!), but Liz responded to them all with grace and fortitude. These Two Ladies of A Certain Age coped magnificently with the tribulations which did come our way, and in return we were rewarded with experiences which will last us a lifetime.
In the pleasures of the week, I could not have asked for a more delightful companion than Liz. Together we soaked up the joys of opera, of paintings and architecture, of crumbling old buildings and the enticing interiors of little grocers and hidden craft workshops. We found the same things engrossing in a similar way - we *understood* when the other one gasped or exclaimed in wonder or excitement, and supported each other when we were tired, exasperated or just plain crotchety (that was me - Liz doesn't do crotchety!).
You were a true friend and a great companion, Liz - and I thank you most sincerely for making my week even more special.
It will take a long time for me to start to commit the whole story of our visit to the page, so for now, can I leave you all with just these very few of the several hundred photographs which I took, in the hope that, just for the moment, each picture will speak a thousand words to you.
All ready now - I'm just spending the afternoon cleaning the house - and how many of us do THAT before we go on hoilday ?! I can't stand coming back to an untidy house. (I'm leaving two grown men to look after the place - but...cleaning, they do NOT do!)
I spent a delightful half hour yesterday, doing an interview about the trip for local Radio Kick FM - it's going to be broadcast tomorrow, apparently. Ironic that I won't get to hear it - but maybe I can get a recording sometime.
So - Laptop charged up - camera batteries charged. Money counted, passport and tickets checked - and me checking out from here for the next ten days.
I've been touched and heartened by the kind and generous comments left here - I truly will be going to bring back a little bit of Venice to share with all of you. Thank you all for your good wishes - See you all when we return - and while we are gone, I leave you with these beautiful images to enjoy...
Pre travel jitters and packing both in full swing, and I've just been musing on some of the things that are going into my bag that would have been totally alien to the luggage of our 1906 ladies (I say "our" because I know that their story is being so enthusiastically followed by so many of you who read these pages).
For instance, what would they have thought of my electric hairdryer? my mobile phone? My laptop? The iPod? The GPS system, for heaven's sake?? OK, OK - I know the GPS is really cheating - but believe me, Liz and I will still have NO difficulty in getting lost - we are quite accomplished in the art, and I believe it is a requirement to get lost on a regular basis in Venice!
It's just that we have to find our way back to our apartment at close on Midnight on our first night there (after the opera) and, well, we don't want to end up in a canal quite that soon!
And, of course, the digital camera, most important item of all, is not in the picture - because it is in my hand, taking the photo!
Here's the outfit for high tea at the hotel - it looks prettier "in real life"....I will wear it with a cream, low cut top underneath. (I originally typed "udderneath" - is that Freudian, or what?!).
The very versatile black cord skirt actually has a figured pattern embroidered all over in the same black (it looks lighter here because of the flash) - it's the only skirt in my wardrobe that I am taking, so it will have to do duty on several occasions. I'm a black trousers gal for the rest of thetime (Thanks Be for black trousers on big bums!)
One other thing that might not be quite so obvious in my suitcase, is S*P*A*C*E....I have upgraded to the next size suitcase from the one that was "just right" - because I realised that I had easily got everything in that I wanted to take , but left no space for "stuff" - and if there is one reason that we are going to Venice, it is "acquisition of "stuff" (all those decluttering at the moment, turn the other way!)
I find inexpensive net bags (made to stop your socks getting lost in the washing machine) are invaluable when travelling (see one on the right hand corner) - socks, tights, and underwear will all be organised in half a dozen of those, and for most versatility of all, a selection of pashminas in different colours - what did we do before they appeared on the fashion scene? But the all encompassing shawl/scarf/wrap IS surely something that our Ladies *would* have known, don't you think?
So tell me, what are the items that YOU would not travel without?
Looking up a reference to "Desdemona's House", which is next door to the hotel in which The Ladies stayed, I think I have just found the perfect blog to be reading for the next few days. Katherine Tyrell spent time in Venice in 2005 on a painting holiday - the result of which is seen in many entries on her lovely blog - "Travels with a Sketchbook".
The entry that leaps out at me is the one for Monday 9th May 2005 "What to do when it's wet and windy" - for I have looked at the ten day weather forecast for Venice, and it is not altogether pretty. Rain seems imminent for at least Saturday and Sunday - so out and about with a sketchbook in the rain - I could do with some tips - and some encouragement!