Sunday, 27 April 2014

Weird things about Venice

So we're just back from four days in Venice. Someone asked me today, "Did it live up to your expectations?". Actually, I'm not sure what I expected, but it was certainly a singular experience.

Venice is built in the middle of the sea

It's one of the oddest places that I've seen humans live. It seems so dangerous to build big stone buildings on top of basically nothing in the middle of the sea. And to have open water everywhere so that a stumble could lead to falling into the sea. Odd.

Venice is super-touristy
The main island has blocks and blocks and blocks of shops selling masks, glass things and fridge magnets, leavened by gelato stalls and restaurants selling pasta and pizza.  There are men trying (and failing) to sell splatty-balls (see pic below), thrusting roses on passing women and attempting to sell horribly bad knock-off designer bags.

Murano must have hundreds of glass shops selling basically the same stuff, just rows and rows of them. I didn't buy any glass, but we did have an okay pizza sitting beside a canal.The crowds and queues weren't too bad over Easter weekend - evidently things get worse in summer.

Why is Lido mostly abandoned buildings?

I haven't been able to work out why the middle of Lido island is almost all abandoned and derelict buildings. TripAdvisor reviewer Elizabeth described the place neatly: "Abandoned buildings with broken windows are interspersed with beautiful hotels. Expensive ice cream sundaes are served from cafes with rusty chairs. Huge forlorn Art Deco buildings along the beach side make you want to cross the road in case the zombies start to wander out.

The abandoned mansions on Strada dell Ospizo Marino in the north east of the island are like something from a war-torn country. It's a photographers' dream if you like to capture faded glory as piles of bricks, rusty gates, broken windows and rubbish adorn what were once fine buildings.

Elsewhere on the island ugly concrete blocks of flats sit next to pretty parks and waterways. I found the whole experience hugely unsettling yet more interesting than Venice itself."

If you do visit Venice, I highly recommend staying on Lido - it's cheaper and much calmer than the main island. I really enjoyed going back to a bigger island and what felt like solid ground and room to breathe after the crowds and craziness around San Marco.

The Doges were dicks!
Visiting the Doge's Palace, we were overwhelmed with the opulence and the hubris of the whole thing. Various Doges inserted themselves into paintings of Jesus's birth, the crucifixion, the Last Supper as well as commissioning paintings showing the various rulers of the world submitting to them. The scale and magnitude of decoration was so over the top, I can see where people like Versace got their inspiration from.

During the reign of the Doges, they developed more and more elaborate forms of government, including secret police and anonymous denunciations by slipping notes into the mouths of faces on the wall (see below. Then the last Doge just gave up when Napoleon came calling.

Venice makes it seem reasonable to spend 45 Euros on a mask

 I could post dozens of photos of the various types of mask, they were amazing. And 45 Euros is a very mid-level price for a mask - some of them went up into the hundreds. I got beautiful black wire swirling design with blue and green glitter and my husband got a traditional black, red, white particoloured mask with a long nose and gold trim. We have no occasion to wear these and they were tricky to pack but it just seemed to be a good idea at the time...

In summary
So would I recommend visiting Venice? Hmm... I'm about 50/50. I guess it's somewhere that one should see, but I'm certainly not yearning to go back. I think I'd generally prefer to visit some more ordinary Italian cities but Venice was a unique holiday destination with plenty of bits to enjoy. 


  1. I went to Venice when I was 17 with a friend and her dad (her parents had recently divorced and this was him trying to get to know her after years of being a big city lawyer who left for work before she got up, came home after the family had eaten, and spent his weekends playing golf and doing more work). I pretty much hated it, and not just because of the slightly odd dynamic aforementioned, because we also went to Rome for a couple of days on that trip, and I fell head over heels in love with the big, noisy, dirty city. And yet … I want to go back. Maybe to see what I'd think about it this time. Maybe to go with my husband (who hasn't been before). I always like to find out what he thinks about things and see them through his eyes. And maybe because it is just so damn beautiful.

    Did you go to the Peggy Guggenheim? That was pretty much my favourite thing. And the (replica) horses on San Marco.


    1. Hi Philippa, thanks for your comment.

      I'd say go back with your husband but do go in Spring or Autumn (and take waterproof shoes). There are lots of amazing things to see that you won't see anywhere else. San Marco was pretty amazing (though the horse were partly covered in scaffolding). We didn't see the Guggenheim exhibtion as I'm generally not that fond of contemporary art (I prefer older stuff).

      My favourite thing was wandering around Lido and also wandering the backstreets of the main island on the first day looking at the less crowded and touristy mask shops.

  2. That super-touristy vibe just killed it for me; good for you for finding some good corners. Even the center of Paris, overrun with people with video cameras stuck to their faces, no longer enchants. When in such locales I avoid the guidebook "musts" and head for quiet neighbourhoods where the locals hide out. Must be the only person who visited Delhi and did not make the trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. But I loved every second in the back streets.

  3. Yup, I'm with you on not loving the super-touristy bits! The first time I visited Paris, I much prefered the little local church to the crowds and noise at Notre Dame. All the racket just killed the atmosphere.

    Last Easter we went to Alicante in Spain and didn't go up the coast to the resorts at Benidorm. We had a lovely time there!


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