Sunday, 7 February 2016
Sunday 20th September 2015
My alarm was set for 6 o'clock this morning - it's arrival in Venice day, and therefore exciting. We discovered that OLYMPIC CHAMPION will dock in a Commercial Port Container Terminal berth, and she is due in at 7 a.m. in daylight. We watched our slow progress along a narrow channel leading to the quay, and could barely discern the familiar Venice skyline several miles to our east. Well, this may be Venice according to ANEK, but it is in fact on the Italian mainland at Marghera and obviously many miles away from the island itself. We have been told there should be a shuttle bus for foot passengers on the quayside, so that is good news.
We disembarked at 7.30 a.m. with many other 'footies' and looked around in vain for shuttle buses. There were none to be seen and no information. We agreed the ANEK Venice new ferry port is a truly depressing place - it's a purpose-built facility but completely lacking those facilities for foot passengers and horrendous when we were all just milling around unsure about what to do.
Many of us set off on foot to get to the distant terminal building and eventually we reached it. There was no information at the little office and no sign of a taxi. Taxi information was printed on a notice in the window but they proved impossible to contact. Someone must have been successful though as a large taxi/people carrier turned up and the lady who had called it offered us the chance of sharing with her to Mestre railway station. We were so grateful for this and jumped at the chance, although the price that the taxi driver told us for the journey was exorbitant. We passed the shipyard at Marghera and had a very quick view of the Holland America new ship KONINGSDAM being constructed. In quite a short time we were in the station and getting tickets for the journey from Mestre to Venice island itself.
The train was full of locals and tourists like us, but it was a cheerful journey, and across the water we could see OLYMPIC CHAMPION in her berth. Once in the station we walked down the main steps and there was the city and the Grand Canal, what joy.
Many people were congregating in the square below us, amongst advertising posters and signs, and they were people who all used Norwegian walking sticks, or Nordic walking poles as some call them. I couldn't quite see the point of using them in this little city with so many canals and visitors, but presumably lots of people did as the square was crowded. We later discovered that the Nordic Walk in Venice Race was taking place.
My friend was due to fly home later this morning, so we made the most of our remaining time; we found somewhere for breakfast and then enjoyed walking around the waterways and seeing the wonderful buildings. Set against the incredibly blue sky, it was a wonderful introduction to my time in Venice. I have booked accommodation for tonight here in a quiet local area, so I will have two days to walk and discover some of the wonders of this world-renowned UNESCO site of Venice and its Lagoon.
Eventually my friend and I had to exchange goodbyes and my thanks for such an enjoyable time ferrying in '15, as he prepared to get the coach to the Venice Airport and I went to check in at my small hotel. I am booked into what turned out to be a delightful small hotel in the Cannaregio area, where many local people live, away from the usual tourist spots. I chose this deliberately knowing I could walk around those same tourist spots but go 'home' and enjoy my own temporary locality. There is a wonderful view of the main island to be found on: https://www.instagram.com/p/3w3AVwCUCF/ with no copyright or photographer shown. It clearly shows the causeway out from the Italian mainland, the Grand Canal and at the bottom right of the picture the ferry and cruise ship terminals.
I was booked into the Hotel Ca' D'Oro, which is set beside the Rio di Ca' Dolce canal, and I later discovered is a 17th century courtyard building. There was a well, a nearby step to board a boat, and a view along the L-shaped canal as I entered Reception. I was happy to leave my rucksack in a pretty single en suite room. Outside the delicate nets of my window was a narrow side street and inside the room the walls were all covered in a soft striped fabric with another layer of something soft under that. Later the Receptionist told me that this was a normal way of decorating Venetian rooms so I was very impressed. My bed looked very inviting so I had a rest on it.
Later I went downstairs again to get a map and any useful information, and I was advised to walk to the Rialto Bridge following the map, or local yellow signs high up on some walls directing tourists with an arrow pointing in the right direction. I knew where I was heading so was able to enjoy seeing new areas of this little city, wandering at will in the general direction of the Rialto Bridge but looking at local products in the shops such as glassware, shoes, costumes for the February Carnival and of course pastries and coffee. I frequently had to walk over small bridges and I heard someone describe getting somewhere else by the number of bridges they would have to traverse.
The nearer I was to the Rialto Bridge the more crowded it became, but I was not in a hurry and could stop and look at whatever took my fancy: the alleyways, the canals, the incredibly blue sky above my head, the little bridges and of course the damaged brickwork on many of the buildings caused by the annual flooding. The high water mark is very obvious on many of the buildings, where the plaster or stucco has been removed.
In Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice his character Shylock says "What news on the Rialto?", and this was one of the things in my mind as I stood on the crowded Rialto Bridge and looked along the actual street. I read that the Rialto was the financial and commercial centre of Venice, and an important district since 1097 when Venice's market moved there. Part of the Bridge was undergoing renovation and covered in fabric to hide the work, but I was still so thrilled to be here.
Down on the side of the Grand Canal I bought a 2-day ticket for the vaporetto which would give me freedom to ride on any of them on any route. As I waited on the pontoon on the south side I remembered one of my friends once asking if vaporettos perhaps ran on vapor. I am happy to say that still amuses me.
A vaporetto on the number 2 route arrived and I boarded it with dozens of others, and we set off in a westerly direction. It stopped frequently because this is the local equivalent of a bus service, and many people left or joined.
I got a seat and enjoyed the views as we headed out towards what I realised was the cruise ship terminal. From my water-level the ships looked huge, as indeed they were, and I can understand why some Venetians want to ban them from the Grand Canal and Venice because of the damage they can cause to the waterways, but of course others welcome the tourists and the trade they bring in here. As we neared the Stazione Marittima and started to turn to go south of the city I counted seven huge cruise ships, which looked enormous.
I remember flying into Venice on 29th August 2012 and enjoying a few hours here before sailing with ANEK on the unforgettable KRITI II from the Venice ferry terminal to Patras, but her size of 27,239 gross tons is of course nothing like the vast tonnage of the current cruise ships. (See blog pieces Greece 2012)
The waterway here is wider and on my right was Giudecca, another of the local islands which the Venetians insist are not part of Venice city. On another visit I must go and see S. Giorgio too and enjoy the views from the bell tower there.
Today though I got off the vaporetto near St. Mark's Square and walked in this world-renowned area, admiring the Doge's Palace. It was filled with tourists of course, but I could stop or stroll around to enjoy it. I found it strange to think that my Father was here on 30th September/1st October 1930 and took several black and white photographs of what he saw, before going back to work on the ARANDORA STAR as an Engineering Officer. I had scanned them at home some time ago and can now compare them with mine, as I continue 'Following in Father's Footsteps'.
I took photographs of many eye-catching things,
and gradually made my way back towards the local quieter Cannaregio historic centre on the north side of the Grand Canal. I wondered if I could find a cup of tea in a local shop but a tiny bar offered a glass of Prosecco and a little cheesy delicacy so I sat outside and enjoyed them. I watched the world go past and thought how lucky I was to be in Venice.
The sun was just starting to sink but I decided to walk to the other side of the Cannaregio area and I was soon on the northern side of Venice, approaching the Fondamente Nove, which is where the ferries go to Murano, Burano and other islands. It was only perhaps ten minutes walk but quite a contrast: people were strolling along from the ferries carrying shopping, young children were playing football in the square, and ahead I could see the white Church of Gesuiti (Jesuits) which was in stark contrast to the blue sky. The original church on that site was Santa Maria Assunta, built in 1155, but damage and fire over the years resulted in a change of name and use. The Jesuits had been banished from Venice for years but returned in 1844 and were allowed to build a Church and campanile, but only in what was called a 'remote' location in Venice. The baroque facade is certainly noticeable now.
I walked to the water's edge onto another small bridge, which gave me a view of the Church and campanile (bell tower). I could also see a few small ferries going along their route to Cimitero (cemetery) island or others beyond it.
I had passed a small local restaurant on my way past the Jesuit Church so I decided to walk home again and wash and change ready for a meal there and that is what I did. It had been a busy but unforgettable day in Venice, and I had another day tomorrow to enjoy before a late afternoon flight home to the UK.
Ships seen in Marghera: Koningsdam under construction
Ships seen in Venice: MSC Musica, Oriana, Olympic Champion, Aida Vita, Thomson Celebration, Island Princess, MSC Magnifica, Costa Deliziosa, local vessels Palladio, Michelangelo and Concordia, private yacht Carinthia, tugs Ivonne C and Angelina C
To be concluded...