Molly [our GPS] got us a bit lost due to a new highway near Venice which was not on her radar, so we had to double back a long way and eventually found Camping Fusina, the only campsite near Venice that stays open all year. It is also an expensive site, costing €31 per night, and most of the facilities are closed down for the winter. It is situated on the lagoon, directly across from Venice, but unfortunately the cloud and rain made the visibility very poor for the first three days.
We decide to take the bus into Mestré [mainland Venice] to buy an internet connection; but with very little English spoken, after 3 shops we still had not succeeded. By then it was 12:30 and everyone closed for lunch, but because it was New Year’s Eve, they were staying closed. We were feeling quite low, so we stopped in a bar for some Roquefort pasta for lunch. With a long weekend ahead we headed glumly back to the campsite, hoping to use their advertised internet facility, only to be told it was not operational in winter! With the rain and cold we are starting to feel the effects of S.A.D. [seasonal affective disorder].
It is New Year’s Eve and we are cold and damp and feeling very isolated from loved ones, so the last thing we feel like is cooking dinner. We settle for cold hard-boiled eggs and mayonnaise, and warm the cockles with some vino brulé which we make on the stove. We could hear lots of fireworks from Venice across the water, but could not see anything due to the heavy fog.
We woke up to another miserable day, and feeling rather dispirited, we forced ourselves to get going, but missed the bus into Venice by a minute. We then had to catch the water ferry across to the city, which was quicker but much more expensive.
Approaching Venice by vaporetto
Being Capodanno [New Year’s Day] we thought Venice might be rather quiet, especially with the soggy weather, but it was choc-a-bloc with tourists! Those “in the know” wore wellies or thigh-length waders, as the high tide water level was about 20cm in places. In popular thoroughfares, the authorities provided raised walkways, but in other areas one could not get past.
Shops were selling plastic-bag boots to gullible tourists for €15 a pair. In many places the water lapped way over the thresholds of doorways, which must make for very damp interiors! A lot of shop doorways were protected by raised metal sills, which were fixed firmly in place to stop the entry of water.
Water pump in action
We explored the narrow alleys, waterways and bridges connecting the 117 islands that make up the city.
The only gondolier we actually heard singing!
There are hundreds of similar shops, selling mostly Murano glassworks, ornaments and jewellery, and exquisite masks in all shapes and sizes. Some shops specialise in creating extravagant ball-gowns and costumes for the famous Venetian balls.
Beautifully crafted marionettes
Some of the mask shops sold various designs of the historical "beak" mask, and it was quite exciting for Sandi to be able to tell David the story behind it.
During the Black Death plague in the early 14th Century of the Middle Ages, which killed more than half the European population, doctors and those collecting the dead bodies wore masked hats fitted with a beak-like protrusion, which was filled with aromatic plant materials. The fragrant plants no doubt helped to protect the wearers from disease, as well as filter the stench of the dead and rotting bodies they had to remove. The story of the Medieval “beak” is well known in the history of aromatherapy, so it was delightful finding ceramic versions of it in the many fabulous mask shops in Venice.
Hope some of our past aromatherapy students see it on the blog, as the only picture available for their course notes was the line drawing.
We found delicious toasted focaccias for lunch at a street stall, but had to eat them on the trot, while window shopping, as eating them inside cost-a-plenty. Venice is not for shoppers-on-a-shoestring. When we wanted to have a pee, the sign on the WC demanded €1.50! That would have been €3 for both of us!
Holding on in the rain is not easy, but when we could hold on no longer, we found a coffee shop with a toilet, where we could buy hot chocolate, thaw out a bit and relieve ourselves, all for €3.40!
We joined the queue to go into the Basilico of San Marco. It is a beautifully ornate building on the outside, and covered in mosaics on the inside and outside.
The parquet stone floors have survived millions of feet walking over them, but still look perfect. We get annoyed when so many tourists blatantly ignore the warning-signs not to take photos, but in spite of the temptation, we didn’t take any. The precious stone-encrusted gold panel behind the high altar where St Mark’s remains are buried, is exquisite [and worth the extra €2] to behold.
We watched the Moors strike the hour on the clock-tower,
followed by the never-ending peal of bells from the top of the Campanile tower.
After a hot shower back at the camp-site, and some chicken stew for supper, we felt a good deal more positive at the end of the day. The gas heater warmed up the van well, but we were alarmed to see the carbon monoxide level climb after we switched the heater off! The gas aggravated Sandi’s headache so we have to be very circumspect in using the heater.
The next day, January 2nd, we set out early by bus for Mestré, so that we could use the internet café before going into Venice proper. This time we were much better prepared, as we wore our wellies, but it was still freezing cold and wet, wet, wet! Undaunted, we caught the no 1 vaporetto up the Grand Canal, getting off to explore the Rialto Bridge and surrounds.
The rain came down steadily, so out came a collage of umbrellas.
The streets are indistinguishable from the canal at high tide!
The market really shows one what a dead chicken looks like!
The restaurant windows are far more appealing!
Then back onto the vaporetto chugging past an amazing array of water-side buildings displaying both grandeur and decay. If it wasn’t for the uniqueness of the canals, and the histories behind the place, it would be easy to mistake Venice for a slum. It is hard to be sure whether Venice is sinking, or flooded or both. It is incredible to think that these buildings have survived, intact, for hundreds of years, without collapsing into a damp, mouldy sludge.
We explored some more alleys and shops, punctuated by coffee/chocolate pit stops.
View across to the island of San Giorgio
In the afternoon we took a boat trip to three islands. First stop was Murano, where we watched a master glass-blower tease out a molten ball of glass into a prancing horse in about 60 seconds.
The showroom had some exquisite glass sculptures, chandeliers and jewellery, but all very expensive, so we explored the shops instead.
Next stop was Torchello, which was the site of the earliest civilisation in Venice, with a church built in the 6th century.
It was quite a walk to get there from the boat, and still raining cats-and-dogs. So, after a cursory look around, we decided to head back to the dock, popping in to a cafe on the way for a hot chocolate drink, instead of freezing outside.
The last island we visited was Burano, with rows of brightly painted houses, which we were just in time to appreciate in the fading light. The sun came out just in time to set as we landed.
We were escorted into a lace shop, where we watched an old lady making lace. It takes seven women months to make each piece, as each woman contributes a different stitch.
The route back to Venice took much longer, as we stopped to hitch up a broken-down boat alongside, and towed it back to the pier ......... slowly!
We decided to treat ourselves to a 2-course tourist menu for supper in a restaurant near San Marco’s Piazza. They served the bare minimum they could legally get away with for our €13, and still charged a whopping €12 for a half bottle of vino casa. A complete rip-off, as the food and wine were both rather yukky. At 19:45 we began the long trek homewards. First a walk to the vaporetto jetty, then a longish wait for the boat, then a chug back up the Grand Canal for 45 minutes.
The Church of St Maria della Salute was all lit up
We had two bus rides ahead of us before getting back to home-sweet-[icebox]van. By now we were getting anxious that we would miss our connecting bus at Mestré station, as we did not want to stand waiting in the cold again. We managed to catch the bus from Venice to Mestré, just as it was leaving, and arrived at the station with 2 minutes to spare - feeling very relieved. When the connecting bus to the campsite failed to arrive, we realised that it must have left early, and set about trying to work out when the next one was due. Two more no.11 busses came and went, but were not headed for Fusina. It was bitterly cold and windy, and our feet felt like ice-blocks after 12 hours cramped into our boots. The waiting room at the station provided no relief as it was full of unsavoury characters who smoked, drank and chattered, and obviously “lived” there. We were very obviously unwelcome, as this was their turf, so we headed back outside again, preferring the fresh air to the fetid air. Eventually, more than 2 hours later, our bus came, and we dragged our frozen limbs on board, getting “home” to our cold, damp van by 23:00. It was during that long wait that we decided to abandon the next leg of our Italian trip and head for warm shelter with our new friends in France.
We were extremely cold during the night, in spite of wrapping up in many layers, and when we woke next morning, there was a layer of ice on the inside of the windows [which Sandi scraped off and nibbled]. The mist had cleared and we witnessed a spectacular sunrise over the Lido.
It was -4 °C outside [and felt like -14 in the van!] and the Dolomites in the near distance were thickly covered in snow!
Our minds now firmly made up, we packed up and headed for the autostrada in the direction of France.