Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Mediterranean Cruise, Barcelona to Venice
Last leg: Corfu to Venice
Corfu is part of the group of Ionian Islands, the most lush and green of all the Greek islands. It’s long been a tourist stop evidently, as Jason and the Argonauts stopped there in their voyage to find the Golden Fleece and Medea!! It’s had various rulers, including in ancient times, the Corinthians, Spartans and Romans, followed by the Byzantines. Then from the 14th century the Venetians took control, then the French, the British, and finally Greece, with unification in 1864. I could see the attraction – the harbour is quite pretty.
The most striking thing for me as a first time visitor was to see the French influence in the gorgeous colonnades that border the main white marble Esplanade or Spianada (town square), and the Italianate buildings.
As I was demolishing a very nice stuffed pepper for my lunch at one of the many cafes that line the Esplanade, I had the French/Italian architecture on one side, contrasted by the ever-so-English cricket pitch on the other! If you only had one thing to say about Corfu, it would have to be that it is a MOST multicultural place.
After lunch I strolled through the maze of tiny, winding alleys in the Old Town and stopped to look in many of the shops to buy gifts for friends. One of the specialities is amber jewellery.
Then, on the way back to the boat, I passed the Old Fortress, built by the Venetians in the 16th century.
According to the notes provided by Celebrity Cruises, Dubrovnik is “known as the ‘Queen of the Adriatic’ and is renowned as the most flawlessly preserved medieval city in Croatia … with its magnificent stone walls, churches, palaces and piazzas, it is architecturally a living monument to its days as an affluent merchant state.”
I entered Dubrovnik through Pile Gate, and across the drawbridge then through the walls that surround the town, built between the 11th and 17th centuries. Onofrio Fountain was immediately ahead of me, with the Franciscan Monastery to my left as I began my walk down the Placa, tiled in white, shiny marble.
It was all a bit like being in a fairytale, despite the fact that much of this city was badly damaged during the Croatian/Serbian War in 1991– 1992. I walked through to the end of the Placa, marked by a clock tower first built in 1444 (restored many times since) then on through some of the narrow streets behind the Placa.
Of course I found a café to my liking, enjoyed some lunch and partook of extensive people watching and generally “hung out” to take in the atmosphere! When we sailed out later in the day, we were able to see the huge modern suspension bridge with the newer settlements beyond.
Let me just say that NOTHING compares to sailing into Venice … it is an experience of a lifetime. I have always thought of Venice as dreamlike … an improbable stage set, with a gorgeously painted canvas backdrop, … if I could just find the corner of the canvas and lift it up … I might just see scaffolding and the discarded costumes of gondoliers past …
We sailed into the lagoon around mid-morning, with St Mark’s Campanile clearly in view but quite tiny in the distance. It sounds corny, but the entire male waiting staff had been decked out for breakfast in white shirts, and striped braces (suspenders) in the colours of the Italian flag. They looked great!! To go with the Italian mood for cruise-end, and to complement the Venetian scenery, a selection of Italian songs, including opera and popular Neapolitan tunes, were playing on the top deck. The music created a wonderful atmosphere, and as Nessun Dorma rang out, the atmosphere was quite emotionally charged, with not a dry eye in the house!
We glided soundlessly, except for the music, towards to entrance to the Grand Canal. I couldn’t believe that such a large ship – 11 decks high, casting St Mark’s Square into shadow! – could possibly be IN the Grand Canal. At Santa Maria della Salute we made a left hand turn into the Canale della Guidecca and headed to our docking place at Stazione Marittima. From here, tenders would run all day and well into the night, every half hour, depositing us at Rio de Vin, about 2 minutes from Piazza San Marco.
We disembarked early the following morning, collected baggage and made our way to bus transport that would take us near the Stazione di Santa Lucia from where guests could take a vaparetto (canal bus), train, or whatever. Well, after waiting a while for the mystery bus, I decided to take matters into my own hands! We were near the Canale di Santa Chiara, which goes into the Grand Canal; the hotel I was booked at was a Best Western right beside a vaparetto/gondola stop, Santa Maria de Giglio – so I decided to get a water taxi and hang the not inconsiderable expense! Got a taxi, then a couple of American women joined me, and suddenly it was only 20 euros each – a snip!! And a great ride!
From my hotel, which was good, I had a 1 mintue walk to get the vaparetto at Santa Maria del Giglio (I took the above photo from said place) and could choose to go back up towards the Rialto etc, or in the opposite direction to the Lido … or I could take a 3 minute walk to San Marco. Not bad at all. Like Paris, Venice is the kind of place where you don’t really need plans for going anywhere in particular – anywhere is going to be great! The mix of architecture makes a ride down the Grand Canal a visual feast – there are palazzi from so many styles and centuries, Classical Roman, Byzantine, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque. Byzantine/Gothic, early and high Renaissance are also reflected in Venetian art.
Apart from nosing around on the water, I also like poking about in the little winding streets, across the small bridges and into some of the other campi, such as Campo Sant’Angelo. Between Campo San Angelo and Campo San Stefano there are some lovely cafes and beautiful small shops featuring hand made goods, such as Cristina Linassi, whose speciality is hand dyed and woven linen and silk.
More walking then lunch of pasta, green salad and a vino rosso on the terrace at Hotel Monaco, looking straight at Salute and the myriad of gondolas going by – always a delight. Then threading my way through nearby tiny streets to admire little shops selling beautiful marbled paper covered diaries, leather bound note books and a gorgeous glass/gift shop – not like the usual fare, tucked away at the back of what looks like a private walkway.
Another excursion saw me buying beautiful hand dyed velvet bags for gifts in a wonderful shop – Venetia Studio (spelt the Latin way, STVDIVM) – mentioned by Marlena di Blasi in her book “A thousand days in Venice”; then taking coffee and people watching at a nice café in Via Larga XX11 Marzo, where I watched West Africans selling knock-off Gucci and Louis Vuitton bags – right outside a real Gucci store!! Word that the police were coming buzzed around; they packed up hurriedly. Some time later 4 policia, with eyes averted and examining the prevailing cloud cover and the direction of the breeze, stumbled along, finding nothing wrong happening at all!! Pa-a-leeze …! The café staff just laughed and went on with their chores … they said this piece of theatre happens every day!
My departure from Venice was also memorable. I decided to take a water taxi to Marco Polo airport. I enquired at the hotel desk and the nice man said, but of course madam … and yes, the taxi goes from here … we’ll help you with your bags. Fabulous! But I didn’t realise how fabulous. I imagined my taxi would meet me at Santa Maria del Giglio and that the porter would assist me; it’s really close after all … When the time came, I was waiting in the lobby – I had noticed a door at the end earlier, but didn’t think anything of it … suddenly the door opens, and, presto! There’s a narrow canal on the other side of it, with my taxi waiting!! How good was that?!
The ride to the airport was exhilarating and very scenic. We backed out into the Grand Canal, cruised along at a sedate pace until we were past Piazza San Marco, then turned left at Rio di San Lorenzo, zigzagged through a few more narrow canals and burst out into the lagoon behind Venice. From here, the driver opened up the throttles, and, as the Blues Brothers said, we HIT it all the way to the airport!! … Can’t wait to do it all again … Arrivederci Venezia; arrivaderci Italia …
… gotta get that gondola! …