Friday, May 20, 2011

Twinned with Wolverhampton

We've just got back from a wonderful six days in a stunningly beautiful city:

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H's art teacher has an apartment in one of the outer islands of Venice and we travelled with a whole group of his fellow artists (and travelling spouses) for a three day outdoor sketching class, although we added in a little extra time to spend time as a family and for some flights expressly designed to coincide with Kitty's nap schedule (such as it is)
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Venice is loud and peaceful and busy and relaxed and always always colourful and as I want to do it justice I might have to do a little judicious dividing so that this doesn't end up being the world's longest blog post ever and crash the internets. (That and we live in a tiny village about as far away from the exchange as possible and Flickr and our broadband service must be allowed to commune for a while).
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I want to say that Venice is unique, that if you were plopped there suddenly you'd know exactly where you were in the world but because it's so low rise, all the buildings apart from churches and the occasional tower are about the same height or slightly lower, when you look across a canal it seems 2D; there's just nothing behind it to give perspective. Looking down the Grand Canal from the Accademia Bridge on the first evening we both decided that we were either in Venice, or on a really big film set, or possibly some casino in Vegas which H says has a mini Venice complete with canal all in a really big shed.

What you can't replicate on a film set is the atmosphere (and the smells). It might be warm breezes and bright sunshine going to my head but Venice seemed to us to have a very laid back atmosphere and with all of its little passages and twisty corners with a flash of water at the end it reminded me so much of Dartmouth (the nearest town to my parents in Devon); sea air, a relaxed attitude to life, and the kind of light that you only get where the sky bounces off sea, and stone, and pale painted houses.
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The buildings in Venice are beautiful in a 'chabby chic' kind of way.

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The underlying building will have classic proportions and graceful arches down to a boat dock, but then the paint's peeling on one side and the shutters are worn and faded.  And then you've got the graffiti. I don't know whether it's the locals, or tourists deciding to make their mark but just about every building has spray paint swirls along it somewhere
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and the bridges are all 'tagged' with little padlocks with names and dates.

I initially thought they were for artists to lock their bags to while they painted masterpieces but H assures me that it's the 'yoof' of today (and yes, I am almost 31, I can call teenagers 'yoof' from a verified position of antiquity).

Kitty and I went to Piazza San Marco on our first morning and found it hot, crowded, dirty and full of people milling about, people queueing to get into something special or people queueing to queue.  We gave it a wide berth after that until Sunday morning when H had a cunning plan and got us up at 5.30 to go and see the Piazza properly.
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It was cloudy and cool but it was also almost empty and we finally got the chance to see it as the architecture intended, and after H finished a quick sketch, and took a hundred or so pictures on my camera, we slipped through those enormous heavy doors for the 7am Mass at San Marco's.  I know that the sermon included the Italian for all (tutti), St John (San Giovanni) and St Mark (San Marco) but other than that I couldn't tell you what it was about. Kitty on the other hand thought it was marvellous.  So marvellous in fact that she started to chatter back (and at that point we made a reverent but hasty exit).
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To be honest we were so busy in the weeks leading up to our trip that we hadn't done the prep work we usually would have done and we entered Venice with some brief instructions on how to find the water bus from the airport and a small pocket Italian phrase book. By that point I'd made a conscious decision that I wasn't going to go here there and everywhere and try to cram every museum, every important building, and every painting into a five day trip. For one thing, Venice is a bit keen on buggy defying bridges and so by the time I had Kitty loaded in the carrier on my front and a backpack on the other side to carry the changing bag, and the suncream and the water and the baby water and a snack and the phrase book, and then the camera slung off to one side, I looked far too much like a pack pony to want to meander around a gallery.
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Instead we didn't bother with a map but set off in whatever direction we fancied, relying on the fact that Venice is a four direction city; there may be lots of little alleys but you're always turning at right angles so it you have a relatively good sense of direction and a good visual memory for places that you've been then you can't get lost.The only exception was a trip with Kitty to the Peggy Guggenheim collection.  Not what you'd expect in Venice but a really good collection of modern art - more on that another day.

One of the things we loved about our wandering was finding little quirky bits of Venice.
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Many of the window boxes overflowed with scarlet geraniums and may well have converted me to their merits, and that I'm confident I could grow successfully.

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I don't think anyone owns a whole house in Venice, it's all apartment buildings with gorgeous shiny brass doorbells
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to make a silly self portrait.

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Our hotel was on a little side canal on Dosoduro that ran from the Grand Canal down to Zattere (that's the view from our balcony on the first morning) and it was a perfect location, quiet and calm and out of the tourist bussle and yet five minutes from the bridge over to the exciting touristy bits and a quick walk down to Zattere where we sat on the seafront every night trying out a variety of restaurants for supper.  It was the Hotel American Dinesin and I cannot praise them highly enough.  We had a cot in out room for Kitty and every morning the maids would make up her bed and arrange her teddies in a little circle at one end for her, and in the breakfast room they brought us a really nice high chair with a decent tray and asked us whether there was anything special they could get her.  It's fair to say she had them wrapped around her little finger.
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Actually I think most of the Italians we met adored our little girl, we could scarecely go a 100 yards in some places without someone saying what a pretty baby she was (bella bambina), asking her name or age or tickling her feet. Kitty and I met one older gentleman on a ferry one morning who rescued her hat from flying off into the canal and H got a huge surprise later that evening when we walked past him again in front of a bar and he rushed up to say hello again.
Zattere is the bottom of one of the main islands of Venice and it runs as a long seafront all the way from the entrance to the grand canal and San Salute to the port for the cruise ships at the other.  We tried to eat up by the Rialto bridge one night but it was too crazy busy and after waiting for what felt like hours for service we scooted back to one of our favourites.
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Most of the restaurants have very little space inside and we ate on pontoons built out into the canal.  It's much more glamourous than it sounds I promise.
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And as the sun set we could watch the skies and see the lights come on across the way and it was perfect.  I can see why it's such a honeymoon destination, and we could spot the honeymoon couples a mile away (hand in hand, he dressed normally, she in something chic - usually a smart dress and pretty sandals) but I think it was great for our little family.
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I'll come back another time to show and tell more about the food because that deserves a post of it's own, but for know all I have to say if that if you don't know Wolverhampton let's just say it's punching above its weight.


  1. Sounds like you had a wonderful holiday, you all look so happy, great photo's can't wait for the next installment.

  2. Really lovely, thank you. You can show me more photos any time you want.

    Wolverhampton? Really?


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