Do some people really think that Italy is warm all year round? Judging by the number of under-dressed visitors often spotted in the arrivals hall at Venice’s Marco Polo Airport in mid-winter, the answer is evidently yes. Northern Italy, and this includes the Veneto, can be extremely cold in winter.
Take my recent trip to Venice to participate in one of Walks of Italy’s tours of La Serenissima, which was to involve two hours in a boat on the Lagoon. Arriving by train with fellow blogger Tom Weber, The Palladian Traveler, in my down-filled coat, fur-lined boots, gloves and woollen hat I thought I was dressed warmly enough for an afternoon on the water. But no, sadly, the day was colder than even I, a resident of the Veneto, had imagined.
Before joining the tour, we took a relaxing stroll through the pleasantly uncrowded winter streets, stopping for a cicchetti and an ombra on the way.
We then wandered through a relatively tourist-free Piazza San Marco, heading for our rendezvous with our tour group.
We arrived at the base of the famous Winged Lion of San Marco on the dot of 3.00pm. Here we met our lovely guide Jennifer, an Australian who came to Venice for a brief visit thirty five years ago, met a gorgeous Italian and stayed. Obviously, by now, Jennifer is a bona fide Venetian with a great knowledge of her adopted city and her insights and observations kept us well informed as the afternoon progressed.
The tour we were taking was the Venice Boat Tour, to include a trip down the Grand Canal and a Tower Climb, courtesy of Walks of Italy for whom I have blogged previously. Their Venice Food Tour, Legendary Venice and Secret Passages Tour were all great fun with excellent guides and I was greatly looking forward to an afternoon on the Venetian Lagoon, even if it was mid-winter.
Five tourists joined Tom and me for the adventure and, wired for sound, we all boarded a water taxi.
This beautiful church was designed by Palladio in the sixteenth century and was built facing west so that, according to Jennifer, the façade turns pale pink at sunset. I could see the bell tower looming overhead as we crossed the Lagoon and I thought about the pending tower climb with some trepidation. Landing on the island we admired the facade of this magnificent church and the view back towards the city.
Jennifer continued to keep us all entertained and related a story about fishing a poor tourist out of the water outside San Giorgio Maggiore. The lady had, while taking a photo of Venice from that prime position, slipped on the green algae that gathers on the steps below the water line – often exposed at low tide. Jennifer, being a heroine, promptly plucked her out.
Inside the church the last remnants of the Venice Biennale were being dismantled, but one exhibit remained: a large golden hand hung in front of the main altar, casting its eerie shadow on the rear wall.
San Giorgio is a feat of ingeniously designed architectural detail and is well worth a visit by those of you who appreciate such things and are admirers of the great architect Palladio.
Down a narrow corridor, Jennifer pointed out the angel who used to adorn the roof of the church before he was, apparently, struck by lightning and was replaced by the current statue that stands guard over the entrance to the Venice Lagoon.
Then came the moment for the dreaded Tower Climb. I informed Jennifer that I was absolutely terrified of heights and she told me that this would be no problem as the walls at the top of the bell tower, where the viewing platform is located, were high and thick. Apparently, she has had many acrophobic people on this tour before without any problems at all. So I acquiesced and away we went. Luckily, the bell tower is reached by lift, so there were no steps to climb. And it all turned out fine, as the walls of the bell tower itself are, indeed, high and thick, so I did not experience that mind-chilling fear of falling that we acrophobes know so well.
The views from the bell tower provided me with probably my best ever photos of Venice. Looking over the island of Giudecca and Palladio’s other masterpiece, Il Redentore, on one side, swinging my lens around towards Santa Maria della Salute and Piazza San Marco, I marvelled at the city and lagoon spread beneath me.
Then I began to feel the cold. Even my trusty down-filled coat was inadequate in this wintry chill at water level. Those of you who attempt to take to the Venice Lagoon by boat in mid-winter please take note: wear thermals!
However, chilled as I was, the trip down the back canals was wonderful and it was fascinating to see the narrow alleyways of Venice from low-down on the water; quite a contrast to my previous birds’ eye view.
We cruised past the hospital; such a beautiful building!As the sun began to set, we left the labyrinth of canals and headed for the open lagoon where we could see the graveyard island of San Michele with the glass-blowing island of Murano in the background. Then down the Grand Canal we rode, with Jennifer pointing out the most interesting buildings and explaining their history.
After the Accademia Bridge we turned right and, heading down a narrow waterway, soon reached the wide Giudecca Canal where many cruise liners bring their passengers to admire Venice from their sky-scraper-high decks; a controversial subject here in Venice.
Frozen solid as we felt we were, we managed to persuade Jennifer to join us for a hot drink at the Biennale Bar and we were soon sociably sipping hot China Martini which turned out to be the most delicious, heat-restorative drink I have ever tasted.
Summing up, I greatly enjoyed my boat tour and would highly recommend this trip to those of you who would like to see Venice in a way that’s easy and comfortable; from high on the bell tower to low on the water the views are stunning.
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