Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Week 2 - Venice!

Well hello again, everyone!

Right now I'm in a place called Winterthur, just near Zurich, Switzerland, where my friend Anna lives. Being put up in luxury, I might add!

Campanile of St Mark's and two of the Four Tetrarchs
It's been quite a week and a half. As many of you know, I've been to some place called "Venice", so this update should be a bit more "travel story" and less "Mark's food blog".

So, rewind to Imperia. After a day on trains, we arrived in Venice sometime in the afternoon ("we" being myself, my aunt (zia) Meme, and her friend Anna).

St Mark's in the rain
After catching a Vaporetto (ferry) to St Mark's square, we were met by the fellow who was to take us to our accommodation. He was pretty much a dead ringer for Freddie Mercury, which did nothing to alleviate the sense of surrealism I was experiencing. In fact, it took quite a few days for the whole "holy crap, I'm in VENICE!" thing to start wearing off; which is how it should be of course.

St Mark's square from the Basilica
Anyway, after making it to our accommodation, which turned out to be quite close to the square, we had a quick look around (with me in a daze of course) and then a nice quiet pizza (the first of many) in a back street.

Classic Venetian vista
Saturday we spent wandering, which is one of the best ways to spend time in Venice; there is an enormous amount to see and do. Just walking around is a visual feast in itself – the architecture, bridges and canals are incredibly pretty, no matter where you look; up, down, sideways – it doesn't matter. Then there are the smells and sounds.

One minute you are shuffling along a narrow street, crowded with tourists, peering into shop windows filled with everything from Venetian masks (mostly cheesy tourist versions), fake Murano glass, ridiculously overpriced handbags, and wearable, fashionable dead animal skins.

Then you turn a corner into a side street and suddenly you're wandering alone down a narrow, dank alley that smells like a mixture of dog piss, swamp, rubbish and delicious cooking all at once.

Classic Venetian architecture
Just when you think it's a dead end, you turn another corner and there's a pretty little courtyard with a restaurant and a gondola on the nearby canal, ferrying around well-heeled tourists (or lovers) while some guy blasts away on the piano-accordion.

And that's just on the outside. Once you start going into places it gets even better. On the first day we visited the famous church of the Frari, which is quite insanely large and ornate.

Meme and Anna also spent a lot of time window-shopping on the streets, which isn't normally my favourite pastime, but in Venice there's always something amusing to see.

After an afternoon nap, we finished the day with a lovely dinner, and then went down to St Mark's square, where I finally took my first Venetian pictures (I just wanted to look at things for the first day, knowing that I'd be there for a week. This was great, from a photography point of view it's complete overload when you arrive).

myself, Zia Meme and Anna

On Sunday we headed off to an exhibition of famous Italian photographs. There's a bit of back-story to this. Some of you may know that my Italian grandfather, Carlo Cocquio, was a painter, and spent a lot of time painting in Venice (see attached pic). A great friend of his (and his brother in law, as it happened) was a guy called Paolo Monti, who was a pioneering Italian photographer.

Rio Delle Lavandaie, by my Nonno Carlo Cocquio
In 1948 he and some other photographers founded a photographic society in Venice called "Circolo Fotografico La Gondola", which is still around today (see http://www.cflagondola.it/English/index.html).

Zia Meme, being Paolo's niece, appeared in quite a few of his works and so she is somewhat of a (reluctant) celebrity in these circles, and knows a few people in the society (I met Paolo too when I was very little – he took some pictures of me; I'll attach one for a giggle).

Portrait of yours truly, aged about 2, by Paolo Monti
Thus - not only were we given a grand tour of the exhibition, along with a group of other interested folks - we also were invited to have dinner with the chap from the society (whose name escapes me much to my embarrassment).

I certainly remember his dinner though – home cooked prawn and porcini risotto plus and roasted fish in a Venetian flat (remember how I said it wouldn't be a food blog? I lied). The whole experience was very special, despite the fact that he talked at a million miles an hour and my brain almost melted trying to follow even a small amount of the conversation.

As an aside, it is interesting trying to follow conversations in a language you don't speak much of. It's a mixture of keywords, with a lot of educated guesswork based on the emotional flow of the conversation (which is an odd thing to follow when you have no idea what is being said).

Anyway, after dinner we got rained on going home. So now I can say I've been soaked in Venice.  Which is debatably romantic.

The famous four bronze horses
I had one last day with Meme and Anna after that, and we went and explored more. There was a great ferry ride around the city, and gelato and some amazing works of art by Tintoretto. And then there was the inevitably teary farewell the next morning when it was finally time to travel on my own.

I spent the next four nights at a hostel not too far from the main square, but far enough that it was in a nice quiet spot.

During the day I went exploring as much as my legs would stand, taking the odd picture, and trying to get purposefully lost (so as to see new places).

I would return to the hostel in the afternoon for little rest, then head out again for a nice dinner by a canal somewhere, followed by a slower amble around to take more photos or just watch the world go by. I took the guitar out one night and played a bit here and there, just because I could. Walking home through the empty streets late at night, noodling away on the guitar is a rather nice memory. :)

Café Florien from the Campanile
I left most of the main tourist attractions right until the end of my stay really; they weren't going anywhere. But eventually I covered all the bases, touring the Palace and St Mark's cathedral (which are both very touristy, but are both also totally amazing). I also went up the campanile (bell tower) and got the usual great overhead pics, as well as being deafened by the bells, which was quite cool, as it also happened to us 25 years ago when I was there as a kid.

I actually made a recording of said bells, as well as a little stroll around the square at night. I'll be trying to take little audio pictures as I go around, just to be different. You can find them all at https://soundcloud.com/strepto42/sets/europe-2012-travel

For my last night in Venice I treated myself to a live Vivaldi concert (with some Pachelbel and Back thrown in), in the very church where Vivaldi used to debut his new pieces. This was also pretty  special because my parents took us to the same spot 25 years ago, for the same sort of thing, and I still remember it being magical.

Quiet back street by night
And that was it for Venice. Except for once last walk from my hostel to the train station, which turned out to be rather a long one, as I went via the square and fed the pigeons along the way. The pigeons of
St Mark's square are, of course, incredibly tame, and will quite happily sit on you, eat out of your hand, and generally swarm around if you encourage them. Which is really cool, unless you are ornithophobic (hi Alex!).

One last observation about visiting Venice: The swarms of tourists are quite insane and intense at first, but if you can find a good spot to sit, it is really quite nice to just people-watch. Because everyone is happy – they are on holidays, in Venice. Being silly, and happy, and excited. It's remarkably therapeutic. So I'll leave you with that thought – if you're a bit down, go somewhere touristy (especially one of the wonders of the world) and watch people.

Hopefully everyone's well, and no-one died of starvation reading this. I'll see you all in another week or so, with some Swiss and maybe even German antics. 

Edit: My complete set of pictures from Venice are now up on Flickr, to view click here:

Moody back street tunnel