Burford & Bourton in the Wolds

If you are in Bibury, you have to find your way to the delightful duo of Burford and Bourton-on-the-Water. I had written a post already on the town and village respectively but here’s a quick one on the knowhow of these two. The shots are of Burford from a year ago when I sported a short hairdo and went through life-without-long-mane-shedding-all-over-the-place moments. At one point, we dreamt of old age in Burford, of a future when we could buy a little cottage and go for long walks in the country followed by coffee and pottering around in the antique stores. It was actually quite wonderful to visualise it in our mind’s eye as my husband and I sat down at The Cotswolds Arms pub in Burford for lunch on a glorious and sunny summer’s day.

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You have to climb to the top of the hill in Burford and look down upon the row of limestone houses that descend in a straggly row.

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How to Get There: 

If you are not driving in the Cotswolds, wise up. Hired the car already? Then what are we waiting for. Burford is 20 miles west of Oxford and it sits on the crossroads of the A40 and A361. From London, it takes you about 1.5 hours to get to Burford. Parking is free in Burford, both in the riverside car park (OX18 4SE) and on the streets (though this kinda parking comes with time limitations). For coach and stagecoach services browse www.swanbrook.co.uk and www.stagecoachbus.com/oxfordshire/ for the timetables. Trains (www.nationalrail.co.ukwill bring you only till Oxford or Charlbury from where you have to figure out a coach or a cab to get to Burford. 

Where to Stay:

Traditional coaching inns pair well with the atmosphere of old English towns such as Burford. In the heart of town is Bull at Burford (www.bullatburford.co.uk), a coaching inn and brasserie where a small double room on bed & breakfast basis starts at £79.

If your pockets allow it, you can opt for a boutique country inn experience at The Lamb Inn (book through www.cotswold-inns-hotels.co.uk). A ‘Good Double Room’ ranges between £150-£210. If you book early you can catch a ‘Very Good Double Room’ too for roughly £150. You are also paying here for the experience of staying within the walls of a 15th-century, former weaver’s cottage.

Where to Eat:

The Cotswolds Arms (www.cotswoldarms.co.uk) is one of our comfort lunch spots in Burford. It is a traditional 18th century pub with a good selection of ales and food – they even offer gluten free dining – and rates that will not rip your heart off.

Bull at Burford, the coaching inn from above, does some mean dishes. The rates are a bit more pricey than The Cotswolds Arms, but that said, they won’t leave you gasping either.

Mrs Bumbles (www.mrsbumbles.co.uk) deli for wonderful full-fat ice creams, cheese, chutneys and local Cacklebean eggs.

What to Do:

  • In Burford, look out for a Tudor building held up on stone pillars town’s museum. Medieval wool merchants used to meet up for trade at this spot called The Tolsey. Today it serves as the town museum.
  • The 15th century Parish Church of St John the Baptist is one of the churches built using money from the wool trade. I found a cute anecdote associated with its renovation when William Morris criticised the process and had the vicar responding with the words, “The church Sir is mine, and if I choose to I shall stand on my head in it‘.

  • You are within a half-hour driving distance of charming little villages and towns in the Cotswolds such as Bibury, Bourton-on-the-WaterUpper and Lower Slaughter, Stow-on-the-WoldOxford, Cheltenham and Broadway.

Bourton-on-the-Water

If you are staying at Burford and driving down to Bourton-on-the-Water, I would suggest pottering around the shops and the river Windrush. When you are done with that do not bother with the tourist to-do such as the perfumery or the museums, just head out for walks.

Where to Eat:

The Croft (www.chesterhousehotel.comis a restaurant with a view of the Windrush. You can have a spot of lunch here or just sit back for a relaxing tea-and-cake kinda evening.

Kingsbridge Pub (www.kingsbridgepub.co.uk) on the village green is a reasonable watering hole in the village where you do get a nice range of beers and ales. We always love a seat in its beautiful beer garden with a view of children and dogs splashing about in the shallow beds of the Windrush.

What to do:

  • Walk for 1.5  miles from Bourton-on-the-Water to Lower Slaughter (takes about 40 min). You can walk further up to Upper Slaughter through Lower Slaughter.
  • There’s a 3.5-mile circular walk from Bourton-on-the-Water that takes you through a landscape dotted with river and lakes for roughly 2 hours.

For how to go about them, take a quick peek into www.escapetothecotswolds.org.uk/userfiles/file/walks/jubilee/bourton-on-the-water-and-wyck-rissington.pdf.

 

Higgledy-Piggledy Bibury

From the pages of Victorian England came the declaration that Bibury is the most beautiful village in England. It was the observation of artist and craftsman William Morris who lived in a manor nearby and loved his saunters through the village. Walk into Bibury and you know why.

Most probably you will be walking along the River Coln with hordes of Asian tourists, especially the Japanese, because they have tenuous links with Bibury. Some say that a Japanese artist was inspired by the village during the ’70s and others maintain that Emperor Hirohito, the leader of their country during WWII who had led them into the Sino-Japanese War, had fallen in love with the idyllic environs of Bibury. Maybe he had, because in the year 1921 as crown prince he had left Japan in a battleship for Britain on a state visit (thus also creating ripples as the first person from the imperial family  to step off Japanese soil). I can well imagine that a man who had as turbulent a life as he had – dealing with military coups and trying not to get assassinated require significant work and then getting around charges of being tried as a war criminal even more so – would have looked upon this time of travel through Britain surreal. His legacy is strong. There is such a steady influx of Japanese tourists that the village store owners have picked up tidbits of the language. It certainly makes you smile. The power of travel, eh?

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We reached this picture-perfect village in the Cotswolds one summer with my husband’s sister and her kids. It was out of the books. Stone bridges and ivy-slathered country manor inns gave way to a sedate scene of drowsy willow trees by the banks of the Coln. The lush meadows along the tributary of the Thames were dotted with Holstein cows who looked suspiciously like they had been airdropped to charm the traveller with their black and white patched indolence while right opposite stood a straggle of limestone cottages trussed up in a row. The picturesque Arlington Row houses date back to the mid-1300s when they served as a monastic wool store but in the 17th century were converted to house weavers.

There is a tale of a Grey Lady too. Nothing like a bit of ’em wandering ladies to spice up your English travels. She, it is said, was a young girl who had married a miller older to her and then unfortunately fallen in love with his son. On a horridly cold night, the miller left his wife outside to die. Which she did and now is said to wander the paths around the river. If you see her, you know what to do. Take her home with you?

How to Get There:

Bibury is a stone’s throw away from Cirencester. The best way to get there is by car. If you are driving, take the B4425. Buses start from Market Place in Cirencester for Bibury. By train, you will be working a fair bit by reaching Kemble, the same station for Cirencester, and then taking a cab worth 20-25 odd quid for Bibury because Kemble is about 14 miles away from it. Drive drive baby…but arrive at off-peak hours because parking can be a bit of a bummer. The easiest parking spot is on the river bridge barring which there is extra parking along the river on the B4425.

Where to Stay: 

Bibury is a convenient day trip from Cirencester. But if you want to stay in the village, there are options such as The Catherine Wheel (www.catherinewheel-bibury.co.uk), a 15th-century stone building. Standard double rooms are priced at roughly £90 per night.

Bed & breakfast double rooms at Cotteswold House (www.cotteswoldhouse.org.uk) are pegged at £90 per night.

Where to Eat:

Make Bibury your clotted-cream-and-jam-with-scone stop because it is an English holiday after all and also because the village has some twee tea rooms –William Morris Tea Room (www.thewilliammorris.com) and Catherine Wheel (www.catherinewheel-bibury.co.uk) – that will not leave your eyes bulging with the bill.

What to do:

After you have seen the Arlington Mill, the Bibury Trout Farm, Arlington Row, you can opt for an 18-mile Bibury-Aldsworth-Bibury fairly easy walking trail. The views during the walk are of the wolds, the lower Coln and the Leach valley.

Or, you can go on a shorter 4-mile circular walking route that lasts about two hours. It takes you past the row of cottages and the church into the Bibury Court Estate and onwards ho into pastures where the sheep roam and wait for a little natter with you.

 

 

Of Gondolas, Gelatos and Cicchetti

Where else would you have the three things mentioned above? But in Venice. That wonderful city on the waters, where water permeates every aspect of life. We met a man from Germany during our lost-in-the-city moments. The German from Frankfurt went out of his way to walk us to our destination, and mentioned that he had been to Venice 20 times. Now that is the kind of charm Venice exudes.

Serenading Gondoliers 

First, let me take you to a squero. The word is Venetian for a boatyard, where the traditional boats of the city are hand made. Seven of them are still functioning in the city. We made our way to Squero di San Trovaso where they make gondolas and you can take a look from across the river flowing through the quarter. It is in the Dorsoduro sestiere. You cannot enter unless you have a group of 30 and make a booking ahead of time or you’re part of a walking tour which is eye-poppingly expensive (above 500$). Rest assured, just watching from across the river is a good enough prospect. This photograph was taken on a Sunday when the squero remains shut.

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The boatyard, adjacent to the Church of San Trovaso, dates back to the 17th century. Those Tyrolean-style buildings (Tyrolean architecture is typically characterised by houses made of wood with balconies and sloping roofs. You would think they belonged in an alpine locale but these were made by workers from the Dolomites.
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Church of San Trovaso in Dorsoduro sestiere of Venice.
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From 10,000 gondoliers, the numbers have dwindled to 350.
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The traditional, flat-bottomed boat, the gondola that is, required by something called a sumptuary law to be painted black. Because they were growing too gaudy in the old times. “The gondola is painted black because in the zenith of Venetian magnificence the gondolas became too gorgeous altogether, and the Senate decreed that all such display must cease, and a solemn, unembellished black be substituted. If the truth were known, it would doubtless appear that rich plebeians grew too prominent in their affectation of patrician show on the Grand Canal, and required a wholesome snubbing,” Mark Twain had observed in his travel book, Innocents Abroad.
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‘I am afraid I study the gondolier’s marvelous skill more than I do the sculptured palaces we glide among. He cuts a corner so closely, now and then, or misses another gondola by such an imperceptible hair-breadth that I feel myself “scrooching,” as the children say, just as one does when a buggy wheel grazes his elbow. But he makes all his calculations with the nicest precision, and goes darting in and out among a Broadway confusion of busy craft with the easy confidence of the educated hackman. He never makes a mistake,’ noted Twain.
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Gondoliers and the traveller.
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Those two chatty men actually jumped from one side of the bridge to the other to chat with their fellow gondolier who was rowing through the canal, a couple seated behind him. There was plenty of rapid, animated Italian words flying to and fro.
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Rows of gondolas bob on the waterfront of San Marco.
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Atmospheric gates in the Castello sestiere.
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A typical scene from the Castello sestiere.
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Victor Emmanuel II statue on the waterfront
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A pair of gondoliers have a quick interchange of words before parting ways.
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“The gondolier is a picturesque rascal for all he wears no satin harness, no plumed bonnet, no silken tights. His attitude is stately; he is lithe and supple; all his movements are full of grace. When his long canoe, and his fine figure, towering from its high perch on the stern, are cut against the evening sky, they make a picture that is very novel and striking to a foreign eye,” said Mark Twain.
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There are so many other modes of transport on the waters. Like this boat.

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Othello the moor?
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The most popular mode of transport in the city in all its avataars.
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The delivery barge is a common sight on the canals. The Italian postal service, for example, has its own. We saw a boat ambulance too.
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“In Venice, things not always as they first appear. I contemplate this observation from my post on the aft deck of one of Master Fumagalli’s gondolas, taking in the panorama of bridges, domes, bell towers, and quaysides of my native city. I row into the neck of the Grand Canal, and, one by one, the reflection of each colorful façade appears, only to dissipate into wavering, shimmering shards under my oar.” Laura Morelli
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The quietest of alleys reward you with a peek into quaint trattorias.
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Modes of transport. Other than a gondola that is.
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The gondolier and the golden horses

“The experts are right, he thought. Venice is sinking. The whole city is slowly dying. One day the tourists will travel here by boat to peer down into the waters, and they will see pillars and columns and marble far, far beneath them, slime and mud uncovering for brief moments a lost underworld of stone,” wrote Daphne du Maurier in Echoes from the Macabre: Selected Stories.

I really hope it remains a macabre part of the imagination.

P.S.: Why not take a traghetto for 2 Euros than splurge 80-100 Euros on a gondola? In this off-peak season, gondoliers would deign to lower their price by 20 bucks bringing it down to 60 Euros. Have a think.

Noshing Away

The best meal I have had in Venice lay in two trattorias. Trattoria Ai Cugnai in the Dorsoduro sestiere is one of them. It is run by three Italian women who are sisters-in-law. The food is downright unputdownable. One of my favourite spaghetti dishes, which is basically just pasta cooked with olive oil and pesto, had been given a twist in this trattoria. It came with a dash of saffron. I had never thought of saffron marrying well with pesto.

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The trattoria is in this alley off Ponte dell’accademia
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Pesto-flavoured spaghetti with saffron.
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Grilled vegetables are my go-to dish along with a helping of spaghetti. This plate here came with smoky charred rounds of aubergines, diced aubergines and spinach along with slices of peppers.
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That is how easy it is to wipe a plate clean in a trattoria.
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In San Marco sestiere
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A coffee break in an old cafe is not without its dangers. First, you dig into sinful pastries and then you pay the earth for them. This cafe charged us a hefty 15 Euros for a cup of tea and cappuccino, with a piece of chocolate pastry.
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Chocolate yule log, permeated by the intense flavour of rum and dried fruits.
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A cuppa a day keeps the tiredness at bay. Then you have the bill to wake you up.
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Mouthwatering olive oil, garlic and pepper pasta with piccante thrown in.
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“Venice appeared to me as in a recurring dream, a place once visited and now fixed in memory like images on a photographer’s plates so that my return was akin to turning the leaves of a portfolio: a scene of the gondolas moored by the railway station; the Grand Canal in twilight; the Rialto bridge; the Piazza San Marco; the shimmering, rippling wonderland;” Gary Inbinder
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Bangladeshis abound in the city, mostly trying to put roses into your arms, or, selling vegetables and fruits. The man here is selling  chestnuts.
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Red hot piccante
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At a quiet trattoria in Ferrovia
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Spicy salami pizza on a freezing noon cut it just right.
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Our days were filled with pizza & Prosecco. What is winter for but tucking in.

Masks, Meringues and Gelatos

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A highly rated gelateria in Ferrovia 
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It is loony but you have got to stand on a bridge with a view like this before you to truly savour your gelato. However freezing it is (as it was that day) and however many incredulous looks you might get.
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Those Murano glass balloons had me.
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There is something tantalising about roaming the night streets of a beautiful city like Venice when it is so cold that your nose has a life of its own.
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The city of masks has enough masks to keep you gaping every time you pass a display window. The tradition of carnivals and hand making masks goes back a 1000 years in time in Venice. Each of those masks are worn for a particular occasion or purpose.
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Gelatos off a gelateria near Rialto Bridge. During the walk back across the bridge, we came across the oddest and most heartwarming sight. A fat labrador hugging his drunk master who seated on the stairs of the bridge. Was he cold or just affectionate?
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Pretty shop windows
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Creamy gelatos in the Cannaregio sestiere
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Hmmm coffee and lemon, an odd combination, but delicious. The sweet tangy taste of lemon complemented bitter coffee.
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Meringues and all things sweet
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Not underestimating the power of sugar.

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Bacari, Cicchetti and Frulala

You want to liven up an evening while in Venice? Head to the local bàcaro (bar). Grab a glass of campari or wine and a few snacks. Cicchetti is Venice’s answer to the Spanish tapas and the Milanese aperitivo. It is a pleasurable affair.

Apparently, King Henry III of France in his day had been presented with 1200 dishes and 200 bonbons in Venice. He might have taken to the cicchetti. Less pressure on the stomach acids and more glee at the thought of trying out a medley of dishes.

And, just when we thought that the night could not get better, we got out of the local bars and made turns in various street corners to spot Frulalas. These are fuchsia/red-lit cocktail bars set up in kiosks and pepped up with cheery music and jiving girls who offer you free shots of fruity cocktails. The night turns headier.

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A bàcaro

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Canopy of lights at Piazza San Marco
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A night walk at Piazza San Marco by moonlight is nothing less than magic and romance intertwined.
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Venice by night. Piazza San Marco.
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Downing shots at a Frulala.
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Good grub is easy to come by in the city.
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Basilica San Marco on a moonlit night. It is a good idea to return to the piazza when it becomes empty post sunset. It makes you agree with Shelley: “Venice, it’s temples and palaces did seem like fabrics of enchantment piled to heaven”.
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After a few tipples that is how my husband glows.
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Glittering theatres
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Crowds outside the local bàcaro on Rio Terà de la Maddalena. It gets pretty crowded on weekend evenings inside Cantina Vecia Carbonera.
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Plenty of nibbles (you buy them individually), red wines and Prosecco for just 3 Euros each at Cantina Vecia Carbonera.
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Inside the Cantina with its traditional wooden beamed ceilings and community tables.
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Life should be quite about something bubbly and light and a loving husband.
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Funghi/truffle pate on bread and shrimp skewer, washed down with Prosecco.
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Another Frulala
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“I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following, but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you. What news on the Rialto?” Shylock. The Merchant of Venice.
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“But at night, especially when the moon is full and the soft illumination reflects off the water and onto the palaces – I don’t know how to describe it so I won’t, but if you died and in your will you asked for your ashes to be spread gently on the Grand Canal at midnight with a full moon, everyone would know this about you – you loved and understood beauty.” William Goldman

 

 

 

A Spell Called Venice

A thick fog lay over Venice. We were bemused. Was our time in the city of the ancient Veneti people going to be all about climactic doom n’ gloom? But may I confess this that I was a bit thrilled. I am enchanted by fog. I find my imagination stoked by the very suggestion of mysteriousness and romance that it exudes. As the London lover and English biographer Peter Ackryod captures the phenomenon, “Once more it is a primeval landscape, the landscape of origin, one which arouses a native inspiration.”

Also, if you love the Gothic, dark romance of Anne Radcliffe novels, you would get my fascination with fog. Venice, to my romance-ridden faculties, was a magician bent on pulling off all kinds of tricks under the veil of the white haze. Churches made of marble and limestone arose out of it, alleys petered off into the blank wall of fog, ornate bridges showed up round the bends of alleys and unfazed gondoliers plowed into the gathering gloom. Masks flamboyantly broke through the whiteness and added an instant touch of glamour and a heritage that goes back over a thousand years in time.

We walked all around the city, through its network of alleys, getting to know it by losing our way. There is no better way into the heart of Venice. Though you cannot presume to know a city inside out within a few days, at least you can make an attempt to peel its layers.

Foggy Starts Ain’t Filled With Gloom

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Scene from a Venetian train journey. The husband fixes the fog with a gimlet eye.
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The marshy, reclaimed land that is Venice. Where land is incidental to water. Fog hangs heavy upon the scene.
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Santa Maria della Salute, dedicated to the Virgin Mary who is considered to be the protector of the Republic of Venice. The dreaminess of the day took off from the moment we got out of the Santa Lucia train station and saw the turquoise dome of Santa Maria della Salute rear its head up through the blanket of white haze. The English name for the church is Saint Mary of Health, a reminder of the devastating 1630 outbreak of plague in the city. For deliverance, the Republic of Venice had this baroque church erected in the 17th century.
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Palladian classicism of Santa Maria della Salute. Beyond which you can see mostly nothing except for a street lamp and a few wooden poles sticking out of the canal.
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The church is home to canvases by the Italian masters, Tintoretto and Titian.
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Fog may come and fog may go but the gondola goes on forever.
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Life goes on, on the canals of Venice. E’en though you could cut through the fog with a knife and the cold itself could and did cut through your bones.
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Red boats and fog are good chums. They balance each other out, eh?
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Giardini Papadopoli in the Santa Croce sestiere – where the fog and a gravel path swirled around cypress and cedar trees,  elms and oleander, mulberries and laurel. The garden got its name from the Corfu-born owners of the land upon which it was built.
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The kind of scene that reminds me of the gothic novels of Anne Radcliffe.

The Serene Republic

We were in Venice at a time when tourists hardly besiege the city as they are wont to do in summer. Winter was a reprieve from the hordes for us as well as I believe it would be for the locals. That intimate look at the city, without having to negotiate crowds in its narrow alleys and upon its small bridges, possibly made us fall in love with Venice thoroughly.Venice got into our skin.

The former capital of an important maritime and financial powerhouse called the Republic of Venice or La Serenissima (The Serene Republic) holds on to traces of its trading heritage and immense wealth. Spices are sold everywhere, grand palazzos catch the eye, tall, brooding campaniles tower over the city and old mansions straddle the canals in all their fading beauty like aged dames who might have wrinkles on their faces, for who can escape the ravages of time, but still manage to give you a sense of their timeless grace.

Now, Venice is ripe for flooding during winters. I was a bit alarmed (yes, I am a complete water wuss) but I have to say I did not have to wade around in knee-deep water or worry that I have to revive my forgotten skill of swimming in freezing climes. You see, Venice is a collection of over a hundred islands in the Venetian lagoon.

The story goes that in the 5th century, a Celtic group of people who were known as the Veneti, fled from the mainland to Venice when they were attacked by the Huns. In time, Venice was protected and controlled by the Byzantine Empire which was essentially the Eastern half of the Roman Empire. When the empire had its day in Venice, in came a long line of doges. The doge was the head of state and ruled the Republic from the 8th century to the 18th. The best and obvious of their legacies is Palazzo Ducale or the Doge’s Palace with its massive rectangle of Gothic architecture, 14th century sculptures adorning its corners and stone-lace like loggia adding to its resplendence.

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Palazzo Ducale
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The erstwhile Palazzo Dandolo, home to the noble Dandolo family, is now a luxury hotel called Danieli in the Castello sestiere.
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Grand buildings stand proud, shoulder-to-shoulder along the canal.
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I loved looking at the balustrades on the balconies, the shutters painted in various shades and the lace-like wrought iron windows.
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Looks like it might have belonged to an important family of Venice.
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“Memory’s images, once they are fixed in words, are erased,” Polo said. “Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it, or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little.” Italo Calvino
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“I cannot write about Venice; I can only write about me, and the sleeping parts of myself that Venice has shocked into wakefulness.” Jessica Zafra
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“There is no better backdrop for rapture to fade into; whether right or wrong, no egoist can star for long in this porcelain setting by crystal water, for it steals the show.” Joseph Brodsky

Stolen Saints and Lions with Wings

A famous theft took place in the year 828 in Alexandria. Venetian merchants nicked a whole corpse there.

Did you roll your eyes in disbelief? Give them some leeway. They were a product of their times when stealing bones of saints was the thing to do.

These merchants are said to have dug up the remains of St. Mark the Evangelist and put them into a barrel containing pickled pig which ensured that the Muslim inspectors would not touch it. Those clever ‘uns then built an elaborate church to put up St. Mark or what remained of him. That is the story behind the symbol of the city which is the winged lion and that of Basilica San Marco where the remains of the saint are supposed to be.

These Venetian merchants were trendsetters. After that there was no barring other Italian states from nicking saints. Bari and Amalfi followed suit.

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The book-wielding winged creature might be my favourite kinda lion. He is actually holding the gospel of St Mark.
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If you look carefully, bathed golden in the rays of the setting sun, are two lions flanking the Christmas tree. Piazza San Marco.
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There he stands tall and proud above Piazza of San Marco.
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A live official state lion once was kept in a cage on Piazza San Marco, till he died in that cage.
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The winged lion atop one of the columns on Piazza San Marco. On his right, the column is topped by the Greek warrior saint, St. Theodore, who was patron saint of the city before he was supplanted in its books by St. Mark.

Sestieri Decoded

One of the words which will pop up frequently when you start to fumble your way around Venice is ‘sestiere’. It is the Italian equivalent for what we know as a district. Towns which are divided into six districts have ‘sestieri’, plural for ‘sestiere’. The sestieri of Venice are Castello, Cannaregio, Dorsoduro, San Marco, San Polo and Santa Croce. Let me show you a slice of each below.

Up and Down, Up and Down We Go O’er the Bridges of Venice

Four hundred-odd bridges span the length and breadth of Venice. They are unusual, not only because they come in all shapes and sizes but because they have such innovative names. Most are unnamed because well there are just so many of them. But there are stories behind them that set off the imagination. The Ponte delle Tette is a small bridge in Venice which translated means Bridge of the Tits. In the 15th and 16th centuries, prostitutes are said to have stood topless upon the bridge, all as part of a clever ploy of the Republic to stem homosexuality. Then you have a bridge dedicated to fisticuffs. Ponte dei Pugni which celebrates a popular Venetian tradition of fist fights atop small bridges.

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That footbridge is the Bridge of Sighs. It links up the Doge’s Palace with the Prigioni or the prisons. The Italians call the bridge Ponte de Sospiri. The Romantics associated it with the prisoners of the Venetian Republic who sighed as they had a final view of the city before they were incarcerated or executed. It was Byron who had observed: “I stood in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs, a palace and prison on each hand.” Beneath the bridge, gondoliers often position their gondolas strategically so that their passengers may kiss and fulfil the legend that they shall have eternal love.
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Ponte degli Scalzi. The Bridge of the Barefoot Monks is one of the four bridges in Venice that runs athwart the Grand Canal. It links up the sestieri of Santa Croce and Cannaregio.
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In this bridge-some scene, you shall spot Ponte della Costituzione on the right hand side of the photograph. It is also called Ponte di Calatrava after its architect. I found it modern and jarring and quite slippery. Parts of its walkway is made of glass which tends to be slippery during wet weather.
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I wondered if fights took place on this bridge here. Those fights might have been known as fist fights but they were fought with whatever weapon was handy.
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They fought with either a long slender blade called stiletto or pistolese which happened to be a hefty dagger.
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The fights even took place using sharp sticks/canes referred to as canne d’India or spiked boat poles (now isn’t that handy for a city of gondolas) called spontoni.
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Dorsoduro bridges
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Seen in Dorsoduro sestiere

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When I seek another word for ‘music’, I never find any other word than ‘Venice’ – Nietzsche
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“It is the city of mirrors, the city of mirages, at once solid and liquid, at once air and stone.” Erica Jong
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The husband on one of the small bridges of Venice. How he would have dealt with a fist fight I wonder 😉
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The bridge linking Hotel Danieli with an adjoining palace. People who put up at the luxury hotel get their personal boats to take them on the canals all the days of their stay.
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A quick click in front of the iconic Rialto Bridge spanning the Grand Canal.
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The 16th cenutry Ponte de Rialto or Rialto Bridge is the oldest bridge across the Grand Canal. It is the dividing point of the sestieri of San Marco and San Polo. Robert Browning mentioned the bridge in his poem, A Toccata of Galuppi’s: “Ay, because the sea’s the street there; and ’tis arched by . . . what you call/ . . . Shylock’s bridge with houses on it”. He refers to Rialto Bridge as Shylock’s bridge. Before you start wondering what the strange title means, a toccata is a musical composition and Baldassare Galuppi was an 18th-century  Venetian composer. Browning was trained in music and through this poem makes his English narrator wonder about 18th century Venice from the bosom of his own land.

Tall, Tall, Tall Campaniles and Churches

They have a church pass in Venice for a reason. Every corner we turned there was a campanile or a spire at the end of the alley. There are more than a hundred churches on Venice and I never got tired of the effect that the grandiose design of each had on us. The grandest of them all was the Basilica San Marco. We attended the 6.45 pm Sunday evening mass at the basilica because that is when it is lit up inside and the mosaic designs come to life with alacrity. The bummer is that they do not allow photographs inside – a blooming shame because the finger itches when you see the sparkling mosaics, some of which are wrought in 24-karat gold. It was a long service in the course of which I noticed two people snoozing. One was next to me – my husband. The other person was a big, old Italian man in a green felt hat and a green greatcoat who nodded off frequently in everyone’s plain sight.

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“I have created a church in the form of a rotunda, a work of new invention, not built in Venice, a work very worthy and desired by many. This church, having the mystery of its dedication, being dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, made me think, with what little talent God has bestowed upon me of building the church in the … shape of a crown,” observed the architect, Baldassare Longhena.
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The protector of La Serenissima.
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Campaniles of Venice
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The Church of Santa Maria Assunta, or I Gesuiti, in the sestiere of Cannaregio near Fondamenta Nuove.
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Basilica San Marco. It makes your jaws drop. And makes you ignore the annoying flower sellers who try and tuck a rose into your arms.
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St. Mark arrives in Venice.
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Bronze winged lions and angels at the campanile and the basilica in the backdrop.
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A 15-century former monastic church, Chiesa di San Zaccaria on Campo San Zaccaria off the waterfront. To the convent adjoining the church, girls used to be carted off in the 15th century if they showed a penchant for sailors. So this was a wealthy church marked by canvases by the Italian masters of art such as Titian, Bellini and Tintoretto.

 

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The beautifully carved entrance to Campanile di San Marco.
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Bell tower of the Chiesa di San Vidal which was built as a church in 1084 but today is a concert hall in the sestiere of San Marco.
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Torre dell’Orologio. An early Renaissance clock tower on Piazza San Marco.
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Chiesa dei Carmini in Dorsoduro sestiere
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Santa Maria della Salute from the sestiere of San Marco

I shall take my leave here because I do really suspect you might have dozed off.

There’s a follow-up post about more things Venetian. You know, of gondolas, gelatos and cicchetti. Because the city that enchants at every turn and corner cannot be left alone just yet, can it?

 

 

Postcards from Amsterdam

A November day in the atmospheric Jordaan district of Amsterdam. The city that tells you to free yourself of all inhibitions.

So, I decided to wear my dunce cap 😉

What are your thoughts of Amsterdam? And your own dunce cap, if you have any?

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Profile of a dunce cap