Well, Taverna el Remer had certainly left its mark on me, in the form of one hell of a hangover! I mean, as I mentioned previously, the blues band was amazing and the drinks (extra strong and expertly crafted) went down all too quickly, to the point where I recall little of the night before – but my phone has managed to help me out; apparently on the way back we came across a variety of little glass sculptures which I’m sure you’ll agree are beautiful!
Anyway, as a result of last nights’ antics, we set off (much) later than planned, yet still relatively early enough to catch a tour of the museum of St Marks Basilica, AND the basilica itself, which really was magical! In the museum above, the air filled with the lifting fragrance of frankincense mingling with the soft dulcet tones of the liturgy reciting in Latin (there was a service going on in the chapel below). The entire inside of the cathedral was encrusted with tiny square fragments of mosaic, the inside of the dome itself being completely covered in gold pieces, to the point where, even though there were not many windows, it seemed incredibly bright as what little light there was was reflected and bounced off each fragment. After the service we had time (having bought the €2 queue jump ticket) to zoom around the basilica itself, marvelling at the delightfully uneven and intricate stone mosaic floor and original artefacts in the relics chamber – including fragments of leg, hair, skull, someones heart and various materials belonging to or having been touched by various saints and martyrs over the centuries. Some of the body parts – including a femur bone, around 200 years old, was incredibly well preserved and had even been fought over and stolen time and again by different ruling nations.
*I have no photographs of the interior of the basilica as there is a no photo policy. Sadly not everyone seems to be aware of this, and my partner and I found ourselves discouraging people from taking photos – even with the flash on! Not only is this disrespectful, but the flash can damage the centuries-old artefacts inside the basilica. The signs are there for a reason.*
Although not religious, I always find old places of worship truly fascinating and (even when they are heaving with people) strangely peaceful. You can almost feel the presence of those souls who have come here to worship every Sunday for generations, decades, even centuries. Baptisms, weddings, funerals, times of hardship when people would turn to the Lord for guidance, for strength. These places witness every significant event of some people’s lives, and I always feel a strange sense of connection when I visit – whether it be a temple, church or mosque there is definitely an energy about these places.
Having absorbed the tranquility of the basilica in the midst of the bustling crowd, we made our way over to the water bus port, and off to our first island stop – Merano, home of traditional Merano glass, where we were lucky enough to find even more of those glass blown lifelike bees.
Originally, Venetian glass makers were based on the main island of Venice, but, after several fires broke out, and people realised it wasn’t safe – given that about 80% of the buildings in Venice were of wood – it was decided that the glass makers had to move, and so off they went to Merano island. Here you will find some highly skilled artisans, and the pieces you will come across are more intricate than many you will find on the mainland, so if you can, it’s well worth a stop. Some of the bigger glass blowing factories offer tours and the chance to see the skilled artisans at work. There is also an interesting blue glass sculpture by one of those leany towers, and a giant glass Abacus on a street corner! Well, why not?
After walking the length of the island we make our way to our next water bus stop, to take us on to Burano – home of fine Venetian lace, and some rather colourful buildings. Legend has it that these houses are painted a variety of vibrant colours, originally to help the fishermen recognise them in the fog when returning from being out at sea. Whether or not this is true, you do still have to write to the Venetian government if you wish to change the colour of your house, as many are associated with family colours of those who used to live there for generations. As we ambled, we came across more leany bell towers, and a row of ambulance boats (well let’s face it, you can’t exactly drive on any ‘roads’) and I discovered that after 7pm every day the ambulance boats head back to the mainland, there is still a doctor resident on the island, but it’s not advised to get blind drunk and / or badly injure yourself, as the ambulance may take a while to get to you!
Having wandered the colourful streets and trying to avoid the throngs of Japanese tourists, we settled at a delightful little restaurant Restaurant Rosa – overlooking the multicoloured houses and one of the little canals – for some truly amazing (and really really fresh) seafood, with great wine to match, finishing off the meal with a delicious ‘chocolate tart with a warm heart’ – what a name!
Our island hopping adventure wasn’t over yet! Now suitably fuelled by our amazing lunch, the hangover was finally beginning to clear, at last! We caught the next water taxi to take us further north in the Venetian lagoon, up to Torcello island, the first part of the whole ‘Venice’ area to be settled, at one point being more populated even than downtown Venice island is today, with a peak population of 20,000 people! But sadly, as the island was boggy and marshy, it was prone to mosquitoes, which unfortunately carried a strain of malaria that successfully decimated the island – people either moved away, or died, and today there are only 8 (or 9 depending on who you speak to) people living on the island. While there are still some pretty damn big mozzies hanging around on this island, there is no threat of malaria today and so it is completely safe to visit (though definitely advised to bring bug repellant and a zapper for any stings). Today the island is home to a couple of air BnBs, a nature reserve and the oldest Byzantine church in Venice – with a beautiful mosaic floor, it’s advised to go early if you wish to see these gems as both the nature reserve and the church close at 6pm local time.
Regardless, the island is still very tranquil and can be a nice break from all the tourists, as most will tend to get stuck on Murano island buying glass and Burano island buying ‘authentic’ lace (that later frequently turns out to be imported from China), apparently you have to really do your research to find an honest lace maker on Burano island, someone who you know has been practicing the craft for decades and has probably learnt it off their nan and you can actually witness them making it. Although there are frequent boats back through the myriad islands to the main Venice island, even running right through the night, if you want to catch the sunset, then in the summer months you should probably make your move around 8pm, it will take about an hour and give you ample time for amazing sun shots.