First I should say that this post contains no perfume. I packed just one decant of Cuir de Russie for the trip but it felt like too much sensory overload first thing in the morning. We only walked into one perfumerie but I wasn’t in the mood for testing anything and I’m not sure Portia was either.
I thought I’d love Venice but it totally surpassed even my high expectations. I totally fell over heels in love with the place. Looking at the buildings from the water buses was like staring back in time. I’ve never been anywhere with such a vivid sense of history.
Of course I knew the city was on the water but it was seeing a police boat speeding along the waterways with its siren blaring that made it really hit home how these canals are its streets. It’s mainly backstreets, alleyways and squares apart from that. It’s like walking through a beautiful maze. Anywhere else I’d feel uneasy but even late at night I felt safe and it was surprisingly clean considering the number of visitors.
We arrived on Monday afternoon and checked-in at the gorgeous and ideally located Hotel Boscolo Bellini. Soon we headed off to St. Mark’s Square which is something else in real life. Television and photographs just don’t do it justice. Even at night and/or in the rain, it is stunning. We went inside St. Mark’s Basilica at one end of the square which is a majestic Italo-Byzantine cathedral.
We then had tea at a place in the colonnades that Portia and Jin had been to before,. Caffe Florian dates back to 1720 and while rather steamy that night, was a great experience. The tea was fit for a (drag) queen as you can see.
That’s how to serve tea the Caffe Florian way.
My buddy Jin and I at Caffe Florian
On Day 2 poorly Jin needed some rest, so Portia, Anna Maria and I went back to St. Mark’s Square to visit the Doge’s Palace. This was fantastic and as usual the audio guide really helped get the most out of it. Anna Maria and I crossed the Bridge of Sighs into the prison where we promptly got lost, leading us to agree that even if you managed the impossible and escaped from your cell, you’d never find the exit.
The Bridge of Sighs where we tunefully sang Madonna’s “Like A Virgin”
One room that took our breath away was the Chamber of the Great Council which is apparently the longest room in Europe without pillars. They only managed to construct it because of their immense expertise at ship building.
The Chamber of the Grand Council
Across the south side of St. Mark’s Square was the Museo Correr which was once the House of Hapsburg, so this was great to see after experiencing the Hofburg in Vienna last year. After viewing the state apartments, it was amazing to see the rooms crammed with artefacts up to the 16th century, very few of which were behind glass, roped off or with someone watching over them. It was as if Venice has more treasures than it knows what to do with.
In the afternoon we went with Jin to the Rialto bridge, which I didn’t actually realise had shops on it. Just over one side was Rialto 79, a little shop selling Murano glass jewellery where I picked up a small black and silver pendant. Portia got some striking earrings made from 1950s green Murano glass, while Anna Maria got a bracelet made to her specification right there and then.
Jin, Anna Maria and me on the Rialto Bridge
Thanks to recommendations from Antonio Gardoni and Lady Jane Grey, after dinner we went to Harry’s Bar which opened in 1931. We timed it just right because there was no one at the counter when we arrived. The Bar was frequented by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Orson Welles and Charlie Chaplin. It was where the Bellini was invented, so although I don’t normally drink wine, it had to be done.
The dapper barman gave us his spiel and we lapped it up. I love how everything has been kept the same, even down to where the bottles are positioned on the shelves. I must say, that Bellini was delicious and went down incredibly easily. The whole experience had us buzzing.
On our last full day we took the water bus out across the lagoon to the island of Murano. We eventually found the shop owned by the family of the hotel receptionist, Patrick. His borther made a glass ladybird (ladybug in the US) while we watched and his mother showed us some of her own creations in their shop next door.
Anna Maria bought a striking black glass ring while Portia picked up some earrings and a necklace. I settled on what Portia described as “The Bluebird of Happiness” which is exactly why I picked it .
My Murano glass Bluebird of Happiness at home in London
In the afternoon we went to see the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and oh my goodness did this blow me away. So much fabulous art packed into one space, inside the beautiful palazzo and outside in the garden. You name a great modern artist and chances are they are represented at the Collection. From Picasso, Paul Klee, Kandinsky and Francis Bacon to Rothko, Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollock and Magritte.
Portia had said how she was told off for blowing on the Alexander Calder mobile during a previous visit so I was surprised to see her do it again AND get told off again. Undeterred she did it again when we found another one and I must say that seeing it swing into action really made it come alive. In the future, I need to think “What Would Portia Do?” and do it. That shouldn’t get me into too much trouble.
Portia breathing life into an Alexander Calder mobile
We had our last supper at a place recommended to us by staff at the hotel and id didn’t disappoint. Anna Maria has Italian heritage so went for Baccala done three ways, Portia and I both had Lasagne and Jin went for Spaghetti Bolognese. We shared a tiramisu and cheesecake was a very good decision on our part. After some shopping for family and friends back home, we ended our day and our truly wonderful time in Venice.
Heartfelt thanks to the wonderful Portia, gentleman Jin and the awesome Anna Maria for letting me tag along on this leg of their European tour.
It was a trip I will never forget.