Venice: St Marks Square, and all that
Breakfast was at 8 with our new-found friends Beau and son Jethro. In general chit chat we discovered that Beau lived just up the road in London from fellow Aussie Jason Donovan, although she was hardly star-struck. Quite the opposite - he's no beau, as far as Beau is concerned. We also spoke about another Aussie export that was on the TV - 'The Secret Life Of Us'. Billed as the Antipodean 'This Life', it was tucked away on Channel 4 at 11pm, and consequently not watched by a great number of people (although it really is an excellent series!). I learned that Beau was even more familiar with the series, having had a friend who lived in the very building in St Kilda, Melbourne where the series is set, and she too had been at a rooftop party, just as the characters in the series had, overlooking the bay.
The incredible exploding woman
We had a coach journey of around 45 minutes into Venice (it usually took longer, but the Italians were taking their annual holiday on account of the heat). Not two minutes in to the journey, the woman sitting immediately behind me 'exploded' with a sound and smell that suggested that she was going to have difficulties in the choppy boat journeys ahead.
To get to Venice, you travel in from the north using the only access road, a route which entails driving through a very industrial, and as a result pretty ugly, area by the name of Mèstre. The Tronchetto is where the adventure begins. From the coach park by boat (or vaporetto as they are known locally), we skirted around the south of the artificial island of Venice landing at the Canaldi Pier, at the mouth of the famous Grand Canal, then walked to Piazza di San Marco (aka St Marks).
They say that it is very easy to get lost in Venice. We can attest to that. Ten minutes in to a 2-hour guided walking tour we lost sight of our whole group. As we took photos on the extremely crowded bridge immediately in front of the 'Bridge of Sighs', our group had disappeared. We headed two bridges east back towards Canaldi Pier - the direction that the walking tour had been taking - but found no familiar faces in the crowds. We tried an alleyway, no sign, then headed back to St Marks, again with no sign. We realised that we had lost them, but the bigger problem was that at the end of the tour we were due to get on the gondolas (pre-booked earlier this morning). Having lost the group, we had no idea where to get the gondolas from. But as we walked through St Marks Square, we spotted our group and breathed a sigh of relief.
The tour was really rushed - our guide was quick on his feet and at every turn down every narrow alley, he was in danger of losing yet more people. Among the sights that we saw were the famous Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal, La Scala Del Bovolo (a tower hidden away in a back street whose designer later built a very similar tower in Pisa, albeit on slightly less stable foundations) and Mozart's Venice residence.
A gondola ride for 6
Next up -the obligatory gondola ride. For six. We were joined by Beau and Jethro and another couple from our group, Sharon and Nicolas. The gondolas are individually hand-made, and are not built straight - they are ever so slightly curved to counter the weight of the gondolier at the rear of the boat. The way they steer these long vessels is nothing short of amazing - I didn't hear any scrapes at any of the tight bends, even when the waterways got busy.
We then had 5 hours to ourselves before we were due to meet the rest of the group for the journey back to the hotel. We took that time to re-trace some of our earlier steps, this time at a much more leisurely pace, to take photos. The weather was not on our side though, as Venice got a sudden downpour, so blue skies were out of the question. We also took a ride in the elevator to the top of the Campanille (the belltower) which offers great views across the city, particularly over St Marks Square and out across the Grand Canal.
As we headed back to the vaporetto, the sun came out as it was setting, throwing the Venice skyline into silhouette.