Bellissimo only begins to describe Venice and Burano
Since before the time of Christ, Italy has been leading the world with its innovative designs. From architecture, glass, clothing, art, lace, to modern-day cars…Italy makes the best-of-the-best. This exceptional and sophisticated Italian design style is clearly evident in Venice. The patina that casts its ageless shadow over Venice makes it one of the most unique and interesting places in the world. Venice is also one of the most recognizable cities due to the fact that there are no roads or cars, but rather a labyrinthine series of canals and pedestrian-only alleyways.
I have visited Venice twice now and for some reason I was much more enamored the second time around. Everywhere I looked there was a stunning photograph to be captured, an image that has stayed the same for hundreds of years, the same scenes depicted by renaissance painters.
On this trip to Venice I sailed in on the Costa Deliziosa from Dubrovnik, Croatia. I was with a group from the Hangzhou Global Tour, a travel blogger contest I had won in 2015. We took a water taxi to our hotel where we would spend several night at the Starhotels Splendid…which I have to say, is pretty darn splendid indeed. Located right on a canal, the hotel is a mere stone’s throw from the famed St. Mark’s Square (aka Piazza San Marco), but tucked away so as not to be in the middle of hordes of people. The accommodations, while typically European in size, were quite stylish and comfortable. The rooftop terrace offers guests a pretty spectacular elevated view of Venice, which is the perfect spot to enjoy a cup of Italian coffee, which has to be the best in the world.
After getting settled, we embarked on a walking tour with a local guide and got familiar with the general area. This familiarization tour however did not prevent me from getting lost later that evening. Venice is a maze of waterways, bridges and alleys that takes visitors a fair amount of exploration in order to get one’s bearing.
My visit to Venice was sort of a Hangzhou ambassador trip to build tourism relations, so we had an opportunity to meet the Mayor of Venice, Luciana Colle and her staff. The city government headquarters are near the Grand Canal, close to the Rialto Bridge. The facility itself was so wonderful, with many old pieces of art and murals adorning the walls of city hall. Both Venice representatives, as well as our team, shared stories and commonalities between the city of Venice and Hangzhou, China. We then exchanged gifts and took a number of photos for local journalists.
Next, we boarded a series of Gondolas, which is one of the most iconic symbols of Venice and is pretty much a rite of passage when visiting. The Venetian gondoliers jockey for position within the mighty Grand Canal as renaissance and Gothic palaces pass by. It wasn’t long before we entered a narrow and slightly more secluded area. Our gondolier began singing an opera-esque tune that reverberated off the walls of the ancient buildings. It was a magical and almost surreal moment. The Grand Canal of Venice is somewhat reminiscent of the Grand Canal I had floated down in Hangzhou a few weeks earlier, however the one in China is much, much older—parts of which date back to the 5th Century B.C.
That afternoon we had a bit of free time to explore Venice, which for the second time while in this enchanting city, I got myself lost. I have a pretty good sense of direction too, but Venice would even give the great Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan a bit of trouble.
The next day it was an early morning water taxi that took us from Venice proper, to the colorful island of Burano. When I saw Burano on the itinerary, I thought it was a typo…that we were actually going to the island famous for glass blowing called, Murano (with an “M”). As it turned out, Burano was in fact correct. As I learned, Burano is very well known for both its colorful buildings and its quality handmade lace. That was before machines began making lace a lot less expensively.
Burano is a small island and home to only 2000 residents, yet they welcome nearly one million visitors each year. Most of the visitors only come for the day as there are no hotels, and only a couple small boutique bed and breakfasts available. While a million people a year sounds like a lot, I found Burano to be significantly less crowded than Venice. The perception of being less crowded may stem from the fact that the streets are wider and there seems to be more open space, allowing for an easier flow of pedestrians.
Our first stop on the island of Burano was to the Lace Museum, where we discovered a great deal about the dying art and craft form. Lace used to be a highly coveted design element for the affluent to show off their wealth. The painstaking process of creating lace is highly labor intensive. Some ornate and larger pieces of lace might take a person more than a year to stitch/create. Today of course, lace can be made by machines in seconds and cost a fraction of the price. There are only a few older ladies on the island still creating handmade lace; one of them just celebrated her 100th birthday. Once these women pass, the art of handmade lace will likely die with them as no younger people are interested in taking up a trade that in no longer desired or in demand.
After lunch at a local bistro, we toured the only art museum on the island. During our visit I had to ask our tour guide the burning question as to why all the homes were/are painted with such vibrant and differing colors. I was informed that during particular months of the year the fog and haze on Burano made it difficult for fishermen to find their homes. It is also said that alcohol could have contributed to the inability of some fishermen to finding their way, but that rumor has not been substantiated! Regardless of the exact reason, one fisherman had the bright (a slight pun) idea to paint his house a bold color so he would be able to find it during those “foggy” evenings. The rest they say, is history. I tried to find out from the art museum curator, who is 80 years old, how long the homes have been painted such bright colors…he simply replied in Italian, “since the beginning.” I also learned that every single building in Burano is a different color, no two shades are alike. This also begged the question, how did they keep track of this, as well as identify the exact color way back when. Unfortunately my question was not translated well enough to elicit a discernible reply.
After returning to Venice for our last evening on the aquatic island town, we had some free time to shop and explore. Given how weak the Euro has been against the U.S. dollar, things in Venice were actually not obnoxiously expensive. I was so tempted to buy some Italian clothes as I truly love the style, but the pragmatic travel blogger in me thought better of it. I had dinner alone that evening, which was a welcome departure from being with my large group nearly 24-7 for the past few weeks. I found a quiet little bistro and had a lovely meal. I was however a bit perturbed by how much the water cost. It was actually more than my wine, and, two bottles of it were nearly as much as my meal.
The next day it was arrivederci to Venice, Italy. What a fantastic time I had. If you’ve ever been to Venice or Burano, Italy, please leave a comment below and share your favorite aspects and include your favorite sights, hotels or restaurants. To see more of my images from Venice, click the following links: Color Photos, B&W Photos, Burano Photos.