La Bella Venezia

Yesterday we returned from a week in Venice. Yes, that’s right, a full week in the place most people visit for two or three days at most, pausing only long enough to tick off the main sites (Rialto, St. Mark’s Square) and do the main tourist attractions (gondola ride, selfie in front of the Bridge of Sighs). But if you take the time to spend longer than the average tourist in this amazing place, you will really reap the benefits.

Besides being beautiful, with its labyrinth of canals, colourful buildings, lively squares and narrow passageways, Venice is steeped in history. One only has to stick their head into the stunning Frari Church or Scuolo Grande di San Rocco to get a flavour of what the city has to offer. And it doesn’t stop there. The different areas all have their own unique charm, from San Polo (where we rented a lovely Airbnb property and found a gorgeous sandwich shop/bar which we frequented for a beer and glass of Prosecco most evenings) to Castello (where we returned to a wonderful restaurant near to the famous Arsenale – former ship yard and armoury – where we dined on our honeymoon last year) to the Jewish Ghetto and Giudecca, which both have a completely different, but no less charming, vibe compared to the other parts of the city.

This year, the Venice Biennale festival includes modern art, with a huge display of artworks to explore in both the Arsenale and Giardini. A two day ticket costs only 25 Euros, which is well worth the money. There are also a huge number of other galleries and exhibitions (both permanent and temporary, to coincide with the Biennale) running across the city, including new exhibitions by Damien Hirst and David Hockney (neither of which we saw, sadly, as we ran out of time).

And then there is the beach. On my previous two trips to Venice, both less than three days in duration, I didn’t make it as far as the Lido. But with a few days more we were able to hop on the Vaporetto (water bus) and make the half hour journey on two occasions. It’s not the best beach in the world, and it is very busy during the summer, but there are still plenty of sun beds and umbrellas available to rent and it offers respite from the searing heat and busy streets in the city, when sightseeing gets too much.

I need not linger on the food (it goes without saying Italian food is divine); suffice to say if seafood and ice cream are your bag, you will not be disappointed in Venice. I’m pretty sure I’ve come back at least half a stone heavier, but I don’t regret a moment of it!

Advertisements

In Bruges: Part Two

Today the sun came out in Bruges, and it seemed to breathe a whole new lease of life into the city and all who dwelt in her. This was helped in no small part by the fact it was also a “no car” day in the centre, which meant that shop owners could display their wares out on the street, creating something of a carnival atmosphere. Bands and street performers could be found at every turn, and there were food stalls and craft stalls lining the main canals (one of which we couldn’t resist, so in addition to the four large bottles of beer I’m carrying back I also have a huge ceramic tiled plate-when in Bruges..).

We strayed a little off the beaten track this morning and were glad of it. Away from the throngs of tourists there are hidden gems to be found; cute rows of cottages, sprays of beautiful flowers and interesting churches. The architecture in Bruges is stunning, and it’s worth seeking out the back streets to really get a feel for the place and its history. If you walk far enough away from the centre, as we did along Langenstraat, you reach the canal and are greeted by the sight of several windmills, standing tall and proud against the backdrop of the (today very beautiful) sky.

We didn’t make it up the belfry tower, in part because we couldn’t face being caught up in the hordes of tourists queuing to go up it and in part because we decided we’d rather spend our remaining euros on a beer and some lunch. Afterwards we wandered around the chocolate shops one last time before returning to our hotel – the Jan Brito, where we had a lovely ‘knight’ room with beamed ceiling and enjoyed the morning fry ups immensely, but were slightly less enamoured with the ridiculously slow lift and tenuous plug socket connections for charging – to collect our things and make our way to the train station.

It’s been short and sweet, Belgium, but I’ve had a great weekend in your fair land. Until next time.