The Queen of cities

For many years I have always regarded Florence as the most beautiful city in the world. Ever since early childhood I have wanted to stand in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt and visit Florence. I achieved the former in 1992 while several day trips and a five-day stay in October 2006 merely confirmed my impression of the latter.

I had visited Venice very briefly on two occasions. It had been a case of a quick tour of Saint Mark’s, a dash across to city to the Ponte di Rialto and a visit to a glass emporium. Then it was back on a boat to the coach and away! I had no great desire to return.

It took a modern Venetian in the guise of Francesco Da Mosto and his television series “Francesco’s Venice” to make me think again. I began to delve deeper in to the city’s history, its art and the various personalities that had created it. The result was a five-day stay in March 2007. These five days were to prove a revelation! We have since return for two further visits - so far!

The great thing about staying in Venice is that there is no traffic! The largest wheeled vehicle we saw was a postman’s handcart – even the milk comes by boat. We stayed at the Hotel Kette, which is situated in a quite little backwater less than five minutes from Piazza San Marco. True, the Piazza San Marco is the most beautiful, urban open space in the world and for most of the day it is heaving with humanity, but if you go there at 7:00 a.m. the only company you will encounter is a man with a broom and a few pigeons! Even at the height of the day you can leave the square and, within a hundred yards, fine yourself alone.

A visit to the Palazzo Ducale (the Doge’s Palace) will blow your mind. It is an exercise in shear power and the best 12 Euros worth in Europe. These elected city officials ruled an empire that controlled most of the world’s international trade and they knew it. There is simply no modern equivalent. You get the overwhelming impression of a God-given confidence in their own pre-eminence.

As for the churches, there must be a dozen that would rival the size of an English cathedral. You will stumble on a triptych by Jacopo Tintoretto, a chapel by the great Titian, a ceiling by Paolo Veronese or Bellini. There are church facades, monuments and public buildings designed and built by Jacopo Sansovino and Andrea Palladio. A stay must include visits to San Giorgio Maggiore, Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Santa Maria dei Miracoli, San Zaccaria, Santo Stefano – Oh what the heck – if you see a church, go in! You will not be disappointed.

You never really get to know a city unless you wonder its byways and get lost in its back alleys. In many modern cities this can be a dangerous exercise – in Venice it is a delight. You climb the steps of a small, humped-back bridge, having approach it via a narrow, enclosed passage, and find yourself in an enormous, sunlit piazza. You exit it by a similarly narrow walkway only to discover another piazza. Every turn is a surprise; every corner is a new adventure. The Canal Grande is merely the largest of hundreds of canals, little backwaters that criss-cross the city in every direction.

On a practical note, you will never starve in Venice. There are restaurants and bars a plenty to suite all pockets. It need not be expensive. The most useful piece of advice I can give is take comfortable shoes. You will, I promise you, walk your socks off!

I could bore you sick with a detailed account of all the places we visited – other people’s travel logs can be the shortest route to slumber I know! Instead I present to you a few pages of photographs to wet your appetite, a little Venetian pastry to tickle the palate! Unfortunately it is not permitted to take photos inside many of the churches and buildings.

Despite all the wonderful works of art, despite all the amazing buildings, I will leave you with a quote from a modern Venetian, one who’s ancestors have been part of the city’s history for a thousand years.

“The greatest work of art is the city itself!”

(Francesco Da Mosto)