DM and MM's Italy/France 2012 Diary

Day 12 - Torcello, Burano, Murano

Wednesday, 9 May, 2012

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Mosquitoes. If you're the sort of person, like me, who mosquitoes go for above anyone else, and who breaks out in enormous welts that itch for hours at the slightest touch of a mosquito, be warned that Venice is full of them. Being a city essentially built on stagnant water, it's a perfect breeding ground and believe me, they take full advantage of it. I got bitten four times while eating dinner tonight, and at an inside table, not one of the al fresco tables out next to a canal. I'd forgotten to take the repellent when we went out for dinner, but I won't forget it again.

Our day began with breakfast, seeing Tony again in the breakfast room. He was leaving Venice today to travel back to London, so we said goodbye until next time we see him.

Our plan today was to take the vaporetto out to Torcello to see the remains of the ancient Byzantine church on that island, and then hop back via Burano and Murano. We walked over to Fondamente Nove on the north side of Venice, where the boats left for Burano. We stopped off at a tabacchi to buy three-day vaporetto tickets, and then, because they didn't take credit cards for the €66, at an ATM to get some more cash. We walked past several fruit stands and touristy shops before turning off the main tourist drag into the ghetto area of Cannaregio. This was quieter and led us out to the vaporetto stop, where we had a ten minute wait for the next boat.

There was a nice waiting room area with seats, but a crowd of people built up standing in the area marked with warning stripes and signposted in multiple languages not to stand there. There would be plenty of room on the boat, but still people wanted to crowd and push in some sort of bizarre effort to get closer to the front. We just sat on the seats and only got up when the boat actually arrived. And there was plenty of space and we got good seats.

The trip took about 40 minutes, with stops at Murano, another island, and Mazzorbo before reaching Burano. The maps and route signs at the terminal were slightly contradictory, with one indicating the number 12 vaporetto didn't stop at Torcello, and another indicating Torcello as a stop before Burano, but with parentheses around the name. I wondered if this meant it was an optional stop if anybody wanted to get off there. So I asked a guy who worked on the boat, but only after waiting interminably for an old woman who was having a protracted argument with him over what looked like some sort of pensioner discount card. The argument lasted the entire journey from Venice to Murano, a trip of some nine or ten minutes. Eventually I asked the guy, in Italian, if the boat went to Torcello or only Burano, and he replied succinctly, "Burano".

Burano boat
A boat on Burano, while waiting for the vaporetto to Torcello

When we arrived at Burano, we got off and followed a handy sign about 100 metres down the waterfront to a smaller wharf to catch the number 9 shuttle vaporetto to Torcello. It was timed to leave five minutes after the boat from Venice arrived, so that was good. This was a smaller boat and took us across the short expanse of water to neighbouring Torcello in just a few minutes. There were only about two dozen people with us on this trip.

Once on Torcello it was a walk along a peaceful tree-lined canal for about 500 metres to the main piazza where the old church was located. I'd had the impression that nobody lived on Torcello any more, but this seemed to be a lie, with a handful of houses and some restaurants along the way.

Chiesa di Santa Fosca on Torcello

We entered the small square, glad to find some shade from the hot sun, and looked at the relatively new Chiesa di Santa Fosca before going in to check out the adjacent old Byzantine Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta. This was truly stunning, with gold wall mosaics rivalling the ones in Basilica San Marco, and obviously older in style. The ceiling was not covered with mosaics, since it was wooden, presumably because with the older technology it was harder to make stone vaulted roofs. Over the altar were mosaics of Jesus and below him the twelve apostles, with names written in Latin. It took some work to decipher them all, but I think I managed. On a wooden divider between the main altar and the rest of the church were painted another two depictions of the apostles, one on each side. Unfortunately, photos were not allowed inside, so I didn't get any. We took our time wandering around to drink it all in before emerging back into the glare of the sunlight outside.

Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta
Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta on Torcello

Here were some pieces of broken stonework and sculptures from the same period, although I think most were inside the small museum there, which we declined to pay to enter, since it's doubtful anything it held could have compared to the artistic wonders inside the church.

We slowly made our way back along the canal to the vaporetto stop and waited ten minutes there for the next shuttle back to Burano. Here we wandered around the back calle of the tiny island, looking at the picturesque coloured houses until we reached the main piazza, then walked down a bit to find a deli selling sandwiches. We considered trying Trattoria al Gatto Nero, the incredibly fancy and prestigious restaurant here, frequented by movie stars and so on, but decided a couple of take away sandwiches would suit better. The deli had some panini ready made under the glass counter, but when I asked if we could have one without meat, the woman said she could make some for us. So we ordered one with cheese, tomato, and salad, which she assembled, cutting the cheese on a large wheel slicer. I asked for prosciutto on the second one, and she made that, cutting the meat on the same slicer, but didn't add anything else. She asked if I just wanted the meat, but I said I wanted cheese and tomato as well, at which point she tutted in annoyance and just grabbed a ready made sandwich from under the counter! She stuck the two on a sandwich press to toast and then handed them over, leaving my nice fresh cut prosciutto on the cutting board at the back of the shop.

Street on Burano
Street on Burano

We walked a short distance to a place we could sit by the water to eat the sandwiches. The cheese was all melty and dripped down my hands, but the sandwich was good and filling for an empty stomach after the morning's exploration. Then we walked down the main calle of Burano, checking out the shops and sights. We avoided the tourist-laden restaurants and called in at a bar for a coffee for M. and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice for me. We used the loos and then continued on our way. While walking back towards the vaporetto stop, we stopped to check out a pasticceria which had intriguing looking biscuits in the window. Apparently a local specialty is little doughnut shaped lemon flavoured biscuits. We avoided the large bags of small biscuits and bought one giant yellow ring-shaped biscuit to share. It was crunchy on the outside and chewy in the middle, and was pretty decent.

Canal on Burano
Canal on Burano

We got to the boat stop with just a few minutes to wait for the next boat to Murano. This dropped us off at the Faro (or lighthouse) stop, from where we walked inland. Almost immediately we saw a showroom of glass art, which attracted us inside. It was large and had lots of stuff of widely differing styles. We gravitated to the display of "fish tanks", which held beautifully coloured and realistic glass fish embedded in solid glass. A small one cost €300, €90 less than a very similar one of the same size we'd seen in a shop next to Piazza San Marco. We left to look around the island some more, expecting to see several more large showrooms scattered around.

The weather was hot, but not as hot as when we were here in 2001. So we walked a bit further, and this time the Glass Museum was open, so we went in to have a look around. It wasn't as big as I'd expected, but it did contain some very nice and some very old glass work, dating back to Roman times. There were examples of glass work from intervening centuries, showing the development of styles, particularly through the latter half of the second millennium, and ending with a large display of 20th century and 21st century pieces. It was interesting that some of the 15th and 16th century stuff looked obviously very old, while some of it could very easily have been mistaken for new pieces by modern artists - the more abstract and less intricately decorated works mostly. Downstairs was a display of glass beads with exhibits showing how the distinctive millefiore beads are made. Again, no photography allowed inside, so I didn't get any photos.

Fondamente Manin, Murano
Fondamente Manin, on Murano

Back outside, we walked along the main canal of Murano for a bit, surprised not to see more large glassworks showrooms. There were plenty of small shops, but they mostly held only smaller pieces and the sort of stuff that was more easily classified as trinkets, not the larger works of art. So we walked back through the back streets, where there were only houses, until we reached the main canal again near the only bridge leading back to Faro. We stopped in at one largish showroom near there, but it held items that were a bit gaudy or overly traditional for our tastes. So we went back to near the vaporetto stop and the first showroom we saw when we'd arrived.

Murano glass art
Glass art public sculpture, Murano

In here we admired the aquarium pieces again, and despite it being almost 17:30 by now, the guy there opened up the entire upstairs display floor to show us more aquarium pieces. We liked one of the "cloud" shaped ones, rather than the more symmetrical lens or egg shaped ones, but the asking price was €1000 with shipping to Australia. We both really liked it, and confirmed that we both liked the same one out of the two different similar ones they had, but dithered on spending so much money. Eventually the guy offered us free shipping, bringing the total down to the €900 marked on the price sticker. Well, we only live once, so we bought it! There were some formalities involving the shipping address and paying, and the guy kept saying he couldn't believe he was giving the piece to us for that price. He was nice though, and we really liked the piece, so we're happy. He took us to a cashier on the ground floor to do the paperwork, handed the cashier the piece for packaging, and told him we were buying it for €900, shipping included. The cashier nodded, then asked (in Italian) where it was being shipped to. The guy said Australia, and the cashier nearly exploded, "Australia! For 900?!" The sales guy shrugged and said, "Yeah, crazy, I know."

Murano glass fishbowl
The glass sculpture we bought, safely back home a few weeks later

We went to the boat stop and there was a number 42 vaporetto just pulling in. I saw that it was going to Santa Lucia and Piazzale Roma, which are much nearer our hotel than Fondamente Nova, where the number 12 would take us if we waited for it, so we hopped on. This was a significantly smaller boat though, and we had to stand shoulder to shoulder with other passengers. It did stop at an extra stop though, picking up more people at the Collona stop on Murano, before heading around Venice and into Canal di Cannaregio. We disembarked at Santa Lucia and walked the short distance back across Ponte degli Scalzi to or hotel.

After resting and showering, we went out in search of dinner. We walked south-east, towards Dorsoduro, just looking for a place that looked decent and non-touristy. We passed a few uninteresting places and starting heading back towards or hotel in a loop to avoid going too far away. We ran across a couple of restaurants facing each other across Calle Vinanti, and selected the more homely of the two, Osteria ae Cravate. It had a necktie theme, with dozens of them hanging from the ceiling and in glass display cases on the walls.

Vegetable side dish at Osteria ae Cravate

I chose to try the cuttlefish in ink that Tony had said was good the two times he'd tried it. It came with slices of grilled polenta and the ink sauce was thick and black and very rich. It tasted good, but was too flavourful and rich to eat a lot of, so I went light on the sauce. M. had spaghetti with olive oil, garlic, and chili. We also got a plate of contorni, a vegetable side dish, which contained several different grilled vegetables. The meal was okay, but not fantastic. For a starter we shared an insalata caprese, with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil. They split a single serve up on to two plates for us when we said we were sharing it. This dish was very nice and simple and fresh. For dessert I chose the chocolate mouse, while M. had a macchiato caldo to drink.

After dinner we walked home and collapsed into bed after another very full and tiring day.

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