When you think of Venice the images of the Piazza San Marco and the Rialto bridge come to mind, however there is so much more to Venice beyond this. Venice (lets call it Venezia) is an island that sits in a large lagoon, connected to the mainland by a long causeway which the cars and trains can cross. The lagoon is separated from the Adriatic sea by a thin strip of land with a couple of entrances, including Lido island where we entered. There are numerous different neighbourhoods in Venezia as well as a number of separate islands of varying sizes, each with their own character, dotted around the lagoon. The shallow waters within the lagoon are laced with deeper channels (some up to 5m!) which snake their way around these low-lying islands and wetlands. The major ones are marked with posts but some of the minor ones, well you need to trust your depth sounder. Not surprisingly boats are the prime mode of transport with a number of vaporettos (small, public ferries), gondolas (mainly for tourists these days), water taxis and private boats plying the waters in and around the islands. There really are no cars at all, with all deliveries, garbage collection and commuting done by water. Otherwise it is Shanks’ pony if you want to get anywhere.
We plan to spend 2 nights in the marina to do the main island of Venezia before heading north into the lagoon. On our first afternoon we put the RIB in the water and head across to the island of Murano which is famous for its glass-making. It was a little bouncy crossing the “highway” and the new RIB chaps make the side a little slippery under bum. Like the rest of Venice, Murano is car (bike and skateboard) free with everything done via the canals. It was pretty cool to bimble around in our RIB and tie up (well chain and padlock actually) outside a café. Owning a boat here is like owning a car anywhere else. Most of the boats are long and narrow fibreglass or wooden lake boats with biggish (ie 40hp) outboards. The water taxis have covered areas for the passengers but a sunroof at the back. We mooch around the island for a bit, checking out the glass factories and shops before a spot of “afternoon tea” – the Prosecco here is really rather nice!
The next day we get an early vaporetto into Venezia to do the Piazza San Marco and all the other touristy stuff. We have beaten the crowds which is nice, however not much is open. We took a lift up the campanile to check out the view of Venezia from above – stunning! We spent the rest of the morning wandering aimlessly along tiny alley ways, along beside small canals, just watching the people and the city go about their normal business. There are so many churches with incredible artwork and architecture it is always worth wandering in to those and its just amazing to walk down a narrow alley way for it to open up into a wide piazza lined with restaurants and market stalls. We try to limit ourselves to two morning tea stops before a late lunch over in the Jewish quarter of Cannareggio, which is a bit less touristy.
Of course no trip to Venice would be complete without a visit to a chandlery… RIGHT! After a mishap with the winch for the dinghy in Malta, where two vital pieces did a Harold Holt impersonation, Keith had searched high and low for a Lewmar agent somewhere along our route who could get the parts needed before we got there. While he found someone in Venice it turns out they are about 40kms south of Venice and nowhere we could reach by gondola. Fortunately the guy at the marina kindly arranged for friends of his to take Keith there and back – people are just so amazing (thank you Valentina!) – so while I made my way back to the marina, via a couple more churches, Keith hopped over to the mainland to meet his chauffeurs. A successful mission saw him return with his booty later that evening, having blown a hole in the credit card!
The next morning was not quite such an early start, but with a few more churches on the list we headed into Venezia again. This time we let Google Maps guide us to our destinations, which was really fun as Siri took us down some very narrow alleys we would never have wandered down otherwise, mainly because they looked like they would be dead ends, she got confused when she lost signal, but eventually spat us out at our destinations. We had planned to make it to the island of San Giorgio but a little Vaporetto confusion meant that it didn’t quite work out. Instead we wandered back to the Castello neighbourhood, a little off the main tourist path, for a light lunch before getting away with ITIKI to the Island of Burano, where we could anchor for a couple of nights.
Burano is famous for both lace-making and its colourful houses and did not disappoint on the latter score. We took the RIB over for a reconnaissance in the afternoon and to look for a restaurant that was recommended to us (thanks again V). We have booked in for tomorrow night! In the middle of the day the island is very busy with day trippers but as the afternoon wears on they slowly leave and just us “locals” are left behind. We have a lovely quiet night at anchor.
In the morning we again take the RIB to explore again. This time to the Island of Torcello (which means tower). There is not much on this island apart from several up-market looking restaurants and a church. There are a few private water taxis waiting for their guests to explore the island. The church here has some beautiful, byzantine mosaics with biblical scenes (of course) surrounding the altar and at the rear of the church. Incredible that these have survived so long. In the small museum on the island we learn that the area of the lagoon was first inhabited when Atilla the Hun forced the locals of the Atilo region off their land and down into the wetlands. Of course the area of the lagoon is difficult to invade with a large army so readily defensible. In the afternoon we go back to Burano to wander around some more, check out the church and walk across the wooden bridge to the island of Mazzorbo. There is a lovely looking winery and restaurant here, with the local tipple on sale for €25 per glass! Might have to give that one a miss, particularly as we have a special dinner tonight! We go back to ITIKI to get “dolled up”, although we have to go in by RIB so a protective layer is worn over our glad-rags and secreted in a backpack once we get to the island. Dinner was at a Michelin restaurant Al Gatto Nero and it seems we were lucky to get in! There is a queue of hopefuls outside when we arrive and the maitre d’, whose English bears a distinct Scots’ accent, brings out glasses of Prosecco to soothe nerves as we wait for our tables. We let our Scots- speaking waiter order for us, as we can’t understand a word he says anyway, but lovely food kept turning up so all good. Dinner was lovely and we managed to get safely back to ITIKI in the RIB without incident.
The next day we were expecting some nasty weather so a lazy day indoors is planned. We up anchor and take ITIKI further north in the lagoon to an anchorage at the junction of some canals with nothing but wetlands around. It’s OK we still have 4G so a productive day of writing and researching as the wind howls around us. We have a fair bit of rain as well, fortunately not the dirty brown stuff we had in Sicily, and we collect a few buckets of it. An ITIKI cleaning frenzy ensues the next morning and we decide to go back to our anchorage at Burano as the ordinary weather continues.
Before we leave Italy finally we need to go to the Capitainerie di Porto to get a final set of stamps and hand in our Costituto (transit log) to “check out” of Italy. We decide to try and do this from Burano to avoid another marina night. After checking the ferry timetable we plan our day, lower the RIB into the water and pack our daypack. While Keith is brushing his teeth, the RIB has other ideas and decides to take off towards Burano. It is about 200m away by the time I notice it. I see Keith contemplating a swim (as he did in Cabrera when the same thing happened…) but instead suggested we pull out a SUP. Of course, there were no other boats around to flag down. We pumped up the SUP in record time and one slightly soft board was launched with Keith heading downwind towards Burano and the RIB. Fortunately, he was not too far from ITIKI when he remembered the kills switch! Rescue was affected and after some difficulties the RIB, SUP and Keith were safely returned to ITIKI. Our plans were now messed up, as the Capitainerie closes at 12 so we up anchor and go back to plan A which is our original marina. From there we jump on a vaporetto and make it to the Capitainerie with 15 mins to spare… except is is not the right place! We get sent to another building a few doors down, which is also not the right place, but finally a young guy punches in the correct location to google maps on my phone. He calls ahead to the correct place and despite them busy with a visiting dignitary, agree to help us. Off we go and finally we are checked out of Italy. We drop by San Georgio to visit the church and then back on to Castello for some provisioning, expecting to leave tomorrow.
When we get back to ITIKI and check the weather the forecast has changed significantly. Bottom line we wont be leaving tomorrow. Grrrr! While there are worse places to be stuck we haven’t had the best weather in Venice. We have a lazy morning in the marina, do a lap of Certosa (its still raining and cold) and decide to head over to the island of San Erasmo. As we leave Certosa we decide to take a detour to San Marco in ITIKI. While we can't actually go down the Grand Canal we can go past the famous landmark in our own boat. While the weather is still not fantastic this was the highlight of our trip. It was very busy with a huge car ferry in front of us and lots of vaporettos and water taxis so our skipper needed to be on the ball. We feel a bit naughty doing this in the middle of the day but we kept out of everyone’s way and we got a few photos and video footage before we turned around and made for our evening’s venue.
At San Erasmo we tie up to a sea wall, just along from the no mooring sign (except I cant read Italian, officer…) The lagoon police go by and don’t take any notice of us so we figure it is fine to stay here. The skies are clearing and Keith goes ashore to take a look. Shortly after he comes running back to tell me to come over to the winery where there is a group of Aussie travel reps doing a wine tasting. We weedle our way in and the wine is great so we buy a couple of bottles. The winery is owned by a Frenchman who has been there for 10 years. They have the most amazing chickens. We wander around the island which is all farms, mainly artichokes, and enjoy some long-awaited clear weather before heading back to ITIKI for dinner and a bottle of that lovely wine! A beautiful sunset and we will definitely be leaving tomorrow, but what a fantastic experience and highly recommended.
Tips for seeing Venice in your own boat
Strap yourself in for a not so ordinary look at Venice!