Going it alone in Venice

W e enjoyed our short stay in the floating city of Venice, the final disembarkation port for our Grand Mediterranean cruise. Soaking up the charm, we explored the area walking through the tiny laneways and charismatic squares, crossing bridges over the canals. Venice itself is vehicle free. Beyond Mestre on the other side of the causeway is Piazzale Roma. Located there is a bus terminus and turn-around spot, because this is the only part of Venice accessible by car. There are no cars allowed in Venice at all. No cars or roads, just canals winding through the city and boats, gondolas and vaparetto are the mode of transport.

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After we arrived we abandoned an itinerary in favour of aimless walking. We decided going it alone in Venice was the best way to get the feel of a city, strolling alongside the Venetian canals. We made our way to Piazza San Marco, St Mark’s Square and soaked up the charm of this city, wandering through the picturesque alleyways.

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A short walk from the heart of Venice we found a lovely place for a meal just behind St Mark’s. We saw Trattoria Ai Leoncini had a set menu for a fixed price, crisp white tablecloths and what looked like a relaxing atmosphere is a surprisingly quite location so we went inside. Not only was it relaxing and comfortable but the food was authentic and delicious. We had Spaghetti Alle Vongole (clams), Calamari Fritti and were delighted with Profiteroles for dessert.

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We enjoyed walking in the atmospheric neighbourhoods of the city, across countless bridges and quiet piazzas but after our satisfying meal opted to take to the water. Not for the classic Venetian gondola ride, but a Vaporetto ride to explore the Grand Canal.  The Grand Canal is the main ‘street’ of Venice. No amount of reading could prepare us for the beauty of this city’s main waterway. Our 20 minute journey took us some 4 kilometres down this splendid thoroughfare as we pass palaces, churches and bridges.  To take the weight off our feet and relax on a Vaporetto and ride along the Grand Canal is something I will never forget. Venice is a great place to wander and everywhere we looked we were met with a lovely view. We enjoyed riding on the Vaporetto so couldn’t resist a visit to the lovely island of beautiful Burano on a Vaporetto to explore the area at our leisure

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Venice is a truly unique city, who would have ever thought that this city in the marshy lagoon of the Adriatic sea  was built on a foundation of wood? True, its buildings were built on vertical wood pilings from Croatia, Slovenia and Montenegro. The timbers don’t rot, but petrify in the mineral rich waters. The ground floors of countless buildings get flooded with the rising waters of aqua alta or rising sea level caused by climate change. The aging effect on these buildings is from the waters reaching the porous bricks and the capillary action pulling waters up, eroding the walls and marble.

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Our impression of Venice was that of a living museum, the treasures of brick and stone buildings rising out of the water along the canals narrow, maze-like streets.  It was like something straight from a postcard, resplendent aging buildings, faded and weathered with elegant decay from the rising waters.

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Venice is such a treasure trove to explore and simply be. Have you been there? How did you spend your time?

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Beautiful Burano

When we were in Venice we couldn’t resist a visit to the lovely island of Burano and before we left we shopped around for a tour. We found many half day sight seeing tours of Burano, Murano and Torcello but felt we’d be disappointed cramming these all into 4 hours. So instead we opted for a Vaporetto ride for about half the price. Now we could explore as long as we wanted and be absorbed in the ambiance of this pretty island and its small canals and alley thoroughfares.

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Burano is one of the most colourful places in the world, full of square two and three story brightly painted terrace houses built along the canals and definitely has its own character.

It is about a 45 minute trip across to beautiful Burano and as soon as we arrived we are greeted by a grassed area where a sculpture caught our eye. We wander around stopping to watch the ladies create their intricate lace work. The houses are intriguing and a photographers delight, with little flower boxes on the window ledge with paint flaking away from the vivid coloured walls reflecting in the murky canals. Even the washing flapping in the breeze adds to the decor.

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We found the area tranquil and calm and impeccably clean. We ventured further into Piazza Galuppi lined with numerous shops selling laceworks.  Meandering around we also come across Burano’s most identifiable landmark, the island’s church, San Martino, which has an impressive leaning belltower, the Oblique Bell Tower.  Burano has typical European narrow alleys, perfect to while away a few hours wandering between the many shops, cafes and restaurants and just explore at our own pace. These alleys provide access for the locals to their homes and are not really used by tourists. Along the walls of the brightly coloured houses were lines of clean white laundry drying against the contrasting walls.

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It was a relaxing atmosphere at Burano, no tourist attractions, just a lifestyle. There were plenty of places with choices to eat like a local, a little Gelateria, Trattoria, Cicchetteria, Pizzeria, Ristorante, Spaghetteria and even a Michelin Ristorante, Riva Rosa with an exclusive one table rooftop view overlooking the canals. As the area is a fishing region naturally the food is predominantly seafood in the true Venetian style. San Martino and We also found Neverland, a little shop with vintage charm. We found Burano really quaint and pretty, a truly charming place to spend a sunny afternoon.

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Tip: Enjoy your own unique experience at your leisure by purchasing a one-day Vaporetto ticket and have an interesting and relaxing day exploring the islands.

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This post is also part of Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers SandboxWeekend Wanderlust at A Brit and A Southerner, Sunday Traveler with Chasing the Donkey and Friday Postcards at Walking On Travels

Mesmerising Sammezzano Castle, Tuscany

I am drawn to vibrant colour, unique design and the more unusual tourist attractions.  It is this combination that puts Sammezzano Castle, in Tuscany at the top of my list of dream destinations.

Where is Sammezzano?

The castle lies less than 40 kilometres from Florence in Regello, surrounded by an oak tree grove, at the top of a hill in 450 acres of parkland.   Built in 1605 and later inherited by Ferdinando Panciatichi Ximenes d’Aragona who between 1853-1889 remodelled the property with a unique vision of Moorish Revival styled architecture.    The castle has a lookout over the bell and clock at the front, where the views looking out over Tuscan landscape are said to be amazing. Sammezzano has 365 rooms, one for every day of the year, each unique in breathtaking patterns and incredible colours.  Within the castle is the Peacock Room, with its ceiling and walls embellished with fans of rainbow colours and geometric patterns to the White Room with intricate mosaic tiled floor and wrought iron chandeliers and other jaw dropping interiors like Hall of Mirrors, Hall of Lilies, Stalactites, the lavish octagonal smoking room and Spanish, Arabian and Indian rooms.  The castle is extravagant beyond comparison, with an explosion of colour and intricate designs in the little niches, tangled paths, hidden corridors and secret entrances.  Reading a Latin inscription on an archway translates as “Nothing Further Beyond” one could think was the foundation of the creation of Alice in Wonderland which was written in 1865.

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After being looted during the war Sammezzano was converted to a luxury hotel with apartments, spa, golf and country club but sadly was closed to the public in 1990 and abandoned.  Within the parkland was an artificial cave with a statue of Venus, pools and fountains.  The building has had little restoration since and suffered in the hands of time, the elements and graffiti.  This sadly neglected building has no power or furniture and much of the stained glass is damaged or been stolen.

Hope for Sammezzano

This unique castle was sold in 2012 and was planned to be the showstopper it once was, with works originally scheduled to commence this year, 2014.  Until then, the castle is open a few times a year by reservation only, arranged by the Sammezzano Committee.  In return for the voluneers’ hard work, cleaning and caring for the castle, they request a donation and the reward is watching the joy and amazement on the faces of the 6000 who has so far toured the castle.  The next tour is 18th October. Despite the castle being closed for more than 20 years and is without water and power the tour for 1200 people allotted through an open ballot is fully booked within 2 minutes.

It’s a shame that lack of interest and neglect have left such a majestic building in such a state.  I would walk through this wonderland where reality ends and imagination begins with my mouth open, what a treat it would be to see some of its most magical spaces. So extraordinary, a Moorish style castle in the heart of Tuscan renaissance, a hidden treasure, hopefully to be restored to its former glory.   For me, this would be a once in a lifetime place to visit that I’m sure words could not describe.

You can read more and see the photo gallery on the Committee’s Facebook page.

Have you heard of Sammezzano? Would you like to visit?

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~ All pictures in this article were sourced from Wikipedia