Saturday, 19 September 2009

'The greenest island of my imagination' (Byron on Venice)

Le Vignole is an isolated island dotted with farmsteads and vineyards and literally, wildly different to its neighbour, Venice. Its vineyards gave the island its name. The Isola di Sant'Erasmo (St. Erasmus) is the largest island in the Venetian lagoon, but it's only sparsely populated. It comes as a surprise, after days of exclusively floating past water transport to see vehicles including agricultural tractors near the shore and a small car park full of scooters near the vaporetti stop. The mind leaps to questions of logistics, ‘how did those get there?’ The island is particularly renowned for it’s artichokes, carciofi and is known as Venice’s market garden.
We had hoped to take a temporary mooring at Le Vignole (free short-stop moorings being clearly marked on the navigation maps) to ride the vaporetti to Murano to restock the kitchen cupboards, but meet with an irate workman with his boat demanding our space, his manic shrugging of shoulders and tutting and clucking and our lack of a shared language made an argument redundant, we gave way. He indicated a mooring under a low bridge but to get to it we had to circumnavigate the island. The mooring turned out to be nonexistent, a ploy to remove us, no doubt, but the trip around the island most pleasant. That still left us provision less, so we decided to head for Certosa. In recent times the island was used for the manufacture of gunpowder and its disused buildings are being slowly but lovingly restored.
Out of adversity one can find perfection and the mooring we found at Certosa turned out to be a little haven, a safe harbour from any miffed locals gesticulating storm. It's virtues include unhindered views of Venice (from our mooring), the helpful and willing staff of Vento di Venezia, the surrounding parkland full of monumental artworks and an amazing pontoon out into the lagoon holding a ‘request only’ vaporetti stop. The marina has a free water-taxi service after 9pm, an exciting high-speed zoom across dark and churning frenetic waterways (real men are expected to balance and stand in the wind and spray, love it). By the way, have I mentioned the Venetian men yet;-)Huge poster outside the marina offices of Vento di Venezia showing the island, its parkland and the extraordinary pontoon (left) leading to the request vaporetti stop. We have the first mooring at the mouth of the inlet overlooking Venice, fantastic.
Views of Venice from the mooring on Certosa.
On the way 'home' from provision shopping on Murano.
A long exposure of the night lights of Venice from the boat after a water-taxi has rippled by.
Monumental art work, part of the Venice Biennale, on Certosa. The coloured lozenge shapes are glass and the interiors of the posts light up and shine through the glass at night.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Tranquil Torcello

(Moonlight over Torcello)
The out-lying islands of the Lagoon have been a revelation; many are now deserted and returned to nature, only just keeping their heads above water. Most had another incarnation during their history, from defensive strong posts, disease isolation hospitals, penal complexes to market gardens.
Torcello is a little gem of 20 inhabitants* and some disturbingly, early-rising cockerels. In the 10th century it had a population of at least 10,000 people and was much more powerful than Venice but now it is fields with a path leading across the island from the vaporetti stop past the Ponte del Diavolo, or Devils Bridge to the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta full of glorious Byzantine mosaics. What few moorings are available are located in the shadow of the Cathedral bell tower and completely deserted after the last vaporetti leaves taking any sightseers with it. In the early morning one has the island to oneself to explore in eerie stillness, a rare treat and difficult to find elsewhere in Venice. By the side of the mooring is a beautifully laid out little vineyard, full of ancient statutes, the grapes appear to be a sweet (not tested but oh, so tempting) white variety, maybe used to make Vino Santo, a few bottles of which have found their way into my luggage for reminiscing over winter evenings. Torcello has a few smart restaurants along the island’s path, which only open for lunch to serve day-trippers and so we had to make our own supper onboard which was no hardship having stocked up with a few local delicacies such as Radicchio Treviso and Rossa Verona, good both cooked and raw in salad and a selection of antipasti tasty treats like olives, sun dried tomatoes and baby artichokes. We also found the local wines sold from vast steel vats by the litre amazingly good quality especially as they cost only a one and half euros; we’re not going to starve or, for that matter, stay sober for long.

*I read it was about 60 but will happily give way to wikipedia’s collective knowledge.

Our morning mooring neighbour
Beautiful des-res on a tiny island opposite the Torcello mooring (with it's own heli-pad, definitely how the other half live!)
Vineyard next to mooring
View of Burano from the top of the campanile of Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta
The view on being rudely awoken by over zealous cockerels.
To be continued, tomorrow, Sant'Erasmo and Vignole as we inch ourselves ever closer to Venice.

A Slow Boat to Venice

In the past we have arrived in Venice through Marco Polo Airport or it’s railway station, this time the experience was fundamentally different. Although every new visit adds something to our conception and interpretation of this endlessly fascinating city, arriving by boat, slowly over a matter of days, will have a long-lasting effect on how I will forever perceive it’s nature. We came from the Fiume Sile into the Lagoon, entering through the lock at Portegrandi, leaving behind the meandering reed-sided waterway to be exchanged for the brackish water channels sided by a low-lying, floating world of almost-terra firma islands. Passing fishing stations with their suspended nets still dangling the occasionally missed and now sun dried, silver sardine, we wind our way into the outlying channels of the Lagoon. From now on we navigate by bricola, the three posted pine pilings, that act as sign posts and channel markers through out the lagoon, all are numbered and marked on nautical charts, and some have lights to make the channel boundaries visible at night. Our pace is wonderfully slow and mesmerizing, the sun beats down, the wind is with us and with only the occasional campanile on some outlying island for reference, we glide imperceptibly closer to Torcello.A speeding camera warning on a bricola

Nearing our mooring

Bob-bobbing moored up on Torcello
To be continued........