A fab tour of “hidden” Venice and a great Silversea cruise ship

VENICE – Just arriving was a thrill.

I was here only once before, a very brief stop on a hot day in August, 1979 when I wasn’t feeling well. I didn’t have a great impression of the place and hurried on.

This time, I was gearing up for a cruise with Silversea and looking forward to giving Venice a better shake. The act of simply coming in for a landing and seeing the island stretching out on the horizon out the window of the plane was a thrill, with the brick tower of the Campanile piercing the hazy October sky.

I rolled into town in a shuttle van, passing small bars and cafes and small hotels and deep, brown fields filled with deep, green trees and lettuce patches. And started to think about how Venice is so much more than St. Mark’s and the Grand Canal, which is probably all I saw back in 1979.

This time I signed up for a “hidden Venice” tour with Silversea, my cruise line for the next 10 days; a four-hour affair that was supposed to take me (mostly) to places the average tourist doesn’t see. And I’m happy to report it was amazing. Absolutely wonderful.IMG_4338

We started around 8:30 a.m. in a fairly dense fog that didn’t do much for photos but added a lot of atmosphere to a city that hardly needs the boost. We strolled along quite laneways in the Dorsodouro area, passing beautiful shops selling brilliant yellow flowers, a Japanese tea shop, wine stores with luscious reds in the window and a pastry shop selling colossal sugar rolls the size of a basketball. The churches were lovely, especially the overpowering I Frari church with its over the top monument to Titian, the famous Venezian painter and lovely, deeply moving and colourful paintings.

I’m not usually a fan of Italian religious art, but Titian’s use of colour and shapes and light in his Assumption painting is one of the most beautiful works of art I’ve seen anywhere. Incredibly moving, especially when you have a guide pointing out the dramatic elements. It also helps when your guide passes judgment on the “awful” monument to Titian inside the church, contrasting it with the simple but “lovely” and much more religious and inspiring tomb across from the Titian extravaganza, that being to the sculptor Canova.

I could go on forever but it was a sheer delight to wander backstreets in Venice, passing canals filled with garbage boats (it was pick up day in town), pleasure craft and dozens and dozens of gleaming black gondolas with their gold carvings and colourful cushions and those romantic gondoliers.

We later did a gondola tour for 120 Euros, which is expensive. But it was 40 minutes and we went through quiet areas and passed the house of Casanova and other famous residents and we split the bill with another couple because the gondolas rent for a flat rate. The more people you have (they can take six as a rule, I’m told), the cheaper it is per person.

We didn’t have a lot of time for St. Mark’s but I think most people know it already. Suffice to say it’s a stunning piece of work that’s quite different from most churches in Europe; much more orthodox and Byzantine, with deep bronze and gold colours and stunning tile floors. The square wasn’t too bad as far as pigeons go, and the orchestra playing outside the Caffe Lavena was lovely.

IMG_4239I’ll have more on Silversea’s Silver Spirit ship in my next blog, early next week. It’s an UNBELIEVABLE experience, with fabulous food, stunning suites and great tours. The pool is great, the design features amazing and my suite is beyond belief.

Also, thanks to Silversea for getting me into business class on my overnight trip from Toronto to Rome. I flew Alitalia and stuffed myself silly. They didn’t have the flat-bed seats that some airlines have but the service was very good and the food terrific (Parma ham, Ligurian shrimp, cavatelli pasta with tomato sauce and bail, fresh breads, Bari style veal, ricotta cheese and citrus cheesecake, fresh pastries, cappuccino and wonderful Italian wines) and the entertainment options were vast. Which allowed me to see The Big Lebowsky for the first time and almost spit out my olives from laughing so hard. I even got a small box of Bulgari toiletries, including men’s cologne and skin lotion and some nice things to pass along to my wife, who didn’t believe for a minute that I’d actually purchased the kit for her.

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