We arrived at Venissa in Mazzorbo, just moments from the dock. The hotel receptionist has kindly waited up for us, despite us being delayed due to the water-bus muddle-ups. We were quickly and efficiently checked in and guided to our room, the yellow room, at the top of the stairs. The room was wide and spacious, with views all around of the surrounding canals, a large over-hanging lamp and an ornate wooden wardrobe decorated in turquoise.
The next morning we woke up to a breakfast of croissants and fresh jam and set off in to Venice. We meet Igor from Tour Leader Venice just off the dock - he was welcoming and friendly and immediately highly informative, giving us an opening talk about the city. We set off for what I consider to be the best introduction to Venice we could have asked for. This fascinating tour set us off fully versed in short-cuts, back ways, Venetian history and legends, every imaginable hidden gem the city has to offer - things you would never stumble upon without the helping hand of a street-savvy local guide. This meant for the rest of our stay were saw everything with well-informed eyes, knowing where to go, how to avoid crowds, the secrets and stories of this fascinating place - well beyond the well-documented history and in to the personal, local views, both of the past, and glimpses in to possible futures for the sinking city.
Libreria Aqua Alta - one of the most unusual book shops I have ever been to, all thanks to Tour Leader Venice.
After parting ways with Igor, thanking him profusely for his time, we eat lunch at La Cantina, just the other side of the bridge from one of the main shopping areas. We reflect on our tour over a lunch of fresh mushroom pasta and cichetti - traditional Venetian-style tapas. We got a wonderful introduction to the city with Igor, and couldn't have started our trip in any better way than his walking tour, where we learned the city's history, hidden secrets and local legends from someone born and raised in among the canals.
After lunch we stroll contentedly around the city, picking up some absolutely delicious gelato and crepes from a little place called Gelato di Natura. We pass an interesting little boutique and I stop in and pick up a pretty red overlay skirt, an elegant grey jumper, a unicorn ring and a crown necklace.
We were aiming to find a little Venetian wine bar we have read about, Cantina del Mori. Tucked in to the winding cobblestone streets, this is less a hole in the wall than a hole through the wall - the narrow corridor of the bar can be completely traversed to emerge blinking and much the merrier the other side. The heavy wood of the bar is set with glass cases of the day's cichetti, and presided over by casks of local wine. It is clearly a popular tourist haunt, a large group of Germans were happily enjoying the charming ambience of the bar, crowded around the few scattered bar stools that line the back wall. We allowed the brusque, monosyllabic gentleman presiding to select our beverages - red for me, white for Adam - and tucked ourselves in beside two smiling ladies and watched groups of tourists shuffle in, peer with interest at the day's wares, and continue on out in to the last sunshine of the day, waiting on the other side.
That evening we had decided to swerve the Gondolas - pricey and a little too cliche for our tastes - in favour of kayaks. We had a night kayak tour booked with Real Venetian Kayak. This really is the best way to see the city in my eyes. I admit, we don't have the experience of the Gondolas to compare to, and, of course, this is the age-old tradition of the city, but from what we have heard from fellow globetrotters, it really is overpriced for the time you get and lacks the many advantages of the humble kayak. Small, sleek and sneaky we glided under the proud black prows of the city's famed water-bound tourist-traps, exhilarated and autonomous, seeing the city with new eyes and from a new angle - I highly recommend it.
We strolled over to Burano via the sunny vineyard Venissa is situated on. It was a stunning day and we took beautiful shots in among the vines, with the tall brick tower at our backs and the sun in our faces. We played at catching crabs by the bridge over the quiet waterways of the small town, and ate an indulgent lunch at Gatto Nero. Burano is a true delight, the bright colours of the houses and quaint shops are so beautiful in the sunshine - really worth a visit if you are planning to head out to the islands. Most tourists head straight for the allure of Murano's glass, but Burano has many treasures of its own.
The next day we take a walk around the island again after breakfast before we return to the city. We head first thing to the printing press Igor had taken us to where we order some very special 'The Wright Route' bookmarks - for use on planes and adventures or when dreaming of the two! - and from here head straight to Doges' Palace.
The walls of the Palace are covered in detailed Renaissance oil paintings depicting the various battles that brought this city to the height of its power. Room after room of these spectacular designs left us dizzy and a little over-whelmed. Adam began to lose interest, finding the overbearing environment of the Palace a little repetitive, so I invented a game to engage him - 5 points if he spotted a dog, 10 for a violent death and 15 for a naked breast. I advise this game be deployed in the event of bored husbands in art galleries.
After our busy morning we enjoy a coffee al fresco at St Mark's Square, which, of course, is jammed full of excited tourists snapping photos. But one of the most magical aspects of Venice is how much is contained within this tiny space. A few quick and random turns down the winding alleys and over the narrow bridges and suddenly you are alone, the sounds of the city swallowed by the waterways, and it feels like Venice is your own private playground. A few more quick turns and you spill out on to the vast plaza of St Mark's Square, surrounded by delighted travellers from every nation, stunned by the vast beauty of the city.
After our coffee we head to a small French casino called Casino Venier. Here, a softly-spoken guide demonstrates the fascinating structural features of this small building, which was used as a social gathering place where music was heard - the floor of the upper terrace features a hidden peep-hole to the entrance way below, where you can spy which guests approach - should you wish to hide from them, there is a hidden passageway in which you can conceal yourself. The history of this little hideaway is quite fascinating, offering another perspective on this city, which continues to be full of surprises
My last goal was to locate and take a photo of one of the only two gondolieras in the city. Igor had told us that when the first female gondolier began her work a few years back there was uproar, and now a second one had joined the fun! The position of a gondolier is highly prized, the boats themselves are passed down generation to generation, father to son, and are usually strictly reserved for Venetian males from particular families. We head to the Jewish quarter where I plan to get a photo of one of these tradition-breaking patriarchy-smashing superheroes for a feminist group I love - The Guilty Feminists. Sadly, despite trailing up and down the canals, this mythical creature evades us, so we stop for a late lunch at Paradiso Perduto instead.