Thursday, 24 November 2011

Apartment swap - Paris / Venice

© Coyright Millie Brown 2011

I knew who was getting the better end of the deal in the nitty gritty of the apartment swap but as far as the location went it was pretty equal!

I had just received an email from my dear friend  Helen who lives most happily between Venice and Australia, 6 months in Venice from spring to Autumn and back to Australia for its warmer months.

She had the wonderful idea of swapping homes for a week, I would fly to Venice and stay with her for a night and the next day after we had enjoyed a good catch up she would  take my house keys and a plane to Paris.

While Marco (Helen's Venetian husband) and Helen's gorgeous roomy apartment is situated on an adorable and quiet canal 10 minutes walk from St Marks square in Venice,  my apartment was a studio around 10 times smaller and consisted of a pull out couch bed (albeit a very nice leather one).  However, the position of my studio was 'tops',  rue St Paul in the Marais and I loved it, and so apparently did Helen. Who spends time in an apartment anyway when the streets of Paris are beckoning.

© Coyright Millie Brown 2011

For the one afternoon and evening that we had together in Venice Helen ran me around like the 'local' that she was (and still is) and I was immediately under the spell...of that time it had been two years since I had spent any time  in Italy and probably 20 years since I had visited Venice.

Since this particular visit I have been lucky enough to have been able to return to Venice a number of times, even taking the train from Florence for a day trip just to experience and see Venice in all its Carnival glory. A huge photo opportunity if ever there is one.

© Copyright Millie Brown 2011

Here are some recommendations that Helen shared with me for
Venice, the city she loves and knows so well.

St Marks square at night (Piazza San Marco)

Helen led me to  St Marks square  at night and later told me she had done this for a reason.   It was only around 8 o'clock but there was hardly a soul on the streets, (it was the last week in September) and I had  absolutely no idea what we were heading for....that was until we turned the corner and my re-introduction to this beautiful space quite literally took my breath away.  The sheer beauty of the Cathedral with its magnificent mosaic  facade, and the grandeur of the square itself is amplified tenfold by the soft lights and the still of night.

If you have the opportunity to experience St Marks square at night after the crowds have disappeared, do it, it is such a very different experience than the one you will have sharing it with thousands of others during the day.

Entry to St Mark's Basilica (Basilica di San Marco)

Helen had left me with a very 'handy' piece of knowledge that saved me quite literally at least an hours wait in a queue. (I am not someone who loves a queue)! 

There is no church that will refuse a person the opportunity for prayer and so there is usually an entrance to accommodate these people, and it is usually located to the side and away from the mile long queue that is common in many of the busy and large Cathedrals.  If you do not speak the language the sign for prayer is universal and always understood.  If you feel that you would like to take the time for prayer look for this door and you will be allowed entry without queuing. More information here

© Copyright Millie Brown
The beautiful domes of St Mark's Basilica taken from Saint Mark's Bell Tower (Camponile di San Marco)


When crossing certain canals in Venice stand up with the locals in a traghetto (much more fun than a vaporetto).   My first traghetto experience was crossing the grand canal on the San Sofia Traghetto to get to the  Rialto food and fish market (which is fabulous by the way and well worth a visit).

©Copyright Millie Brown 2011
Crossing the Canal on a Traghetto 
© Coyright Millie Brown 2011
Disembarking a traghetto

Coffee Standing at the bar in the gorgeous Cafe Florian - St Marks Square

I didn't stand, my feet need resting occasionally, so I sat snuggled into a corner of one of the intimate and gorgeously decorated  rooms where I soaked up the warmth of the coffee, the pastries and the atmosphere.  Simply divine and I didn't care what it cost! Website here

© Copyright Millie Brown 2011

Scuola grande di San Rocco

Visit the Scuola di San Rocco, it was a confraternity or lay brotherhood and was formed in the 15th Century to help those affected by the plague and give comfort to the poor.  It is lavishly decorated with canvases by one of Venice's greatest Renaissance artists Tintoretto.  He completed an extraordinary series of religious works throughout the many rooms of the Scuola between 1564 and 1588.
Campo San Rocco, San Polo

Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari

Is one of Venice's most important Basilicas because of  the wealth of art that is found here, including Titan's Altarpiece of the Assumption ( a masterpiece of the high Renaissance), a wooden statue of St John the Baptist by Donatello and paintings by Bellini (one of Venice's most famous painters). It is also the burial place for Francesco Foscari (one of the most powerful and important Doges of Venice, 1423 - 1457) as well as Titan himself who died of the plague in 1576.
Campo dei Frari.

© Copyright Millie Brown 2011
Nico's gelato

Head for the Fondamenta Zattere on the Giudecca canal in the Dorsoduro area to stop and choose one of Nico's wonderful gelati.  Enjoy it while making your way to the Punta della Dogana Center of Contemporary Art (which houses modern artworks from the Francois Pinault Foundation). This space was formerly the old customs building and was renovated by the Japanese Architect Tadao Ando. Apparently the restoration was done in 18 months.

Best Coffee and Croissants (Cornetti) Caffè del Doge

Helen took me here on my first morning and I returned every day after that! Only in Italy can they make a coffee as good as this and the cornetti alla crema are sensational. The café is located very close to the Rialto bridge, tucked away in a tiny little alleyway called Calle dei Cinque in San Palo, if you cross over the bridge from the San Marco side turn left and it is the 3rd alleyway on your right and down 50 metres or so on the right. Ask one of the waiters from the restaurants if you can't find it.

© Copyright Millie Brown 2011

Cantina Do Mori for Italian tapas (cicchetti) and a glass of wine

Wonderful atmospheric wine bar,  again very close to the Rialto bridge. It's a great place to stop for a minute or an hour. When I was there it seemed to be full of locals, they can down their wine and cicchetti while standing at the bar nearly as quickly as their morning coffee!   I, however took my time and loved it. Situated in Calle do Mori or Calle Galiazza in San Palo (two entrances). In the area just behind the Rialto market.

© Copyright Millie Brown 2011
An Angel on the facade of the Doge's Palace

Take the 'Secret' tour of the Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale)

You will need to book in advance for this one (as I found out) , you can book online or if you are in a hotel they may be able to get you tickets.

Unlike the regular tour the secret tour takes you to many of the hidden passages and rooms of this palazzo from where the Doges ruled the Republic of Venice for hundreds of years.  It will also give you an insight into some of the the darker secrets of Medieval and Renaissance Venice. More Information and tickets here

Like Florence.........I could go on and on, but I simply have to end somewhere.

Thank you Helen and Marco for having loaned me your wonderful home and for having given me the gift of one glorious week in Venice.  

Recommended reading 

A History of Venice - John Julius Norwich
Journey from Venice - Ruth Cracknell
Venice - Jan Morris

Millie x

These photos are copyrighted, do not download, thank you :-)
©copyright Millie Brown 2011

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