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A day in Venice

Today we we’ve been in Venice. Oceana entered the lagoon around 6:30, by 7:30 we were sailing slowly through St Mark’s Basin and past the Palazzo Ducale, and by not long after 8 o’clock we were tying up at the cruise terminal. Oceana is one of five or six ships that we’ve seen in port today – in addition to us there’s AIDAblu, Norwegian Spirit, MSC Musica, Costs Deliziosa, and a ‘Silver-something’ ship – small and luxurious. So all of the ships are (as required) smaller than 90-something thousand tons.

We’ve been here before a couple of times – once on a cruise, the second time on a weekend break – so we haven’t booked an excursion, we’ve been doing our own thing. The main target of the day was the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta on Torcello island, in the north of the lagoon. Apparently when ‘Venice’ first emerged as a significant settlement during the period immediately after the end of the western Roman Empire, Torcello was for several centuries the main centre of settlement. That meant, therefore, that the first major cathedral was built there, and the present basilica is essentially that cathedral. It dates from the 7th century, although it has been enlarged and restored several times since then. But basically it’s very big eastern-style basilica with some amazing Byzantine-style mosaics. The present mosaics have been much restored over the centuries so there is a question as to how many of the tesserae actually date from the early period, but never mind – it’s a bit like the woodman’s axe which after many years use was as good as the day it was new, thanks to having had several new axe heads and handles….

We left the ship at around 9:30 or a bit before and intended to use the People Mover to get us the Piazalle Roma, but when we got to the station it seemed that the ticket machine wasn’t working, so we walked instead. At Ple. Roma we got hold of a map of the city and also bought our day tickets for the vaporettos – that cost €20 each, as against €7.50 for each individual ride. Then we walked across the Canaregio district to Fundamente Nova on the north of the main island. From there we took the #12 vaporetto to Torcello, calling at Murano, Mazerbo and Burano on the way, and the whole journey took about 40 minutes. The vaporetto was pretty full as far as Burano, but not many people stayed on until Torcello. There was just a walk of about 10 minutes to the Basilica. Torcello is very rural, and was delightfully quiet.

The visit to the Basilica was excellent. Two tickets cost us €10, and I had an audio guide as well (€2). I suppose the visit didn’t actually take up much time, but it lived up to my expectations and impressed Val as well.

Then it was back to the pontoon from where we quickly got a vaporetto back to Burano, another island in the northern part of the lagoon. It’s renowned as a lace-making island, and there were a number of shops selling lace that had (they claimed) been made on the premises. It was also quiet, low-rise and civilised, and after walking around for a while we found a restaurant and had pizza and mineral water for lunch.

By this time we’d decided that we fancied a glass of wine on the waterfront east of St Mark’s square – we’ve done this before and we know where the bars are. So we took a vaporetto back to Fundamente Nova and walked across Venice, with a detour to the Rialto, through St Mark’s square and on to the waterfront. This was a mistake. By this time it had got very hot, we were quite tired, and it was very, very busy. By the time we got to the waterfront and had identified the location of the pier for the P&O launch back to the cruise terminal, we were feeling very frazzled. In fact we decided not to bother with the wine and just had more sparkling mineral water. Then it was back to the ship which we reached at just after 5pm. Just before the terminal we spent almost the last of our €s on some silly souvenirs, so at least we know we’re not taking unspent cash home.

You’ll be pleased to learn that we didn’t completely forget that glass of wine. After returning to the ship we showered and changed and then went down to Magnums, which has become our favourite bar – it’s quiet, civilised, and the wine waiter knows his trade and is very friendly. In fact, we’re enjoying a glass of Chardonnay each as I write this.

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