Posts Tagged ‘venice’

The Rainbow Island of Burano, Italy

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Italy is known for holding some of the world’s greatest masterpieces of art, culinary traditions, and the ancient world. But, amongst these mighty giants are wondrous treasures that remind us that the little charms are just as magical. The island of Burano on the Venetian lagoon is just that. Just a 40 minute boat ride from Venice, Burano is a must see.


The colorful houses of Burano. (Photo courtesy of flickr user o palsson.)

Burano is an old fishing village, and the fishing traditions of Burano date back to Roman times. For most of its history, fishing was the main source of income for the island, but the number of fishermen has greatly declined over the years. However, today, you can still go to Burano and be assured that the fish you eat on the island was caught that day by local fishermen. You can also find the fish being sold daily at the historical Rialto Market in Venice. But, do not leave the island of Burano without trying the fish at one of the local restaurants. If you like fish, this may be the best fish you will ever try.

Calamari Fritti at Ai Pescatori restaurant in Burano. (Photo courtesy of flickr user HarshLight).

Fishing is, or I should say was, not the only source of income for Burano. The art of lace making has played a large role in Burano’s history. Legend has it that a betrothed fisherman out at sea was given a wedding veil by a siren, and when he gave it to his betrothed; everyone tried to replicate it with needlework. The replications became Burano lace. Burano lace making was greatly admired by the Venetian patrons and even the Royals of the world. King Louis XIV was said to be wearing a Burano lace collar for his coronation and Leonardo Da Vinci purchased a piece for the main altar of the Duomo di Milano. Lace making on the island has declined significantly since its golden age, but you can still see women sitting outside or inside the lace shops creating these beautiful textiles. Burano lace making is truly unique in that it is all 100% handmade, with extravagant designs and detail, and more than likely made by the person you see working before your eyes.

sewing lace

A 92 year old lace maker in Burano. (Photo courtesy of flickr user Pat Ferro.)

Besides lace making and fishing, what makes Burano different from the rest of the surrounding islands is its rainbow of houses. Though these houses are beautifully painted and look like artwork, the reason for their vivid colors is quite practical. Years ago, the fishermen painted their houses bright colors so when they were coming home in the fog, they knew whose house was whose. That said, the colors of these houses have been in families for centuries. And, if you want to change the color of your house, you have to send in a request to the government. And, if you want to buy a house on the island, good luck with that.

Colorful Burano Houses

A row of colorful Burano houses. (Photo courtesy of flickr user kevinpoh.)

The Island of Burano is full of hidden charm, history and culture. It is truly a treasure and no surprise that it is one of the many beautiful stops on Smithsonian Journeys’ Hidden Venice trip. If you want to visit, sign up today.

Sailing into Kotor

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Smithsonian Expert Charles Ingrao is Professor of History at Purdue University, where he focuses on modern Europe. An expert on the fomer Yugoslavia, he has published ten books and given hundreds of lectures to audiences across North America and Europe. Here, he shares a day on tour with Smithsonian travelers, who arrived in the bay of Kotor, in Montenegro, on our recent Adriatic cruise.

Limestone Cliffs frame the Bay of Kotor.

Limestone Cliffs frame the Bay of Kotor.

Entering the intricate array of fjords and bays that lead to Kotor invited me to go back several centuries in Balkan and Italian history. Back then, Kotor was called Cattaro, a Venetian outpost among a string of fortified ports that ran down the Adriatic’s eastern shore all the way to the southern tip of Greece and the islands of Crete, Cyprus, and the Aegean beyond. The Venetian Republic had many rivals along this stretch of coast. As we entered the bay, I could see off the port side the fortress atop the Prevlaka Peninsula that had been built centuries ago to mark the southernmost reach of the competing Republic of Ragusa (which is better known today as Dubrovnik).

Even now, the peninsula remains a bone of contention, since it is now held by Croatia, which can easily block Montenegrin ships using the bay from venturing into the Mediterranean. With a native pilot to guide us to Kotor, we passed the fortress, immediately entering a stretch of today’s Montenegro that was long ruled by the Venetians’ Ottoman enemies, who constantly pressed coastal outposts like Kotor. Today it is marked by the seaside resort of Herceg-Novi, which Ragusa gave to Ottoman-held Bosnia-Hercegovina just so they wouldn’t have to share a border with the hated Venetians! As we made our way past looming mountains on both shores, we sailed through two more bays, admiring the hillside towns and places of worship – Catholic and Orthodox churches, as well as the occasional mosque — which marked the divided dominion of the bay’s jostling neighbors.

Our Lady of the Rocks, Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

Our Lady of the Rocks, Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

Two hours later our pilot could finally point out Kotor itself, nestled at the foot of the rugged, half-forested Mount Lovčen. In all my travels, the sight stands out among three or four that have always inspired a sense of awe. At daybreak the view can be shrouded in a heavy mist that takes you back centuries, inviting images from a Gothic thriller, a lurid tale of vampires and werewolves, or as I once observed of a gypsy family with their wagon at the water’s edge ready to market their wares. As we moved in closer we could make out the incredibly long city walls snaking up to the mountain top, which historically marked the edge of the fiercely independent state of Montenegro. Yes, the Venetians needed these walls to climb up the mountain, lest the Montenegrin clansmen above steal their livestock, kidnap their townfolk for ransom, or rain down fire on the town itself.

For more on Charles and traveling with him, click here. To see our cruises, click here.

If you’d like to explore Kotor with Smithsonian Journeys, these itineraries visit it.

A Grand Entry to Venice

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Guest Blogger William J. Higgins, FAIA is an architect with 37 years of worldwide experience, has practiced in 10 different countries, and has traveled through more than 20 countries across Europe, Asia, and North America. He is contributor to two recent books: International Practice for Architects and Founder’s Folly. He has a Masters of Architecture degree from Harvard University, a Bachelor’s Degree from Louisiana State University, and has taught at Stanford University. He is a founding Principal of Architecture International, Ltd and was a Principal of The Architects Collaborative, Inc. Here, he shares a tale of arriving in Venice with family.

Venice's Grand Canal. Photo: William J. Higgins

Venice’s Grand Canal. Photo: William J. Higgins

The anticipation built as we approached Venice from Mestre along the narrow causeway. Entering magical Venice by car through the depressingly ugly square, Piazzale Roma, with its hulking parking garage and lines of buses, seems an unfair, cruel introduction to a glittering city. How can this be the gateway to ethereal Venice? But here we are, a family of eight in two rental cars, among the motorists who are naïve enough to endure the long lines at the Piazzale Roma garage.

Having been advised by good friends about the Venice parking challenge, I thought I understood the system. I proceeded to guide my rental car and my sister-in-law’s car behind me to the toll both of the main garage. Upon approaching, I took the parking ticket, and in my best Italian, told the booth attendant that we had two cars and we wished to park near each other. He forwarded me on to the garage attendant, who was the one in charge of our destiny. As I pulled forward and addressed the attendant, I could tell that he had already started to negotiate with me. First, he told me that there were no spaces for any cars. But we had just taken the entry ticket!

Remembering the advice of our friends, I flashed a few thousand lire (this was during the B.E. period, Before Euro). He paused and then waved me on to the left. I did not move. I said that we also had a second car right behind me with more family members including Il Bambina (my then two-year-old niece). He smiled, paused, smiled again, paused, and it was then that I realized that a few additional lire were necessary. After palming his hand with more lire, he walked with our cars to two parking spaces in the far corner of the garage that were now empty due to the absence of the owners who were on holiday. I pulled in and my-sister-in-law pulled in next to me. Voilá! We had technically arrived in Venice. Well, almost.

Our family ranged in age from two to eighty-two and we scurried off to catch the next vaporetto (water bus) to our much anticipated destination, the Piazza San Marco. Towing luggage, we approached the queue for the next vaporetto and were informed by the dock personnel that the next boat to Piazza San Marco was now at the boarding dock to the left. En masse, we moved toward the incoming water bus, each of us scurrying along with our luggage. My father-in-law, Rus, being the gentleman that he is, was carrying his tote bag and that of my mother-in-law. On rusty replaced knees, he was shuffling along the best his eighty-year old legs and three-year old knees would take him.

View of the Grand Canal. Photo: William J. Higgins.

View of the Grand Canal. Photo: William J. Higgins.

As we boarded the vaporetto, Rus was directly behind us and about ready to step onto the boat when the young macho attendant suddenly closed the shin-high gate. The boat immediately pulled from the dock and Rus, loaded with luggage, nearly stepped into the brown murky water of the Grand Canal. My wife yelled, “Papa!” as the vaporetto motored its way down the canal to Piazza San Marco. We all looked at each other and wondered, “Would we ever see dear Papa again?”

Our attention was soon drawn to the Grand Canal and the great scene ahead of us. Boats and vaparetti were motoring every which way along the canal like cars on a street, except there were no lanes or stop signs. We had never experienced anything so captivating. The emotion, the thrill, and the wonder of entering Venice by boat was powerful. Here we were cruising in a vaporetto looking out onto streets that were flooded. Unreal. I glanced over at my Mom, mother-in-law, and wife and saw happy anticipation reflect on their faces as they gazed at the majesty of the Byzantine and Renaissance villas that flanked the Grand Canal. It was like a parade of architectural gems, except that we were the moving float.

Then I looked at my toddler niece, who was carefully cradled between her parents, and saw a special amazement in her eyes, as if she were entering Disneyland for the first time. I wondered what was going through her head, and all I could think of was awesome delight. She was nothing but beaming smiles and welcoming innocence. That is how you should enter Venice.

Upon our arrival at Piazza San Marco, we anxiously waited for the Papa, not knowing if he really knew at which stop to disembark. Many fretful minutes passed before we saw him arriving on the next boat, positioned at the helm, waving to us with a broad grin and filled with the same sense of joy that we had. Papa had arrived in Venice! We all then walked along the Calle Larga XXII Marzo to our quaint hotel a few blocks away, the Hotel Flora. Upon check-in, we immediately went to the nearest café for a beer to relax our feet, and our nerves.

Ready for your own Venetian adventure? Click here for all our journeys to Venice.

What’s your favorite city? Please share.

Venice – Five Things

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Ahh…the romance of Venice. The mysterious canals, hidden corners, and artistic treasures make it easy to fall in love with one of Italy’s most picturesque cities. Famous for its Carnivale, Venice has much to offer travelers all year round.

Venice in the soft light of early morning Photo: Jessica Engler

Venice in the soft light of early morning Photo: Jessica Engler

Here are five things you might not know about Venice:

— The city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 in recognition of its architectural integrity and for the presence of some of the world’s greatest artists such as Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese.

— The Doge’s Palace was not only the seat of Venetian goverment until the Napoleonic conquest, its design has been imitated around the world. Let us know if Romania’s central rail station or the Scottish National Portrait Gallery look familiar.

— The island of Murano, in the Venetian lagoon, is famous for it’s glass-making. It wouldn’t be, though, if Venetian authorities hadn’t ordered the city’s glassmakers to move there to reduce the risk of fire.

— Ever wonder why certain window coverings are called “Venetian Blinds?” Venetian gondolas once had small cabins with louvered shutters to afford privacy, important in a city where there were once eight to ten thousand of the boats in use. Today’s gondoliers must be admitted to a guild and pass a stringent licensing exam.

— The Venetians love their appetizers and small plates. Visit a local pub in the city and enjoy fried mozzarella, artichoke hearts, or one of an endless variety of topped crostini.

What else do you know about Venice? Please share!

If you’re ready to lose yourself in the winding streets and explore the islands of the Venetian Lagoon, click here for travel to Venice with Smithsonian Journeys.

World Heritage: Venice

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Allison Dale is Smithsonian Journeys’ intrepid marketing intern. She is majoring in English at Georgetown University, and in her past travels she has explored North America, South America, and Europe. Here, she tells us about her adventures in Venice.

Sunset in Venice

Sometimes called the “City of Water,” “The City of Bridges,” or “City of Lights,” Italy’s Venice  stretches over 118 islands in the marshy Venetian Lagoon. This location in the Adriatic Sea naturally lends itself to some of the most spectacular urban scenery in the world. The Republic of Venice was a major maritime power during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, as well as a vital center of commerce and art in the 13th to 17th centuries.

The city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, in recognition of its architectural integrity and for the presence of some of the world’s greatest artists such as Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese.

Everything I’d heard about Venice I found to be true. The art was spectacular, the architecture enchanting, the cafés quaint. The pizza was thin and authentic and the gelato rich and creamy. The maze of canals and the floating gondolas seemed to have appeared out of a picture book. Not even the sweltering summer sun could disturb my euphoria.

When I visited, I reveled in the opportunity to stand in front of Saint Mark’s Square  with the pigeons pecking around my feet, to explore museums like the Ca’Rezzonico and the Palazzo Ducale, and to study the works of Titian up close for the first time. I discovered that the best way to experience the city was by getting lost in its intricate maze of canals, crossing bridge after bridge and enjoying the happy accidents of grand piazzas and new neighborhoods.

To me, Venice seemed bathed in an aura of romanticism. The Grand Canal, flanked with the pristine colored buildings, was speckled with boats returning to dock for the evening. The dim lights in the Santa Maria della Salute church accented the detailed interior of the opulent church and inspired a stilled awe in the travel-weary visitors. The sun setting on the Adriatic bathed the city in a fiery orange glow. However, as an aspiring world traveler, and curious individual, what I desired most during my visit was to truly experience the culture of Venice rather than observe it. The best way to infiltrate the local culture, it seemed, was through the Italian’s unyielding penchant for fútbol.

The year I visited Venice was also the year the Italian soccer team clinched the FIFA World Cup Championship after narrowly defeating France in the semi-final. Staying true to our American roots, my travel group and I sought out a bar with a television and jockeyed for seats in front of the small screen only to watch Ghana tie with the U.S. team and oust them from the running, paving the way for Italy’s ascension to the final match.

Sitting in the small bar in Venice, we bit our nails and hoped for a U.S. comeback. The Italians laughed at us, and cheered for our opponents. Their cheers were so boisterous and chants so comical that we couldn’t help but laugh, even in the face of our imminent defeat. Bottles of Birra Moretti and Peroni were passed around and the general noise level in the bar heightened and diminished with the excitement of the match. Truly this kind of public enthusiasm for fútbol was foreign to us Americans.

At the end of the match we were somewhat dejected by the U.S. defeat, but more importantly we were enchanted by the Italians’ enthusiasm for the sport. After staring at Renaissance masterpieces and reading the English translations of brochures I knew a lot about Venetian history, but little about Venetian, and Italian, culture. It wasn’t until we interacted with the locals, joked with them despite the language barrier, and opened our eyes to their culture that Venice really came alive. I found the Venetians to be outgoing and amiable. The youths seemed passionate and even hip, despite living in one of the most historic cities in the world.

While sitting in a local bar we started noticing the Venetian life rather than the Venetian past. It was in those lively neighborhoods along the watery canals where my desire to learn about the local history, see the local art, and to experience, really experience, the local culture became a reality. In Venice, my long-term love affair with Italy began.

Start your love affair with Venice. We’ll take you there.

With which foreign city are you already in love? Share below.