“Venice: The Diary of an Awestruck Traveller” by Gillian Angrave – your perfect, personal companion in your pocket.
A recurring travel bug has certainly afflicted Gillian Angrave. Her globetrotting career began in 1967 as Assistant Purser with P & O cruise line followed by working for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Now enjoying a very active retirement, she continues to explore the world often returning to her favourite city, Venice.
She is flamboyant, magical and unique, like nowhere else on earth.”
“Venice – The Diary of an Awestruck Traveller,” volume 1, From Swamp to La Serenissima, begins in March 2015 when Gillian arrives for her first visit, describing her initial impressions and experiences. This is different from the typical guide book for tourists, full of historical facts and figures, a long directory on hotels and lists of key sites. Instead, this personal travelogue is for the independently-minded visitor, in search of art, culture, heritage and off the beaten track adventures.
To start, her advice if flying here, is to ensure you arrive into Venice by water, either by the efficient Alilaguna Ferry from Marco Polo airport or water taxi. “Nothing quite prepares you for your first sight of the Canal Grande ..it really is awesome.”
There’s a brief history of Venice from 421 AD, when it had developed from the flooded River Po delta to a living “patchwork quilt” of 116 island communities around the Lagoon. Then follow in Gillian’s footsteps as she eagerly sets off around this flamboyant “water city,” in the Venetian manner of “andare per le fodere,” back-tracking the maze of narrow alleyways and a myrad of bridges to get from A to B.
Getting lost is part of the fun and it’s easy to find your bearings with signs for Rialto and San Marco to keep you on the right track. Soon this “virgin Venetian” is jumping on Vaporetti (water buses) here, there and everywhere – “Hop on and off with a three day pass” she recommends.
Where to eat is always a difficult decision, but Gillian very soon finds Le Café, Campo Santo Stefano, to relish the perfect Spaghetti Bolognaise – a friendly, family run Ristorante which she returns to again and again.
A walking tour takes her to La Merceria district, “a shopper’s paradise” followed by an excellent lunch at Café Saraceno. She zigzags her way along and around Il Canalazzo (Grand Canal), with its four famous bridges and iconic architecture, taking a stroll one day along the waterfront promenade, Zattere Ponte Lungo, lined with bars and pizzerias, overlooking the island of Guidecca. She also illustrates how the historic vision of the city has been preserved: the view of the Entrance to the Arsenale as painted in 1773 by Canaletto is virtually unchanged today.
Day by day, we tour Venice with Gillian as our personal guide. An early morning visit to see the Campanile, the 328 foot high Bell Tower in St. Mark’s Square, relating how the original tower collapsed on 14 July, 1902, but was rebuilt in just nine years. Further restoration in 1962 included the installation of a much appreciated lift.!
And of course, there are stunning Churches galore, such as Santa Maria della Salute, in such a perfect location near the mouth of the sweeping S shaped Canalazzo. “ I do like La Salute with its octaganol cupola, six chapels, Titian’s great works and organ recitals are held regularly. …”
For an exhilarating day trip by Motonavo, (a large Vaporetto), three charming islands out in the Laguna are Murano, famous for glassware and Burano with its row of former fishermen’s pretty coloured houses, giving its name Harlequin Island.
Torcello is renowned for its beautiful cathedral and where gourmands flock to eat at the legendary Locanda Cipriani restaurant. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip once visited for lunch, when the menu included ravioli, fried fish, pasta, beans and risotto!
Although Gillian doesn’t cover this, here’s a little more of its fascinating story. Its founder, Giuseppe Cipriani was a hospitality entrepreneur, first inventing Harry’s Bar in 1931, (near Piazza San Marco), which was like a private club for Hollywood stars, who sipped the house cocktail, Bellini and dined on Beef Carpaccio. A typical lunch here for Orson Welles was shrimp sandwiches, washed down with two bottles of Dom Perignon. Following the Bar’s celebrity success, in 1935 he founded the Ristorante on Torcello, ( beloved by Ernest Hemingway and other Harry’s Bar clientelle). Then in 1953, he planned his grand Hotel Cipriani on Giudecca, today the luxury, hideaway Belmond Cipriani Resort (a favourite of George Clooney).
At the end of Chapter 1, Gillian writes, “ My love affair with Venice had now begun – I knew I would be back”. Chapter 2 begins on 28 September, 2015, the diary of her second visit, where she stays at Hotel Flora, “ a 17th century palazzo tucked down a little alley off the Calle Larga XX11 Marzo” and she was soon back at her favourite Le Café for dinner.
And so her exploration continues, this time on a literary-inspired journey, visiting the former homes of Marco Polo, the intrepid traveller to the far East, and also of Robert Browning whose former address is now a museum. As the poet wrote, “Open my heart and you will see, graved inside of it, Italy.” Gillian enjoys “sauntering .. soaking up the atmosphere” and is an expert at finding hidden gems such as a music museum of vintage instruments, and the statue, Il Gobbo de Rialto, a character in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice. ” The Venice Biennale Festival of Modern Art since 1895, proves an enlightening experience as she tours around the galleries.
It is also interesting to read about the Venice in Peril Fund, an appeal first launched by UNESCO in 1966 following the devastating flood to protect the city from further disaster. Residents say that “Venice is not sinking, the water is rising”. The fasinating chapter, Watercraft of Venice tells the colourful history of the various boats, barges, ornately painted gondolas and the traditional role of the gondolier.
Gillian ends the book, with a fond farewell, “my love of Venice will grow ever stronger with the years to come. Ciao Venezia, e grazie mille”.
“Venice” by Jan Morris, (first published 1960) is now a modern classic and described as one of the best travel books about Venetian life and character, its waterways, architecture, bridges, tourists, curiosities, brought vividly to life.
In similar vein, Gillian Angrave shares her love affair with Venice, capturing its timeless, dreamlike sense of place. In his “Guide to Alexandria”, E. M. Foster advises the best way to look at the city is to “wander aimlessly about”. That is exactly what Gillian accomplishes on her own wandering, meandering and sauntering around La Serenissima.
Her observations are not intended to be a comprehensive city guide covering the usual list of where to stay, eat, drink and what to see. Instead, her humour, enthusiasm, knowledge, passion and quirky anecdotes offer a most enlightening narrative. Pack a copy of this slim, well illustrated book as your perfect travel companion in your pocket for your next trip to Venice.
Venice: The Diary of an Awestruck Traveller – Volume 1, From Swamp to La Serenissima
by Gillian Angrave
(available on Amazon – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0995573948
P.S. See also Venice: The Diary of an Awestruck Traveller, Volume 2. (review to follow soon).