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Venice Biennale 2018

24 November, 2018

Look away now if you do not want to see some travel blogging.

The Grand Canal, Venice

As you may be aware my blog is also my diary for trips we take because it is so easy to forget memorable moments as you get older (well it is for me anyway) and I often do some homuncular refreshment and re-read an old blog from years ago when I feel I am need of a mental reboot. So the next few blogs will be about our current trip. We usually head off in the warmer, drier months, but I was very keen to see the lights and Christmas decos in London so delayed the trip until the end of the year.

Our first stop this trip is Venice – it always amazes me that the big A380 passenger jets can deliver us into Venice. This year we were on the wrong side of the plane to see Venice as we were landing, but on our side we were pleasantly surprised to see the snow-capped Italian Alps. Bellissimo! We have come to Venice quite a few times over the years because every two years they have the Biennale Architettura which goes from May to the end of November and with Bob being an architect we go for his Professional Development. It’s a tough gig but he has to do it to keep his PD hours up! The other reason for this trip at this particular time is we have been married for 40 years in a couple of days and I reckon we both deserve a reward for that achievement.

To get from the airport to the main part of Venice you can take a water taxi at 100 euros for two or for 15 euros each catch a Alilaguna, the water buses from the airport to Venice – the boats that are the equivalent of the Brisbane City Council bus – up the Grand Canal and delivered us to pretty close to our destination. (You can have a couple of nice meals in Venice for the 70 euros saved). This year we realised there are actually 3 water bus lines that you can catch – every other time we have come, we literally just jumped on the first boat that arrived and ended up taking the longest route that took well over an hour! So make sure you check where your hotel is and choose the shortest one – which for us this time was the Orange line to Guglie. The excitement of visiting Venice never leaves me and as I write this blog on our train trip through the Alps to our next destination Innsbruck, I feel a little sad to say goodbye to Venice again.

San Simeone Piccolo Church

Oh but I love this landmark in Venice. That striking copper dome roof (La Cupola, which with ageing has achieved a beautiful patina -this beautiful green colour) of San Simeone Piccolo Church greets you when you arrive at Venice Train station or slip past it as you catch the vaporetto. Our hotel for this stay was The Carlton Hotel on the Grand Canal – seeing it was such a short stay I was determined to stay on the canal and as it was the quiet season for Venice, we got a remarkably good price (which we booked directly through the hotel). Our hotel was right next door to the church. Standing at the window or on the tiny balcony in our room, the frenetic pace of the boat life on the Venice canals was there for us to enjoy day and night. The temperature was a marked change also for us for Venice. It has always been super hot 30degrees C every trip we have had before but this time it was 4 degreesC most of the time. An immediate purchase of a woollen scarf and woollen beanie from a street vendor happened about two hours after walking through the streets of Venice as sunset is at 4pm and the chill factor is significant. Note to self and Aussie winter travellers – don’t bother with our acrylic or cotton scarves – they are a waste of time in the real cold.

New woollen beanie (plus pom-pom) and scarf 

Be aware to pack some earplugs also if you stay at any hotel on the canal as there is significant canal noise at night (boats of all kinds including emergency services such as ambulances, police and fire) which for me is part of the fun of Venice.

The best part about coming to Venice in the off-season is the streets are literally devoid of tourists. We could actually walk the streets of Venice and stop and admire the architecture without causing a (pedestrian) pile up behind us. And there was hardly any smoking happening – such a stark difference to every other visit. Often people can’t understand why we love Venice so much – what with the vast crowds and the smoking issue, but truly I am spellbound every time I come here and it is starting to feel like a second home. It is spectacular and around every corner there is a view that every artist would love to paint.

The second day was free of cloud and a bright warm sun warmed us up on the hike to the site of the Biennale – the Giardini – right down the other end of Venice. As we walked toward the Giardini, we saw for the first time the Acqua Alta – the rising tide of Venice flooding St Mark’s Square. The heights of flooding are rising every year and there is a genuine concern that one day Venice will be no more. The elevated platforms which get brought out by the invisible workmen to allow the tourists in Venice to continue to walk around were erected as the centre of the square was flooded.

 

Stark evidence of how Acqua Alta impacts on life in Venice

There is no filter on that photo-that is the true colour of the water

As we were lining up to buy the entry tickets, I became aware of the first of many large groups of students we were to encounter that day. They stood out because each of them was carrying a large Pilates ball. They were architecture students from Spain and we followed them into the Spanish Pavilion to see what they were up to. It must have been “bring your own seat” as they were all just sitting on them listening intently to a panel of architects discussing architecture in Spain.

Spanish architecture students with their Pilates balls

Everywhere we went throughout the Biennale, there were groups of school children listening intently to their teachers who were guiding them through the pavilions. The ages ranged from 6-7 years to University students. I reflected on how amazing it must be to have the opportunity to educate children from a young age on the value of good building design, of opportunities to introduce environmental design to minimize the footprint of a building on our earth and to teach them to look out for the beauty in a building.

Everywhere we turned there were groups of school children of all ages being exposed to the concept of good design

Living in Venice would colour your opinion I am sure. The design concept each country had to work with was ‘free space’. I have to say I was a little disappointed with the Australian entry this year – I do wonder if this is funded at all by the Federal Government because the entry looked like it was starved for money.

We had lunch and then walked to the Arsenale to see the second part of the Biennale. The scale of the buildings housing this section is huge and I marvel each time I come here at the capability of the Venetians in the 1400s to build these giant structures.

One of the displays had some big comfy bean bag lounges so we plonked our weary bodies on them and watched a (terrifying) video on global warming showing the extent of melting ice in Greenland -hit the link to see a shortened version of this ice melting event. I do often despair at our country’s inability to recognize that Climate Policy should be a dire concern for everybody. The extent of climate change we see in the news every day- the drought in Australia with huge dust storms and bush fire season hitting earlier and earlier every year; the savage fires in California; this ice melting event; the worsening flooding in Venice….. I sometimes wonder if it would be better served by taking climate policy away from the politicians and see if it could be decided by a partnership between scientists and business – let the grown-ups decide what we should do not the self-indulgent politicians. They have had their chance and stuffed it up for 10 maybe 20 years. They too would benefit from travelling the world and actually LIVE global warming. This is what is so good about the Architecture Biennale – you see the displays of many countries and get to understand the issues affecting their built environment.

The last stop on our well-planned day was the Peggy Guggenheim museum but as we made our way towards the venue the crowds suddenly began to swell and there suddenly thousands of people heading the same way we were. We found out that 21st November is a very special day on the Venetian calendar – Madonna Della Salute Day .Our plans to go through the museum were thwarted by the fact that on this special day all local Venetians get into the Peggy Guggenheim museum for free so it was very crowded. So we headed out and went to investigate the church associated with the Madonna Della Salute Day. Then the crowds really exploded- you could only go with the flow- you couldn’t say “I’m getting out of this” – there was only one way to go and that was with the throng.

 

These crowds were slightly terrifying – you couldn’t turn around and get away from it

Once we made it through, it felt satisfying that we had rubbed shoulders with the true Venetians – not the usual crowds in Venice that are the tens of thousands of tourists off the cruise ships. We made it safely back to the hotel and at the end of the day 25000 steps had been done. It is so easy to clock up your steps when you are travelling overseas.

The train is heading north towards Innsbruck our next destination…..

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