We returned home to Verona from our trip to Germany to learn that friends we met in Perugia - actually Brits who live in London part of the time and part of the time in Perugia - we had expected to stop here for the weekend had to cancel and could not come. We were disappointed, as we had missed the opportunity to see them when we passed through Perugia and had been looking forward to seeing them here.
We remembered that we had read something about a festival in Venice and decided to look into it further. There was to be the Redentore festival that commemorates an event that happened in the middle ages, when the people realized that the plague had ended and they decided to build a church. A festival followed where they built a temporary bridge suspended on boats across the lagoon from Dorsoduro to Giudecca so that people could easily walk to the beautiful church of the Redentore (Church of the Redeemer) to celebrate Mass.
So the origins of this festival were religious. Which is not to say that this is really a religious festival as it seemed more like a party party party all night long, drink drink drink, eat eat eat and generally whoop it up and have a good time. The Giudecca Canal is across from St. Mark's and the shores were strung with yellow lanterns, the length of the canal! They had indeed built a temporary bridge as they have done every year for I don't know how many years, since the middle ages perhaps, but it was more of a pontoon type bridge and not really a bridge of boats as the literature indicated. I wasn't sure how that was really going to work but it was cool partly to be able to go from one point to another on something so temporary and partly because it was just cool to be out in the middle of the lagoon with all those lights around you. All the little boats were out in the lagoon strung with lanterns and lights and the atmosphere was just very festive and fun.
We only decided to go on Saturday morning and scrambled to find a hotel in Venice with availability. Finally I found one in a good location near where the action would take place we thought. A bit pricy but we decided to go for it and spend the night even though Venice is only about an hour's drive from here. There were to be fireworks at midnight and I had read that the boats would still be in the lagoon at sunrise and it seemed like a cool thing to see.
We stayed at a hotel called "Pensione Segusa" on the Zattere in the Dorsoduro neighborhood of Venice that was listed in the Eyewitness Guide, within sight of the Redentore Bridge. It was cool to lay in bed with the windows open and be able to see the lights strung across the bridge. The room was comfortable enough (OK, the bed was not all that comfortable) and for the price it was surprising that the toilet was down the hall. We had a shower and sink in the room but oddly, no toilet. It worked out fine though and we never had to wait for anyone else to get out to use it. The staff could have been more helpful and we were not impressed with how little they knew about the festival that everyone was coming to see. And especially since it was right outside their door practically. They even suggested we go to the far end of the island of Giudecca to view the fireworks, which would have meant a long walk back after midnight and we decided to take our chances just down the street from the hotel and had an incredible view. There were a lot of people there and it was crowded but the fireworks more than made up for it, they were spectacular!
We decided to take the half board meaning we had dinner in their restaurant. It seemed easier than trying to find one on our own and after just coming back from our trip to Germany; we simply wanted to make it easy. Dinner consisted of a little green salad, a primi - bow tie pasta with tuna and peas that was tasty and a fish dish that we think now were eels in tomato sauce. Good thing I didn't know that at the time. I told Bob you could put an old shoe in tomato sauce and it would taste good, so I guess it held true with eels, "Anguille in Umido" one of the Venetian specialties. A slice of watermelon was served for dessert and it was refreshing. No a/c but thankfully the weather was nice and the window provided a nice breeze.
It was really very cool as the sky darkened, to see all the boats out in the canal with all their lanterns and lights and we did walk across the bridge and back to the church on the island of Giudecca. We found an available spot that we hoped would be a good viewing place for the fireworks and staked our claim. People were sprawled out all along the sidewalks like they were at the beach and those walking past really had to climb over legs and bodies to make their way through the street. There were party boats with music blaring and people dancing and other places where people had set up picnic tables and were partying. All the little sparkly lights in the canal and all the music made it so festive, it was fun just to look around and take it all in, even if we did find ourselves getting annoyed from time to time with some of the obnoxious people who think there is no one else out there in world but them and so can stop short in front of you to take a photo or look at something. Or the groups of three or four people sauntering along the street oblivious to the fact that there are other people trying to pass. Tourists!
At about 11:30 - right on schedule - the fireworks began! We moved up a bit for a better view and it was just perfect! And all around us you could hear people saying "bellissimi! "bravissimi" And "che bella!" with oohs and aahs and hands clapping as each consecutive volley concluded. It was like one giant final barrage after another. To see the sky above the Venetian canal filled with giant explosions of gold and silver twinkling, sparkling, glittering, with reflections in the water, and gondolas slowly passing, silhouetted against the lights, for almost an hour was absolutely amazing! By now, if you've been reading our blog you know that I am a sucker for a good fireworks show and this was among the best we have seen.
The party continued until morning for some people. Thankfully we remembered to bring our earplugs so we were mostly able to sleep. Although I lay awake a long time just watching the lights on the bridge in the distance with visions of fireworks dancing in my head!
In the morning I woke early to try to go out and see what was happening with those boats at sunrise, although from our window I did not see any activity. I tiptoed out leaving Bob snoozing away still. But when I went downstairs I found the doors were locked (with a big luggage lock type thing) and I didn't have a key. There was no one in the lobby and I could not go out! I wondered what I would have done if there had been a fire. I supposed that we would all jump out the windows into the canal! Not worrying about this situation too much, I went back up to our room and slept for a few more hours since I could do nothing else.
Breakfast was a bit disappointing - a couple of packages of those little toasts and one with fruit, with some stale slices of bread on the side and coffee. Italian breakfasts in hotels sometimes leave a lot to be desired (especially after eating at some in Germany - I'm sorry, Italy!) and we've come to expect a simple meal but this was less than stellar. Bob ordered an omelet (the price was extra) that he said was good.
For the rest of the day we took it easy. We bought an all day ticket and rode the vaporetto back and forth across the canal, visited the island of Giudecca and did some back-street exploring, stopped at San Giorgio Maggiore island which is tiny with a wonderful view across the canal to San Marco, and just includes the church of San Giorgio (who will always hold a special place in our hearts as he is the patron saint of Ragusa Ibla in Sicily where we lived) and a bar where we had lunch. It was a restful day with no hurries and no schedules or plans. Just moving along the Giudecca Canal, back and forth to San Marco, to Dorsoduro and to Giudecca enjoying the beautiful weather and the sights of the bell tower and Piazza San Marco from the boat and around 2:30 heading back to our car and home to Verona. We found another place to park nearer the train station, cheaper and larger than the one at Piazzale Roma so we'll probably use this from now on. It was very easy to pick up the vaporetto outside which goes into the Venice canals in a very short time. There is still so much to explore in Venice we hope to go back many more times and are certain we will never see it all, but we will try!
Rosemary e Roberto