Italy's Floating City
Vienna to Venice
On the last day of our stay at Vienna, we had moved to an apartment closer to Wien Meidling Railway station. This was because we had to catch a train for Venice, early the next morning. The beauty of the ‘La Petit’ apartment was that our window opened out to the rail station, a tram terminus, metro, and a bus stop. After breakfast and a little shopping at the supermarket next to the metro station, we rode a tram to Karlsplatz. From there we walked down towards the famous Kunsthistorishes Museum (Art History Museum). In short – Kuntz Museum. A refreshingly pleasant walk in this beautiful European city with the mesmerizing sight of imposing buildings on both sides of the road glistening under the clear daylight.
Built in 1891, near the Imperial Palace, the imposing façade of the museum is a treat to watch. The museum houses extensive collections of the Imperial Family ranging from Artworks of Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Baroque era. Works of great artists of the Renaissance period were on display in the museum, like Raphael, Veneers, Tintoretto, Rembrandt, Rubens to name a few. But to me, the collection of Peter Paul Rubens’ oil paintings appeared to dominate the exhibits in the vast interior. Some of his oil paintings were huge, colossal, covering the walls from floor skirting up to the ceiling (height must be above 20 feet). Peter Paul Rubens, the early seventeenth-century painter, was deeply influenced by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo. Although his paintings varied from religious, hunting to landscape themes, he earned fame by painting nude images of full-figured middle-aged women of his time. That was his forte, which gave rise to terms like ‘Rubensian’ or ‘Rubenesque’.
After returning to our apartment in the evening, we decided to have our dinner at an authentic Wiener eatery. I longed for a bite on Wiener schnitzel, which is made of pounded veal meat dredged in egg and made super crunchy by coats of bread crumbs. I enjoyed this crispy, golden Austrian delicacy along with beer, while my wife opted for poached salmon with chips along with rose wine - a great eating experience. Early the next morning, we left the apartment and moved to Meidling rail station which was just across the road, for our onward journey to Venice. We were naturally excited, not only at the thought of visiting a new country but also at the thought of undertaking one of the most scenic railroad journeys in Europe. What followed was a fascinating seven hours journey through a breathtaking corridor created by the Austrian Alps. The high-speed train glided through numerous tunnels and traversed numerous viaducts while crossing the valleys. I preferred to spend some moments in a well-laid restaurant car. Over cups of coffee, I enjoyed watching picturesque views rushing past the window.
Our hotel was in Mestre, a land extension of Venice. So we alighted at Venezia Mestre station which is ahead of Venezia Santa Lucia Station. Our hotel was at Via G. Parini, about 10 minutes’ walk from the station. What took us by surprise was that from the station to the hotel, we could hear more Bengali being spoken than Italian. Later we learned that many people from Bangladesh migrated to Italy over the last three decades. Their superior intelligence and skills helped them pick up different trades and gather fluency in the local language in a jiffy. With this forte and their great adaptability power, they have been able to establish their own enterprise including eateries and seamlessly fuse with the character of the country which was not theirs when they came in. Like the famous dictum ‘Veni Vidi Vici’ on Julius Caesar. They have not only come and seen. They appeared to have conquered the hearts of Italians in such a short span. The next morning we strolled down to the main thoroughfare which was hardly a hundred meters from our hotel. Bought a one-day transport ticket from a Tabac shop run by a sweet young lady. The ticket was applicable for any number of bus rides as well as Vaporetto rides in Venice. Vaporetto is a public water bus in Venice. The bus ride from Mestre to Venice takes about 15/20 minutes. The road journey terminates and ends at the Vaporetto station. This is connected to Venice's Santa Maria Railway Station through arch bridges and pier like wooden platforms.
Seen from the Vaporetti platform, the stunningly beautiful architectural marvels appeared to emerge out from the waters of the Adriatic Sea. Venice grew through centuries over a multitude of islands dotting the Venetian lagoon. The seawater at the entrance to Venice serves as the main arterial highway and is connected throughout to a maze of numerous canals. Venice, for long, was the citadel of financial activities and trades in Europe. It’s evident from Shakespeare’s ‘Merchant of Venice’, written in the late sixteenth century. Although Venice is popular for Gondola rides, I never made any attempt to try a ride as I was scared of the choppy waters. Instead, we took a Vaporetto trip to the island of Murano. A tiny island that went on to become famous for glassmaking since its very inception about 1000 years back. After alighting at Murano we sauntered down a cobbled path, elated as we got snugly enshrouded in warm sunlight and a soft sea breeze, before arriving at the famous glass museum only a few meters away. This unique museum, housed in a seventeenth-century palace was set up by the municipality of Murano in 1861 to archive the brilliant works of highly skilled glass artists of Venetian lagoon. Cristallo (crystal glass), chandeliers, lattimo (milk glass), beads, mirrors were all contributions of highly skilled glassworkers concentrated in Murano since ages. MUSEO D EI VETRO (Murano Glass Museum) showcases the process and art of glassmaking, glassworks from the Egyptian era to the present day, some mirrors dating back to the fifth century still perfect and untarnished. Although glass making dates back to a period between 2000 BC and 1700 BC at Syria and Tigris- Euphrates rivers, glass blowing by Syrians in 100 BC, the secrets and recipes of modern glassmaking were unraveled and developed meticulously by the Venetians in Murano. Demand for art glass led to more and more innovations since the late thirteenth century in Murano. In fact, Italy earned the credit of yet another renaissance in glassmaking and art glass. A hall at the entrance keeps showing films related to processes involved in designing and creating different forms of glassworks. The films lucidly present the intricacies of glass making. On our way back we bought some decorative glass souvenirs.
From Murano, we took a boat to the island of Burano-great rhyming! Burano also is a tiny island and famous for lacework. All houses in Burano are of different colors, arising out of the fact that fishermen returning late in the dusk could identify their houses from a distance. In view of this unique law, the entire island looks very attractive and colourful. We were fortunate to watch a local wedding at Burano. At Burano, we had local gelato and some pasta preparation before boarding a boat for the return to the main Venice Vaporetto station.
From there we took another boat to the heart of the historic city of Venice. The Grand Canal is flanked by the architectural splendours of Venice. We got down at the station from where one can walk up to the Piazza San Marco, a sprawling square where St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace (Venice was governed by Doge or ‘Duke’) are located. Since no vehicles ply on the narrow lanes and arch type short bridges over the canals, we had to walk down to the square. Most of the pathways are cobbled and along with the bridges are going strong for centuries. For centuries these pathways have experienced innumerable footfalls. I have a hunch that Shakespeare might have trodden the paths about five hundred years back while penning ‘Merchant of Venice’. The backstreets and waterways of this fascinating city are truly wrapped in history. They might have also been frequented by Byzantine Emperors, Sultan Mehmet, symphonic and operatic musician Antonio Vivaldi, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, and his soldiers. True or untrue, I get an added pleasure imagining myself on a time machine. Streets are crowded as everyone walks. We walked through bustling markets, small squares and arch type bridges. On our way, we came across a few old churches. When we finally made to the San Marco Plaza, the vastness of the square was transcendentally captivating and at the same time baffling. Baffling because the square looked like a land oasis in a city surrounded by water and floating on water. It was of rectangular shape, where Doge’s Palace grandiosely occupied most of the length of the rectangle and St. Mark’s Basilica stood with all its majestic architectural grandeur on the breadth of the rectangle. On the other corner of the basilica was a large plaza, something like a promenade from where we got a full view of the Adriatic Sea and the ships. When we started walking into the historic city we faced mild drizzles, but by the time we reached the promenade the sky had cleared and we were fortunate to see the sunset over the sea. From one of the arch bridges, we saw the Bridge of Sighs. A bridge made of limestone, enclosed with grilled windows connecting the new prison to the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace. The name was derived from the fact that the condemned prisoners sighed when they saw the outside world for the last time from the windowpane. By the time we returned to our boat station, dusk had already set in. Our station was close to Rialto Bridge, another beautiful stone bridge spanning the Grand Canal at its narrowest point. This sixteenth-century bridge is a stone arch bridge. It remains crowded all the time with tourists as well as locals. We, too, relaxed over there, enjoying the sights of Grand Canal, the illuminated city on the other side of the canal, the Vaporetto and the gondolas sailing, the lively cafes, before boarding the Vaporetto. In the night the canal water glitters with the reflections from some majestic hotels lining up the Grand Canal on either side.
Photographs by: Arundhati Sengupta
|Kuntz Museum, Vienna|
|Ruben's massive oil painting|
|Ruben's massive oil painting|
|Paintings of nude women by Rubens|
|Gallery of Rubens|
|Self-portrait of Peter Paul Rubens|
|Interior of Kuntz Museum|
|On the bank of Danube, Vienna|
|Train passes through Italian Alps|
|The scenic rail route from Vienna to Venice|
|The choppy waterway of the Adriatic Sea in Venice|
|The tranquil island of Murano|
|Images of some exhibits in the Glass Museum|
|Venice in the thirteenth century|
|Exhibits of century-old glass chandeliers and vases|
|A cobbled lane in Burano|
|Laceworks on display in Burano|
|A canal in Burano|
|Some images of colourful Burano|
|A newlywed bride crossing a bridge in Burano|
|Vapporeti and Santa Maria Railway stations|
|A view of the Grand Canal|
|San Marco Plaza & Doge's Palace|
|St. Mark's Basilica|
|From the promenade|
|Bridge of Sigh|
|Vaporetti, which is the main transport system in Venice, It is also referred to as the water bus.|
How to go from Mestre to Venice:
Mestre is road-friendly since it is a convenient land portion of Venice. From Mestre Rail Station to Piazzale Roma in Venice is only 9 km by road. There are frequent buses from Mestre to Venice. It is economical to buy a one day pass, which covers multiple rides by bus as well as vaporetti (water bus). These passes are available at the station as well as Tabac shops in other areas in Mestre.Train services are also available from Mestre to Venice. Maps and time tables are available at www.actv.it