The first day after I arrived in Venice I took as a rest day and a chance to call family and email friends.  On the second day I met up with a couple of friends of mine who were also in Venice having just travelled through Croatia.  It was great to catch up with Sarah and Will again and we had a good day out and about despite the striking public transport workers.

Having done absolutely no research on Venice and refusing to pay money for a map of the city I relied on my phone and the signs directing me to St Mark's Square / Piazza San Marco where I met up with Will and Sarah.  The owner of the campsite had very kindly driven me and several others in to Venice because the usual buses weren't running.  Zelarino, where the campsite is located was a couple of kilometres inland from Mestre which is the major mainland city opposite Venice.  Buses and trains connect Mestre to Venice but sadly there was no safe cycle route that I could discover and bikes are banned on Venice itself.  And I can see why.

Venice is completely different from any place I have been before.  It is a series of islands linked by bridges and vaporetto (ferries), with winding narrow streets that are really no more than the spaces left between buildings.  Every so often you will come out into a piazza and find restaurants and pizzerias full of people sitting outside on the square.  Even though it wasn’t peak season there were still huge crowds in the key tourist areas while in the places where the locals lived it was scarily deserted at times.  There is little to no plant life in the urban areas which are almost completely covered in stone paving and buildings, though there are often bright flowers in window boxes well above street level.  The main islands are surrounded by a number of other islands each with a different character. 
After meeting in St Mark’s Square Sarah, Will and I took a look inside the Basilica.  Unfortunately photography was not allowed, though security didn’t seem to be particularly interested in enforcing this rule.  The basilica had a dark interior and some fantastic glittering mosaics.

Next we took a ferry to the Island of Murano which is famous for the glass blowing industry that has been going for centuries.  The section we walked along was lined with shops selling everything you can imagine made of glass.  There were some fantastical, if gaudy, chandeliers, sculptures, ornaments, myriad bowls and vases, and uncountable jewellery.  We happily spent an hour or so browsing through the shops that lined the canal before taking the next ferry to Burano.
Sarah and I in Murano.
Glass blower making butterflies.
Burano is another island which is famous for the brightly painted houses.  The story goes that they were painted this way so the fishermen could easily find their house from offshore, but now I am certain it is just for the benefit of the tourists.  However it was beautiful and made me wonder why we insist on a less interesting palette of colours for our homes.  We sat and enjoyed a glass of wine in the fading sun and then caught a ferry back to the main islands of Venice.

A canal in Burano.
One of the colourful houses in Burano.

We found a place to eat on the waterfront a little way away from St Mark’s Square and enjoyed a good meal.  Not cheap by any means, but it could have been worse.  Then it was time for me to head back to the bus station to meet with the others from the campsite and catch a train to Mestre and then share a taxi home.  Even with the help of Will’s GPS it took quite a long time to navigate Venice in the dark, but ultimately we arrived at the station where I said goodbye to Sarah and Will who were headed off to Rome the following day.

I met up with Zographia and her two sons and caught the 11pm train back to Mestre.  We jumped in a taxi and asked how much to Zelarino and were told 25-30 Euro.  Resigned to an expensive ride we agreed.  A little way into the journey Zographia asked where the meter was and the driver became quite confrontational, eventually turning around and driving us back to the station, refusing our business.  He was well aware he was supposed to be running a meter and not just quoting us a total sum.  He quickly disappeared and Zographia called the campsite owner who kindly picked us up from the station for the cost of his petrol.

In the morning I took the bus in to Venice again and used the remaining time on my 24hr ferry pass to go to Lido.  Lido’s claim to fame is the long sandy beach along one side of the island.  Curious, I walked across the island to see it.  It was indeed long and sandy, but nothing more than that.  Once I emptied the sand from my shoes I walked back to the ferry to get back to Venice before my pass expired.  I had lunch at an outdoor café on the waterfront of one of the main islands and enjoyed a not-too-expensive-by-Venice’s-standards pizza while fending off the cheeky pigeons who kept stealing small pieces.

Zographia had mentioned Bienale an annual (despite the name) art exhibition in Venice that was in progress.  While there was a major display that required payment of an entry fee, there were also a number of free displays dotted around the city in various buildings.  So I spent the afternoon visiting these exhibitions.  Almost all of them were interesting in some way or another.  Each is presented by a country represented by a chosen artist.  New Zealand’s entry was by a guy who put fluorescent lights in furniture and other everyday objects. 
Hyperreal paintings by a Chinese artist.

Reflective shapes.

A room entirely covered in this traditional fabric. Azerbijan.

Part of New Zealand's entry.

Also from Azerbijan.  This is what you see when you enter the room.

And this is what you see when you stand on the right spot and use your camera.
It was dusk before I left, and after a frustrating half hour at the bus station trying to find the stand for my bus I finally got back to the campsite.  After being told by the ticket counter 'it's over there' with a general wave of the hand, I gave up and asked a local to physically take me to it.  It turned out to have a sign about A4 size with 12pt font, not exactly visible from a distance.


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