The Toepfers just returned from the Venice Untour and shared these thoughts and images.
Venice is a miracle marvel:
A unique city with its magical and spectacular scenery that claims a priceless art and historical heritage was a true miracle of creative genius. It is an engineering marvel built on mud, sand, and slime in a difficult and inhospitable landscape.
This engineering marvel is due not only to the skill and intelligence of the builders but also to the nature of the place itself.
Venice is a mysterious maze:
There are so many narrow streets (calle), alleys and pathways in this maze of islands, that street names and numbers are a mystery. It is like thousands of people descending on the Halloween maze to discover the pumpkin patch.
We observed that it is like a day at Disney World with thousands descending each day to see and do all the sights possible, buying all those Venetian treasures and eating all that special pizza and gelato. Then all quickly disappear in the early evening. The next day the invasion repeats and Disney World is open again.
Why should you be an Untourist in Venice?
An important asset is having a host and contact person.
Denny Jennings was our Untours on-site contact who greeted us, made us comfortable in our apartment, took us on orientation walks, and shared inside info of things to do and how and when. After feeding us lunch, she said, “Ciao” and wished us happy explorations, leaving her phone number as a safety net.
One can live in an Untour apartment for one or two weeks in a real neighborhood with shops, cafes, and maybe a church or two.
Our apartment was located in San Polo, one of the six districts of Venice. It was a perfect site surrounded by lots of secret quiet lanes, some busy tourist spots, and pleasant Venetian squares. We never went hungry or thirsty with so many cafés and restaurants. It was a treat to attend Sunday/Saturday Mass services at the gigantic ancient gothic brick church, Santa Maria Gloriosa Dei Frari. This second largest church in Venice houses famous Titian and Bellini masterpieces.
Being Untourists, we had time to connect with local people and surroundings. We enjoyed many highlights:
On Sunday, June 4th we were fortunate to witness the Vogalonga Regatta, in which hundreds of row boats of all types compete in a 30-km race through the Grand Canal and lagoon.
We rode the vaporettos (the “V’s”) like locals, which were always packed with humanity. The Grand Canal is the “main street of water”. Often boat traffic jams caused delays.
We explored the many street (calle) mazes and tried to be comfortable with getting lost. Often we were hunting for a certain restaurant, cicchetti or gelato bar.
We were early risers, grabbing a croissant and a cappuccino at the neighborhood café. Then we would catch the early “V’s” in order to beat the crowds at popular sights.
Grace and beauty characterize the immense square of San Marco. One early morning, we shared the square with the famous pigeons. The famous Basilica of San Marco is awe inspiring first thing in the morning.
We marveled at the sunset and moonrise from the San Marco Tower one evening. This tower was built as a watchtower and lighthouse with the sound of tolling bells informing the people about special events.
The Rialto Bridge is famous for its arches and boutiques. A great spot for taking photos.
The Rialto Mercato filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, and fish each morning has been the heart of the city for a thousand years. Both Rialto areas were interesting in the early mornings.
We visited the Jesuit Church that was filled with incredible blue marble.
We stopped at the Jewish Ghetto which was the first Jewish quarters in the West.
The islands invited us for different reasons:
Torcello was the farthest and smallest of the islands. It was so quiet and peaceful. The only tourists come on tour boats for lunch.
Murano owes its fame to glass works and beautiful glass shops.
Burano is distinguished for its bright colored houses, making it a very colorful and cheerful spot. A photographer’s heaven with the right amount of natural light.
As Untourists, we could set the pace and agenda. We added a few extra tours via the internet:
The free Venice Walking Tour went maze walking off the beaten track. Hidden treasures of Venice along with useful tips about local life, food, and drinks were shared Venice has few culinary specialties borrowing most items from other parts of Italy. Liver and onions with polenta and black ink pasta from squid juice were specialties. Mussels, shrimp and seafood with pasta were popular dishes. Prosecco was a refreshing bubbling white wine from the region. During the summer, a Spritz with Prosecco and Aperol or Campari is the drink. We enjoyed this refreshing beverage at least once a day. Chocolate candy was a rare sight but special cookies and gelato were popular.
Continuing with food and drink theme, we took a Venice Cicchetti and Wine evening tour. We walked another series of calle and crossed the Grand Canal in a gondola taxi. We visited five different bars enjoying different cicchetti and wine in each. Cicchetti are small delicious tidbits similar to tapas that can be ordered along with a small glass of wine (“umbra”) in cicchetti bars from mid-morning to midnight. It is a stand up and drink style.
Our Dolomite Mountains and Cortina small group day trip was filled with spectacular mountain scenery that was constantly changing due to the weather. The Dolomites are the dramatic rooftop of Italy offering some powerful, unique and memorable experiences. Marco was an excellent expert guide that kept us seven Americans in a van aiming our cameras. The Dolomite peaks played peek-a- boo with the mist, fog, a few raindrops and bits of sunshine all day long.
The late evening Ensemble Baroque concert in the old church, San Vidal, was a Venetian treat. The music of Vivaldi never sounded so special.
Al Toepfer is an Untourist and photographer who has traveled extensively for business and pleasure. He’s photographed in the U. S., Europe, Russia, South America, Asia, and Antarctica. Landscape, wildlife, travel, and hot air balloons are his main subjects. These images are shared by A J Toepfer Images. See more of his beautiful photo at his website, http://alan-toepfer.