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Episode #132: Why you need to spend at least 3 days in Venice

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The experience people have of Venice can be very different based on the way they plan their visit. Many visit on a day trip, finding themselves in the small tourist hub at the heart of the city, at it’s most busy and at a rushed pace. We talk to Corinna Cooke, the author of the Glam Italia guides, who is celebrating the release of her latest book 101 Fabulous Things to do in Venice, as she shares some of the reasons you should plan to spend at least 3 days to truly appreciate Venice, how to spend them to get the best out of your trip, avoiding the crowds and reveling in hidden details. 

Show notes

In this episode, we welcome back author Corinna Cooke, who writes the Glam Italia series of guides for Italy and who runs boutique small tours all over Italy. In the past, Corinna has joined us for podcast episodes on itinerary planning (episode 53), finding inspiration for your trip (episode 104), and Italy travel hacks ( episode 116), but in this episode, we are talking about how to make the most of your time in Venice to celebrate the release of Corinna’s new Glam Italia book – 101 Fabulous Things to do in Venice.

What you’ll learn in this episode

  1. Venice is known for getting crowded but it’s actually the day times when the day-trippers are in that the very small, central part of Venice gets overwhelmingly busy. When you have 4 or 5 cruise ships in port, it’s 20,000 people who all head into this one, tiny central section of the historic center, which is from the Rialto Bridge to just beyond Piazza San Marco. They get off the boat at around 8.30 am so from 9 am, as other day-trippers too start to arrive until about 5:00 pm when the majority leave the city and the cruisers head back to the boat for dinner – it’s packed. You want to avoid that area during that time. But early in the morning and in the evenings when it quietens down and it’s a gorgeous place to be
  2. If you are in that little strip (which is only around a mile in size) during that busy time and you let that be your Venice experience, you’re probably not going to enjoy it. Do that same strip once they’re all back on the boat and it will be a different story. During those busy times head off to some of the other many wonders that the rest of Venice has to offer
  3. Approaching what the city has to offer in a different way will also help you enjoy the experience. With the mass tourism tour groups, they’re racing around trying to take in information quickly and keep up with their tour guide, and that way it is easy to get overwhelmed and exhausted. With the mass tourism model, you’re quickly being shown the sites –  this building, that bridge, a statue, another building… and now you’re done. On those kinds of tours, it’s so easy to miss out on all the incredible little details. There are so many fascinating, crazy little details to look at when you’re walking around in Venice that once you’ve seen them, you cannot unsee them. When Corinna points these out to her tour groups, they’re always amazed that there are all these people walking straight by and not spotting them
  4. Venice has a sensational and intriguing history. It was the center of the universe for a few centuries and there was incredible wealth and power. It was where trade happened – everything that came from the Middle East and the Far East and came through to Europe, came through Venice, and then from Europe, it went back out. So you have all these incredible influences from all over the world and you see it in everything from the cuisine to the architecture
  5. There are remnants of all kinds of things scattered around in secret and not-so-secret corners of the city. A hidden surprise can be found in a little campiello (which is like a mini piazza) is the General’s Medallion. The story is that in 1256 a Venetian general went off to fight battles against the Genovese in Acre, and his friends were making fun of him and questioning his military skills. They said to prove himself he should bring something back to show that he’d won. So he brings back a giant stone medallion/roundel and sticks it on the wall of his friend’s house. This stone medallion is still there stuck to that outside wall, meanwhile, its partner piece is on display in the Dumbarton Oaks Museum in Washington DC as a prime example of Byzantine art. So much of Venice is like an outdoor museum, if you know what to look for
  6. A 10/15 minute walk from Piazza San Marco is the Arsenale – the former shipyard and armory. Venice actually invented the factory line here. They could make a whole ship in one day because they invented the idea where it comes to this person’s spot, and they do this section and it moves along to the next spot and so on. It was the largest, most important shipyard in the world for a time
  7. At the gateway, the doorway into the Arsenal, there are two big stone lions. The one on the left is the huge Piraeus Lion. He’s a fourth-century BC marble lion that was originally guarding the Port of Athens until in 1687  a naval commander for the Venetians, Francesco Morosoni, stole the lions. This particular commander was also known for blowing up the Parthenon – one of the great treasures of the world. After he comes back to Venice with the lion, he gets made Doge and the lion’s been standing there outside the Arsenal since 1687. In the 18th century, a Swedish scholar discovered that there was a strange decoration carved around the shoulders of the lion. Upon investigation, they discovered it is 1000-year-old Viking runes. It is a Lindworm (a headless serpent of sorts) and they believe it was carved on it by a Varangian mercenary – Viking mercenaries were working for the Byzantine Empire in the 10 or 1100s. This incredibly old statue with its fascinating story sits there most of the day with no one taking a blind bit of notice of him
  8. If you do head over to the Arsenale to meet our Viking-carved lion, one of Corinna’s favorite restaurants is nearby. Salvmeriat is Sicilian Venetian and you generally won’t see tourists there, but you’ll see travelers there and lots of Italians. If you’re sitting outside on the sidewalk of the really wide street, you’re set up away from the tourists and can look straight down towards the water – so the views and the light are beautiful as is the ambiance
  9. Off the Piazzetta, an area in an L shape from the main Piazza San Marco, you find the ground floor of the Doges Palace with 36 columns holding it up. On every one of these columns, the capital (which is the carved part around the top) is different and are like an Encyclopedia of Venice –  telling the story of Venice, which was closer to the Byzantine Empire than it was to the Roman Empire. They have ones that have animals and all kinds of things, but the people ones can be the most fascinating
  10. The Doges Palace is actually on a waterway, so you only have three corners. The first corner is by the Basilica, then there is the corner at the end, and then the far corner, where you would look around that corner to see the Bridge of Sighs – you find three capitals telling religious stories. Number 36, the end one if you’re going to look around the corner to see the Bridge of Sighs from the front side of the Doge’s Palace, is Drunken Noah (the original Drunken Sailor as Corinna calls him). Noah is both drunk and naked and you’ll find his two sons are leaning around the corner to cover their drunken dad with a blanket!
  11. Another one to look out for is called Latin Women. This capital has the faces of women all around it – women of all sorts of different ethnicities who were living in Venice at the time. They’re all looking out into the distance, looking way beyond you – apart from one. This one woman looks right at you and she has a slight smile on her face, like she has a little secret. Once you see her looking straight at you, then you can’t not keep seeing her – you simply cannot walk along the Doge’s Palace and not see her smiling at you (Corinna’s tried)
  12. Column number 21 is called People of the World. it shows the different ethnicities that were living and working in the city throughout Venice’s history. There’s a Moor who’s wearing a turban, and there’s a Mongolian Tatar, with his grand hat. Then, if you look at the guy to the left of the Mongolian there is, bizarrely, a guy with elf ears! Again, once you’ve spotted the elf ears, you can’t unsee them!
  13. Still in the center stretch of Venice, opposite the Marciana library (where the Doge’s Palace is but not facing the lagoon) if you look up to the second floor, there are white Istrian stone columns with two pink ones in amongst them. The pink actually symbolizes blood and the Doge would stand between these columns to announce death sentences. If an aristocrat was being executed, they would be hung between these two pink columns, so everybody could see. This display in the busiest part of the most important city in the world, showed what happens if you go against the Republic. These days, during Carnavale, there is a nod to this going back hundreds of years, the Svolo del Turco (Flight of the Turk) is where an angel floats on a high wire from the Campanile down to meet the Doge in between these two pink columns
  14. Some other columns with a story are the two big columns of Venice, which you can find if you’re standing in the Piazzetta and you now turn so you have the Doge’s Palace on your left, and you look towards the lagoon. It was between those columns that they would have the hangings, but there was a way to get out of being, The fourth column along is out of alignment and if the convicted person could walk around the circumference of it and not lose his balance, then his sentence would be absolved
  15. At the entrance to the lagoon from the Piazetta, there are two columns – the one on the left, the side that’s closest to the Doge’s Palace, is the column of St. Mark which has the winged lion of St. Mark on top of it and then the other one is San Teodoro. The lion is now a replica – the real one is inside the museum in the Doge’s Palace. This lion has been dated back to the end of the 3rd/4th century BC and was from Tarsus in south central Turkey. The god Sandon who was the god of war and weather was depicted, riding a winged lion. This lion somehow wound up in Venice with a diversion to Paris for a while when Napololean came in in 1797, stole it, and put it on top of a fountain in the Place des Invalides until it was returned in 1815. When they took it down from the top of this fountain, they either sabotaged it or they had an accident, but he crashed to the ground and broke into 20 pieces. These 20 pieces were then taken back to the Arsenale and was put back together. On the other column, there is Saint Theodore, who was the Slayer of Dragons.  Somewhere along the line, his dragon got replaced with a crocodile, which is what you’ll now see
  16. These two enormous columns stand on octagonal bases which each had sculptures around the bottom of them depicting the various arts and craft skills guilds that would have paid to have these columns erected. Over the last thousand years, most of it has been degraded, but a few are still visible. On the bottom of the lion column, is the green grocers which shows their fruit and vegetables in wicker baskets. On the San Theodora column, you can see ones of a blacksmith raising his hammer to hit an anvil, a fishmonger offering fish from a basket, and two very faint ones which are possibly a butcher and a winemaker. It’s amazing these thousand-year-old carvings, out in the elements, are still there
  17. If you want to take a trip to Murano to see the glass makers, you’ll likely be encouraged to get on one of the free factory boats where a free boat takes you straight to a specific factory store and you’re expected to buy from them. We suggest you don’t do that and instead head to Fondamente Nove, where it’s really easy to just jump on the Vaporetto which will take just 20 minutes. It’s worth considering getting a Vaporetto pass. It costs around €20 for the day and it is a lovely way to spend a day – meandering around the islands
  18. Before you get on that vaporetto to head over to Murano, take time to check out the nearby Gesuiti church. It’s a truly amazing sight to see – a very full-on, explosion of decoration. There are these twirly barley sugar columns, marble inlays made to look like fabric, and insane artworks, by artists like Tintoretto and Titian. It looks very different than the rest of Venice. The church was originally built in 1155 by this religious order called the Crociferi, which are the cross-bearers. Then in 1651, Pope Alexander VII suppressed that order and they were kicked out. The church standing empty coincided with Venice needing more money and the Jesuits, who had been kicked out of Venice 60 years prior, were invited to come back, but only if they bought this church – possibly they went all out to show that they were here to stay (they weren’t however as they got kicked out again later on)
  19. Once on Murano, head for the Basilica of Santa Maria and San Donato. This is a 7th-century Basilica – one of the oldest in Venice. It had a rebuild in 1125 and has an incredible mosaic floor. It also has the relics of the dragon slayer, San Donato. San Donato was from Arezzo and in Roman times, his claim to fame was slaying a dragon and that dragon’s rib bones are behind the altar. In reality, it’s probably the bones of something prehistoric that were dug up but people really believed that this was a dragon
  20. Nearby, you’ll find artisan jewelry maker Alessia Fuga. She makes incredible glass jewelry. It’s Murano glass with modern and interesting twists and you’ll find people of all ages and all walks of life enjoying wearing it. She’s also into the whole experiential travel movement as well, which is very big in Venice, with workshops, classes, and demonstrations, so you can go and see how it’s done or have a go making it yourself
  21. Corinna is a big believer that when you’re buying souvenirs – something from your trip to bring home with you, it must be something that has an emotional connection. If you walk into a high street store and buy something off the rack, it’s not going to resonate with you when you pull it out of the closet in a year’s time. In Italy, there are artisans everywhere, and when you go into their workshop and you’re able to see that artisan at work and you’re able to talk to them and become a part of this experience – when you pull that item out, whether it’s something of your closet or something that you bought for your house, it will mean something to you every single time you see it. That’s what you want to take home
  22. On the island of Mazzorba, there is an extraordinary winery with a fascinating history called Tenuta Venissa. The Bisol family had been making prosecco for 500 years up in Valdobbiadene and for years they’d been looking for this special grape, Dorona, that was specific to the lagoon of Venice. It could only be grown there but it was wiped out in about the 1400s due to flooding. A little over a decade ago, they found 3 of these vines in a corner of a church on Mazzorba that was not being used, and they got the rights to farm it. At the Tenuta Venissa winery, they make the wine with the Dorona grape but they only make 4000 bottles per year. It’s very unique and prestigious. It’s a vibrant gold-colored full-flavored white wine. It has no pesticides used for it because the salt spray that comes off the water with the wind, keeps all the insects away. Their first vintage was in 2012. The bottles are hand blown by Carlo Moretti a really famous glass blower on Murano and they have gold leaf labels that are made by the Battiloro family who have been goldsmiths in Venice for 1000 years and they get a new label every year. You have this unique wine that only grows there, and then you’ve got multiple Venetian artisans who have been involved in the creation of this project. The bottles are, of course, expensive, but what an unbelievable and unique gift to bring back for yourself or for anybody else
  23. Another of the islands that makes a wonderful visit is Giudecca. From the San Zaccaria Vaporetto stop, which is at San Marco, is a three-minute ride to Isola San Giorgio, and then three minutes more to Giudecca. Giudecca is a long, slim island that looks across at the Dorsoduro and you have the Giudecca Canal running between. Not many people know to go over there so it’s not busy and there’s lots of great stuff to see and do. It’s one long Fondamenta, water-side walk, that goes along the whole stretch and there are lots of gorgeous little restaurants, bars, and cafes. If you sit outside somewhere there for lunch, you look across the canal at Dorsoduro and at Santa Maria della Salute
  24. It’s a very artisan island with lots of art. There’s a fantastic building called the Three Eyes, which has become a famous photography museum. The Convento dei Santi Cosma e Damiano, a 15th-century convent, is well worth a vistit. It was a convent until Napoleon came along and he dissolved it and used it as a barracks for his military, so a lot of the art was lost, but in the 1980s, the government made this initiative Casa e Bottega which goes back to the ancient system of living above the shop and workshop. Here they have the Artisti Artigiani del Chiostro, which has workshop space for ten artisans. It’s all very different to what you see elsewhere, for instance, there’s a  guy that works with paper and makes these incredible paper lampshades. It’s all great stuff to bring home as souvenirs and as gifts for people
  25. Sant’Eufemia is a famous church on Giudecca which was first built in 865 and had various renovations over the centuries. There are old columns and old brickwork and amazing artworks. There’s a pietà (where you have the Virgin Mary cradling Jesus’s body) that instead of him lying in Mary’s lap, he’s kind of draped over a rock and she has her right arm raised up over him, and it looks a bit like she’s about to clock him over the head
  26. Another former convent, called Le Convertite, was a convent for reformed prostitutes, and sexually besmirched women. The priest Fra Giovanni Leon made the 400 nuns his personal harem but got found out and in 1561, was beheaded. Legend has it that they took 13 attempts to chop his head off and in the end, they had to get a knife to chop it off.  This convent has now become a women’s prison. This prison has a great philosophy of rehabilitation and teaching people skills that they can use when they leave.  They have an organic garden in the complex and one of the programs there is making beautiful smelling toiletries for the Bauer Hotel Group. On Thursdays, they have an organic market outside the prison selling some of the best produce you can find
  27. Another program at the prison is called Il Cerchio where they teach the women to make clothing – giving them a usable skill, something that society needs. As well as learning how to sew, they can evolve into working in design. Of course, Italy is full of incredible designers and designers and design teams working with these women, teaching them how to make amazing clothing. The fabrics that they’re working with are donated by famous fabric houses like Fortuny, Rubelli and Bevilacqua. On the main island, less than a ten-minute walk from Piazza San Marco, they have a shop which is called Banco Lotto number Ten which sells these wonderful clothes
  28. Corinna loves to do her research but much of the information and stories she has come from the local guides she uses both on her own and with her tours. . You aren’t even allowed to run a tour anywhere in Italy without the guide having the qualifications/certifications for that region. Corinne uses local guides in Venice for her tour groups and they step in and take over the tours and even though she’s been going to Venice for more than 30 years, and has done the tour themes before, she still learning new things every single tour.
  29. The guides have to be licensed and recommendations/good reviews are a good idea to look out for. In Corinna’s new book, she includes a link inside the book for a PDF that you can download with guides she works with. All of them do general walking tours, but they all also have some kind of interesting specialty. She has one that’s a specialty foodie guide and does fascinating tours. One who does, as a sub-specialty, amazing tours for kids of all ages. She creates these incredible treasure hunts and scavenger hunts with them. One whose degree was in Japanese language and Japanese art, has worked in the Oriental Museum in Venice and got poached by the Peggy Guggenheim.  Venice is one of the world’s centers of modern art and she can open the whole world to you when it comes to modern art. One who went to university to study archeology, specializing in Islamic archeology and of course, in Venice, much of the architecture has an Islamic link, so they can explain to you what you’re seeing, what the relevance is, why this building looks like this and where the foot on that statue was actually found 30 years ago
    Another one who has various specialties, but realized that Venice, with so many canals and bridges,  is a particularly difficult place for somebody who’s vision-impaired or someone in a wheelchair. So she developed these specialty tours for people who either have sight-impaired or mobility impaired 
  30. Corinna wants everybody to go to Venice, see all the amazing things there are to see and fall in love with it. It’s well worth taking note of Corinna’s tip to head out of the busy center during the day when it’s crazy and enjoy it first thing or in the evening when you can have a calmer, more special experience, rather than one where Venice felt like a hassle and a bit of a blur.  Her new book has chapters on interesting and unusual things to do and see, chic places to go for an aperitivo, where to get the greatest coffees, and what to eat. Venice is a tiny place, but there’s an enormous number of things to see and do there. Even if Corinna has maybe been there for 10  days straight, when she gets on the train to leave, she’ll always kick herself that she didn’t get to do all these other things she’d wanted to

About our guest – Corinna Cooke

Author Corinna Cooke is a favorite guest on Untold Italy. Originally from New Zealand she fell in love with Italy thanks to a high school art history teacher who introduced her to Italian Renaissance art. After moving to London and traveling throughout Europe, she couldn’t stop returning to her beloved Italy.

Now living in Phoenix in the United States, Corinna is a woman of many skills. She leads several Glam Italia small group tours to Italy each year and writes guidebooks of the same name exploring her favorite corners of beautiful Italia. And her “day job” is a make-up artist. But, her heart is always called to Italy. 101 Fabulous Things to do in Venice is her new book full of fascinating stories, tips, and tricks on how to have a fabulous time in Venice. 

You can find Corinna on these channels:

Corinna’s books


Places mentioned in the show

  • Piazza San Marco –  main square of Venice home to ritzy cafes, the basilica and Palazzo Ducale
  • Rialto bridge – famous white bridge of Venice spanning the Grand Canal
  • Bridge of Sighs – enclosed bridge, made of white limestone that has windows with stone bars, over the Rio di Palazzo, and connects the New Prison to the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace
  • Dorsoduro – University district in Venice
  • Doge’s Palace – formerly the Doge’s residence and the seat of the Venetian government
  • Acre – a port city now in Israel where the Battle of Acre took place in 1258, between the fleets of the Republic of Genoa and the Republic of Venice
  • San Pantalon – a church in the Dorsoduro district
  • Arsenale – former shipyard and armories
  • Salvmeria– incredible Sicilian Venetian restaurant in Venice’s Arsenal area
  • San Marco Basilica – otherwise known as St Mark’s Basilica, it is the cathedral of Venice
  • Marciana Library – one of the earliest surviving public libraries and repositories for manuscripts in Italy
  • Campanile – the bell tower of St Mark’s Basilica
  • Tarsus – historic city in south-central Turkey
  • Place des Invalides – complex in Paris
  • Fondamente Nove  – Venetian dialect for “Fondamenta Nuove” is the gateway to the islands of the Northern Lagoon
  • Gesuiti – church in Venice in Cannaregio district
  • Cannaregio – the northernmost of the six historic sestieri (districts) of Venice
  • Santa Maria e San Donato – church on Murano island known for its twelfth-century Byzantine mosaic pavement
  • Alessia Fuga – jewelry maker on Murano making jewelry out of glass
  • Torcello – oldest of the Venetian islands
  • Mazzorbo – one of the islands of Venice, linked to Burano by a wooden bridge
  • Tenuta Venissa – wine resort on the island of Mazzorbo 
  • Valdobbiadene – town in Treviso area known for making Prosecco
  • Giudecca – Venetian island, immediately south of the central islands of Venice
  • San Zaccaria – vaparetto stop near St Marks Square
  • Isola San Giorgio – Venice island
  • Zitelle – vaporetta stop on Giudecca
  • fondamenta – meaning “foundation” in Italian, it describes the walking bank along a canal
  • Santa Maria della Salute – known simply as the Salute, is a church and minor basilica in Dorsoduro
  • Tre Oci – meaning the 3 eyes, is a building on Giudecca now a photography gallery
  • Convento dei Santi Cosma e Damiano – 15th century convent on Guidecca
  • Artisti Artigiani del Chiostro – gallery at the Convento dei Santi Cosma e Damiano with artists in residence
  • Sant’Eufemia – famous church on Guidecca first built in 865 dedicated to Saint Euphemia
  • Le Convertite – convent on Guidecca for converted prostitutes and sexually besmirched women

Resources

  • vaporetto – Venice water bus
  • Dumbarton Oaks Museum – museum in Washington DC
  • Alexios Komnenos and John II Komnenos – co-emperors of Byzantium from 1092 to 1118
  • campiello – v small piazza with just a few houses
  • Marco Polo – a Venetian merchant, explorer, and writer who travelled through Asia along the Silk Road between 1271 and 1295
  • Piraeus Lion – one of four lion statues on display at the Venetian Arsenal
  • Francesco Morosini – Venetian naval commander who stole the Arsenal lion statues from Athens
  • Parthenon – ancient greek temple
  • Lindworm – a popular motif found on runestones in 11th-century Sweden
  • Varangians mercenaries – the name given by Eastern Romans to Viking raiders, conquerors, traders, and settlers, who were mostly ethnic Swedes but also included smaller some Danes and Norwegians
  • Moors – a term first used by Christian Europeans to designate the Muslim inhabitants of the Maghreb, the Iberian Peninsula, Sicily, and Malta during the Middle Ages
  • Tatars – an umbrella term for different Turkic ethnic groups bearing the name “Tatar”, particularly of the Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan
  • Svolo del Turco – the centuries-old tradition of the flight of the Turk still occurs every year at Carnevale where an angel floats down from the bell tower
  • Sandon/Sandan/Sandas – god of war and weather who road a winged lion
  • Tintoretto – an Italian painter of the Venetian school
  • Titian – Italian Rennaisance painter
  • Dorona – the centuries-old Venetian grape variety that was thought lost
  • Carlo Moretti – famous glass blower on Murano
  • Battiloro – goldsmith whose family have been working with gold for centuries
  • casa e bottega – means house and shop in Italian
  • pietà – representation of the Virgin Mary with the body of Christ 
  • Council of Ten – from 1310 to 1797 one of the major governing bodies of the Republic of Venice and had the power to impose punishments upon nobles
  • Bauer – hotel group in Venice
  • Fortuny – originally formed by a Spanish artist-designer based in Venice, making the finest printed fabrics in the world, handmade since 1907
  • Rubelli – creating and producing fabrics in Italy since 1889
  • Bevilacqua – producers of luxury fine weaved fabric 
  • Castello – charming area of Venice that is a quiet place to stay away from the crowds
  • Banco Lotto n.10 – shop with the designer wear produced in the Guidecca former convent prison
  • Auguri! – Congratulations in Italian

Resources from Untold Italy

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