On a chilly day of drizzles, downpours and atmospheric mists, we decided to board a vaporetto to feel the heat on Murano. Home to Venetian glassmaking since 1292, when lawmakers decided that it might be better to move the artisans to a spot where they couldn’t burn down the whole city, Murano is a smaller, quieter Venice, an island with its own network of canals and distinct neighborhoods.
We disembarked at Colonna, a mix of tourist-tacky and surprisingly refined. Hucksters urged us to hurry along to a glass-blowing demo further down the strip, and while the factory had nothing on Duncan McClellan or the Morean Hot Shop, the gentlemen laboring at the furnaces to make glass elephants and owls had a craggy no-nonsense charm, and the narrator, a dashing young man fluent in several languages, was earnest in his admiration of the craft. In the adjacent gift shop, several other dashing young men, all stylishly dressed in tailored sport coats and shirts, did their best to explain why we should buy their particular factory’s glass, but we moved on down the waterfront.
The chic gallery founded by Marina and Susanna Sent was a highlight. The sisters, who made a name for themselves with innovative bead-making techniques, sell their own wares at the gallery as well as gorgeous vases created in tandem with other master glassmakers. A few doors down, the family of Archimede Seguso, one of 20th-century Murano’s glass-making legends, carries on his legacy.
After more browsing — and a decision not to buy that very nice set of glasses from the very nice people at the Guarnieri Factory — we had a desultory pizza at the aspirationally named Art Cafe, then headed back across the lagoon past San Michele, the so-called “cemetery island,” final resting place of such luminaries as Ezra Pound and Igor Stravinsky.
For our next trek, we took the advice of our ebullient host, Michela. She WhatsApped us the suggestion that we “go down to ‘FONDAMENTE NUOVE’ and go to Rialto to visit the terrace of FONTEGO DEI TEDESCHI where you can enjoy a beautiful view.” (She also sent us a photo of the box of facial tissues she’d tucked behind the front door knob of our apartment, fulfilling our request for extras. Thankfully, my nose has recovered; now it’s Larry who needs it.)
We knew that FONDAMENTE NUOVE was both a vaporetto stop and a roadway along a canal, we’d crossed the bridge/bazaar that is Rialto, and we thought that FONTEGO, etc. was a fancy department store. Knowing, or sort of knowing, all this, and following Google Maps whenever we could get a signal, we of course got lost. Again. And decided we’d just head to the Doge’s Palace on St. Mark’s Square. Which seemed like an easy walk straight south — except when you (that is to say, I) let your attention drift to a beautiful church instead of taking that right you were supposed to take, and suddenly you’re walking north and it’s beginning to rain again and Larry’s getting grumpy so why not stop and have an Aperol spritz under an awning where a scruffy fellow is playing accordion. (Later we saw him slip into a restaurant and come back out wearing a much spiffier set of clothes, his poor schlumpy accordionist persona left behind as well.)
Finally finding our way to St. Mark’s, we settled in for hot chocolate and, more importantly, rest rooms, at the cafe where we ate outside the day before. Today, the band was playing under a tarp on the veranda, facing an appreciative audience camped out with their own beverages while waiting for the rain to subside and watching the umbrellaed throngs wielding selfie sticks on the square. We headed to the Doge’s Palace, where we discovered we’d brought the wrong Museum Pass paperwork. It was time to give up our tourist ambitions for the day.
But that night, thanks to Rick Steves Venice, we found the cozy Ristoteca Oniga, which was, like the map said, just 8 minutes from our apartment. We struck up a conversation with the two Dutchmen at the next table, Case, a visual artist, and Guido, the former manager of an international puppet theater troupe. We chatted about art (how Van Gogh never sold a thing and how Rembrandt’s shift to portraying real, not posed lives destroyed his income) and language and public transit and the tolerance bred in Venice and Amsterdam because, as trading cities, they had to deal with many cultures if they wanted to be successful at making deals. And — first time this came up all vacation — Trump. They were not fans.
Walking home without getting lost, appreciating the shine of the stone pathways polished by the rain, we noticed as we turned into our little corte that the windows were lit up in the building across the canal. Inside, there was either a play rehearsal going on or a ballroom dancing class — or both.