Venice in the Spring
Venice is a sea of dreams; a swimming metropolis of architectural magnificence and Byzantine architecture with enormous stained glass windows, standing beside elaborate Gothic, which kisses Renaissance sandstone and calls out to Baroque with its exuberant ornamental classical style. All this greatness, this extraordinary grandness, this historical marvel, is sitting in water; the canals are the roads and aside from footwork, the boats or gondolas are your cars.
When you approach Venice in your water taxi (80 Euros, but worth every cent) you can't help but feel the excitement that travellers and traders must have felt for countless generations. You feel a sense of romance, inspired by a desperate urge to quench a cultural thirst. There is so much to see, so much to take in as you glide towards this extraordinary city without inhaling noxious car fumes or hearing the manifestations of congestion rage. That edgy feeling that most cities induce just doesn't exist here.
Cruising along the Grand Canal, and then turning off down a side canal, passing under bridges, dipping in and out of sunlight, our taxi took us right to the entrance of the beautiful Luna Hotel Baglioni.
The Luna Hotel Baglioni
This historic Hotel dates back to the 12th Century. It gave shelter to the Knights Templar in 1118. In 1574 it was already known as the Locanda della Luna. In the 18th Century students from Gianbattista Tiepolo embellished the hotel with frescoes that are displayed, perfectly restored, in the grand, though relaxing, Marco Polo Lounge. The hotel is impressive; antiques, Murano lamps and crystal chandeliers are placed lavishly and oil paintings - the height of giraffes - hug walls with consummate pride. This is a grand affair but it is also exceptionally warm, relaxed and unpretentious.
The Luna has had a recent makeover and the rooms on the second floor are absolute winners. The generous beds are clothed in exquisite French-Canovas-style fabrics, in sage and aquamarine greens and golden browns with coronets overhead swathed in matching fabric. The new carpets are spot on with velvet pile in a mellow sand colour throughout. Gone are the offensive swirls in clashing burgundy and maroon. In contrast the bathrooms are modern, white, and state-of-the-art; one even had a 'his and hers' shower.
Our suite, with balcony, stunning sitting room with views of the Lagoon and St. Mark's Basin, was on the third floor. The bedroom was resplendent in gold and black and offset by a beautiful bathroom with a stand-alone ball-and-claw cast-iron bath. The room service was so speedy that, before you could gown up, the coffee had arrived. Champagne and strawberries dipped in chocolate are an indulgence, but you can't afford to miss them. There are 'of course' a few suites with terraces the size of gardens overlooking the Canal. Another time perhaps...
The Perfect Location
Perfect, perfect, perfect. With time as our enemy we had to pack in so much, galleries, churches, shops, shops, shops, Harry's Bar, Da Fiori and, of course, the Guggenheim. While I think of it there are two essentials; take the right shoes, again Tods loafers or MBT's are perfect, and, warn your Bank that you are indeed out of the country and not to put a fraud check on your credit card.
Lunchtime for us was Harry's Bar, about 100 feet away from the hotel (depending on your shoes). It's an institution here, an expensive one, but unmissable. The Belinis are delicious; they even fly-in their ripe white peaches in the winter. The risotto with squid cooked in its ink is sensational and the Cipriani signature dish of carpaccio with a kind of creamy mayonnaise is scrummy. The décor exudes an impression of maritime bric-a-brac; varnished wood, a few paintings of river scenes and boats, a bar, cream walls and lousy loos. The backdrop is the bustling St Mark's Basin (so book a table by the window). You can't help loving it here, you feel indulgent, decadent and unashamed of your voyeuristic intent. This is where the Venetian elite hangs out: affluent-artist-types with loafers and shoulder length curls and overly wealthy fur and stone-clad something-generians.
Within 30 seconds you are quite literally in the magnificent Piazza San Marco, the pulsating heart of Venice. Pigeons and tourists dominate this glorious square but you can't miss it. Surrounded by galleries and over-priced jewellers your eyes are drawn to the Basilica and Doge's Palace at the end of this vast square. It is a real spectacle. From here you can go off in several directions and shop and jaw drop at various intervals. The fabric of Venice is made up of scores of self-contained Islands, each with their own community built around a Campo or square, with its own water supply, a church and a bridge leading to the next one. The palaces border the Campos and so it continues. It is a maze of intriguing and fascinating historical charm but never think you can do Venice in one trip.
The shopping is perfect. Every designer label imaginable is housed here (including more exclusive Italian labels like Loro Piana, Bodega Veneta and Malo, all moments from the Luna's frontdoor) alongside incredible Gallerias packed full of oriental and Venetian works of art and jewellery, and many, many Murano glassware shops. Each shop displays its wares so attractively, flirting with the onlooker like the extraordinary bird of paradise during its courtship dance. We purchased something very special at Galleria Venezia Orienta on Calle dei Fabbri - S. Marco. Worth visiting.
Wear the right shoes or take a river taxi. The 'must do' restaurant is the famous Da Fiore, a toe blistering 35 minute walk from the hotel. It was dark, and apart from an overactive imagination - looking for a small person in a red coat - it worked up an appetite; but in the wrong shoes the appetite is more drawn to painkillers than pasta. However, once settled, you are in for a real treat. Damiano Martin 'the proprietor' will talk you through, with relish, his mother's seasonal delights. For the first time ever I consumed uncooked langoustine. With slight hesitation I bit forth and then there was no stopping. Within seconds I was crunching the sweetest and most delicate taste sensation. After several hours eating our way through the fish-dominant menu and drinking Pieropan of La Rocca, Soave 2003 with grappa to follow, we fell into a river taxi and, with the water reflecting on the ancient walls of Venice, we felt complete.
This was hard. It was all too brief and the hospitality was so special that I felt quite emotional and knew without any doubt that Venice was never going to be completed. I also left many close purchases behind, due to my Bank being over vigilant, and at the very least, I have to return for them.