17 July, 2006

53. Going places

If you look at a map of Venice, you would think that because it's such a tangled hotchpotch of lanes and bridges and covered walkways and dead ends, it would be very easy to get lost . In fact, it takes some skill to be disorientated for more than a few minutes because these obviously placed black and yellow signs are all over the city, and they anchor any visitor back to one of four landmarks, three fixed, one literally floating.

There are three main rallying points in Venice, around which most short term visitors cluster, and if you can find any one of them you can easily find each of the others. They are: the Rialto bridge – the main thoroughfare crossing the Grand Canal and linking Canareggio with San Polo; Accademia – the other main bridge over the Grand Canal, much further down the Grand Canal, linking San Marco to Dorsoduro right by the Accademia museum; and San Marco – the Piazza and the Basilica. These form a triangle around the points of which most of the tourist traffic gaggles.

About the only other arrowed sign you'll see, which is an even more common sight than the other three, points you to the nearest Vaporetto stop, wherever that happens to be. The Vaporetti are Venetian buses, motorized ferries that go round the islands and up and down the Grand Canal. Even if you are as far from the two bridges and the Piazza as you can get, the nearest Vaporetto will invariably, eventually, bring you back to at least one of them if not all three. It might take two hours if you hit one heading out across the lagoon to Murano or beyond, but sit tight and it will sooner or later bring you back.

The other sign in this picture is far less common – which is a sore point with many visitors. AMAV is the Venetian sanitation authority, and they run the public toilets, of which there are distressingly few for a city which regularly absorbs 100,000 visitors a day. In fact, there are only seven. Apart from the ones in the railway station and the car parking lots on the Venice side of the mainland bridge, there are two in San Marco, two more San Polo, and one each in Canareggio, Dorsosuro, and Castello. Santa Croce misses out. Don’t get caught with a full bladder in Santa Croce, because you'll have to walk to San Polo to pee. Better still, don't get caught short anywhere in Venice, because even if you know where the nearest public toilet is, until you get there you don't know how long you will have to line-up for it or if it is even open.

I guess if you're desperate enough the nearest canal is always open, but personally, I would rather walk into a bar or restaurant and order a beer or a glass of wine, and use the toilets there which are usually clean and empty. It's a good excuse for a drink during the day, too. Or you could go to the museum in Ca' Rezzonico, one of the best restored of the palazzi on the Grand Canal, because the lobby toilets are free and - miracolo - on the public side of the ticket booth.

When the Madonna in this picture was installed in her niche near the corner of this building, none of these things were an issue, and these signs weren't there. Neither were the little spikey things on the ledge beneath her next to the typically clumsy electrical wiring. The wire spikes are there to stop the pigeons sitting on the ledge and fouling the shopfront, which is why they sit on the Madonna and crap on her instead.

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