Five years ago, on December 4, 2015, I started my blog The Venice Insider to share tips from my frequent trips to Venice. I never imagined that 5 years later I would know so much more about the city and (virtually) meet so many people across the world who are intrigued by my writing.
In this post, I will share some of my best memories of this period. This will also give you a glimpse behind the scenes of my posts. While writing, I suddenly realized that most of it is related to people and that an open and outreaching mindset will get you to places you might never expect. There are of course many other stories, but that would take us too far. You can always browse through the table of contents of my site to (re)read the 186 posts which I published so far.
Learning to row Venetian style
My first memory is one which I hope to extend for a long time. I had always been impressed by the rowing in Venice, which is totally different from what I was used to see in other countries. First, you stand in the boat instead of sitting. Second, you row in the direction that you are facing. In fact, this makes it a bit easier to avoid bumping into a wall or another boat. Last year, I decided it was finally time to try it myself.
When I told this to Luisella, a guide in Venice and now a good friend, she advised me to contact Venice On Board, where she had also learned to row. This team of young Venetians teaches locals as well as tourists and is passionate about old boats. I managed to learn the basics relatively quick, so I had a lot of fun navigating the canals of Cannaregio. It’s an experience which I will never forget. First, I love sports, and rowing is quite heavy so it’s a nice workout. Second, it’s a totally different way to discover Venice and see the city from the water. I completely lost my orientation when we sailed through canals, even though I walked many times in that area before. Finally, it made me feel a bit more local. At one point, Emiliano decided it was time for a quick coffee, so we moored the boat to another one, jumped onto the riva, got inside Torrefazione Cannaregio to have a coffee, jumped again from one boat to ours and continued our trip.
I booked a second session on a next trip and it felt a bit like riding a bicycle (for those who don’t live in Venice). Once you master the basics, it’s relatively easy to pick up where you left so you don’t need to start from scratch again. Unfortunately, I only rowed twice so far, so I hope to be able to return to Venice asap and row again. It is an authentic experience which you can’t have in any other city. As I had never rowed before, the only way I know to row now is the ‘Voga alla Veneta’. You can read more about this memory in ‘Rowing is the ultimate local experience when visiting Venice’.
“As always, your post is very interesting. I will be in Venice in April and May and your information has been very helpful – I’ve added several things to my “to do” list, thanks!”
Lis (McLeod) – Chile
Watching the Festa della Sensa from a boat
Another memory related to the water in Venice, even though it was the lagoon instead of the canals, is my participation to the Festa della Sensa. This traditional event celebrates the marriage of Venice to the sea. The parade is headed by the impressive Serenissima boat with tens of rowers and trumpeters and followed by hundreds of rowing boats in all different sizes. At the end of the parade, a ring is thrown into the lagoon near Lido as a symbol of the ceremony. You can read more about it in my post ‘The Festa della Sensa is the wedding of the year in Venice’.
I didn’t row myself though, albeit I would love to do that once. I will however need plenty of additional rowing classes before anyone will trust me on their boat. I was lucky to join one of the boats for the press and watch the entire parade from the water. The boats of the organization are the only ones in the parade which use engines. This allows them to go quickly from one area to another and navigate between the rowing boats. I guess the rowers hate this as it causes a lot of turbulence in the water. I shared a boat with a team of the BBC and I have to admit I was a bit impressed by them, just as David was by Goliath. They were capturing shots for a documentary on the history of Venice and didn’t like the carabinieri on their jet skis, who always photobombed their ‘historical’ shots of Venice.
I had seen the Festa della Sensa on previous occasions from the Riva dei Sette Martiri, but this was a totally different experience. I really enjoyed these couple of hours in the middle of the excitement. I realize this is a memory which you can’t easily arrange yourself, but I still wanted to share it here with you.
“I just wanted to congratulate you on your work here. I’m majoring in Venetian history at Bologna and absolutely love your page. I’m always excited to find someone who shares my passion for this extraordinary city. Keep up the good work!”
Sebastian – Italy
Attending a concert in the basilica
In 2019, a major exhibition in Palazzo Ducale combined my Flemish background and my Venetian dream. The exhibition ‘From Titian to Rubens. Masterpieces from Flemish Collections’ brought many artworks from Belgium to Venice and was a huge success (more info in my post ‘Marvel at Venetian and Flemish masters in Palazzo Ducale’). After the exhibition, the masterpieces ‘Portrait of a Lady and her Daughter’ of Titian and ‘Angel Foretelling the Martyrdom of Saint Catherine of Alexandria’ of Tintoretto have even been given as a long-term loan to Palazzo Ducale, so you can still admire them there on your next visit.
When I wrote a post about Tintoretto a year before, I mentioned this masterpiece which was at that time on display in the Rubens House in Antwerp. After I publish a post, I always inform the organizations which I mention in the hope that they will share it and hence broaden my scope of readers. I did however never expect the reaction of the Rubens House. They had forwarded my mail to the owner of the painting, who then contacted me directly to say how much he liked the post. I couldn’t believe my eyes as he was only known to me as ‘an anonymous art collector’. We stayed in touch and he kept me in the loop of the upcoming exhibition in Palazzo Ducale.
The opening of the exhibition included an evening concert in the San Marco basilica to which I got invited. It was stunning. Not only the ‘Fiamminghi’ music performed by the world-famous Capella Marciana di San Marco, but also the setting amidst the golden mosaics made it a perfect evening. During the first part of the concert, the musicians were partly hidden so you could admire the basilica in its full glory while listening to the ancient music which was written for this specific location. It was a unique experience which I will never forget.
If you can ever attend a concert or evening mass in the basilica, I can highly recommend it. It’s not the same as a visit, so make sure you already know something about its history. You will enjoy the evening even more when you realize you are surrounded by extraordinary art.
“I so appreciate your taking the time and effort to send your inspiring and evocative posts about Venice.”
John – United Kingdom
Visiting an authentic cantiere
This memory came totally unexpected which makes it even more remarkable. Mafalda, one of my followers from Mexico, wrote me and advised me to contact Margherita and Stefano from the Cantiere Daniele Manin. She told me she was sure that I would love them and that I would be impressed by their unique craftsmanship and professionalism. They are the last company in Venice to make the wooden poles (pali da casada) which are located in front of palazzos and also the ‘bricole’ in the lagoon which mark the ‘motorways’. At that point, I never even thought of dedicating a post to this topic.
I was however intrigued so I followed her suggestion. Even though I thought Margherita would feel obliged to receive me after the mail from her friend, she was extremely nice. Together with Stefano, she came to pick me up at Sant’Elena, where I was staying, with their boat for heavy loads. I again felt as a local, quickly jumping from a pontoon on the boat when he stopped there. They even made a little tour with the boat to show some of their ‘work’ before we stopped at the cantiere (workshop) on the backside of Giudecca. I was honoured as it felt like entering forbidden territory. The place breathes craftsmanship and tradition for which I have a lot of respect. Margherita and Stefano were so kind to explain everything and even gave me some copies of old drawings from the cantiere. We are still in touch and chat from time to time.
This ‘lucky’ visit turned out to be one of my most popular posts (‘These colourful poles are an underestimated landmark of Venice’), especially for those of you who want to understand the city in and out. I still have plenty of ideas for posts, but as you just read, questions or suggestions from readers like yourself might also lead to an interesting post. So, feel free to send me any ideas you have. I really appreciate it.
“Thank you so much for your posts. So well-written. I should have been in Venice just now, but because of Covid-19… So your posts have been a virtual escape. I have visited the city about 30 times over my life, and know Giudecca, but your post has been revelatory. Grazie mille!”
Alan – United Kingdom
Visiting La Biennale di Venezia with a different mindset
Before I started my blog, I had already visited several editions of the Art Biennale and the Architecture Biennale. I loved these visits and always let me take by surprise and the impromptu flow of each pavilion. I hardly prepared besides reading a few articles in the (Belgian) press and asking feedback from friends.
Since I now often write about the Biennale and the pavilions, I spend a lot of time doing research for these posts, which then of course also influences my own visit. I read all the press releases of La Biennale di Venezia and of the national pavilions as well as articles published in international magazines or online. I also get in touch with the organizing teams to learn about their work and what I can expect. This in-depth preparation makes my visits totally different. I know more or less what to expect, which can be a disadvantage. Unfortunately, due to my ‘real’ work, I can usually only attend in the second or third week of the event. I therefore try to avoid looking at all the pictures from the opening week to keep some surprise element to myself. It also implies that I do skip some pavilions which I think will not be interesting. I might therefore already have missed some good ones, but the event is so big that you have to make choices in the sake of time.
I really missed the Architecture Biennale this year (as it was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and can’t wait to attend it at the end of May or early June 2021. The theme ‘How will we live together’ will be even more of topical interest than it was at the time when curator Hashim Sarkis announced it.
“Thanks to your enthousiasm and tips, we enjoyed going to the Biennale in 2019. We are looking forward to going back to the Serenissima when Covid is gone…”
Marleyne – Canada
Meeting (virtual) friends across the world
I do enjoy writing the blog and keeping it alive, but it is sometimes a struggle as it requires a lot of my free time. The one thing that keeps me going is the constant interaction and positive feedback from readers like yourself. I am still surprised by how many people travel to Venice on a regular basis. The fact that especially these frequent visitors, who know the city very well, keep on following me and are inspired by my tips is heart-warming.
“Another interesting thing to visit when I go back. Thank you so much.”
Mercedes – Spain
When I publish a post or send out a newsletter, many of you take the time to reply, ranging from a few words to say thank you to a long mail sharing your own experience related to the post. These mails and comments always put a big smile on my face, so thank you for your support. Throughout this post, you will notice some quotes which I received over these five years.
“OMG! . .5 years!!. Congratulations K,. .. wonderful job! Thank you so very much for the lovely showings & teachings. Big Hug!”
Wendy – Argentina
To show you how lucky I am and how well looked after, here are some examples which put a smile on my face. When I see Seth’s name in my mailbox, I know that I will be spoiled with an interesting article about Tintoretto, pictures of paintings that I should look at or shopping or restaurant tips. Last week, I received a chat from Fran who tells me to immediately watch the webcam on the Rialto bridge as they are installing the Christmas lightning. And when I didn’t publish anything for a couple of months, I got worried emails from Luc, Veerle, Marcy, … to ask if I was all right. These are the moments I cherish.
“Thanks so much Katia, mille grazie! I always enjoy and save your articles about my favorite city and yours! I am longing for the day this virus is handled and we are allowed to travel again! In the meantime I travel there via your Insider Posts and Pictures! Bless you! Stay Well!”
Savannah – USA
I also made a lot of friends in Venice by writing this blog. When I get off the vaporetto and suddenly hear Margherita shout ‘Ciao Katia’, it feels like home. Or when I spend a day at the beach in Lido and bump into Fabio and his family in the restaurant of the beach club. Each time I visit, I try to see as many people as I can, whether it’s Eva and Junior for spritz, Marco for a quick chat in his shop, Luisella and Roberto for a coffee, Liesl at her concert or friends from Belgium who are in Venice at the same time. The list has become so long that it’s impossible to spend time with everyone each time.
“It was so lovely to receive your email, and read what is happening in Venice at the moment.’
Jo – United Kingdom
Finally, as I want the information in my posts to be accurate and interesting, I spend a lot of time on research. I also rely on many people who are willing to review my texts for errors, to ask around if I have a specific question or to direct me to the right information. Whether it’s Luisella for everything Venice related, Stephen for art, Francesca for tourism, Marta for traditional events, another Francesca for the Biennale, … and all the others who I forgot, thanks to everyone for your support to write good posts.
“I wanted to write you back for once. To thank you for inspiring me to come back to Venice beyond what was my usual scope (i.e. running once in twice years franticly through the Venice Biennale ;-)). It is very much thanks to your blog that I discovered Venice much better (thanks for all very informative and thoroughly written materials on your blog).”
Petra – Czech Republic
I guess by now you get the feeling how much you mean to me, whether you are following online from aside, writing or chatting to me, or meeting me in Venice. So, feel free to contact me with any question or comment you have. I always try to be as responsive as possible. On a sidenote, I have more than 12,000 followers across my newsletter and social media, so don’t feel bad if I miss a mail or message. The same applies if your name hasn’t been mentioned here. It doesn’t mean you are less important. There’s just not enough space to mention each one of you.
Grazie mille! Thank you! Merci! Bedankt! Danke! Gracias! ……….