Venice’s forgotten islands

There’s more to Venice than Venice. Literally. Although most visitors stick to the main island of Venice to explore the city, Venice itself is a lagoon, and therefore people set up shop in a sprinkling of nearby islands. The two most famous of these ‘other’ islands are Murano and Burano.

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Where have all the people gone? This is Burano, Venice.

In order to actually get to these islands, you have to succumb to buying a ticket for the vaporetto. Along with Stockholm’s metro, the vaporetto (water bus) would have to be one of the most overpriced public transport systems in the world. A single trip sets you back €6,50,  and a 12-hour ticket is €16. The insane cost of the vaporetto has single-handedly made me avoid it both of my previous times in Venice.

Quite a few other people seemed to share our idea of getting the vaporetto out to Murano the Saturday of the Easter long weekend as well. Waiting in line (by this stage we’d learnt a few tricks from the Italians and skipped a large portion of the mayhem) we watched three vaporetti go past without us, completely chockers. We finally got on, but not after seriously considering walking to the previous stop just in order to board at all.

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Everyone awaiting the vaporetto. Once one person moved, everybody descended.

Murano’s not far away from Venice at all; we’re talking about half an hour on our non-express vaporetto. On the way we passed Venice’s island cemetery, which looks as foreboding as it sounds. Murano though is similar to Venice, though on a smaller and slightly less grand scale.

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Murano’s main canal.

Upon disembarking from the vaporetto, we were met with the largest and most vocal amount of spruikers I’d seen in Europe.

“Turn left for Murano glass!”

“Murano glass workshop, follow me, follow me!”

“Ladies, you want jewellery, come with me for genuine Murano!”

We turned right, didn’t follow anyone and didn’t particularly want jewellery. (OK that’s a lie. I always love jewellery.) But these guys were so in-your-face, that it completely soured my view of Murano. We looked in a few of the jewellery shops, but didn’t buy anything even though I’m quite a fan of the glassware that’s made the island famous. At most shops I wouldn’t get a peep out of the owner; a grunt seemed like a victory for my hearty “buongiorno!”

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Murano glass warehouses.

The island, although pretty in that run-down sort of way, just seemed to be full of the worst aspects of Venice, without the surprise packets. In Venice, tourists just seem to be part of the overall package. But in Murano, with its smaller buildings and narrower streets, it gave the impression of scavengers descending on a little unassuming village without a single hint of anything authentically local.

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Old and new: a glass art installation in the foreground.

After perhaps an hour, we decided to head further out to Burano. I’d heard good things about Burano, so I wasn’t put off by the further half an hour out to get there. Here, we were able to push our way to the front of the line for the vaporetto, which was almost exclusively populated by Italians. We didn’t care about queue decorum any more.

(I just want to say, with my head held pretty high, that despite the crowds, I got a seat on every single vaporetti that day. Queuing for the tram after Collingwood matches has taught me a trick or two.)

I fell head over heels in love with Burano pretty much straight away. Known for lace making and its colourful building facades, the island has a very different feeling to Venice, and even Murano for that matter. There were still plenty of tourists here, but the amount was manageable. They all seemed to be Italian or Japanese not in tour groups. It was an interesting, and even quite manageable mix. Some Italians were even accompanied by their dogs, brought all the way to Burano from their Roman, Florentine or Sicilian homes.

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Burano’s main canal.

If the heavens didn’t open upon us (with me sans umbrella) I would have happily spent the rest of the day taking photos of Burano’s facades. Peeling paint was a rarity here. Instead, the buildings were bright, bold, and looked loved. It was almost as if the residents of Burano were subject to the famous Swiss tax discounts, which reward flowerboxes on windowsills. The place was Pretty with a capital ‘P’.

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Picture-perfect Burano.

There isn’t a hell of a lot to do in Burano, but that doesn’t really matter. Just like in Venice proper, you walk. The main canal is bustling with tourists and lace shops, which is pleasant enough but seriously, how many places claim to be the home of lace? Bruges, Prague and Nottingham all spring to mind. The charm really is in the back streets, surprisingly away from the canals, where the homes tucked away in little lanes (behind doorway entrances) present to you every colour of the rainbow, and then more.

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I like to think that the local barber lives here.

So are Venice’s other islands forgotten? Not really. There’s enough people in Venice for just a small percentage of them daytripping to feel like overkill. But, just like in Venice proper, you can find your little nooks and crannies which make you forget you’re also a part of those masses.

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  1. The charm of Cesenatico - Olympic Wanderings - June 12, 2014

    […] The heart of Cesenatico is undoubtedly its canal. Dug out over five hundred years ago, the locals love to tell you that Leonardo da Vinci designed their canal but the truth is that he only surveyed it later. But hey, why let the truth get in the way of a good story? The canal is completely charming and I made sure I took it all in both during the day and at night. Restaurants are dotted along both sides, making the scene look not unlike the Venetian islands of Murano and Burano. […]

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