Venice, Chioggia and the Po

Let’s start at the end… This is Saturday evening, 18:30, on the banks of the Po river delta:


We’ve had a gentle couple of days, beginning with a 2 day stopover in Venice. This time around, sanity prevailed as we visited St Marks and The Church of Santa Maria Gloriosa Dei Frari, or the Grey Friars (Franciscans). The original church, built in 1280, shows only remnants today, with major renovations particularly between 1330 and the 1450’s. So, apart from venerable age what’s interesting? The interior is a treasure trove of works by Tiziano Vecellio, more commonly known in English as Titian:

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And, eventually, we made it to the Basilica of St Mark. Hardly any queues, given that we’ve been disheartened in the past by waits of over 5 hours – and a limited time of 20 minutes to pass though! This is Venice’s crowning glory, and, really, simply beyond my ability to describe. Even worse, no photos are allowed, so the 4000 square meters of gold mosaic, laid in irregular patters so surfaces are always reflecting light, form the backdrop to various frescoes and art works, and illuminate the various domes and cupolas, particularly as we visited around noon. To underscore all of this are 6000 square meters of floor mosaics, generally of the most intricate geometric patters that really play with your sense of depth and light. 60 different types of marble are used for this. The only downside? It’s just too much to comprehend – I stand there with my mouth open and my mind trying to make sense of the artistry, wealth and commitment in creating a structure such as this.

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Venice transported the soldiers of the 4th Crusade ( 1202), stopping over at Constantinople and making up for previous insults by the Emperor by encouraging the Crusaders to sack Constantinople … This was such a disaster for Constantinople that it underwent a fairly consistent decline before finally falling in 1453. A thoroughly enjoyable read of these events is Constantinople: The Last Great Siege by Roger Crowley. In any case, apart from being paid transport fees, Venice brought back the bronze horses now adorning St Marks, tons of marble and, indeed, whole columns as well as gold and wealth enough to build an empire. Hmm, reconciling this with the Basilica can take some mental gymnastics!

Heading south we travelled to Chioggia,all of 30km away. Lovely town, called ‘Little Venice’, but it’s two canals are … impressive but limited. A great afternoon walk through town and along the beach – which is seriously getting ready for tourist season – saw us camping overnight for free, thanks to a kind soul who saw we had no idea as to how to interpret Italian parking meters, and gave us a ticket. Quiet night with us as the only campervan in a huge carpark. Woke this morning to find 12 vans parked alongside us. Must have slept well!

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Off early this morning to Porto Tolle on the Po River Estuary. Spent the better part of the afternoon on a great cycle aver the marshlands and farming areas, generally being able to stay on the top of the dikes. In fact, getting up and down the dikes accounted for most of the 26 meter elevation gain over 53 kilometres – crazy, no?

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Hopefully a quiet night parked on the banks of the Po. Our plan is to retrace our route a little to fill up with water, dump waste, and then proceed to the middle of the delta and more cycling. And talking about crazy – earlier this week we were in a blizzard at sub-zero temperatures, today we are at 19°, and I’ve got sunburn!

Some extras (click for caption):


Leaving Trieste proved to be a bit interesting. Italian old town roads are just awful if you’re not Italian, suffer from any sort of self-awareness, question (in any shape or form) your daily invincibility or drive a motorhome. Some of the previous may well apply to me, so here’s a view through the windscreen at a typical two-way street (seriously, two way for vehicles, not just pedestrians!)

Two-way street, with parked cars as optional additional hazard

Eventually turned right when we should have turned left, but, as a consequence, saw whole parts of Trieste we weren’t planning on visiting. This happens.

This is the bus route into town … Heaven help us!

Our goal for the day was to visit the ancient Roman town of Aquileia, at one point housing over 100,000 inhabitants and one of the largest cities in the world. The key feature is the Basilica of Aquileia, with foundations started in 313 AD. Following destruction, visible in the brilliant way that layers of excavations are showcased under glass floors, passageways etc, successive church structures were built, overlaying or incorporating previous structures. An amazing highlight is the Paleo-Christian mosaic floor, at 760 square meters, the largest in the Western world.

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Other interesting sections abound – the Crypt of Frescoes is foremost. Built in the 9th C and painted in the 12th C, the frescoes, like much of the church, echo Byzantine traditions. Interesting, but lacking any description, are fainter images on the lower walls clearly depicting scenes from the crusades. Amazing that the frescoes have retained their colours and remain so luminous.

Crypt of Frescoes
Close-up, bones of Martyrs
Crypt of Frescoes

One more modern piece is very striking – A sculpture of Christ of the Trenches by Edmondo Furlan, a veterean of WWI. This is just so evocative!


The whole town seems to be a vast archaeological dig, with sites scattered along the road and open to visit.


Given our usual pathetic effort at sticking to a schedule we had to abandon our planned walk as we were running out of time. We need to walk faster, read less and, definitely, not show so much interest in this stuff! Venice is going to be a challenge.

Speaking of which – the road to Venice was indeed a challenge. Mile after mile of roadwork was at least alleviated by a constant view of the snow-covered mountains skirting the north. Traffic was, of course, heavy on this section, made no easier by the convoys of trucks.


Eventually, here we are, outside Venice in a pretty average campsite, but very conveniently situated 1km from busses into the city – looking forward to eventually getting in to St Mark’s after giving up on two previous visits, put off by queues of 4 hours or more. Sun is setting, Super Moon is rising, whiskey is cold, and, apparently, there is hot water for showers in the ablution block – how bad can this be?

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Trieste, Italy

As I was saying to Niki: The problem with most interesting natural phenomena is that they kill you!’ We are in the midst of a quite strong Bora, which is the result of the extremely cold temperatures (which resulted in yesterday’s big dumping of snow) over the interior (Justinian Alps, to be precise) and the lower Adriatic. Wind speeds last night had gusts well over 80km/h – not nearly close to the record of over 300km/h recorded down the road a few years ago, but still enough to keep the van rocking and rolling through the night. Forecast is for worse to come …



Caught a bus into the centre of town this morning – well done Niki – and took a walkalong the piers and promenade in front of the Square of Italian Unification. It was freezing with very strong gusts of wind blowing us sideways – sort of reminiscent of Cape Town! In Trieste they too string ropes and chain to provide handholds for pedestrians. Given the low temps and strong winds we can be forgiven for cutting our visit short and heading back to the van. The be fair, perhaps not the most interesting old town we’ve walked through. Two big pluses were the excellent (and very cheap) coffee, and the excellent (and very cheap) bus service – Italy continues to nail both of these. Some other areas – driving – are still to be worked on.


So we are settling back in the van – some sun occasionally streams in – and catching up with reading and perhaps a TV series. Plan is to get to Aquileia and see the ruins tomorrow before camping outside Venice tomorrow night and spending some time in the city. Italy is proving to be difficult to do free camping as we have elsewhere in Europe, and campsites are relatively expensive and not too well appointed – oh, and diesel is super expensive, almost €1.60 a litre compared to the €1.19 we paid in Austria – no sign of yellow vests, though…

And, continuing previous posts on epic restoration failures, let’s take a closer look at this disaster in the city’s main square. To be fair, almost all the figures in this work have been botched  to a similar degree … You might want to click here to see some of the classic fails.



Trieste – Woah!!

Best, today, to keep the write-up short and enjoy a whiskey – tea – port – whiskey. .. repeat.

Intended to stop over in Slovenia at the huge national park at Kranjska Gora, enjoy the park & lakes, and continue our new-found interest in caves.

Not to be. Snow simply got heavier, with the Wurzen Pass, our intended route, closed (no warning until arriving at the pass). Nice guy at the garage pointed out that when they have 5cm of snow the pass has 10 x more. So, 40km detour to bring us around on the other side … snow getting heavier, road getting narrower, 9km of climb still to go, van starting to slide as the snow compacted and began to freeze, and with the forecast predicting -9° overnight, we bailed, almost getting stuck, and headed down to Trieste.

Currently staying in the most expensive camping park we’ve yet had. €18 overnight, €4 electricity, €12 for toilets …  and it’s just a carpark. Welcome to Italy.

Sigh – some days are just like that 🙂

The slide show below is from Niki’s view of the day – enjoy.

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