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The iconic images of Venice never cease to thrill. As the aeroport bus (the slowest boat in the world) brought us to Arsenale, the closest station to our hotel – A Tribute to Music – I still smiled with pleasure and sort of felt like I was coming home. It is my fourth visit to Venice – my first was in 1984, when we were DINKs (double income, no kids) and you can imagine the thrill then of seeing such an architecturally significant city. We had to bus (boat) it over from the camping ground and I believe we only stayed a day, but I still captured the spirit of Venice and longed to return one day. We come now because every two years the Architectural Biennale is held here and it is an opportunity for Bob to be immersed in the trends and concepts from architects in different countries around the world.
I never tire of walking around the streets of Venice and getting lost – eventually you do always make it back to your destination. We have walked for miles and miles this time and I am even starting to recognize the right direction to go. On Sunday night we experienced a different version of the Barber of Seville, when it was performed to an intimate audience in a Venetian palace, Palazzia Barbarigo,  apparently built in 955. Each act was held in a different room and the whole audience had to relocate for the next act. The opera singers were spectacular and the quartet equally so. It was to put it mildly one of those tremendous surprises. I had wanted to go to an opera in La Fenice, the Venice Opera House, (as I had read a novel set in La Fenice) but when I googled La Fenice- that concert at Barbarigo Palazzo was the first thing that popped up (and I didn’t notice) and I went ahead and booked. When we went to look at the venue, it looked very dodgy, no signage, no one there two hours before –  I thought ‘I’ve been done!’ But when we arrived and the opening overture commenced we knew this was the real thing. The pianist, Roberto Barrali  was so entertaining to watch with his expressive playing – well it was bellissimo!
We have eaten twice now at a fabulous restaurant called Vinaria- which does wonderful variations on the typical Venetian menu. (In case you are wondering I am highlighting these places and activities for my own reference, so I don’t forget them – I am not receiving any rewards for their endorsement….although I am happy to discuss any offers…..!). One of the big shocks after we sat down, gazing at the view of the gondolas out the picture window was when a Venetian mother, father and baby with pram …and the Labrador all sat down in the best table in the restaurant. We have noticed dogs are welcome anywhere in Venice, but I was very surprised in this slick, modern restaurant. Mind you both the baby and the dog were incredibly well-behaved. Last night, we were sitting next to an Austrian couple who were arranging for their wedding to be held at the restaurant in two months time. They live and work in Austria but come to Venice every 3 months and stay for a break, so Venice is their second home, like Noosa feels to us.
There is a mystery and a complaint that I need to disclose and get off my chest.
What is wrong with Italian coffee???? I thought Italy was the home of coffee and for the last 3 visits in 2011, 2014 and 2016 the coffee has been getting increasingly disgusting. I know that one thing that ruins the flavour is the use of long life-milk and I want us to look after our dairy farmers because it’s when you come to Europe and only drink long-life milk that you realise how spoilt we are in Australia with the real thing. But I have been in training for a year now drinking black (decaf  Nespresso pods) coffee to get around the milk issue, so jumped straight into black coffee, but the coffee is yuk too.
My conclusion: Australia has nailed the art of making great coffee. End of story. 
We have been to a number of the Biennale exhibitions over the last couple of days. A particularly poignant one was one celebrating the life and work of Zaha Hadid, an Iraqi-born female British architect, who died in hospital in March this year, aged only 65 of a heart attack following a bout of bronchitis. I well knew of her work as she was one of my son’s favourite architects during his course and I was pleasantly surprised that she had been able to smash the glass ceiling of architecture – being a woman and an Iraqi! She was at the pinnacle of her career and was an iconic leader in architecture and role model for women in architecture and has designed many of the truly distinctive buildings around the world. There was a long BBC (Scotland) documentary on her at the presentation which I commend to you.

After a couple of days trawling the external Biennale venues we needed a rest day and took ourselves over to Lido – the beach for the Venetians. Despite it being a very hot day, most of the beaches were deemed closed, but thankfully one sole beach area was open with the obligatory beach umbrellas and lounges. I only discovered the joy of doing this on our last holiday to Italy – having balked at the idea of actually paying (a lot of) money for the pleasure of lying raised under shade on a beach of pebbles or as in the case of Lido – dirt with a touch of fine sand. It was fantastic- reading a book, eating fritto misto and sipping on a pina colada. This day we had a discount rate of 18 euro which gave you 2 lounges, an umbrella and toilet and shower visitation rights – well worth the money.
Refreshed after our day off, we tackled the main Bienalle itself today. The highlight was the Australian pavilion – a great, newly-designed building (by Denton, Corker and Marshall) in a magnificent position on one of the canals down in the Giardini.
It’s theme was the importance of ‘The Pool’ in Australian psyche. It was a cool space on a hot day and the chairs called Anerie-aneme, designed by central Australia-based designer Elliat Rich and hand-made by Aboriginal-owned business, The Centre for Appropriate Technology Ltd were a welcome place to pop the weary body for half an hour. The reflections from the canal outside through the large glass window give the walls a life of their own. I would recommend you find the Australian pavilion and seek an artistic refuge.
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As a non-architect, I have found the theme this year ‘Reporting from the Front’ difficult to understand. It seems very nebulous and some of the presentations were difficult to relate to the theme. But what the name did allow for were quite a few related to war and refugee-related presentations. There was one on Blue – the UN peacekeeping buildings and camps and the feeling that these should have a more permanent feel to them, so that when the peace-keepers move out, there is some infrastructure for the remaining population.
Time to head out again for the night. We have become very decadent- many nights eating at 8.30, going to a Vivaldi concert tonight at 9pm – but Venice does that to you 🙂
Until the next time….fino alla prossima volta!