Falling Out Of Love With Venice? – Sant’Erasmo Island

‘Unusual things to do in Venice’, I typed into Google only last week.

If 2nd Cup Of Tea accomplishes anything, I hope it is to provide answers to this conundrum for Venice as well as other destinations around the world. Why not go ahead and try it? Punch in ‘unusual things to do in Venice’ now. Ok, I’ll make it easy, here is the link to the top article that appears if you do.

Unusual Things This Way...

Unusual Things This Way…

It is from usually reliable Time Out. ‘Promising’ I thought. Now, as I did, please scan down the list of their twenty suggestions. Whether you have been to Venice or not I venture to suggest were you to try ever so hard to come up with the most usual and on the beaten track things to do, you’d be pushed to create a better list; stroll St Marks square; have a gondola ride; see Italian art; enjoy Italian food. Really? That’s it? All you’ve got? There is nothing wrong with turning to the internet when seeking inspiration; I confess many of my greatest ‘discoveries’ have already been covered previously by someone else online.

A Bit Big To Be Overlooked. Sant'Erasmo In The Lagoon

A Bit Big To Be Overlooked. Sant’Erasmo In The Lagoon

Reading their stories and adventures have lead me to wish to experience places, restaurants and activities for myself. However when you find yourself living however briefly, amongst 67,693 Venetians, the simplest solution is surely to ask a few. I started with the nearest Venetian I could find. ‘Have you heard of Sant’Erasmo?’ said Paolo, the duty barman at the Hotel Danieli. ‘No’, said I and preceded to be inspired.

Leaving the Fondamente Nove on the line 13 Vaporetto a Monday morning in March I felt confident I was doing something right; there were no other tourists and I was by some distance the youngest passenger. Good start. At Murano, the majority of the passengers, old ladies dressed in big fur coats, shuffle off. They look like large clumsy bears, full shopping trolleys dragging behind and as well pull away from the dock, we are no more than a handful left onboard.

The Beach On Sant'Erasmo. Not The Lido Island...

The Beach On Sant’Erasmo. Not The Lido Island…

For me, heading North East in to the lagoon proper, these turn to unchartered waters. It’s cold, bracing outside as a breeze which promises rain blows in from the North. Inside the Vaporetto cabin is surprisingly warm; everyone is reading.

Wolfgang Goethe visiting Venice in 1786 already then noted that; ‘so much has been written about Venice that I would not describe it too minutely’. Two and half centuries and countless books, guides and letters later, lets get the cliches out of the way; Sant’Erasmo is at 320 hectares the largest of the lagoon islands, thanks to it’s ancient agricultural role it’s known as the ‘garden of Venice’, there is a famous tower, La Torre Massimiliana, built by Napoleon, around 800 inhabitants, cars (though no public way of getting them there) a recently expanded beach and famous endemic violet artichokes known as ‘castraure’; delicious in April. Here wikipedia and most guidebooks end.

Farm With A View

Farm With A View

With this ‘research’, along with the promise of a rented bicycle awaiting me at Hotel Il Lato Azzurro, my visit was only just beginning. I disembarked at Capannone, the first Sant’Erasmo stop on the 13 and traversed a small car park made up with the largest collection of Ape cars I’ve seen in one place.

Walking past immaculately kept fields, interspersed with irrigation canals, the church spires of Venice piercing through the misty horizon in the distance, I soon arrived at my destination.

Leave Your Ferrari On The Mainland Please...

Leave Your Ferrari On The Mainland Please…

Julie, one of the partners of Sant’Erasmo’s only hotel was ready and waiting with a sturdy comfortable blue bicycle (one of their fleet of 30 or so) a map and suggestions for an itinerary of 9.5 kms, skirting largely along the coastline, along small roads and gravel paths.

It’s a wonderful sensation to be on a bike at anytime, but a bike in Venice? Just incredible and somewhat surreal even. This is technically still Venice. In my book anyway. But the bell tower of Piazza San Marco, though visible from the ‘beach’ beneath the Torre Massimiliano, seems another world away. Riding along the Via Dei Forti, North, towards what are now the backwaters of the lagoon where the Venetians first and originally settled, something strange happened.

I love Venice. It is my favourite place on Earth.

A Good Day For Who Knows What In The Sand

A Good Day For Who Knows What In The Sand

 

In this time of separation and loneliness I have chosen it over literally anywhere, thanks to the ‘freedom’ of my lifestyle I could have gone. In the midst of these fields, a few locals at work, wooden boats moored to piles in the mud, a scene that has truly not changed for centuries, for the very first time, it happened that for me Venice – distant downtown Venice – lost some of its authenticity. Locals complain that Venice has lost it’s soul. Indeed I now celebrate the discovery whenever one of my recent Venetian acquaintances actually lives in Venice. ‘Mestre, Marghera, Mogliano…’ they all respond whenever I ask where barmen, waitresses, tour guides, glass sellers actually live. Never Venice.

In a wonderfully frank expose pamphlet I come across in a second hand bookshop and pay four euro for, Venetian author, Paolo Lanapoppi, who really does reside in Venice, laments the darker side of tourism in a city which receives more daily tourists than there are residents; …’the city is now, for much of the year, only a ghost of its former self’. Did I fall a little bit out of love with Venice on Sant’Erasmo?

And We Walked In Fields Of... Purple Artichokes

And We Walked In Fields Of… Purple Artichokes

Perhaps. I’ve often likened my feelings towards this magical place as the one true love affair of my life. One that has stayed with me ever since aged 18 on Interrail I clearly remember taking the few steps down from the train station and laying eyes for the first time on the grand canal, finding it everything I had imagined and so much more. Bukowski in Women, says; ‘human relationships didn’t work anyhow. Only the first two weeks had any zing then the participants lost their interest. Masks dropped away and then the real people began to appear.’ Was this the Venice of San Marks, The Rialto and Gondolas shedding it’s mask?

I stop by a bend in the lido-front trail where someone has recently improved, stabilised a tiny dock. Three wooden boats, two seemingly surrendered to the sea are lie up here. Something draws me off the saddle and urges me away from the shore out onto the mud. It is so incredibly peaceful here. The few sounds are unfamiliar; squelches, burps from the stagnant pools of water and mud beneath my slowly dampening shoes.

Every Ring Tells A Tale; Venetian History In The Mud.

Every Ring Tells A Tale; Venetian History In The Mud.

Suddenly protruding from the mud is the surface of a wooden piling, then another and another. Only just breaking the surface, these are the trees the Venetians hammered down to secure their foundations. Prevented from contact with oxygen, they are centuries old. To me they look like the real ‘faces’ of Venice, long since obscured almost everywhere else.

The next time I dismount, I take out my map. I am a little lost. I can hear loud music coming towards me from a curve in the road ahead. I decide to wait. Incredibly an old lady emerges, white coat and silver hair, pushing an ancient lady, hair obscured by a knitted woollen hat, in a wheelchair. A transistor, fixed to the back, blasts out loud music. It’s a bizarre sight and sound. ‘Da quella parte’, that way, she points as she passes me. I thank her and cycle off in the opposite direction, down to a dead end – the Northern tip of the island, the springboard for the Adriatic. On a stone cut staircase, overlooking and sliver of a beach, I sit and scribble in my notebook. This is total solitude.

Hotel Il Lato Azzurro... What A Great Place To Stay

Hotel Il Lato Azzurro… What A Great Place To Stay

‘Have you eaten?’ says Patrizia. We are sitting in her kitchen. She is a ‘Zanella’, a last name which unequivocally identifies her as one of generations, centuries evens of Sant’Eramo-ians. I answer in the affirmative – expensively and not especially well at the nearby bar. She immediately puts on a Moka. I called her and met her only fifteen minutes previously as she runs the local kayak club and I am keen to take to the waters. After showing me around the clubhouse, she refuses to have me wait forty-five minutes for the next Vaporetto 13 and, ushering me into her Ape car, we forcibly snuggle up on the short drive to her house, where the coffee is delicious.

‘People like yourself, guides, journalists have tried before to bring tourists to Sant’Erasmo’, she says. ‘But they have always failed. It just seems not really to work’.

Going To The 'Gym' On Sant'Erasmo

Going To The ‘Gym’ On Sant’Erasmo

In her snug kitchen we almost forget about the Vaporetto and my imminent departure as she shows photos of the kayak and dragon boat excursions she can organise for anyone who ventures to these shores. She is extremely friendly, inspired not by the prospect of the tourist dollar (her prices are a fraction of what thousands are paying in this very moment for gondola rides), but by a true, hard-to-find these days, love for her island and what it has to offer. But there is melancholy in her voice, almost resignation.

It’s as if she is going through the motions. After all she has said it all before. Back on the Vaporetto, captain steering rigidly towards the beacon of that bell tower, I see again the ancient lady in the wheelchair, old lady seated, reading behind her. The radio as etiquette requires in the enclosed Vaporetto is off.

Sailing Back To Venice With A Little Less Love

Sailing Back To Venice With A Little Less Love

What on earth brought them to that obscure bend in the road a couple of hours previously? What is their story and where were they going now? As the ancient lady stares straight at me from her confined condition, it leads me to ponder why anyone comes to Sant’Erasmo. The first settlers came here for protection, tired of invasions. They came to seek out a new existence, peacefully and to farm. It seems they are still doing so.

The Sant’Erasmo visitor of today? We all carry our baggage and I can certainly identify with dreams of escape. Yet as Venice looms large on the horizon luring me back in, enticing with the prospects of that evening’s planned entertainment, as much as I may desire escape and solitude I am once more struck by the words of the Bukowski a friend has lent me; ‘being alone never felt right. Sometimes it felt good, but it never felt right’. 2nd Cup Of Tea, is my not ‘being alone’.

'It Never Feels Right Being Alone'...

‘It Never Feels Right Being Alone’…

I would urge anyone to visit Sant’Erasmo. Even if you have only two days in Venice, make this your second day. But come in company, bring friends, loved ones, colleagues – meet Patrizia, Julie, rent kayaks, or try a dragon boat, rent a sturdy, but comfortable blue bicycle and share as I have tried this wonderful, wonderful island.

Written entirely on Sant’Erasmo, March 2013. All Photos my own. I was a guest of the amazing Hotel Il Lato Azzurro, which also quite literally provided the wheels for this article.

~ by 2ndcupoftea on March 6, 2013.

5 Responses to “Falling Out Of Love With Venice? – Sant’Erasmo Island”

  1. I have visited S. Erasmo many times. I have met Patrizia andejoyed a cup of coffee with her. I would love to see her again and tried to Email her at the last address I had for her. If you can help me get in touch with her again I would appreciate it. I am going to Venice in June with 15 of my students. Please feel free to Email me or call me at 347 244 0824. Jane Beckwith, St. Joseph’s College, Brooklyn, NY

  2. Hi Jane, sorry for the delayed reply. Patrizia is indeed great. It was such a pleasure to meet her. The best email I have for her is alkse93@gmail.com Try that and see how you get on… If not I do also have a cell number, but best not publish it here. You can email direct at thomas@2ndcupoftea.com and I’ll send it. Regards and enjoy Venice!

  3. Me too, I love Sant’Erasmo and try and go there every time we visit Venice. Walking through the fields of purple artichokes, watching the locals wading in the muddy sand, surfing the perfume-laden freshest tourist-free air imaginable, one can feel transported to a parallel reality and come alive as the fetters of modern consumerism fall away. Thanks for a great article!

  4. Hi Anthony – thanks so much for reading and even more so for taking the time to comment. You’ve expressed in just a few lines far more eloquently than I managed in my whole article. Thank you again and see you on the island sometime maybe 😉

  5. thank you for your evocative words written on Saint Erasmus. I have not been but am planning a birthday gathering in Venice next July and am very drawn to this island, even more so than Venice itself. I see you were there in 2013 – so things may have changed… can you tell me if there is a good local cafe on the island? a small thing but an important thing for one of my companions. hope to hear from you. Virginia

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