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Report 713: A Weekend in Venice for the Biennale

By KellyC from NJ, Summer 1999

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Page 2 of 4: Day One: Touring the Biennale


I arrive at the Venice airport about 30 minutes late. I have plans to meet up with friends who work in sales for a few art publications, as well as a friend taking the train in for the day from Florence. Since I am already running late I decide to splurge and take a water taxi to my hotel. It is absolutely worth the $80 to do it. It is so beautiful and amazing to be gliding across the lagoon past other small islands and various boats. As we come nearer, we have a fantastic view of Venice and the tower in San Marco Square. I am so glad I arrived that way.

I arrive at my hotel (the Hotel Firenze) right off Piazza San Marco and hurry to shower and change. Luckily I finish in the nick of time as there is a knock at my door. We all agree to meet down at Harry’s Bar in 10 minutes. We have a quick espresso, which I desperately need. I didn’t really get more than an hour of sleep on the plane and have many plans for my few short hours in Italy.

From there, we take the vaporetto over the Giardini stop to see the national pavilions. The pavilions are owned by and sponsored by different countries. Each country picks a committee and a curator for each biennale and they pick one artist to represent the country. Once in a while they will have more than one artist, but generally it is just the one. Gary Hume is representing Great Britain and his paintings are great. There is another pavilion, with artists from the former Soviet Union. One of them is giving people tattoos on the skull to look like Gorbachov. Needless to say there are only a couple takers.

The best pavilion of all is the one from I think the Netherlands, if I remember correctly. It is so amazing. They filled the room with the mist from dry ice and this instrumental music playing. They have a few large scale black and white photographs of landscapes on the walls and they hung dandelions upside down from the interior of a skylight. It is so foggy that you can only see about a foot in front of you and the photos and the dandelions are just appearing out of the mist along with all the other people in the room. It is so fantastic that I hate to leave.

We run and have another espresso before heading over to the arsenale, where they have a big group show of artists from all over the world. It is amazing to see all this contemporary art juxtaposed against the old shipyards of Venice. There is a tremendous amount of work to see and the artist that my gallery represents is the very last piece in the arsenal.

We wander through all the buildings and past outdoor areas that are also filled with art. They have very upscale port a potty things that are more like trailers with real bathrooms. My friend Carolyn goes in one and Donnna Karan is in there washing her hands. We say hello and use the bathroom. When we come outside, she chats with us and asks us what we're doing in Venice and what we think of the art we have seen. When she walks away my friend Carolyn keeps saying, "I can’t believe I peed in the same place as Donna Karan."

From there we get a third espresso, at whick point Lorenzo tells me I am not allowed to have any more. Then we go to see more art. The Iranian born artist Shirin Neshat has very moving video pieces showing the women in black chadors performing a funeral ritual. There is another artist that made quilts and sewed them together and floated them over the water. And finally I come to my artist's work, a spiral pavilion made of steel that you walk through.

We walk back to San Marco from the giardini and have lemonade on the square before Carolyn and Lorenzo take the train back to Florence. I meet up with my other friends and go shopping for a while. After that, we wander around and find a place to have a quick snack and a glass of wine before going back to the hotel to nap. As we're walking back to the hotel, we decide to quickly duck into Harry’s Bar for a bellini.

We agree to meet at nine to go and get dinner. We wander around looking for the restaurant that another friend recommended only to find it is closed for a private dinner. We continue to wander and ended up at the Gritti Palace hotel having dinner out on the terrace beside the water. They have a great view of the canal. I have the black ink cuttlefish risotto, which is splendind. We split a couple bottles of white wine and sit around until midnight talking. Right before we leave a water taxi pulls up to drop off a hotel guest. I turn and realize it is a couple that are clients of mine from the gallery. We chat and discuss how odd it is to run into each other in Venice at midnight.

One of the girls is leaving on the very early train the next morning to go to Basel for the art fair. We agree that we will get up at 4am to walk her to the Vaparettto stop. I get in bed at 1 am and at 4 am I sit up wide-awake in bed without the aid of an alarm. I put clothes on and go down to the lobby to meet the girls. All three of us are there so we walk down to the Vaparetto stop and see our friend off.

Walking back towards the hotel, we decide we should wander around Venice while it is dark and quiet and free of people and stay up to see the sunrise. We are wandering all over watching the boats come in to deliver food and laundry and wine and everything else it takes to supply a city. We go over to the Grand Canal and walk out onto someone's platform and sit for a while looking towards Santa Maria. Then we decide to try and get up onto the roof deck of the Danielle. That proves to be a no go, so we head back to our hotel. When we get there, we remember we have a roof deck so we go up there and sit and look out over the rooftops of Venice. At about 7:30 am, we go back to our rooms to sleep a little more and agree to meet in the lobby at 10 am.

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