The Long Low Horizon
Terence Maloon Tour, Venice 2015
Venice is a city on every traveller’s wish list. It was certainly near the top of mine.
But how does one plan a trip to a place with such history and so much to see? Do you use Donna Leon as a guide through the back streets following fictitious mysteries, do you set yourself the goal of seeing every Veronese or Titian painting, or will your focus be architecture, religion, history, or trade?
Whatever the approach, when I closed my eyes and imagined myself in Venice I was never surrounded by visor-wearing, cargo-pant clad tourists, squeezed between backpacks and camera straps, straining to hear over-rehearsed words from a tour guide, with a flag held high.
Having now seen Piazza San Marco, I realise just how fortunate I was to join a tour led by Terence Maloon, Director of the Drill Hall Gallery and our font of knowledge for four days.
Terence designs his tours for travellers not tourists, the distinction being the desire to experience, understand and make connections, to see with your eyes open and mind active. He is not a fan of passive onlookers and at the end of each day we were exhausted. Fortunately, good food is as essential to the authentic Venetian experience as good art and architecture.
We dove straight in and quickly realised that there really is no other way to do it. Architecture, politics, art, religion, history and commerce are all so closely linked. We learned that the porphyry stone on buildings and sculptures signifies status and wealth, and is one example of the complex relationship between politics, power and artisans operating in the unique social and cultural environment of Venice at its most decadent. Such an all-encompassing, interdisciplinary approach to travel is refreshing. As Terence’s enthusiasm and knowledge rubbed off, we started to develop our own confidence, ask questions and make observations.
On day one, Terence met us at our hostel and the tour started with an espresso and a chat about what we hoped to see. What we didn’t realise was that we were also waiting for the sun to get to just the right spot to fully appreciate the light on the marble of the Santa Maria dei Miracoli. The light in Venice is very magical and particular in the way it reverberates off the water, reflects on the walls and is captured in the changing colour of marble surfaces.
It was this attention to detail, a deep familiarity with the city and its history, as well as a passion for the art and architecture that really made the tour special. Most of the places we visited were not hard to find, yet they were away from the crowds, which allowed us to dwell and take our time to appreciate our surroundings.
One highlight was seeing Tiepolo’s painted ceiling at the Scuola Grande dei Carmini, in particular the way his palette was so directly inspired by the colours and the light of Venice. This motivated an amendment to the itinerary, a spontaneous bus trip to Strà to the Villa Pisani. Without pausing, we squeezed past the crowds who were mostly there to see Napoleon’s bed and headed straight to the ballroom and an even more incredible Tiepolo ceiling. It was such a luxury to have a flexible itinerary and also a guide who could read what we would be interested in seeing.
Terence not only gave us an overview of Venice’s treasures but a framework for understanding and appreciating what we were looking at and the places we were exploring. It means that we are already planning our next visit with confidence and enthusiasm. He has opened an Aladdin’s cave. And that is an incredible gift.