Earlier this week the rainy skies parted for just long enough that I was able to enjoy my day trip to Murano and Burano in dry weather...mostly. I booked my tour online a few days before, and just needed to take the bus to Venice again to meet up with the tour guide. I was feeling much more confident buying my tickets this time- luckily, since I was travelling solo. (You can read about our first trip in my post about Settling In). Well, I must have done something right, because as I stood at the bus stop with my bus pass in hand, I was approached by a husband, wife, and their two kids and they asked me where I bought my ticket...in Italian. I was mentally preparing my answer, when they asked politely if I speak English. WHY YES! Yes, I Do! Hooray! I was elated to be able to explain in detail where the newspaper shop was and how to buy them, and the husband scurried off to get the tickets before the bus arrived. While he was gone, I got to chat with his wife. They're originally from Dublin, Ireland, but they're currently living in Chicago! We're practically neighbors. They have been coming to Martellago for vacation for years, and they also tried to buy their bus tickets at the bar first. (At least we aren't crazy! That's where you used to have to buy them.) It was a most excellent start to my day. I sat with their family on the bus ride and they gave me lots of tips and recommendations for activities and restaurants in the area. Such a nice bus ride! I didn't even need to get out my book.
If you find yourself planning a trip to Venice, I definitely recommend spending a few hours taking the tour of Murano and Burano. Aside from learning about the craftsmanship that goes into the glass and lace from the area, the journey to get there and back is worth the money in itself. How it works: You meet your tour guide at the statue of the man on a horse near the San Zaccaria vapretto stop (water bus). From there, your tour group of 6-8 people boards a water taxi and you get to ride through the Grand Canal out to the lagoon and make your way to Murano for the glass factory tour. The trip is about 20 minutes, and the guide gives a good amount of interesting information about the lagoon, the other islands, and various anecdotes without being annoying.
Once we arrived at Murano, we got to go straight into the glass factory to watch the craftsmen at work. It is so incredibly hot in there, and I couldn't help but laugh that they were smoking while they worked. The process is so incredibly precise. While I was there, they were making globes for a chandelier. Each globe needed to be the exact same dimensions, which to me, seems impossible to do with molten glass, but they have an arsenal of calipers and other tools fora manipulating and measuring the hot glass, and making adjustments as needed. They guys sort of work in a team: One man gets the glass started, then hands it off the the man sitting on the bench (he does all the measuring and precision work), and then another fellow would bring it back and forth to the fire for him, and then would put the finished piece in the cooling oven when it was time. (Each piece needs to cool very very slowly, over a period of 24 hours, so once a piece is finished being shaped, it is placed into one of the cooling ovens along the wall, and then is slowly cooled down over the next 24 hours.)
The chandeliers are made in such a way that they are assembled like a puzzle. When you buy one, they teach you how to take it apart and re-assemble it so you can clean it in the dishwasher if you would like. I surely wouldn't trust that kind of item to a dishwasher! Plus, I would definitely break it while I was taking it apart, or I wouldn't remember how to put it together again.
After watching the craftsmen in the factory, we had the opportunity to visit the showroom. Unfortunately no photography is allowed in the showroom (to prevent copycats and knock-offs), so I'll just have to tell you how incredible the pieces were in there. Two stories of colorful glass items, chandeliers, sculptures, vases, cups, goblets, jewelry, frames, plates, you name it. An elaborate chandelier will set you back about $100K. Tour groups receive a 50% discount though, so there's that. Quite frankly, there were about 20 things that I would have just loved to purchase if money were no object. Mainly plates and bowls and vases. And maybe a chandelier or two. They're incredible. I left with a glass bead for my Pandora bracelet and I was happy. (Side note: My authentic Murano glass and sterling silver bead from the glass factory was €20. The cheaptest similar-looking Murano bead from the Pandora website is €35, so I got a pretty good deal on the real thing directly from the source.)
After the glass factory tour and showroom visit, we had some free time to wander around Murano. Make sure you take the time to stroll a bit, if you ever find yourself there. The huge Murano glass sculpture in the piazza was gorgeous, and the size is unbelievable. (I tried to show the scale by showing a person standing next to it. It's massive and beautiful.) I've seen the Murano sculptures in the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas before and loved it, but this one captured the light even better because it is outside.
Most all of the shops around Murano sell glass items, and that's about it. There are some authentic items, and some are not. You can tell which are authentic and which were made on a production line. Based both on price and the feel and quality. There are pretty items of both, but it seems so rude to buy a fake from Murano. If I'm going to buy a factory-made "Murano" item, I'll do it in a gift shop somewhere else. Do as you wish, but that's just me. I'm all for supporting the artisans on their home turf.
From Murano, we hopped on another water taxi and headed to Burano. Burano is probably most well know for its colorful row houses and its lace. And its cookies, Bussola Buranello. (Recipe coming soon!) Burano's roots are in fishing. It has always been a fishing village, although now its economy relies more on tourism.
Why are the houses so colorful? All of the houses on Burano are identical inside and out, for the most part. Back in the days when the husbands were out fishing for their livelihood, they would come home and sometimes go into the wrong house. The solution at the time was to paint each house a different color. The idea stuck and now it's just for looks. They're so pretty! They remind me of a giant row of macarons. I want to paint my house all the colors when I get home.
The lace studio that we toured is called La Perla Gallery, not to be confused with the high-end lingerie shop. This place is filled with every sort of table linen that you can imagine. We were able to watch the youngest certified Burano lace-maker working on a piece while we were there. She began her studying her craft when she started attending the now-closed school of Burano lace-making at age 8. Now, if you want to learn the art of making authentic Burano lace, you need to learn from your mother or grandmother. There are 7 main stitches involved in an elaborate Burano lace piece, and each artisan is specialized in ONE STITCH. That means it takes 7 people to complete an elaborate piece, and that each person does the same stitch for their entire career. That's dedication. Because it is such a detailed and involved process, most of the more elaborate Burano lace pieces are quite small, that you might frame and display on your wall. The table linens and clothing items have more simple stitches, making them easier to produce a large quantity of (to stock their shop), and also to allow them to price them more reasonably. I got a handkerchief, which range from €8-25. Other items like table-runners and tablecloths and napkins range in price based on the size and level of detail. (They have some really pretty Christmas linens, by the way.)
After all that lace, it was time to find the beloved Bussola cookies. I had read about them before, but had forgotten the name of them. Fortunately my tour guide made sure to encourage us to give these traditional Burano cookies a try. They're not too sweet, often served with wine. (In the U.S., these would be great with coffee. Here, it is a no-no to order coffee after lunch or dinner.) They're baked in the shape of a backwards 'S' or a circle. More to come about Bussola cookies in my next post. (Click here to read my post about Bussola Buranello Cookies.)
While wandering around Burano, I was so busy staring at the colorful homes that I didn't go in to too many of the shops, but I did very much enjoy the streets that were less crowded than Venice. It was more suited to strolling aimlessly and taking photos than to paying close attention to where you're going. Very enjoyable. It would be worth a trip to Burano all on its own. You can get there via vaporetto number 12 (or if you went to Murano from another vaporetto, you can transfer to vaporetto 12 on Murano). Water taxis are also available, but are very expensive if you're not with a tour group like I was.
All in all, I had a perfectly lovely day, and I can't wait to take Hubby back to Murano and Burano.