The private, bespoke tours have taken off, with two in the bag once I'd finished the John Hall Venice course. I took a group from the extraordinary ruins of Pompeii through Rome, via the fabulous floral delights of Ninfa and up to stay a few days in Florence and finished up in Venice. We visited wonderful places, the Casino dell'Aurora to meet the gorgeous Principessa Rita Ludovisi Boncompagni and see the extraordinary frescoes by Caravaggio and Guercino.
The second tour was once again, a family occasion for a birthday party in Venice for some dear friends who I had met through Kirker Holidays. We landed at Venice airport just after 12 and headed immediately to Burano for lunch at the incomparable Da Romano restaurant, then on to Torcello and finally to Venice. A week in that wonderful city, with private visits to Basilica San Marco at night and the excellent Fondazione Cini, a memorable production of Madama Butterfly at La Fenice
If you are interested in these then email me. As soon as we have a quorum and a good idea of the best dates then we start booking. You buy your flights and hotels and then we meet and the tour begins, in both cases we would spend most of the day together with a relaxed break for lunch.
The Venice Course
We are already putting the final touches to the 2019 edition and the dates for 2020 are now in place and we have been taking bookings already.
I am in America!
In April this year I am in New York City to put the word out to Dwight, St Luke's and Fieldston schools about our wonderful John Hall Venice Course. If you are interested in coming to any of the events contact me email@example.com
Crisis? It’s not just Venice
There’s a chemist in Venice, on one of the hubs of the city that one can hardly detect unless you stop and watch the movement of people. In the window there’s a digital readout that makes my blood run cold each time I see it. We are all pedestrians here, walking from end to end of this extraordinary place, an archipelago of 118 islands and most of us, tourists, students and residents stroll or pace along to their destinations.
In this little, unassuming ‘campo’ (squares in Venice are named after the fields that the original residents kept their livestock on) a statue of Carlo Goldoni smiles sardonically down at us – it was he, the 18th century playwright, who wrote the farce that we in Britain know as ‘One Servant Two Guv’nors’. I wonder if he would smile now.
In the window of the chemist’s shop, not five metres from Carlo is an LED readout that gives an updated score of the residents of the ‘centro storico’, the old city of Venice (as opposed to the ‘Commune’ of Venice that includes the ‘terra firma’ regions such as Mestre and Marghera). Today that figure just tips over 53,000. Put into perspective, when Carlo Goldoni wrote his plays the population was estimated at 264,557. When I was a student here in 1978 the population had dipped to about 110,000.
53,000. That is the number of registered inhabitants. Many of those cheerfully admit to living on the mainland and using their flats as b&b’s for tourists. Perhaps I should correct that to Airbnb’s, as this once wonderful method of bypassing overpriced hotels was to find someone who was away for a month and was prepared to let us ‘stay’ in their home but has now become a behemoth that services the industrial use of houses and flats for pure gain.
This has sadly become a scourge. Not just here in Venice but in London, New York, Amsterdam, wherever people want to visit. It’s cheap(er) and convenient and usually the ‘landlord’ is friendly and helpful. But of course it has now become a way for some people to make a living. I know this from bitter experience as I was evicted from my flat in West London by a landlord who has taken her pretty flat out of the rental market and has turned it into an Airbnb ‘hotel’, thus depriving a local resident of the opportunity to live in the area.
It’s HOUSING that’s killing Venice. Of course we could say that pollution, rising sea levels, corruption and the massive cruise ships that chug along the Giudecca canal throughout the season (imagine a block of flats twice as high as Selfridges grinding along Oxford Street every half hour and you might get an idea of what that it!)
I know lots of young Venetians in their 30’s who cannot afford to live here. Apartments are rented out via the websites to tourists and visitors and so there are fewer and fewer affordable homes here. So they go, to Milan, Rome, Munich, Berlin (unwelcome in Brexit Britain I’m afraid), and the bustling city that I once knew turns into a ghost town.
There are people who campaign for Venice to survive. The excellent and tireless Jane da Mosto, whose husband, Francesco fronted the ‘Francesco’s Venice programmes on the BBC, has a group, We Are Here Venice (https://www.facebook.com/groups/107818802702564/)
Others try and push, but until we can approach the housing crisis the world over our cities will continue dying!