“You have to go to the islands! You have to go to the islands!” everyone kept telling me. Clearly they didn’t fully appreciate my neurosis regarding how stubborn I am. I can’t help it, if everyone keeps telling me to do something, then I really am skeptical about it and the less and less I want to do it. The more I heard about Murano and Burano the more skeptical and disinterested I became.
But then someone mentioned the magic word – cimitero. “What’s that? There’s a cemetery island too?” I thought. Visiting an island of the dead, now you’ve got my attention.
Julie and I navigated through the winding streets and canals of Venice to get to Fondamenta Nove water bus stop on the northern edge of the historic center. Of course we got hopelessly lost as I stopped to take photos and took wrong turns, but eventually we made it and squeezed onto a water bus heading for San Michele Cemetery.
Cimitero di San Michele
The island actually houses 3 separate cemeteries; a Catholic, Protestant, and an Orthodox graveyard. Each have a distinct personality to it and you’ll know immediately when you pass from one to another. In the Catholic section the remains are interred in high rows of tombs, resembling chests of drawers. There are photos of the deceased on the outside of the ‘drawer’ providing an interesting step back in time.
Some interesting facts about the cemetery island:
• The bodies are allowed to decompose for twelve years, at which point they’re dug up. The families can then pay to ‘extend their lease’ or the remains are moved.
• In the past, the dead were transported by a funeral gondola and procession (it’s unclear if this still happens today)
• There are a few famous graves on the island; composer Igor Stravinsky and his wife Vera lie in the Orthodox cemetery as well as Sergei Diaghilev the head of the Ballet Russe who brought Russian dancers to the West and changed the history of ballet.
The Other Islands Surrounding Venice
We squeezed back into the water bus (seriously, no claustrophobia allowed here) that passed by the Cimitero and we got off at the next island of Murano. Murano is the home of glass blowing. And, well…that’s exactly all there was to it. There were glass blowing factories, a museum (which was slightly expensive for me), and hundreds and hundreds of shops selling the same things made of murano glass.
To accompany the hundreds of shops, there were thousands of tourists milling about and some restaurants and cafes catering to those tourists.
Very honestly – this island was hell to me. It existed for one thing, to sell to tourists; like a floating mall that I couldn’t get off of until the next boat came. And if you are like me and didn’t really want to buy any blown glass, it was a pretty big waste of time. Ok, I’m being a little harsh as I know plenty of people like to shop, but it just didn’t do much for me. There were a few lovely glass sculptures placed in piazzas, but not nearly enough to entertain me for long. However we spent the afternoon there having lunch and seeing a glass blowing demonstration; I don’t regret it, but next time I would skip it.
I had been told that this island was picture perfect – a rainbow of colors and cuteness oozed out of it like a newborn baby and it’s tiny little feet. Oozing cuteness is not normally my thing, but I have to admit I was excited about the photography opportunities there. I purposefully did not look at a single image of Burano before going there so that I could be surprised and find my own creativity.
Burano is known for fishing and lace making, so of course you’ll find plenty of lace shops catering to tourists there. However the colorful fishing houses which line the canals are the real draw; it looks as if an Easter egg exploded all over the island! There are even strict rules about painting your house in Burano according to Wikipedia – “if someone wishes to paint their home, one must send a request to the government, who will respond by making notice of the certain colours permitted for that lot.”
It was lovely to photograph, but in my opinion the island had a weird feel to it; full of tourists mulling about and very few locals were seen. I wondered if a trip there in the early morning hours would yield scenes of fishermen taking out their boats and give it all a more natural feel. The island and houses were so picture perfect it was a bit eerie to me, as if Mickey and Minnie were going to jump out from behind a pink home and start waving! Clearly my blood sugar was low and a gelato stop helped my attitude before heading back to the island of Venice on a long boat ride.
Overall, the advice to “Go to the islands!” was pretty sound if you are a typical tourists just looking to shop and take some photos. However if you have only a few days in Venice, then choose wisely based on your travel style. For me, I loved the photography of Burano, but honestly I could have been just as happy sitting at the Cimitero di San Michele all day and taking photos! The beauty of travel is that it’s different for everyone!
I found this extremely helpful site on how to organize your self guided Venice Islands Tour from Europe for Visitors
If you are planning a trip to the islands – this should have everything you need in the way of water bus directions, advice, and what to do on the islands.
They warn you in the articles that the water buses can be crowded and they are (and we were in the off season!). I think that potentially doing the islands backwards may make things less crowded as you would be going the opposite way of the crowds. Start at Burano and then go to Murano and stop at the Cimitero at the end if possible.
What’s that? You want see more of the islands?! We took lots of video footage in Venice so be sure to check out the videos provided by Go with Oh!
View video footage of my visit to the islands
Disclosure: Go with Oh hosted my apartment lodging in Venice. However, all of the opinions expressed here are my own – as you know how I love to speak my mind!