Sundaram Tagore’s TRAVEL BLACK BOOK

Meeting the who's who in Venice

Apart from history, crafts and palazzos, the floating city is also a good place to people-watch at events like the Venice Biennale

Who: Mr Sundaram Tagore, 52, owner and director of Sundaram Tagore Galleries in Singapore, Hong Kong and New York City. The American, who was born in Calcutta, is the great-grandnephew of Nobel Prize- winning Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore.

Favourite city: Venice

Why: I lived there for a year in 1989 and since then, I have been back at least twice a year. It's a historically- rich city, which became the greatest centre of commerce from the Mediaeval to the Renaissance period, and then became known for ship-building and arms manufacture in the 17th century.

Because of all the commerce, the great artists, sculptors and architects of the time flocked there, wanting to get commissioned to work on the churches and buildings. Almost everywhere you look there is a bit of history.

I also love that it is a floating city and that everything is transported by boat - there is no other way. Even the ambulance is a boat.

Best place to stay

There are many famous hotels to stay at, but people in the know will rent a palazzo, grand buildings that were built during the Italian Renaissance. It's a spectacular, authentic Venetian environment to stay in and it's your home while you're there. I book my stays through people I know, but it's easy to find palazzos within your price range online. I would recommend staying behind Piazza San Marco.

Palazzos range in price. They could cost anywhere between €200 (S$346) a night to several thousand euros a night. Palazzos facing the canal tend to be very expensive.

Best way to get around

The best way to get around Venice is by vaporetto, or the waterbus. There are 19 lines that take you around Venice and the nearby islands, and Line 1 takes you around the Grand Canal of the city. A single fare costs around €7 and a 12-hour pass starts from €18.

And of course, if you are in Venice, you have to ride in a gondola. Venice was built for the perspective you get of the city from the water - it's spectacular.

Favourite restaurant

Osteria Al Mascaron (Calle Lunga, 5225, Venice, tel: +39-041-522-5995) is a very little place, known only to locals. It's not a fancy place, but it has amazingly delicious seafood - really fresh shrimp, squid and grilled fish, whatever the catch of the day is. A local artist took me there once and now I go every time I visit the city. Mains here are around €20.

Another great place to eat at is the Ristorante Grand Canal at the Hotel Monaco (San Marco, 1332, Venice, tel: +39-041-520-0211). If you visit during the Venice Biennale and want to meet the who's who of the art world, go here because they will all be there at one time or another.

Go for a meal or just a glass of Prosecco (Italian white wine). I remember enjoying the risotto there and it cost around €23.

Must-do cultural activities

Visiting the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, Dorsoduro 701, I-30123 Venice, tel: +39-041-2405-411) is an absolute must if you are in Venice. It's a modern art museum on the Grand Canal. Guggenheim was an American heiress and it was originally her personal art collection, so the selections are very personalised.

She knew these artists and hung out with them, and she pulled out only specific pieces to be part of the collection. Initially, she started with only Western art but near the end of her life, she added a lot of non-Western art from Asia and Africa.

She also discovered and promoted the work of Jackson Pollock, among others.

Admission to the museum for adults costs €14.

Best day-trip

Take a trip to Murano and Burano in the Venetian Lagoon. Both these little fishing villages are just about an hour away and they are close to each other. Murano is a series of islands linked by bridges, while Burano is an island by itself.

You can reach either of them by a local ferry which costs around €5 or by renting a water taxi, which is more glamorous but would probably cost around €400. The cost can be split by all the passengers on board, of course.

Murano is known for glass-making, while Burano is known for making lace. You can visit the artists there and watch them at work, then stroll through the villages and have lunch there before making your way back to the city.

Event to bookmark

The Venice Biennale is one of the biggest events in the city. The 56th International Art Exhibition runs from May to November next year. It’s a major contemporary art event held every other year.

The opening ceremony is not often advertised but visitors should try to go, even to just people-watch. It’s spectacular, like the Cannes Film Festival, except that it is art-related. The who’s who of the art world – all the owners of the major collections – are there, often flown in on private jets or arriving by yachts so grand you would not believe until you saw them.

There are also tonnes of parties and after-parties, but you might have to research how to get invited to these. Perhaps you could say you are an art collector.

People also dress up like you would not believe for the Biennale – it’s an art form unto itself.

jennanid@sph.com.sg

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