The Venice Chronicle 01 : Reliving The Tourist At Hotel Danieli
While working on drawings for my current design project today, one of my favourite movies, The Tourist, was on TV. It reminded me of my epic family adventure to Venice back in Summer 2012.
The good thing about doing studio work is that I have slightly more time to myself in the evenings, so I finally get the chance to write about this memorable adventure, and since I have a lot to say about the whole Venezia experience, I decide to write a few posts covering different aspects of the trip. After all this is the main reason for starting this blog in the first place, to share with you some exciting experiences, and of course, for my family back in Thailand to keep updated with my whereabouts too. It is rather embarrassing that it has taken me almost three years to find time to write about this, but my excuse is that I have been very busy with my real world day job and life!!
Anyway.. so why the Venice trip was so epic? Other than the usual reason that it is one of the most romantic and beautiful cities in the world? Those are not my reason for it being so special, by the way… It was more because this particular trip held several sentimental values for me on many levels…
First of all, Venice was the dream destination of my mom and dad that one day they would visit Venice together and go on a Gondola, which unfortunately never quite happened because my dad passed away when I was 7 years old before they managed to save enough money for the trip. After that, my mom became single working mother who invested all her time and energy in raising her two children. She was a very hardworking and disciplined woman, and of course, the one person whom I admire the most in my life. Needless to say that she hardly took any holidays since my dad passed away. So, it had become my dream that one day, I would be able to save up enough money to bring my mother there for a holiday and we would go on a Gondola together…
Second of all, Venice was the first city I ever visited in Italy, so the whole experience was completely overwhelming. The architect in me just went totally crazy and out of control with the marbles, the culture, the murano glass, the exquisite craftsmanships etc. etc. For the first time in my life, I finally got to see and experience the cities, the art and the architecture that I read about in my A-Level History of Art classes back in 1997. Thirdly, because my mother was 65 years old and it was the perfect birthday present for her even though the actual trip was not on her birthday… Last but not least, this trip was the first holiday I had since 2006…
One could say that my planning for the special occasion grew rather over the top, after watching a certain Hollywood movie called “The Tourist”, starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp because I just thought the whole protrayal of Venice with the water taxi ride to the hotel, and a stay at an old Palazzo like Hotel Danieli would just be magical for my mom, it would most likely be a once in a life time experience for the both of us and would definitely be the most romantic one ever! My mother had also watched the movie and loved it… We both wanted to be like Angelina Jolie in The Tourist, minus the Russian assassins wanting to kidnap us, of course. It was kind of our fantasies, but that was exactly my mission!
I must admit that my version of the Venice trip had changed dramatically after watching this particular movie. Before “The Tourist”, my planned trip was rather a simple affair of finding an affordable apartment on AirBnB during a summer for my mother and myself, and of course, take her to the Gondola ride along the Grand Canal. I have actually never heard of Hotel Danieli before. However, I must say that at the back of my mind, I have always felt that if we ever to go to Venice, I really would rather experience the city properly, in style, how it should be like in the 14th Century, but that would be on the expensive side, so in the end, I kept putting off my Venice trip. There are cities in the world that are good for low budget trips, but to me, Venice is just not one of them. I would rather go there, when I can actually afford the finer things in life because it is such a unique place. After all, how many beautifully preserved 14th century man-made floating cities are there in the world?!? And it is sinking!! In a few years times, it will not even be there anymore, so it really deserves a special treatment! There are so much history and culture to absorb and experience that going there while having to worry about one’s spending would not do the place justice at all. Amazingly enough, after establishing my own company back in 2011, I managed to find time to make this dream come true for the both of us.
Before booking our accommodation at Hotel Danieli, I did some research into the history of this beautiful building and learned that it now consisted of 2 buildings, the original 14th century Palazzo Dandolo and a new purpose built extension, known as Palazzo Danieli Excelsior. It was a good thing that I was obsessed enough to read up about the history of the hotel because I certainly wanted to stay in the original 14th century Palazzo Dandolo and not the new extension building, so I made sure that my room for our one week adventure in Venezia was in the original Palazzo Dandolo and that it faced the Grand Canal because we would be there during the Festa del Redentore, so I wanted to make sure that we would be able to see the firework on the Grand Canal from our room windows.
Many people say that the best time to visit Venice is during the Venice Biennale, but for me, I think the best time is actually when we went which was in July during the Festa del Redentore, translates to Feast Of The Most Holy Redeemers – a tradition to give thanks to the end of a terrible plague in 1576 killing more than 50,000 people, and a gastronomic feast is held in the courtyard of Palazzo Ducale which follows by an hour long firework display on the Grand Canal – because the city is not as crowded, and the very fabric of the city is not intervened by art installations, so one gets to see the real Venetian architecture. Also the weather is sunny and warm in July, the days are longer so one has more time to explore the city both during daylight and under the moonlight.
From Marco Polo International Airport we took a water taxi to the hotel, which happened to look very similar to the one in the movie, with polished rosewood exterior and white roof whereas most water taxis were all white, so it was a nice touch to add to our excitement to be in Venice for the first time. I have to say that the transfer from the airport to the hotel alone already felt very glamourous for the three of us.
Seeing the waterfront of the Riva degli Schiavoni where Piazza San Marco, Palazzo Ducale and Hotel Danielli buildings were situated was like a dream come true… That we finally arrived in this elusive floating city we had been dreaming of for so long, but upon entering Hotel Danieli main lobby area, which was the ground floor of the original 14th century building Palazzo Dandolo, the experience was something else altogether… The intricate marble carvings, the exquisite and elaborate Murano glass chandeliers, the beautifully aged wooden panellings, the original glass windows, the giant original marble fireplace… they took my breath away… It was mesmerising… as if we traveled back in time to 14th century… Setting foot into the home of a Venetian aristocrat for the first time. Even more unbelievable was the fact that this beautiful palace was our home in Venice for a week!
The four storied courtyard, covered in marble arches in Byzantine Gothic style, with carved marble wall panels, was breathaking and provided the main foyer of the hotel with natural light. This particular architectural style was unique to Venetian culture which strived for lightness and grace in structure, which was very important because land was limited and every single inch was valuable in Venice. Although this style of construction was far more intricate in style and design than previous construction types in Venice, never allowing more weight or size than necessary to support the building. This was an interesting concept because, while the window traceries in Northern Gothic construction only supported stained glass, the traceries in Venetian Gothic supported the weight of the entire building. Therefore, the immense weight sustained by the traceries only alluded to the extreme weightlessness of the buildings as a whole.
The beauty of the Palazzo Dandolo is rather hard to describe in words, so here are some photos during our stay at the hotel. I have to apologise in advance for the poor quality because these were mostly taken on my Blackberry phone and the picture quality was not that great…
The staff at the hotel was very attentive with impeccable patience and manner. I was beyond ecstatic that we were given a Deluxe Lagoon View Room for our stay, which not only was it situated in the Palazzo Dandolo facing the lagoon as requested, it was also one of the rooms which was designed to be linkable to the Doge Dandolo Royal Suite, which of course, was the exquisite suite that was the film set where Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp stayed in The Tourist movie. Needless to say, I could never afford a stay in the real Doge Dandolo Royal Suite with its 12,000 euros per night price tag, but a little Deluxe Room adjacent to it was already beyond my expectations (and to tell you the truth, our room was not so little.. to was much bigger than I thought, which was perfect for the three of us). I wondered how many dorky clueless tourists like me the staff at Hotel Danieli had to put up with. It must be very boring for them to be bombarded with endless questions about the history of the building, the architecture, the movie film sets, who were the famous people that stayed here blah.. blah.. blah…
Obviously I went snooping around every corner of Palazzo Dandolo I could during our stay there, just taking in the restored wooden ceilings with intricate carvings, the beautiful original marble panels, the exquisite Murano glass chandelieres and lanterns… The hotel, however, was not so keen of tourists including hotel guests taking photographs of the private halls of Palazzo Dandolo, especially from the first floor upwards where these were private and colours are sensitive to light, which was understandable given the amount of effort involved in the preservation and restoration… But, I was a hotel guest, so, I felt like being a bit naughty even though I was considerate and did not use any flash… It was an architectural research trip for me. After all, who knows when I would be staying here again, right?
The hotel manager was also kind enough to tell me various stories about the hotel, its origins and how it came about to become the famous Hotel Danieli today. So, I am able to tell you the following….
Palazzo Dandolo was built at the end of the 14th century in calle delle Rasse overlooking the Riva degli Schiavoni for the Dandolos, an important Venezian aristocratic family with four dogi. It was the most richly decorated palazzo at the time and the centre of Venezian social events. The building was split between the family members which then were passed onto the Mocenigos and the Bernados in 17th century. Palazzo Dandolo belonged to these two families until the Republic of Venezia fell in 1797.
Mr. Guiseppe Dal Niel, a hotel keeper from Fruili rented the second floor of Palazzo Dandolo, which became run down by that time, from 24th October 1822 to turn it into a hotel. Two years later, he managed to earn enough to buy the whole building out right and bagan a radical campaign of accurate architectural restoration with great care and love to its former glory. Since then the building was formally know as Hotel Danieli, paying homage to Mr. Dal Niel, the hotelier, and it remained as one of the oldest and most important hotel in Venice.
The hotel expanded to the nearby Palazzos by means of a footbridge on the first floor in 1895 when the new owners took possession of the hotel and radically modernised the original building it to include electric power, lifts, vapour radiators, telephone lines etc. All the while, with great care to preserve the beauty of its original architectural features and characters of the building. The new extension building called Palazzo Danieli Excelsior, designed by the architect called Virgilio Vallot in 1948, to replaced the demolished original extension buildings between Palazzo Dandolo and Palazzo delle Prigioni, became known as the New Building of Hotel Danieli to this day.
As mentioned earlier that our stay was during the Festa del Redentore, and as imagined, the fireworks display was clearly visible from our room balcony windows. I was told that the hotel hosted a special dinner gala every year on the day in their rooftop restaurant Terrazza Danieli where one could dress up in evening gowns and Venetian masks to enjoy the feast and the panoramic view of the lagoon watching the fireworks, but for us, a simple summer evening watching the hour long firework display from the privacy of our very own balconies with our loved ones in this splendid 14th century palazzo was already the most perfect way to experience Venice. I have not been back there since our one week adventure in 2012, but I am not sure if my next trip to this floating city would ever live up to the joy and wonder I experienced during my first stay there. Needless to say that I was completely bewitched by the beauty of Palazzo Dandolo and the charm of old Venezia…
For anyone who wishes to travel to Venice, I highly recommend a stay in Hotel Danieli. It might be on the pricey side but I must admit that it was worth it in terms of experience. The lagoon view Deluxe Room in Palazzo Dandolo was fantastic value for money, but there were very few of these because most of them were larger suites so I recommend that if you wish to stay in the room that we stayed, you should book in advance and be specific upon making your reservation. I was told that there were more lagoon view Deluxe rooms and standard rooms in Palazzo Danieli Excelsior, but frankly a 19th century palazzo would not be as authentic as the 14th century one.
As for the rest of Venice, the gondola ride and nearby islands, I will write about them in my next few posts.