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Live Life in Color – Burano, Italy

Supriya Newar

My travel has taught me that certain places are just very photogenic and make very good postcards but may disappoint on actually visit. The fishing island of Burano has always looked good in every travel magazine and has made it to several top ten lists. Which is precisely why I had checked my expectations before I decided to pay it a visit. Leaving the scorching sun in Venice behind, we took a vaporetto or a Venetian water bus from San Marco Square and sailed up to Burano. I’m not sure whether it was the sea breeze or the relief from the sun, or simply the monotonous whirring of the motor, but I was rocked to a slumber.

A refreshing cat nap later, I rubbed my eyes open to see that the boat had slowed down and that people were furiously clicking rows of candy colored houses that stretched out in front of us. I was suddenly wide awake! Our boat came to a stop and we stepped out to the island of Burano. Situated about 11 km from Venice, Burano is an island in the Northern Venetian Lagoon with a total of about 3,000 inhabitants.

One of the first things that hit your eye once you alight is the Leaning Tower. No, not of Pisa but of Burano! The Leaning Bell Tower of Burano that dates back to the 17th century also houses the Church of San Martino. Our group decides to meet again by evening at the tower to head back to Venice, giving me about three hours to explore Burano.

places in Italy Unlike many other places in Italy, where it is easy and maybe even interesting to get lost, it is difficult to lose your way in Burano. There are only that many roads that you can take, each of which lead you to a wide canal and the residential area towards the rear end of the island from where you can see the bell tower as your guiding star and wound your way back. There is no traffic barring a few bicycles ridden by children and everybody is on foot.

As I start walking up, the colors begin to pop one after the other. Lavender, orange, blue, green, pink, yellow.....the houses are closely set against each other, mostly square in their layout, not more than two-tiered and as vibrant as a range of Italian gelatos. Most of them also have typical Italian wooden windows that are left wide open. All along are rows of shops, pizzerias and gelaterias that open up right onto the pavement. Tourists mill around, each one looking duly intrigued and infected by the colorful houses.

Ambling around, the image that emerges is something akin to a really happy child’s coloring book. I can’t help but be curious about it all. Legend has it that the houses acquired their colors by local fishermen who had difficulty in identifying their homes from afar or when they would return after fishing and therefore decided to paint their homes in bright colors. Also, the colors helped in establishing property limits.

coloring book Soon enough I spot the canal and a small bridge helps me go over it. I indulge in some mandatory window shopping: clothes, jewelry, bric–a-brac, art, postcards, bags and many other handcrafted items, all very imaginatively displayed. Burano needlework and lace is a much-celebrated handicraft and was once no less than a status symbol amongst the European nobles. Even today, it remains a family heirloom that is passed down to women from one generation to another or acquired painstakingly at an old lace-making school. Tableware and linen handkerchiefs in Burano lace work are proudly displayed.

A refreshing cool breeze from the sea eggs me on further and I venture into one of the many really narrow alleyways that open out into a large courtyard. This would be the residential end of Burano, for all the shops disappear, and I see clothes and fish left out to dry in the sun. A charming courtyard decorated with porcelain elves makes for a particularly cheerful picture. A wind chime made out of an aluminum foil hanging from a green balcony rustles in the breeze, caressing the pin drop silence. It’s a moment to treasure.

Venturing back into the hustle bustle, I find myself a vantage point and pick up an inviting lemon gelato. With every lick, I take in the delightful courtyards, the greens that creep out of every balcony and the colorful houses gleaming as they catch the sun’s rays. By evening, we’re all back at the bell tower to head back to Venice, each one of us having clicked many a post card worthy shot of this unique little island.