Most of the posts on this blog are articles previously published in national periodicals. Folks have been asking for these to be collected in one spot...and this is that spot. And, unless otherwise noted, illustrations are by David Gillett as well.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Two Sides of Me - The Jane Austen Motocross Club

The Globe and Mail

Read it online at:

Or read it here:


Full disclosure: the Club is not large.  At this point, it has but one member that I know of.


But since this year is the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, now seemed like the time to come out of the Georgian wardrobe, so to speak. Time to ‘fess up.

I made a Faustian deal with the diabolical powers of Georgian literature and motorcycle racing in my romantic youth: If I’d not deny my affection for Miss Austen’s stories, in return I’d live a long life filled with a lot of good dirt bike riding.

So far I’ve had the long life and the (sometimes painful) good motocross riding, but I’m having a devil of a time dovetailing it with the world of 18th century English romance.

Its as if I’m afflicted with a strange sort of schizophrenia, a double life. I’m all Mr.Darcy one day, planting out roses with my daughter, chuckling at Mr.Collins, watching a re-run of Emma with biscuits and tea.

And then the buttons pop off my silk waistcoat and another me bursts out, a motocross dark side to the genteel side of light-filled parlours and country dancing. Motocross, to the uneducated, has nothing at all to do with Austen’s world of provincial Georgian towns and comedies of manners. Hers is a world of trivial incidents finely written, quiet conversations in libraries, heart-to-hearts in dappled orchards.

The motocross world, in apparent contrast, is a high-revving universe of endurance, fueled by adrenalin, testosterone and speed. Its a sport on the edge of the extreme sports column, peopled largely by males preoccupied with flying higher, farther, and faster  on the knife edge of control, one bad move away from an ambulance trip.

Inside my steaming helmet, there is no internal dialogue on gooseberries, local vicars or matters of the heart. On the racetrack, things tend to be dog-eat-dog, and as I gain on a Yamaha rider heading for that double-jump, I find myself paraphrasing Jane as I reel in my opponent: “In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I want to pass you in a hail of rocks and mud.”

Jane’s world is a gentle one of polite ladies and rich young suitors. But its also a study in sexual politics, class and the human heart. Not unlike motocross. (Okay, maybe not the sexual politics part.) Riding torturous terrain in an adrenalin-fueled rush is to look into your soul and ask: “What on earth am I doing, at my age, with a family to support?”

Motocross can hurt. It can lead to intimate acquaintance with unsympathetic chiropractors. It can place one in a social category far-removed from the finer class of vicars and local gentry-folk. Emma Woodhouse’s anxious father would never have approved. And yet, after a good day of near misses, long jumps and bruising laps, I again hear an echo of Pride and Prejudice as I stand back and admire my mud-caked Honda 450. “You have bewitched me, body and soul and I love you. And wish from this day forth never to be parted from you or ever play golf again.”

My wife rolls her eyes at this sort of thing. But she understands. She has come to realize that it should be a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of a Honda CRF450 must be in want of a good BBC period drama.

Bruce Fierstein’s 1982 book “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche” was published to great acclaim, selling over 1.6 million copies. It poked fun at the sensitive new-age man, living an insipid life marked by an interest in things perceived to be anti-masculine. But Fierstein missed the mark. Real men eat anything they want (quiche included.) They also read what they want: books about motocross racing, books about Elizabeth Bennett’s love life.

I’m sure there are other men out there, settling down to a night of Sense and Sensibility and eating quiche while they Instagram photos of the muddy crash they had last Saturday. Masculine and feminine  don’t have to be slotted so quickly into time worn pigeon-holes. At the local track last week, a young woman laid waste to the field of wannabe male racers who could only admire her skill and speed. She crushed it. I only hope that she pulled off the track and picked up her copy of Northanger Abbey between motos.

Such men and women can send in their applications for club membership. The world needs more extreme sports types who wear waistcoats (or petticoats) and read gentle books about sensitive people. The broader implications are heartening indeed, especially in this world where bluster and conflict runs rampant. Imagine a world, for a moment, where riot police contemplate Fordyce’s sermons on their breaks, where rodeo riders take harpsichord lessons, where jet fighter pilots practice needlepoint between sorties. Where’s the downside, dear reader?

As Jane herself once said (and I paraphrase): “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good lap on the motocross track, or a good Jane Austen novel, must be intolerably stupid.”


David Gillett

September 2017

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Ireland’s remote Donegal is the coolest place to visit this summer


Driving the twisting ribbon of asphalt that is Donegal’s section of the Wild Atlantic Way coastal route, we had a “Cool Moment”, the first of many in this coolest corner of the coolest place on earth. The Irish language RTE radio was playing and another heart-stopping vista swung into view before us, all crashing waves, misted sea stacks  and foaming surf.  Amongst the Irish chatter, the phrase “Yodel Funk” popped out and, on cue, a funky Gaelic yodeler, backed by a manic tin whistle, gave us a soundtrack to a day of superlatives.

We were on a father-daughter road trip, starting in Belfast where Molly-Claire was living, looping north along the rugged shore of Northern Ireland and then into the wild west of Donegal, the place that National Geographic Traveller anointed number one on its “Coolest Places to Visit 2017” list.

But even before reaching Donegal, we’d compiled our own list of superlatives.  “Hotel Receptionist of the Year”, “Medium Sized Town of the Year” and the lovely “Loo of the Year” (really?) to name a few.  Before leaving Belfast, we’d taken in Titanic Belfast, voted “World’s Leading Tourist Attraction of the Year”.

Good as it was, you have to wonder: who exactly does this voting anyway? But there was no dispute in our mind about the National Geographic’s choice of Donegal as the coolest of the cool, once we got there.

The sun arrived as we did, glinting off the tempestuous Atlantic which is never far away. The roads narrowed, the traffic dried up and the sheep multiplied. The road signs were in Irish, this being the main Gaeltachct, (Irish speaking area) with almost 25%  of the Irish speakers in the country. A point called the Bloody Foreland or Cnoc Fola (the Hill of Blood) figures prominently on the map. This is country with a past.

Donegal has that faded glory feel to it, and the cottage we rented near Ardara was a good metaphor for the county itself. Abandoned and a near ruin, it was found  by architectural historian Dr.Greg Stevenson’s organization, Under The Thatch, which rescues traditional buildings at risk then rents them out to keep them alive and thriving. In his book “Traditional Cottages of County Donegal”, he cites the alarming fact that in 1950 there were 4000 traditional thatched cottages in Northern Ireland alone, but only 150 in 2005.

This cottage could have suffered a similar fate. But it survived and, thankfully, it was also too remote to be tarted up and ruined by amateur renovators. So when it was discovered by Greg, it was the real deal, only in want of a roof, some plumbing , a kitchen and tender loving care. It is minimalist chic in a 17th century sort-of-way, and populated by a careful selection of folk art antiques. Unsurprisingly, it was named “Best Holiday Cottage in Ireland” by the Sunday Times. We were seeing a trend.

Greg had mentioned in his page of directions that it would be rude not to drop by for tea with  neighbour Mary Molloy, the cottage house-keeper. So, as we squeezed past the sheep and made our way to the cottage at the dead end of a road the width of a hiking path, we stopped in.

“ A lovely girl, you are, Molly-Claire!” she gushed, bear-hugging my middle child and  speaking in exclamation marks. “A credit to you, David! Oh what a sweet girl!” Mary and Molly-Claire hit it off like a house on fire, while her husband, the grandly named Columba, sat unmoved at the kitchen table with a wry expression,  unenthused about our intrusion into his world of big skies and lonely winds.

Mary advised us on how to make a turf fire: “Give it air! Give it time! Be patient and it will warm you nicely!”

Thankfully, Molly-Claire didn’t have my Canadian woodsman pride and actually listened to Mary’s advice. Soon, a night of heavy darkness, the smell of turf smoke and the sound of gentle rain lulled us into a deep sleep inside the thick stone walls, our table strewn with maps and books.

The morning took us back down the track, through the majestic Glengesh Pass and into a sea-side world of postcard beauty, the north Atlantic sunlight throwing a golden glow across a landscape little changed for eons.

Maghera beach was our first surprise. Cresting huge dunes of sea-grass, we found ourselves totally alone on a pristine white sand beach that stretched unbroken for a mile along gnarly rock cliffs riddled with caves. “Take care with the tides! Dear me, they can run in so fast! The caves, oh, frightening!”, Mary had warned. With one eye on the advancing surf, we ducked low and explored a deep cave, perhaps the very one that had hidden one hundred of Cromwell’s men many years ago. (They lit a fire and were soon discovered by their pursuers and duly slaughtered, save one who hid in a high crevice.)

Not many miles away as the crow flies, but a good hour as the winding road goes, we pulled into the tiny carpark at Slieve League, the highest sea cliffs in Europe. Rising right out of the crashing surf to a height greater than the CN tower, the cliffs with their colouring of amber, red and white deserve all the superlatives that can be hurled at them. The rolling waves arriving from Newfoundland exploded into mist at the bottom and the clifftops were shrouded in clouds, heightening the majestic mystery of the whole thing.

It is said that one-third of all Ireland can be seen from the cliff’s summit on a clear day. It is in those other southerly two-thirds that the biggest tourist contingents congregate, drinking green beer and loading up on shamrock tea towels. County Kerry is more famous and much busier, with conga lines of tour buses in summer. County Clare’s Cliffs of Moher are tiny compared to Slieve League, but much more famous. Dublin, of course,  is the go-to cultural bull’s eye. Even Northern Ireland, with its world-renowned Giant’s Causeway  (and more recently the World’s Best Tourist Attraction, Titanic Belfast), siphons the crowds off before they can reach lonely, remote Donegal.

And therein lies a big part of the county’s charm:  true European wilderness with a feeling of the undiscovered. For now.

A closer look shows that changes are coming to Donegal. Killybegs harbor is the centre of a booming and expanding fishing trade, the Aran sweater factory in Ardara  is gearing up for a record-breaking season, and the tea shops are starting to make excellent flat whites now. Scenes for Star Wars: Episode VIII, were filmed on the Inishowen Pennisula.  Brexit has brought a dark cloud of questions about a possible return to the hassle of border crossings between the Republic and Northern Island. The wider world is inserting itself into this wild paradise.

And yet Mary Molloy isn’t fazed by these changes, they seem a  world away from her pristine valley. My daughter, after surviving a teary Donegal goodbye, observed:  “ Mary  doesn’t realize how cool she really  is.”  Should be named “Coolest Cottage Housekeeper of The Year”?

She has to be. She lives in a tiny cottage in the coolest corner of the coolest place to visit in 2017. She can build a proper turf fire, and she has Yodel Funk on her Irish radio.
- March 2017

Read the original article on the newspaper's website at :

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Why I Prefer To Travel With A Sketchbook

My son Harry and I had weaseled our way into the cloistered beauty of Oxford’s Magdalen College on May Morning, a few hours after gathering with 20,000 other revelers to greet the sunrise with a hymn sung from the medieval tower, a tradition dating back 500 years. The college had sponsored a jolly day of artistic expression and laid out a banquet of tools for our use: oil pastels, Staedtler pencils, Winsor and Newton watercolour sets.

We sat on the striped lawn and sketched the arcaded front of the New Building (c.1733), adding to the plump sketch books we carried everywhere on this father and son tour of England. Increasingly, our pens and black books were our go-to recording devices, cameras staying more often in the backpacks.

A window on the second floor had once been C.S. Lewis’s room. I made a point of detailing the graceful Georgian sash. “You should flog your sketches to the college,” suggested one observer. But we didn’t: it wasn’t about that. It was about imprinting the day on our minds and hearts, capturing the moment with a physical act. Even now, five years later, I can flip open to those pages and smell the clematis that wound around the solid columns, hear laughter and the crack of a croquet ball on the lawn behind us, see the radius of the Palladian arches, feel the warmth of the May morning sun as it fluttered through the dappled leaves of Oxford. One look at the sketch and it all comes back to life.

Sketching allows all this. Drawing is to photography what walking is to driving: it’s more work, it’s slower, it demands patience and it’s something we’ve increasingly forgotten how to do. And yet, it pays dividends: The work is a rewarding pleasure, the pace allows a scene to sink in and be appreciated, concentration breeds a patient contemplative mind-set … and it’s something that can be relearned.

And it’s not all about great art, or skill. Drawing is something everyone can do. I don’t use an eraser or straight edge when I sketch: misplaced lines, side doodles, quirky shapes are all part of it.

A Princeton study in 2014 demonstrated the advantages of taking notes long-hand, versus typing them into a laptop: more self-editing and more emphasis on certain words rather than just a verbatim recording. With sketching, these same things seem to hold true, and there is more. To sketch a scene is to truly observe it. As Sherlock said to Dr.Watson: “You see but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.”

That, and the physicality of putting pen to paper. There is a visceral muscle-and-nerve connection to the scene in front of you when your mind observes a shape and tells your hand how to bring it to a blank page. There’s a pleasure in it that gives the intellectual imprint depth and substance. The wide net of digital point-and-shoot is fine for a quick pass, but it’s largely a glancing surface treatment and the real work is left to the camera. To sketch a scene challenges our notions of what really matters as we move through a new city or react to the beauty of a great, windswept plain.

It’s heartening to see that sketching is gaining the respect it deserves. At the Rijksmuseum, an important arts and history museum in the heart of Amsterdam, visitors are encouraged to put down their selfie-sticks and cameras and use a sketchbook when they visit the museum’s displays, making small drawings of sculptures and paintings rather than snapping a photo and moving along quickly. “In our busy lives we don’t always realize how beautiful something can be,” Wim Pijbes, the general director of the Rijksmuseum, told the art blog Colossal. “We forget how to look really closely. Drawing helps because you see more when you draw.” The story ran with photos from this experiment showing wide-eyed children gazing at display cases with determined intensity, pencils poised above sketchpads, fully engaged.

To our three kids, travelling with a sketchbook is not a new concept: in cafés, museums, parks, sitting on a bus or on the brink of a gorge. Not only do they seem to gain a bigger appreciation of beauty, they see detail and nuance, entering into the experience of the place. They’ve been able to be truly in the moment, rather than living in some strange parallel world of constant screen time.

If this sounds like a Luddite fantasy, then yes, that’s part of it: a yearning for a pared-down mode of travel, a rejection of the superficial and instant. Sketching is, by nature, an old-fashioned way of seeing. Kids seem to understand instinctively.

Recently, in Rome, I set myself a challenge: no cappuccino without at least a full page in the sketchbook. I haunted the streets of Trastevere and made a painfully slow progression through the ancient Forum, taking increasing pleasure in the small moments afforded by sketching little pieces of antiquity, Ducati motorcycles and crowded markets. On Via Merluna I sat at a red café table, the foamy cappuccino disappearing from my glass at the same pace that a sketch of the street scene appeared on my page. The scene was actually pretty banal; just another street. But as I sketched, it became so much more.

A little crowd, including my excited waiter, gathered around, judging my vision against what they saw and curious about my approach. They wouldn’t have stopped for a selfie-stick. I had enough Italian to know that they approved.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Fiction edition  Spring 2016

Roman Sketchbook

" Each page was site-specific, a loosely rendered line drawing of a place and a moment. He thought often of her as he drew. “The historian in her will love these drawings” he thought and the thought kept him going as he walked the darkening streets alone. “She has to love them.”  "

Roman Sketchbook

PERSPECTIVES Magazine    Spring 2016

Leaves slopped into the gutters and crunched underfoot on the uneven streets of Trastavere. Night was coming on and the lights of Rome with it. Still no sign of her.

His sketchbook was filling in nicely. It would be a treasure for him, for his family. An heirloom for future grandchildren: a Roman Sketchbook. In his mind, he worked out the graphics for the cover of the published version.

Each page was site-specific, a loosely rendered line drawing of a place and a moment. He thought often of her as he drew. “The historian in her will love these drawings” he thought and the thought kept him going as he walked the darkening streets alone. “She has to love them.”

Still no sign of her. “Pick any ancient ruin and I’ll be there,” he’d said.  She’d been silent.  “Just look for the guy with the sketchbook, getting all Etruscan,” he’d joked. But maybe she hadn’t looked and maybe she never would. He didn’t know that she drew a blank on Etruscans. On Romans for that matter. It wasn’t her era.

He tried to remember where they had parted. It had been while sipping prosecco in Pizza di Santa Maria, hadn’t it? Or maybe it was long before that. He couldn’t remember. “Let’s split up for a bit and explore,” he’d said, his eye on an architrave.

She’d looked tired and hadn’t enjoyed the prosecco, the day or the view, but he hadn’t noticed that. Her hands were empty and she had a certain look on her face. She’d walked off without glancing back, down via Della Lungaretta, towards the Tiber. But his mind’s eye was on a broken pediment, something from 160 BC the guidebook said.

His phone was not ringing. The problem with smart phones is that they tie you to other people, to deadlines, to hassles, to the office. You can’t be in the moment, you can’t be really present. But he’d take those problems if it meant being tied to her at this particular moment. She’d stashed her phone because one between them (just for emergencies and airline check-in) would be enough. His sat like lead in his pocket, lifeless and refusing to vibrate.

He took a tiny street-side table; maybe he could think and try to remember what they’d agreed upon. “Vino rosso,” he told the waiter who looked impatient and queried him further: “Red wine?

 “Yes, si,” he said. “That’s what I was trying to say. Grazie.”

He wasn’t doing well with his Italian. Or, he thought further, with anything much. His sketches were actually crap. They were stilted and controlled, scratches on a page. They were all the same: frozen upper bits of ruined classical architecture. There was no life in them.

Still no sign of her.

It had been hours now. He couldn’t remember how many. Months really, he mused. Years. He sipped his wine, thought of the endless pediments he had drawn and how he now hated them all. They were heavy lumps of stone, burdening him by a gravity older than Rome.

He watched the Trastavere night fold in on itself, and with it his world.

Published in PERSPECTIVES magazine
Spring 2016       see:

Friday, February 5, 2016

Stay in a spectacular monastery in Venice for what you can afford
The author's sketch from his balcony overlooking Piazza San Marco, Venice
DAVID GILLETT, VENICE     —     Contributed to The Globe and Mail
Published in print  Saturday January 30, 2016   On line Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016 12:16PM EST

                       The curious instruction that bookings could only be made by fax should have been our first clue.
                       Our stay at the monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice would be one to remember, akin to sleeping in the quiet eye of a tourism hurricane. And when I asked Dom Paulo, who met us at the thick oaken door in his brown monk’s habit, how much they might expect us to pay for a night’s stay, he bowed ever so slightly and replied: “As you wish.”
                       San Giorgio is one of the world’s longest continually operating Benedictine abbey, offering hospitality in this location since 982. It sits on a tiny island of its own directly across the Giudecca Canal from the famous square Napoleon is said to have dubbed Europe’s drawing room, the iconic Piazza San Marco. It has unparalleled views of this mother-of-all tourist draws, one it shares with the exclusive Belmond Hotel Cipriani on an island next door, scene of George and Amal Clooney’s wedding party. But rooms with a view at the Cip start at an eye-watering €1,650 (more than $2,500) a night. Our room? About €1,600 less, plus we had a hands-down better view from our first-floor balcony. And no zoom-lens paparazzi.
                        That master of Renaissance architecture, Andrea Palladio, designed what would become arguably his finest church in 1565. It is a cool, neo-classical dream in this very un-Italian city where ancient Oriental and Gothic architectures collide in a tumbling cascade of competing styles. Like a marble escarpment of pediments and pilasters, the church is the prow of a much larger ship that is the Monastery of San Giorgio, occupying most of the island with its cloistered mystery. Our private room, one of only five in the monastery’s hostel, was suitably spartan, with two single beds, a crucifix, a desk and a book for our reading pleasure: The Rule of St. Benedict. The floors were terrazzo, the ensuite bathroom was well equipped with shower and bidet and a large antique armoire served as a closet. This was not Cipriani luxe by any means, but spacious enough, cool and quiet; a room for contemplation and rest. It is also an undiscovered gem: During our five-night stay, we met only two other guests, and the hallways echoed with an eerie silence late at night, broken only by the sound of lapping waves and the occasional passing boat. It felt like a world apart – dreamlike. One morning, we flung back our wooden shutters and strolled out onto the balcony to find our building the subject for a group of painters from Florence – that is an experience not to be missed.
But this oasis of calm sits uneasily in a city that is a victim of its own success, a place literally sinking under the weight of an estimated 22 million yearly visitors. Massive cruise ships deposit as many 30,000 tourists daily at the height of the season, causing Silvio Testa, spokesman for Venice’s anti-cruise ship campaign to say a few years ago, “The beauty of Venice is undoubted, but the city pays for it like a prostitute that is too beautiful.”
                        Tourists outnumber Venetians by a ratio of 20-1 in high season, and the locals (an ever-dwindling population), grumble. But this is Venice, the Serene Republic, a city thick with art treasures; a city without cars, floating like a vision upon the Venetian Lagoon, supported by wooden piles made from millions of dead trees, pounded deep into the silt. So to discover this quiet place, one designed for contemplation and yet so close to the centre of action, is extraordinary. I spent an afternoon just sketching, drinking in the atmosphere and the surreal watery light of Venice. In the hushed nave of the church itself, a contemporary sculpture exhibition (part of the Venice Art Biennale) brought the ultramodern into the womb of the sacred and serene. Outside, attached to the church, is a bell tower that seems yet to have been discovered by tour guides, strikingly devoid of lineups for the quick elevator ride to its top. It offers breathtaking views out over Venice, the Lido and the Dolomite mountains that loom in the mainland distance. Unreal.

The writer's wife approaches the Monastery beside Palladio's Church
                     Food in the monastery is strictly DIY. (The monks keep to themselves and eat elsewhere.) A tiny refectory kitchen, stocked with basics such as dried pasta and olive oil, is available 24/7 if you are attempting Europe on €10 a day. The guest book tells of visitors from all corners of the globe who have cooked up their own Italian feasts, which can be eaten in an adjoining barrel-vaulted dining room, hung with portraits of eminent Benedictines. But the Venice of restaurants and cafés is temptingly close, so when it beckoned, we waited at the Giorgio vaporetto (waterbus) stop at the monastery steps for a quick ride to the action. We could take the No. 2 water taxi in one direction to the James Bond-movie set world of San Marco with its inflated prices, Prada shops and trinket hawkers, or in the other direction to the Zattere promenade and the much more interesting and less crowded Dorsoduro precinct with its crooked calli (alleyways) and hidden campis (squares).
In the maze of Dorsoduro, cozy restaurants, often with canal-side tables, abound. Fresh seafood is never hard to find. Al Casin dei Nobili, a lovely trattoria just off Campo San Barnaba, serves a mouth-watering tagliatelle with Adriatic shrimp in a nonna-friendly setting. Or just across the campi, beside the Ponte dei Pugni (Bridge of Fists) and next to one of the last fresh produce barges in Venice, which serves as a floating open-air fresh food market, is Pasta & Sugo. This restaurant is a welcome departure from touristy and overpriced “Olde Worlde” eateries with its bright, contemporary interior and menu of Italian street food. Mix and match the pasta of your choice with one of the mouth-watering ragus prepared at the open kitchen counter. A plate of pasta and glass of wine for a mere €8 ($12)? The city that invented inflated prices still has its bargains.
                             In the 1972 novel Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, Marco Polo, the Venetian explorer, describes the many cities he has seen to a mesmerized Kublai Khan. But in fact, every city he described was actually Venice. It is still like that, a city that is the compact culmination of a thousand years of explosive creativity, a city with a thousand faces. And, in one quiet corner, still available to contemplative visitors, a city of dreamlike peace.
                             Our no-strings-attached monastery stay was refreshing and inexpensive. One does not have to be devout, or even male, to stay in one of the high-ceilinged rooms, or sit quietly in the shadowed church and drink in the ancient music of echoing chants. But a hunger for peace and quiet in the eye of the Venetian storm is a must. That, and a fax machine.
If you go 

   Venice is always busy, but the summer months of July and August are the worst and best avoided if possible. We went in October and had nice weather, fewer crowds and plenty of restaurant choice. If you avoid the crowds at the Rialto Bridge and Piazza san Marco, you can even find some deserted squares and quiet alleyways.
Getting there
   Fly into Frankfurt and then to the compact Marco Polo Airport. From there it’s a quick bus ride out to the main island of Venice via the causeway, but take the Alilaguna water bus if you’ve never been. Arriving by water is the only way to approach the city for the first time. E-mail
Getting around
   Since Venice is made up of more than 100 islands, ACTV, the public-transportation authority, operates vaporetti and other water buses around the clock, with routes that extend out to many of the islands of the Venetian Lagoon. A single trip is expensive at €7.50 ($11.50), but a three-day travel card for €40 is a great deal, and you’ll use it a lot.
The monastery
   Inquire about a room by sending a fax to 39-041-520-6579. Or try calling calling 39-041-241-4717. The monastery has no e-mail or website. The monks offer rooms as part of their mission, so make a cash offerta of what you can afford upon leaving.
When you arrive on the main island of Venice, take vaporetto No. 2 along the Grand Canal to the San Giorgio stop (one past St. Mark’s Square). When you arrive, ring a buzzer marked Monaci Benedittine (Benedictine monks) on the heavy door to the right of Palladio’s church. There’s no checking in; you will simply be led by a monk up some worn stone steps to your quiet room. Rooms have no telephones, TVs or WiFi.

(Online see:  ) or Google David Gillett Venice

Domini Clark - Travel Editor