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Venice - getting to see inside the Arsenale.

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The Arsenale, along with the ship yards, occupies a big chunk of Venice. It can be frustrating - you get a glimpse inside when you pass the north side on a vaporetto, or when you cross the bridge at the main entrance at Campo de l' Arsenale. But you don't even get a look at the main Darsena Grande, you can't appreciate at all what's inside. There are parts open during the Biennale, and there's some sort of marine festival on the second weekend of May (which I missed).

We got lucky yesterday. We took a picnic, walked past the ex-gasworks, past San Francesco della Vigna (which has a lovely cloister), past the massive colonnade, and reached the Celestia vap stop. You can then walk along a steel footpath fixed to the north wall of the Arsenale, and you can get the occasional glimpse inside through the windows. The views from the walkway towards Murano are good, there's a plaque erected to whichever Doge thought that an Arsenale would be a good idea, almost no people - we met maybe a dozen.

Once you are back on terra-firma, you'll see a sign "Free art exhibition", pointing to a path on your right - it's just after a group of renovated dwellings, before the boat harbour. Follow the path, which curves a bit, enter and pass through the building, and you can walk out onto the north bank of the Darsena Grand. You can see the sheds where galleys were built, the retired submarine hauled up on the slip at the west end. There were workers there, setting up exhibits for the Biennale, also placing some concrete for renovations. You can just see out through the Canale di Porta Nuove, and the Darsena Grand is enormous, about eight times the area of the Piazza, and very quiet.

Retrace your steps, enjoy a picnic sitting at the little boat harbour near the Bacini vaporetto stop. Bread, a bottle of wine, and your significant other.

Lovely.

But if you want to do this, don't delay. Once the Bienale starts, I think that you'll need a ticket.

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