My views on how to get it right on Murano.
1. Travel & Timing
As I said before, the best value air travel from the UK is EasyJet from Luton, East Midlands or Bristol. Register with EasyJet online, watch out for their special offers, and book online. Obviously keep clear of Italian and British public and school holidays. I suspect that most of Murano shuts down on Sundays, so probably best to avoid Sundays if you are going for less than seven days. As with all airlines in-flight catering is expensive, so kit yourself out with refreshments in throw away containers. Remember to put all sharp objects in your main suitcase - they will be confiscated from you and your hand baggage. You will need a 1 euro coin for the baggage trolley at Marco Polo airport. Tickets for the waterbus to Murano are available at the Tourist Information office in Arrivals, where you should also be able to obtain a reasonable street map of the islands and a waterbus timetable (get a new one as routes, times and operators change from year to year). If you are staying on Murano then it is probably not worth investing in any form of season ticket to the waterbuses.
2. Local customs
Always remember that the locals are mostly devout Roman Catholics, and you should respect their customs. If you wish to visit any of the many historic churches, the rule is that your shoulders, knees and everything in between is covered. Casual shirts/blouses and slacks are fine; bare gaps are not. I saw many tourists disobeying this simple rule, probably quite innocently. It is a pity that they had not been adequately briefed on this.
Photography is not permitted in any of the churches, glassworks or the glass museum, so take a small notebook and sketch anything you find interesting. It is always best to ask permission before taking any photographs on private premises, and that includes restaurants and shops. You do not need to ask permission to take photographs at restaurant tables set out on the street in front of a restaurant, but it is good manners to ask and will be appreciated.
3. The weather
The weather is quite variable, and generally a few degrees warmer than the UK. As you would expect it can be very humid. We find lightweight casual clothing most suitable; even denims we find too heavy. Our guest house provides umbrellas; I prefer this approach to wearing anything waterproof, which tends to make you perspire uncomfortably.
4. The language
Most of the specialist galleries and factory shops have a member of staff who speaks some English. Do not expect English speakers in any of the ordinary local shops or the waterbus ticket offices. A little common sense and a smile will get you through any language difficulties.
Hotel and other tourist toilets are what you expect, although the way they keep them immaculate puts us British to shame. The 50 cents you pay for well-signposted public WCs is worth every penny. Toilets aimed at the locals are intriguing and rather puzzling to the novice.
Don't expect Italians to understand English tea, after all, why should they? If you are addicted to tea, then you will have to take the materials yourself, as I detailed above, and buy cartons of pasteurised milk on the island. Coffee is the other way around. Italian coffee is both a new experience and a great pleasure. Bottled mineral water is available everywhere.
Accommodation breakfast comprises rolls and butter with jam or marmalade, fruit juice and coffee (or d-i-y tea). The main meal of the day is the evening meal. Best to arrive at your chosen restaurant between 7 and 8. And if you want to be sure of a canal-side table for a romantic meal under the moonlight then book in advance. House wines are excellent, after all Italy produces more wine than France, so it has to be good. Venice restaurants excel at pasta, sea food and cheese, as you would expect, so it is sensible to keep to what they do best. You may have to ask for the equipment to crack open langoustine claws. Side salads are lovely and fresh. Include tomato salad as Italian tomatoes are big, meaty and packed with flavour. Sweets are delicious. Be wary of liqueur coffee - they tend to give you half a tumbler of brandy with a thimbleful of coffee - it can leave you a bit wobbly. Same warning applies to sg...... (lemon ice with vodka etc.). If you get hungry during the day then a plate of pasta at one of the many restaurants will keep you going. Fruit is readily available.
In general, prices are about 5% higher at the airport than in Venice and Murano. You can buy most provisions from the two-storey Coop supermarket halfway between the bridge over the Grand Canal and the Glass Museum. There is an excellent little bakery at one end of the middle bridge over the Rio del Vetrai. There is a useful general store a few yards away from the other end of this bridge, and a hardware shop stocking most essentials like replacement batteries a little further along. Fruit and veg from a boat at the junction of the Rio del Vetrai and the Grand Canal. All these smaller outlets close around midday.
I used to think that touts were a real pain, but, in fact they can be quite useful. In general the quality of what they are promoting, whether it be a restaurant, glass warehouse or whatever, proves to be in inverse proportion to their loudness and aggressiveness. So our favourite restaurant, the Ristorante Dalla Mora at 75 Fondamenta Manin, just next to the Rio del Vetrai, has no touts (and locals eat there - another indicator of a good eaterie). Our favourite glassworks, Formia (Vivarini), at 138 Fondamenta Vetrai, a few yards away from the restaurant on the other side of the Rio del Vetrai, has no touts - in fact they are so laid back it can be difficult to find someone there who is willing to sell you anything!
9. Burano and Torcello
Basically tourist traps. And the lace museum is apparently closed for renovation, so check to see when it reopens. Burano is interesting as long as you keep away from the main tourist area in the centre. Food is more expensive here than on Murano. A gentle walk around the perimeter of Burano is a pleasure. We found what must be the world's smallest SPAR supermarket tucked away in the back streets, and the fish market looks interesting if you arrive early enough. We never found the biscuit factory! I saw here a wonderful tourist scam. A little old lady in her cottage doorway picking machine made lace butterflies off the paper backing and trimming off the excess threads. Brilliant! I bet she makes a fortune.
Please abide by the many notices and take care not to feed the pigeons, even by accident. Throw your crumbs into the canal, where they will be recycled into fish, and ensure that all other litter is properly disposed of.
Some loose ends:
The Stazione Sperimentaio del Vetro is a modern glass research centre and unlikely to be relevant to us or be interested in our activities. We ran out of time before checking the Palazzo da Mula, so that remains a mystery.
We found no old glass for sale on the island except for a collection of 1950s and '60s one-off sommerso pieces by Seguso with price tags to make your cheque book tremble - around the 3,000 to 4,000 euros mark! These were in the Albarelli & Nielsen gallery at 143 Fondamenta Vetrai.
We saw new two-piece wooden moulds being delivered by boat, so they must have been made off-island. These were identical in construction to the old oil-lamp chimney moulds that our guest house proprietor uses as plant pot stands. I suspect that some glassworks make their own, as we saw expensive looking logs maturing at the back of some. At Formia we saw one of these moulds set up above a water bath with a complicated foot-operated opening and cooling system in place. Also at Formia we saw sommerso glass being made. Nearby we saw what I think was a type of air-trap casing*
in operation, where another glassblower blew a large bubble of glass about 11" or 12" in diameter, and the main glassblower then pushed his partly completed vase or whatever into the bubble. At another glassworks we saw a 16-rib dip mould being used. At another we saw nude female figurines being made (they do it from memory - unfortunately). At yet another clowns. ... and so on.* â€” Update, April 8, 2005. Probably not air-trap, but simple flashing or casing in a different colour. See topic Bluerina revisited on the main Glass forum at http://www.glassmessages.com/index.php/topic,1247.0.html
The Glass Museum is closed on Wednesdays.
Some glassworks are only open by appointment - so if there is one you particularly want to see then make the arrangements before you leave home for Italy. Remember that they are bound by stringent health and safety regulations just like any other hazardous industry, so never cross or crowd a delineating tape into a non-public area. If you can't see what is going on come back when it is quieter.
Attitude is important. If you expect nothing you will have a great time. If you expect to see all aspects of glassmaking you will be badly disappointed.
We had a great time and are already planning next year's trip.
I hope these notes prove useful. Bernard C.