Bridge Ten - Ponte del Cavallo

If you get to cross the Ponte del Cavallo - Horse Bridge - during your visit to Venice, there's a chance it's because you may be injured or feeling rather ill and are on your way to a doctor. This elegantly weathered stone bridge - the worn look actually adds to its presence in the general decay of Venice - leads to the spacious Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo, bordered on one side by the elaborately decorated Renaissance facade of the Scuola Grande di San Marco building. Today it rather incongruously houses the Ospedale Civile - the city hospital. In its heyday it was home to one of the important guilds of Venice, charitable professional organisations which played an important role in Venetian life.

Ponte Cavallo

Next to the hospital is a church that at the time of our visit resembled a construction site. Look at the Venetian skyline as you approach the city from the mainland or another island, and chances are you'll count up to a dozen construction cranes breaking the regular skyline of orange roofs and campaniles. Venice seems to be under perpetual renovation, and during the time of the Bridge Challenge it was the turn of the Santi Giovanni e Paolo church. First built in 1246 and completed in its present form in 1460, it's one of the most important churches in Venice, among other because it is the final resting place for a 'royal' collection of no less than twenty-five Doges.

Back to the hospital building. Its facade is an impressive, large work of sculptural art that is truly worth taking more than a cursory look at. Which is why we took a coffee break at one of the cafes on the campo and, having no guidebook to know what we were looking at, played guessing games with the carved figures that fill the facade. Easiest to recognise was the familiar winged lion at the summit. But what are the two chaps, each holding rather voluminous books and standing on each side of the building's entrance door reading? What are the names of all the babies and toddlers floating around the facade like cherubs? Shouldn't that naked little one at the top of the door be wearing nappies? Giggling away, we sat there like schoolchildren on a school trip. Never thought a walk across one hundred bridges could be so much fun.

Bridge Nine - Ponte dei Conzafelzi

Standing on top of the Ponte Minich we could see our next bridge some distance away down the Rio Santa Marina. It’s the Ponte dei Conzafelzi, our first all-iron bridge of the day. The bridge name has an interesting origin: in the olden days, when gondolas were the standard means of travel in Venice and not simply a tourist pastime, people working in the buildings in the vicinity of the bridge manufactured and repaired 'felzi' - the cabins that adorned gondolas.

The Conzafelzi bridge has interesting iron castings in its railings that share a common Venetian artistic theme but at the same time are rather special in design. One piece features the familiar head of a lion, and another a flowery, almost mandala-like pattern. The wording 'Fonderia Collalto' is embossed on the side of the railing, which is the name of the foundry where the bridge was cast.

Quite clearly the day of the Bridge Challenge was rubbish collection day in Venice. En-route between the bridges it was clear that Venice was struggling with a waste overload, or rather bad management thereof. Venetians were dumping COOP plastic bags filled with household waste quite randomly in public areas, as the pile we encountered by the foot of the Conzafelzi bridge showed. For the next two or three days we still noticed uncollected rubbish, but then a cursory overview of the history of Venice shows that for most of the past thousand years the city's waste management has been a problem. There are simply too few boats to carry the city's waste away fast enough, or the available boats are too small.

Bridge Eight - Ponte Minich

Bequeath a tidy sum to the city of Venice, and you can have a bridge named after you. That's what the surgeon Angelo Minich did in the late nineteenth century, and he got his own personalised bridge - the Ponte Minich.

It's a nice, sturdy brickwork and stone bridge that was renovated in 1998 according to the plaque on the side.

The early summer sunlight bathing the bridge and the balcony flower boxes with their red geraniums gave the bridge scene a cheery atmosphere. There's a decorated white centre keystone that features the head of a lion, Venice's mascot animal one sees everywhere in relief. A curious feature is the well-worn and ancient-looking metal straps that seem to hold the large stones topping the walkway walls in place. Now these couldn't seriously be holding the bridge together, could they?

Bridge Seven - Ponte de Ruga Giuffa

It was only a short walk to bridge number seven - Ponte de Ruga Giuffa. There seems to be confusion over the name of the bridge, which isn’t really surprising given the murky depths of Venetian history. Some references say it refers to Armenian refugees of that name who lived in the area, another that it may refer to a distortion of the Italian word for 'villain'. That's Venice for you, lots of legend, lots of myth.

The one end of the Giuffa bridge leads onto the Campo Santa Maria Formosa, a large square that gives one, like all the many other campos in Venice, a glimpse of daily life in Venice. At this stage it was still relatively early in the day, and the morning rituals of Venice were still under way. Looking at the bridge we witnessed a fairly common occurrence in Venice - the pulling of a wheeled cart across the bridge. Goods transport in Venice involves hauling delivery carts generally the size of ping pong tables or smaller through the alleys, squares and over bridges to collect and deliver everything from foodstuffs to building material and medicines, stationery... in fact everything you can think of is delivered this way, boat to door, as it were. I wondered how many bridges the average delivery guy crosses every day and whether it ever made them feel a bit despondent, this never-ending slog, but the one we spotted pushing his cart across the bridge with the help of two colleagues seems quite unfazed.

The Ponte de Ruga Giuffa is one of four bridges lined up within a few meters of each other across the same canal bordering the campo. They're all different in style; next to the stone Giuffa bridge is a pretty bridge, also built in stone, leading to the rather grand Palazzo Malipiero hotel, while the bridge to the art museum Querini Stampalia Foundation is a surprisingly utilitarian, no-nonsense bridge, the kind of bridge of which there are very, very few in Venice.

Tourists come here to see what's inside the Santa Maria Formosa church - a more than average-sized collection of paintings by Venetian masters. But many outside of the must-see guided groups also sit down on one of the red wooden benches next to the Giuffa bridge for a few minutes to do a bit of people watching. You may see someone collecting water from the well, a group of harmonium players taking a rest on the bench next to yours, or in the late afternoon, a few local kids kicking a soccer ball around. Squares like these are the hubs for daily life in Venice, and taking in daily life at leisure here adds just a little salt and pepper to the well-trodden sight-by-sight visits most tourists here spend most of their time visiting.

Bridge Six - What is 'Storto' bridge?

On the 100 Venice Bridges Challenge I learnt a good few new Italian words, but none stuck the way 'storto' has. It means 'distorted' and refers to bridges that are crooked, or distorted and usually stretch across a canal at an angle. It’s no secret that Venice isn't laid out according to any sort of grid pattern, which means that streets and alleys often don't meet at a canal across from each other. The maze of walkways don't meet up, so bridge builders had to be innovative and connect them with bridges that appear like they were built late at night by drunken engineers without much planning beforehand.

Quite a few bridges in Venice - at least six of them - are named 'Ponte Storto', and I couldn't see a way the company in charge of Venice's bridges, Insula, could easily distinguish between them other than having to look up co-ordinates or addresses each time the had to go scrub off some new graffiti or repair crumbling brickwork. I’d imagine the phrase ’what Ponte Storto are you talking about?’ is one probably heard quite often in Venice.

So, bridge number six was the first of many ’stortos’ we encountered on the Challenge route. It's a small stone bridge dating from the 1800s but, as in many cases, earlier versions of the same bridge dates back to the 1500s with simple iron railings that crosses the narrow, quiet Rio del Remedio at an angle, running into a narrow alley at each end. If you stay at the Casa Verardo hotel you'll be crossing this bridge a few times since the front door of the hotel leads directly onto the bridge.

Pausing at the Acqua Alta bookshop

On our way to the Ponte Minich, the next bridge on the list we passed by Venice's signature Acqua Alta bookshop. It's exactly what the best second hand bookshops should be: Stranger-than-most and whimsical with a musty smell and quiet corners for reading and discovering unusual reads. Throw in an eccentric owner, a canal-side back entrance and gondolas serving as storage space for books, and you have the sort of place you can lose yourself in for a morning.
There was no time for browsing (not even for books about the bridges of Venice...) but Adeline had a quick walk up the ’book staircase’ in the back courtyard, which I think it’s safe to say is the only one of it’s kind in the world.
For a city with the sort of ’romantic-olde-world-sight-around-the-corner’ character that Venice oozes it’s surprising there aren’t more bookshops woth Dickensian characters in Venice. There are more than a few, yes, but most are specialty or rather ordinary-looking neighbourhood bookshops.  Acqua Alta is trademark Venice, and singularly so.

And now, quickly moving on to the next bridge...