Thursday, October 1, 2009


The train-ride to Venice was fun. And by fun I mean not so fun. The second class section was packed full while the first class had nearly nobody in it. We sat in first class for a bit, but my guilty conscience got the better of me and Chuck and I ended up sitting on the floor between the train cars. Robyn soon joined us when the conductor came around and kicked her out. We arrived in Mestre which is where we had opted to stay because staying in the heart of Venice is much more expensive. Mestre is just across the bridge from the island Venice, so it's nice and close. So we arrived in Mestre and got lot trying to find the hotel. We ended up walking back to the train station, running around like chickens with our heads cut off, and eventually finding a bus that was luckily going our way. After checking in and settling down we headed to a little diner next door to the hotel. It wasn't until after we were sitting and looking at the menu that we realized it was a Chinese run Italian joint with half Chinese food and half Italian food. At that point, my hopes for good Italian food were dashed. Oh well, it was food and tasty enough. After dinner we walked around Mestre to see a bit of the city. It's actually a pretty nice town in my opinion. North of the hotel was a square lined with restaurants, each with a bunch of white chairs and white table-clothed tables under umbrellas out front. We sort of kicked ourselves for not finding the area before we had eaten at our Chin-talian place. There was a very good cellist playing in the square that we stopped and listened to for about 10 minutes. I wish I remembered her name - she was really very good. There were a few inconspicuous fountains, a church at one end, and lots of little stores. It was a nice little area to spend the evening.

The morning of the 31st we woke up in time to enjoy our free breakfast that was included in the price of the room. Boy, what a disappointment. The only food available were sweet, preservative-filled, pathetic excuses for pastries. One of the items was something Twinkie-like, but worse. No meat, no eggs, no cereal. Robyn's espresso (which she loves) was even undrinkable apparently. Bleh. Moving on though, we got tickets for the bus from the tabbachi (basically a little convenience store) around the corner. The cashier and the woman she was chatting with when we arrived seemed to find the fact that we were foreigners interesting. They asked us "Orlando?" and I did a double-take thinking that, holy crap, how'd they know we were from Florida??? Turns out she was saying "London?" in a thick Italian accent. When we told her we were from the US she brightened even more and asked if we liked Michael Jackson! That cracked me up inside. Once we arrived on Venice island after a 15 minute bus ride, we crossed our first Venetian canal with excitement. We walked around the south side of the island to the Accademia area, passing through narrow alleys and over small bridges. The state of most buildings would be indicative of a run-down neighborhood in any place other than Venice. In Venice the peeling paint and crumbling stucco is really charming. Combine that with the laundry hanging over balconies here and there and it feels like you've been transported back to the 1700's. There were quite a few churches all over the island that we stopped into (we made sure to bring cover-ups to cover our shoulders this time), but none were quite as impressive as the Basilica di San Marco. This is a rather famous church that is known for it's bubble-ish domes and intricate gold frescoes. When we got there we had to wait in a long line, but just like at Notre Dame, we were inside within 10 minutes. Unfortunately, everything is roped off once inside and you can't actually explore the church - you just have to follow the line as it moves along. I honestly can't remember too much of the inside because there were so many people and it was so restricted. I do remember that there was a lot of dull gold everywhere. The piazza that the Basilica di San Marco is in had a few other interesting looking buildings, but mostly had a lot of pigeons. People were selling seeds to feed them and you could get them to land on your head and hands while they took a picture. Or you could scatter the seeds on the ground and create a writhing cess-pool of dirty little pigeons crawling all over each other to get to the food. It was a bit gross. We also found the Grand Canal at one point, which, just as it sounds, is the biggest canal in Venice. There are some really nice views from the bridges that cross the Grand Canal. Venice is a very touristy area which means a lot of tourist shops. I loved all the masks that were on display. They came in all sorts of shapes and were usually covered in glitter, the nicer ones with extra bits coming off of them to create maybe a hat, or perhaps something that looked like a lions mane. They were so much fun! I would love to be able to see Venice is February during the Carnevale di Venezia when people dress up in crazy costumes and wear their masks. Some of the cheap masks were selling for €10-20 while the nice masks were €200-300. I'm sure there are masks that get much more expensive too. Another Venetian specialty is Murano glass, made on the Venetian island of Murano. I'm not sure what's so special about it these days, but apparently it was where glasswork really developed and became a serious craft. It was the birthplace of artisan glass craftsmanship I suppose. So real Murano glass tends to be pretty pricey, but there are a ton of shops willing to sell you cheap fake stuff. They have wine stoppers, earrings, necklaces, little decorative candies, and even huge glass chandeliers. We tried to keep lunch as cheap as we could and ended up at a pizza restaurant that told Robyn she wasn't allowed to have tap water, so she had to buy their bottled stuff. The pizza was good enough though. Robyn paid to go inside the Frari church to see the grave of Claudio Monteverdi, an awesome 18th century composer. Last thing we did that day was check out the most famous Venetian bridge: the Rialto. It is a very wide bridge that has a bunch of little shops all along it. It's one of the busiest areas of Venice, along with the Piazza San Marco. After that we headed back to our hotel pretty exhausted. I do have to mention our dinner though because it was pretty bad. Among other strange problems, our steaks tasted really really bad. Robyn kept calling it a "shit steak" because, well, hers really tasted like they had soaked it in a tub of poo or something. Mine wasn't quite as bad so I managed to choke half of it down, but after the first bite Robyn refused to eat anymore. Instead she fed it to Chuck who had decided he wasn't hungry enough to actually get a meal. That ended up being a slightly expensive disappointment in Italian dining. I though Italy was supposed to have awesome food everywhere you went! Apparently we didn't learn anything from breakfast...

Needless to say, we didn't bother waking up for the free breakfast the next morning. We basically sat inside most of the day because we wanted to see Venice during the evening. We found a great kebap place though - love those kebaps! Each region has their own, unique way of making them and I love trying them all out. At 4:00 we headed to Venice and went north this time to the Jewish Ghetto. Mostly, we wandered aimlessly. For a while we sat and watched some old women chatting with each other and a little girl. It all had a very Italian feel to it somehow. As we continued walking we started seeing people carrying grocery bags from a Billa (a grocery chain). Since we were looking for a grocery store we followed them backwards. Hmm, what I mean is that we went the opposite was they were headed and looked for more people with bags and backward followed them, etc. This took us across a bridge where we found what looked like a little locals bar. We stopped for a glass of wine that came with a little dish of potato chips. It was like a little tapas, but in Venice they call it cichetti. At some point during our glass of wine music began drifting up to us from across the bridge. It had a very Jewish feel with a fun, upbeat tempo and the sound of a fiddle. When we walked by after our drink we were impressed by the trio - one was playing a bassoon, the other a guitar, and the third was playing the fiddle, had a kazoo in his mouth and one foot on a cymbal pedal and the other on a bass drum pedal - the drum, however, was a cardboard box! It was quite the setup. We found the Billa and got a bunch of little foods: cheese, salami, bread, some chips, dessert twinkies, wine, etc. On top of all that we got the cheapest and most delicious pizza we've found so far. We plopped down on the edge of one of the many sets of the stairs that lead into the canals and chowed down. We watched people passing by and "awww"ed at dogs with their owners. We watched a little motor boat pull up to our stairs with three people. Two got out to go grocery shopping while the third stayed and watched the boat. She looked like a gypsy with her dark skin, hair, and eyes. She wore a black, lace-up top and a full red skirt and I think she even had a red flower in her hair. She just sat in the boat working on weaving some sort of wire basket, a small smile on her face as she waited. We thought it would be pretty cool to just hop in your boat to go to the grocery store. After dinner we wandered around, retracing our steps sometimes, trying to find the island's casino. We eventually found it as darkness was settling in and were somewhat disappointed. It was hardly grand - it wasn't big and it wasn't really fancy at all. We went inside to see if it was anymore exciting but were only allowed to wander down the short main hall. If we wanted to go anywhere else we had to pay. We did not pay - we went back to our hotel instead. We got to see Venice in the evening, which was the whole point of our late outing.

Leaving Venice was nice and stress-free. We walked to the train station since we now knew where it was and hopped on our train to Bologna. I'll leave you with some pictures of different masks for sale in Venice.

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