« München - Part I?Geneva and Lyon »



  12:15:02 am, by Nimble   , 1168 words  
Categories: Journal


After Geneva, our travel plans were somewhat open; I had asked for an extra week in the middle, and they gave it to us. I had in mind some sort of lazy ellipse around Europe, either around to the north (through France, maybe Holland... though that was a bit of a stretch), or around south through Italy. Italy sounded the most appealing - I´d never been there, I know a few words of Italian, and Armando, my best man, has family that hails from there.

There were so many choices of destination... every major Italian city has so much history in it... Bologna, Trieste, Milano... but Dena hit upon the idea of going to Venice, or Veneza in the local tongue. We only had a few pictures in our minds and the escapades of Sylvester the Cat around the canals to go on, but it sounded pretty exciting.

The approach to Venice is a little bit unreal. I saw it on a map when I was fishing for hotel reservations, but when the countryside falls away and your train is surrounded by a bridge and water, with speedboats buzzing around, it comes home to roost that the weird images you have been carrying in your head are true.

It really is a city on water. Save for a small corner by the city entrance, there are no cars, there are no roads, just canals, and lots and lots of bridges, which have to allow for the passage of boats underneath them, which means lots and lots of stairs.

If coming in by train or by bus, you start out at the train station, the Ferrovia. You will want to remember the names of the stops and places. As I will explain, you will need to know them!

We stayed at the Hotel Spagna, within walking distance of the station (which we were glad to have - note to self, next time, some decent luggage, preferably with giant pneumatic wheels). At the hotel desk was Antonio ("not Banderas", he quipped), who in true what-I-always-imagine-to-be-Italian style teased us mercilessly, saying "while you are here, you speak only Italian, okay" and the like. (He did give us breakdowns in English when my Itlian had gaping holes in it, but I do think he appreciated the effort).

One thing to note: when you ask for a double (doppia) room in Italy, you will be asked due letti (two beds) or matrimoniale (one big bed).

Venice was definitely a new experience. Chock full of tourists, gondolas and personal boats galore, some hotel and casino entrances seemingly only water-accessible. Shops are filled with glass, Carnevale masks, chocolate, gelato, and tourist articles galore.

It doesn´t take much to go off the beaten path. Unfortunately, there´s often precious little off the beaten path, but it´s good for a break.

Now I´ve got an excellent "breadcrumb" navigation sense, in that I can take you back exactly where we came in by. Normally, I´m also able to puzzle out other ways to get where we need to. It usually works very well. Well, Venice was a humbling experience in that regard. Not once but twice did I utterly lose my bearings trying to get somewhere by a secondary route. To be fair, there are some mitigating circumstances... you can´t use churches as landmarks; there are too many. Many streets look identical (sometimes down to the vendors) and there are multiple streets of the same name. And, as with the best of puzzles, there are dead ends, if not originally in the city plans, then in the construction that is always going on there. Be forewarned!

No bones about it, Venice is expensive. Be prepared to spend double to double and a half of what you normally do on, say, a Canadian holiday. The "Brek" restaurant is a convenient spot, relatively close to the train station where it´s self-service and you can save some cash, but more tempting trattorias and the like are scattered throughout.

There are some inordinately tame birds in Venice. The usual pigeons are fairly tame and will fly up to your hand for some vittles (1 euro a bag for some pretty healthy bird food at the San Marcos square). We have some footage of some of the tamest sparrows even, too; hopefully it turns out well.

There is public water transit as well - not cheap but a welcome sight when you are far, far away from home. There are also traghetti, which are small gondolas that will take you across the canals so you don´t have to track down a bridge.

We went on a tour of some of the small islands. Murano, famous for their glass, Burano, famous for its lace (I think I wouldn´t mind staying there; it was less hectic and the houses were colourful) and Torcello (which had some very nice privately-tended gardens, and felt like "living ruins")

Some anachronistic things presented themselves, as well. While we were there, there was a robotics exhibit going on in one building!

Bells chime at various parts of the day. The buildings are all from stone, and some very old frescos can still be made out on old buildings. Some restoration work is in progress (I liked the one scaffolding area where the covering cloth had an image of the finished product), and the whole place just reeks of charm. (It´s not that smelly, which is surprising with that much slow-moving water around)

This is Italy, so you might be a bit surprised at the way meals are put together. You get your pasta first, then you get your meat and your verdures, your "vegetables" (French fries do count!).

Native dogs abound, and they´re very well-behaved and off-leash. They don´t bark, strangely. If you hear barks, it´s a visitor, and it´s on a leash :)

If you need drinks or the like on the cheap, go to the COOP by the buses, or the Billa on the way along the main streets. There is a quiet garden between the Ferrovia and the COOP - the throngs don´t go there. English isn´t spoken quite as much as you would expect, so some Italian will help - at least, worse comes to worst, the numbers look the same!

Quick Italian tip - beware c and g - and don´t apply French or Spanish rules to them - it won´t work. ca, co, cu sound like cah, coh, coo, but ce and ci are like "cheh" and "chee". If you see a "ch" in Italian, it is to keep the "k" sound of the c. Most often mispronounced in Canada: bruschetta, properly said "bruce-ketta". Same for the g, if you see "gh", that keep the "g" sound instead of the g turning into a "j" sound (you know that "spaghetti" is spa-getty, not spa-jetty)

If you haven´t been to Venice, for god´s sake, go! It´s just like no place you´ve ever been.

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