Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Italy Part III: Venezia

Tuesday 22 April
We had an easy morning with breakfast on the porch...I’m all about the bread and honey these days. I had a nice chat with another American girl staying here at the B&B.

We walked up to the train station and boarded our train for Venice. The ride was uneventful, but I feel incredibly silly for not realizing that Venice is a series of islands. I just thought Venice was on the coast. Either way, the ride over the lagoon was beautiful.

Venice is a madhouse!! We had to ask Information how to reach our hotel, because Venice is insanely confusing to navigate.

We hopped on the ‘bus’, which was a big platform boat, and headed along the canal.

It’s just like something out of a story here. The buildings are old and charming. The waterways cut between the buildings like streets. Obviously, there are no cars. The water is full of people in gondolas and slow cruising boats. People are singing, flower boxes line the windows, laundry is hanging out to dry…it’s like a fairytale.

We got off the bus and found our hotel with only a little confusion. It truly is a maze here and it’s nuts!! The narrow streets open into wide squares. Everywhere there are people. It’s nearly impossible to find your way back from anywhere.




Our room is big with a nice bathroom and overlooks the canal. There is a fancy sort of old world feel to the place. We can see and hear the gondoliers singing as they make their way under our window.

See-chandelier, fancy!!




Tired, we spent most of the afternoon in the room reading and researching the next legs of our trip.

In the early evening, we walked up to nearby St. Mark’s Square-the most famous square in Venice. Along winding, narrow streets and over little bridges, we made our way before spilling out into the spacious square. 





The square was FULL of people and pigeons. The pigeons are TOTAL menaces-flying everywhere- and not dodging the people at all. It is you who must dodge the pigeon :P They are fearless.

We walked over to look out over the water and the islands further away before returning to stroll through the labyrinth of streets.



We went around and around in search of an affordable restaurant, but all were quite pricey. We walked around for thirty minutes before stumbling again upon one of the first restaurants we had seen. :P We had red wine and spaghetti ragu in the little indoor café.

On the walk back to our room, Preston got gelato and I got a cannoli and some sort of nutella pastry to share. Frankly, my pastries weren’t great and I should just stick to the gelato.


We turned in early to work more on planning the trip. 

Wednesday 23 April
We were awoken this morning by the loud singing of the gondoliers…it’s not as charming so early ;)

We had breakfast in the teeny area of our hotel-we had to wait for a table, but the chocolate croissants were worth it!!

Today my friend Davide is coming to meet us in Venice. Davide and I met in LA years ago and dated for a few years. Obviously, that didn’t work out, but we’ve remained great friends. Davide is a bonafide Italian and grew up quite close to Venice near Treviso. Coincidentally, he happens to be home in Italy this week, so Preston has been a good sport and said we could all get together.


Preston and I walked over to the Rialto Bridge (a large and famous bridge connecting two of the main islands of Venice) to meet Davide, his mom, and his friend Liz-who traveled with him from NYC.

I had never met Davide’s mom (Giacinta) in person, so it was wonderful to finally see her face to face. Giacinta speaks no English, but it felt good to hug her, all the same :) It’s funny, too, how much you CAN communicate with someone without speaking the same language. Liz was a delight and Davide and I had fun catching up while we strolled the streets. Venice remains PACKED with people, though Davide said it’s much worse in the summer. He said you’ll just step out of your hotel and enter the rushing tide and be pushed along with no control over where you are going. Haha!!

We walked back to St. Mark’s Square over the bridge of sighs (named so because the prisoners crossed here from the courthouse to the jail) and along the water.

Damned pigeons





Continuing through the maze of streets, we found ourselves back near our hotel and got a delicious pizza and wine for lunch. Giacinta was absolute about finding us a good and fair price for lunch. It really pays off to know a local!!


We crossed again over the Rialto Bridge and explored the other side of Venice. We walked around and shared more wine in an outdoor café.


Preston and I walked the three of them back to the train with plans to head their way tomorrow. We turned to make our way back through the maze.

For dinner, we decided to find the Trip Advisor #1 rated restaurant-a takeout pasta place known for its cheap, but delicious pasta and friendly staff.

To try to find anything here is kind of insane, but we had passed this place the night before and I felt confident we could find it again. It was only about 2 ‘blocks’ from our hotel.

About 35 minutes later (!!), we did find it and it did not disappoint. The restaurant was small, but all the pasta is homemade. You pick your pasta and you pick your sauce and then you go outside in the alley to wait. The alleyway was full of people…nearly all returning for a second time, some had even been there for lunch!! The staff really was friendly and hilarious.



When our pasta was ready, they called our number and it was served in a cardboard to-go container. Preston got a spicy red sauce with penne and I got pesto fusilli. We took our containers and joined the others on the steps of one of the small canal bridges. The pasta was awesome!!




We got gelato on our walk home to bed. Mmmm.




Thursday 24 April (Happy Birthday Dad!!)
We had an early breakfast in the tiny room again and walked over towards the train. The streets were much less crowded this early and the day was warm and humid.

Our room has no AC, so we have to sleep with the windows open. It seems an obvious thing now, but something I hadn’t thought of before our trip to Venice was mosquitoes. Venice sits low on sort of stagnant water. OF COURSE there would be mosquitoes, but it hadn’t really crossed my mind. They don’t bother you too much walking around, but my gosh…in the morning we woke up COVERED in bites. They come in through the open windows at night, but it’s too warm to sleep with the windows closed. I counted 25 bites on my one arm alone. Eek!!

 Thank goodness for the directional signs all around on building corners telling you things like: “Alla Ferrovia” or “San Marco”. It helped us to go in the general direction that we wanted. Oftentimes, you can go two ways and still end up at the same destination. I don’t think we ever followed the same path twice!! Anyway, “Alla Ferrovia” meant train station in some way and so we followed those signs!!


We found the train station easily enough thanks to the signs and bought our tickets on an automated machine.

The train to Davide's town was modern and only took about an hour.




Davide and Liz picked us up and we walked around the town of Castelfranco near where Davide grew up. It was an adorable little town with modern stores centered around the ruins of an old castle. Liz hilariously commented that, “You don’t run into many castles in the middle of American towns.” Haha. Too true :D






We walked around and met Davide’s sister Lara and her new baby Stella, along with Davide’s mom.

Lara treated us all to spritzers (the first of what would be MANY) and tetramini (sp?). The spritzers were a sweet drink with an orange colored sugary soda, prosecco or white wine, and an oddly large olive. Spritzers are traditionally served alongside chips. The tetramini (I don’t think I’m saying this correctly) were rolled sandwiches of white bread and filling. It was all delicious.



We sat outside in the warm sunshine and took turns holding sweet Stella.




We piled in the car back to Davide’s house. He gave us a brief history of all the places we passed (mostly involving him getting into some kind of trouble :P). I’m glad to finally see all the things I’d heard so much about.

Davide’s parents have a really nice house set a bit into the countryside. Preston was SUPER excited (because he’s a Game of Thrones nerd) to play with their dogs, which are half wolf. The dogs were huge and beautiful.




My Lord Stark

Giacinta whipped up an amazing pasta carbonara for lunch from local ingredients. Davide actually ran to the neighbors to get the eggs!! It was pretty impressive. We had a homemade salami sort of thing, cheese and wine.  It was an amazing and filling lunch.


Stella wasn't hungry :P
Davide’s brother’s wife came with her new baby Nicolo and we enjoyed espressos all together on the porch.

Roberto, a family friend, came over and drove us up the winding mountain to the top of Mt. Grappa.

Mt. Grappa is at the start of the Alps and sits high above the town. The mountain was an important site in WWI and saw lots of fighting. Tunnels were dug through the mountain. There was still A LOT of snow up there. Davide said they had 30ft that winter!!






We walked through some of the cold, damp tunnels. It was nowhere near as awful as Cu Chi, but I still couldn’t imagine living inside. We saw some of the old guns still in place.




More spritzers (water for me!!) were had at the little café. Roberto told us (with Davide translating) that to this day, there are buried and active bombs or pieces of artillery. A local farmer died last year plowing over a bomb that exploded :(


The stairway up to the monuments at the very top was buried in snow, but we climbed up anyway. Liz was a real trooper in her canvas shoes!! I was grateful to have worn my hiking boots!!




It wasn’t the most clear day, but the views all around were spectacular. We walked over to the highest point of the hill, which has a monument housing hundreds of graves.







We slipped and slid down to the car and made our way down the twisting mountain roads.

The whole drive down the mountain we saw hang gliders floating over us. Roberto knew their landing site, so we made our way there for MORE spritzers (coffee for me:D) and watched all the hang gliders returning to Earth. It was such a beautiful and sunny day. Much less cold down in the valley than it had been at the top of the mountain!!




We went to another café for MORE spritzers (a coke for me!!) and snacks before heading to Roberto's to meet his wife and children.

Italian hospitality is really something. Everywhere we’ve been…people have been very friendly and welcoming. Roberto’s wife and children spoke no English, but were so wonderful and kind.


Roberto and Lancelot
Davide’s parents were also there and we all had prosecco. The Italians are a rowdy bunch :P Liz, Preston, and I had little idea what they were saying or what was going, but we were able to pick up on some of it (Preston and Liz more than me!!).

We left there in two cars and went to ANOTHER small village bar for MORE spritzers (nothing for me!!). Funnily enough, we ran into Davide's priest there!!

We stopped back by the house for a moment before making our way to dinner. We were a big group: Davide’s mom, dad, sister, brother in-law, sister in-law, brother, two babies and Preston and me!!

It was a crowd!! Davide’s family all together is LOUD and crazy!! :P Preston loved it. And those Italian babies can sleep through ANYTHING.

We had tons of wine and food: prosecco, red wine, meats and cheeses, bread, potatoes, spinach, beans with anchovies (not bad!), and steak-cow and HORSE!! 

Horse is a local dish here and all the while I’ve known Davide; he’s raved about it. I’m a huge horse lover (as in I like to pet them and ride them) and could never imagine eating horse, but I reckoned that horses have no more rights than cows and it’s silly that we eat some animals and not others :-/ So, when in Rome (Treviso)…and I tried a small bite. It was surprisingly delicious and apparently low in fat and high in iron. Nevertheless, I had a hard time getting over eating one of my favorite animals, so I stuck to the beef.



Dinner was hours long-profiteroles came with espressos, followed by dozens of little liqueurs.




There was a lot of debate back and forth (for which the alcohol did not help the reasoning :P) about whether we would stay or go (Davide's parents graciously offered us to stay), but since Preston and I are leaving Italy tomorrow and had already paid for our room, we decided to leave.

Thankfully, Davide’s sister in-law Ana affably offered to drive us back to Venice, since it was too late for the train.

We said goodbye to everyone back at the house and Davide, Mateo (Davide’s brother), Ana, Preston, and I piled into the car to return to Venice. We got  lost a few times, but it was nice to chat in the car and listen to a CD of local music.

We were dropped off on the outskirts of Venice around 2am. Preston and I made our way, exhausted, through the maze of mostly empty streets. It was pretty well lit, but a little scary so late at night. Venice is full of dark corners!! It seems a little haunted at night. We took a few wrong turns, but gratefully made it back to our hotel.

Friday 25 April (Happy Birthday Nana!!)
We didn’t do all that much today. We slept as late as we could after our long night, got breakfast, and packed. We had to check out of our room, but the hotel was nice enough to let us sit in the small breakfast room and use the internet. I worked more on trip planning. Preston was feeling a little rough after the 100 spritzers he’d had yesterday ;)

Last morning views


Not tooo busy yet!!





We ventured out into the streets in search of warmer clothing for Iceland, but had no luck. Fortunately, Liz very kindly gave me a sweatshirt she had!! The temps in Iceland are colder than we expected at this time of year. We are headed there next week.

It was a beautiful day, but Venice is even more crowded. We could hardly walk. We got gelato, which was terrible and a bummer, since it will be our last.




Finally, in the late afternoon, we hopped on the water bus to the train station to board our night train to Paris.

Venice and all of Italy has been just amazing and gorgeous. I’m so glad to have seen it and experienced it. I hope to come back one day and explore more places like-Cinque Terre, Naples, Milan, etc.  I’m so glad to have finally met all of Davide’s family and see where he grew up and to get off the tourist track a bit. Italy has been AWESOME.

Final Thoughts/Facts on Italy:

The people are very friendly and I never felt intimidated to ask a question

No visas are required

The train system is modern and convenient

The food got better as we traveled north (this may just be our own experience)

Italians are loud :P, but this I knew already

Italy is unlike anywhere I've ever been. 

Amazing art

Michelangelo is a jerk ;) hehe

History is around every turn

Everyone speaks English well enough to help you

This is by far the most expensive country that we’ve visited

Many people in the northeastern part of Italy want to separate from the rest of the country

Wine is cheaper than water

Gelato is (mostly) delicious

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